Departure or dispute: The new PEN Berlin, its opponents and observers

On Friday, a new writers’ association will be founded in the Literaturhaus Berlin, the PEN Berlin. This was preceded by quarrels that damaged the reputation of the previous German PEN center in public. Actually, a restart should be attempted after the conference in Gotha. But some didn’t want to trust that.

Elke Schmitter, writer and journalist, who is one of the founding members of PEN Berlin, reports on Facebook about the idea that a competing company would ideally help both institutions. That makes more sense than “expending infinite strength” to “reform an exhausted, self-absorbed, dysfunctional system.”

Nice joke: the PEN Neukölln-Rixdorf

Many voices welcome the new club on Twitter, there are funny remarks about the choice of name, they are now founding a PEN Kaiserslautern or the PEN Neukölln-Rixdorf. And there is criticism of individuals on the list of around 230 founding members. Some things remain vague, without names, for example in the statement by Max Czollek, who writes that there are “people among the founding members to whom I can only ask: Sorry, is that a joke?”

The author and translator Robin Detje specifically asks: “Okay, you all want to be in an association with Svenja Flasspöhler and Jan Fleischhauer that was founded to heal the injured ego of a Springer journalist, I guess I have to accept that.” Jasmina In her tweet, Kuhnke (Quattromilf) refers to this Springer journalist, Deniz Yücel, who left the Gotha conference angrily. She calls him someone “who has repeatedly attracted attention through anti-black racism”. We would have liked to speak to her about it, but her publisher said she is not available for interviews at this time.

Josef Haslinger, who was elected interim president on the second day of the PEN meeting in Gotha, wants to stick to the idea of ​​renewal, as he assured the Berliner Zeitung. When asked, he wrote to us: “First of all, I thought that as interim president I must have failed. After all, I had seen my main agenda as bringing together the two groups that were now forming. But the interim presidency was not given the time it needed.”

Haslinger hopes for those who have been silent so far

Haslinger does not want to deviate “from the path of renewal” for the PEN Center Germany and cites the dual leadership as the first measure, which he and the author Maxi Obexer have agreed on. And this despite the fact that the assembly voted against a leadership duo. He continues: “That makes sense because my personal communication skills are limited. With a six-member executive committee of four women and two men, who sees themselves as an equal team, we have done better than lag behind the Berlin PEN avant-garde. However, we are still called the Presidium and not the Board. Perhaps it will turn out in the end that the split has done both groups good. If those who were not even conspicuous by their silence in the old PEN center are activated in the new environment in the spirit of the PEN charter, that is only welcome.”

Joachim Helfer from the new PEN’s “Board” says on the phone that the mission is not to cause trouble for the Darmstadt-based PEN center, but to take care of the important issues away from the dispute. The commitment to persecuted authors is the “core of PEN work”.

In Gotha, Helfer was heavily accused by one side of the meeting because of his work as treasurer, who was still the new treasurer at the time. He also left the organization shortly after Yücel left. It bothered him that exile authors were often referred to as “protégés”, which would have made them small and underage. “These are our colleagues, often famous authors in their countries, persecuted because of their work.” He hopes that many of them will become members.

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