Dear Géza Szöcs, István Turczi and Elizabeth Csicsery-Ronay,
I thank you for your invitation to join the 90th anniversary celebration of the Hungarian PEN center in Budapest. Unfortunately, we cannot accept the invitation, since the Hungarian PEN center’s present behavior astonishes us and we cannot stand behind the center’s disposition.
Our behaviour astonishes you! That is, our centre does not do what you demand of us, i.e., it doesn’t criticise the Hungarian government. Hungarian PEN is neutral. It doesn’t concern itself with domestic politics. It considers that freedom of thought, of conscience, and the right to freedom of opinion are suffering no damage in Hungary. Censorship is nonexistent. Insofar as the internet is concerned, according to international measures, Hungary is one of the three freest countries in the world.
We are working in a country, in which not a single writer has been imprisoned, nor even hauled before court for decades. Neither for his or her opinion, nor for any other cause. This excludes the possibility that a writer has not been dragged through the mud by the powers-that-be because of his irritating thoughts, but on some pretext that he or she has perpetrated fraud, stolen, or molested children. We must emphasise that for a long time now no harm has come to any writer or journalist in Hungary because of their thoughts and writing.
And you are horrified at this.
We continue to believe that we shall take a stand against the government when and if it attacks writers and journalists. In many countries freedom of expression is violated—PEN virtually does nothing else nowadays than protest against the fate of persecuted and imprisoned writers here and there. Comparing the Hungarian situation—based on preconceived ideas—with this situation betokens a prejudice that is shocking, which we deem to be unworthy of PEN.
For several years, we have been following our Hungarian counterpart with great concern. Regrettably, we are not able to shake off the impression that the Hungarian PEN center does not meet the obligations which come along with the PEN charter like we expected you to, namely “to dispel race, class and national hatreds, and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in one world.”
Please tell us, what kind of race, national or class hatreds are you talking about? There are, of course, crazy people in Hungarian society, the same as in other countries. For example, let us say, certain German policemen who have gathered into criminal groups that kill foreigners. To make the German government or the writers of German PEN responsible for such deplorable but fortunately isolated actions does not bespeak of an unbiased judgment.
Especially these days, a statement of the Hungarian PEN center concerning the government’s refugee policy would have been urgent and necessary. However, none has been issued so far.
The leadership of Hungarian PEN does not permit anyone to meddle in whatever it does or does not do, or interpret its activities. This applies to both Hungarian political forces as well as international institutions. But since the subject of refugees has been brought up, I will take the liberty of clarifying that it is not only the Hungarian government that has a viewpoint on this, but also Hungarian society. More than three million people, a third of the country’s population,voted on October 2 that it opposes the settlement in Hungary of groups of people dictated from the outside.
Nonetheless, in practice, those truly in need of a way out of their life-threatening situation, genuine refugees, do in fact find refuge in our country. Their number is not negligeable.
This is not the first time this has happened in Hungarian history. The reception of the Cuman refugees brought on the destruction of the Hungarian kingdom by the Mongols. But we can cite examples even in the 20th century when Hungary took in Polish refugees who were forced to flee their country after it was attacked by Germany, thus taking on tensions, even confrontation with the German government. Another example is the resettlement of Greek leftists, who lost the Greek civil war and who were forced to look for a new home.
The Hungarian government took in these refugees, however, not from outside orders. This is a question of principle, a question of national sovereignty. The issue therefore is not the fate of a few refugees, but the independence of a state.
To this can be added that Hungarian society, having experienced long foreign, including Islamic, occupations, is sceptical about the true intentions of the masses of people heading for Europe today. You could say, Hungarians are concerned about the threat that could be posed by a growing Islamic terrorism brought by the migration. They are also worried about the vision that has been formed not by terrorists or militants, but simple civilian migrants, about Europe’s future and the new order that they imagine and desire. So you can understand more clearly, let me cite a hero of yours, to be sure deservedly so, György Konrád’s thoughts on the subject.
György Konrád – statement for The New York Times
„…He (VO) is not a good democrat and I don’t believe he is a good person,…
… It hurts to admit it, but on this point Orban was right,… (Hungary) was wise to seal its borders and sound the alarm over the perils of allowing hundreds of thousands of migrants, mostly Muslims, to enter Europe willy-nilly.”
(György Konrád statement for The New York Times, 20 December, 2015)
Moreover, we do doubt whether the Hungarian PEN center does campaign for the rights of ethnic minorities and disadvantaged groups.
Moreover, we organised a conference on the migration situation on May 9, Europe day, with the participation of numerous European colleagues. We are in the midst of publishing the material of this conference in a book, signalling the importance of the opinion of well-known European writers. Naturally we will send you this volume.
Hungarian PEN definitely raises its voice in defense of those communities that are genuinely in danger. For example, the genocide already launched by Islamic terrorists against the Yazidis. (I attach the stand we have taken written for PEN International’s conference in Oldenberg.) At the same time we don’t wish to participate in the disputes and labyrinths of daily politics. Should the freedom of expression or freedom of speech of any group or writer in Hungary be in danger, should anyone be imprisoned or persecuted because of his or her opinion, you can be sure our association will not stand by passively.
A community system for minorities has been set up in Hungary, which has few peers in the world. If you have any criticisms to offer on the functioning of these, please let us know.
