Dispute in the Pen Writers’ Association: new allegations against President Usel hessenschau.de

The Writers’ Association stands for the free exchange of ideas and freedom of expression. At the moment he seems to be tripping with his own guidelines. Lastly, statements made by President Deniz Usel about the war in Ukraine show that there is an ugly trench war going on in PEN.

Apparently, this is a sentence that sparked a heated debate about the Penn Writers’ Association: at the “Enlightened Colon” literary festival at the end of March, Penn President Deniz Usel was asked if the airspace over Ukraine should be closed. Yücel’s answer: “That would be a good idea, wouldn’t it?”

Internally, the statement triggered more than just a discussion: five former PEN presidents called for Usell’s resignation in an internal letter. “Because they thought I had violated the PEN Charter with my statement about the Ukraine war,” explained the journalist, who was born in Floresheim (Maine-Towns). He expected criticism. But his resignation has taken him by surprise, he said. Usel suspects that other factors also played a role.

Brandbrief accused Usell of being an “authoritarian management style.”

This was also indicated by a fire letter published by 36 members of the Writers’ Association on Monday. They accuse Usell not only of violating the PEN Charter, but also of an authoritarian leadership style that “fits the 19th century, but does not fit into modern day human rights organizations in the age of flat classification.” Confidence in management was “disappointing in unprecedented ways”.

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What is PEN Center?

Penn Germany, based in Darmstadt, is a German writers’ association committed to the protection and freedom of culture. PEN’s short name is “Poet, Essayist, Novelist”.

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The message shows that things are bubbling up in the PEN, and not just from Yassel’s statement about the Ukraine war. Presidium in particular, this ten-member body that has only been in office since October last year. According to PEN treasurer Joachim Helfer, it is now so divided that there is even a proposal to abolish the entire presidency. “Ukraine received the PEN long before this statement, it was an internal conflict,” Helfer said.

The planned rearrangement of PEN caused controversy

The controversy stems from a disagreement over the future of the PEN: Deniz Usel and Joaquim Helfer want to form a team around the group. They call themselves “inventors” and want the writers’ union to focus more on supporting persecuted writers.

In fact, PEN has always seen itself as the mouthpiece of persecuted writers. Among other things, he points to repression or violence against writers and publishes their writing if it is not possible in their own country. He also oversees the Writers in Exile Scholarship Program for Tortured Journalists. If Yücel has a path, this area should be expanded.

View of the Literature House building in Darmstadt from a frog's point of view.

Others, including General Secretary Heinrich Pickmann, see other PEN aspects as a result of neglect. “People want to turn it into an NGO. There’s no discussion of literature right now,” Pickman said. “But that’s our trademark, we’re a writers’ association!” He spoke of a “terrible fight.” The presidium had “strange things happening” and a strategy to exclude two board members. Myself.

Treasurer: Presidium leads to irritation

For Treasurer Hildegard, it is not surprising that internal strife within the Writers’ Union has been repeatedly reported in the press. This way the e-mails will be forwarded to third, fourth and fifth parties for whom they were not intended. “Then you start a snowball and it gets more and more dirty,” Helfer said.

In addition to the substantive debate about the future of PEN, he suspects another problem. “Penn is a time-honored, but sometimes a little old institution,” he said. “Now a new president has taken office under a very dynamic president. It is bothering some people.”

The general meeting will have to bring clarification

If one believes PEN President Denise Usell, many things are deliberately misunderstood. He cited an example from an email exchange in the Presidium: “The word ‘elephant in the house’ appears. The elephant in the house stands for a problem that everyone sees and no one names.” However, some people refer to the term as elephant, Usel said. “Anyone who uses inhumane language and insults from it is either corrupted or suffering from inability to read.”

What’s next for the Writers Union, which seems to be so deeply divided? In the general meeting announced for the month of May in Gotha, everything will be discussed openly for three days. Secretary-General Heinrich Pickman, however, is skeptical about whether too much PEN porcelain has been crushed. “I don’t know if you can find a common character again,” he says. “I like it overall, but I don’t think it might work.”

President Usell, on the other hand, is confident. People have always argued in PEN. And perhaps the debate has something even more positive. “At the moment, this discussion has resulted in more members being interested in PEN,” Yücel said. And he welcomes the fact that the Writers’ Union has received more publicity.

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