When the head of government, Viktor Orbán, gave a speech in which he defamed homosexuality by asking if the Hungarian people would either want “families and children” or if they like to be “unable to decide who is a man and who is a woman”, the Hungarian PEN center should have defied his statement. However, it did not, although this kind of discrimination had clearly been emphasized by PEN International recently.
Well-known homosexual writers and public personalities are open about their identity, diifferent from that of the majority. Pride parades take place every year in the heart of the capital. Insofar as we know, we don’t know of anyone who has been discriminated against by the government because of their identity.
During the international congress in Reykjavik in 2013, we already argued about whether or not the Hungarian PEN should comment on the country’s developments in a much more critical way.
It is not sure that the concern of a leading politician of a small country that the model of the family is in danger, with all its demographic consequences, is an attack on human dignity.
Of course, it is possible that we may be mistaken about our concern for the future of the family. For this reason, we would be happy to organise a conference or even a series of conferences on this subject to which you are invited to express your views.
If we extend the expectation that the PEN centres of every country should criticise its government, and we urge them to do so, very soon there will be flames around every PEN centre. Let us not cry wolf where there is no wolf. There’s enough trouble to go around, as it is.
One can expect PEN centers to take a distant, critical and observing position concerning their governments. Most PEN centers fulfill this requirement, but the Hungarian PEN does not live up to this general expectation. Until now, we did not manage to convince you that a PEN president should not simultaneously act as a consultant to the head of government.
Look here, Professor Haslinger. I wasn’t chosen to be leader of Hungarian PEN as a politician, but as a writer and as a civil rights activist and well-known former dissident. My writings have been translated into more than ten languages. When I was almost liquidated by the Securitate under the Ceasescu dictatorship, I came by important experiences concerning the freedom of expression. I don’t need to be taught lessons on what to think about this issue.
I recollect, however, that while Nobel prize winning scientists, American senators and international organisations raised their voices in my defense in those bygone days, I have no knowledge of German PEN having anything to say about the matter. It expressed no opinion on the plans to destroy villages, either, which would have fatally affected the German villages of the Bansag and Transylania. I don’t say this to boast, but it is a fact that I was one of the few people who put their own freedom on the line by speaking up for the rights of the Germans living in Romania, for their cultural rights too.
With such a background, let me share with you my own personal convictions about the ideal of one humanity living in peace in one world. What I say is not the opinion of Hungarian PEN, but my own personal opinion. I believe that nothing threatens peace more in this world than Islamic terrorism. I believe also that nothing threatens European culture and values, including freedom of opinion and the right to a different kind of private life, more than the mentality that makes allusion to Islam (but does not really understand its essential nature), which is a growing threat to Europe. When I think of the attitudes of militant Islam regarding the Jewish community, I see the future of Europe as even more problematic.
I THINK THAT HUMANITY’S EVERY PROBLEM STEMS FROM THE ATTEMPT TO DIRECT THE LIFE OF OTHER PEOPLE, ORGANISATIONS OR NATIONS, INTERFERING IN THE LIFE OF COMMUNITIES, AND THE EFFORT TO SUBJECT THEM TO THEIR TUTELAGE.
The dangers inherent in this practice constitutes the history of humanity as a whole. The events in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, which set in motion the migration crisis, are clear evidence that it is not possible to export by force even such supreme values as democracy.
We congratulate the Hungarian Pen center on its 90th anniversary. Nonetheless, we ask for your understanding that we presently do not see any kind of motivation to celebrate your momentary behavior which clearly contrasts with some of our ambitions, for example the resolution on the global response to the refugee crisis from 2015.
Dear Mr. Professor. I regret that you have turned down our invitation. But as it turns out, I should let you know that our celebration was quite a success.
I consider what you write about the global response to the refugee crisis of 2015 to be very important. We would be glad to participate in their formulation, as well as the response to the crises of 2016 and 2017. Indeed, I fear that we shall still be struggling with this crisis in 2018 and 2020. As Hungary lies geographically on a main migration route, as they say, along the highway of peoples, it would be very important for us to find the solution.
09. 10. 2016, Budapest
Stutter or Speak – that is the Question
Seeking to Re-gain the Paradise Lost – Justice for the Yazidi Community
Let the Hungarian PEN Club begin by thanking the organizers for convening this conference.
Like people all over the world, we have been sickened and saddened by the barbarous and horrendous attacks, still ongoing, on the Yazidi community in Sinjar. We express our deep sympathy for the Yazidi community.
That part of the world where Sinjar is located was once the cradle of human civilization. It is said to have housed Eden, the Paradise. Now that Paradise has been lost – or, to be more precise, it is being turned into Hell. Brutal and heinous advocates of earthly devils, perpetrators of systematically planned acts of genocide are implementing this conversion.
The Hungarian PEN Club welcomes and wholeheartedly supports the idea of pursuing justice for the victims of the heinous crimes to which several thousands of Yazidis fell victim on 3 August, 2014.
As a writers’ guild, the Hungarian PEN Club has no other means at its disposal than to call for publicity in the international community. There have been times when the international community has acted swiftly, and there have been other times when the international community has acted late, or inadequately, and situations have deteriorated drastically. We regard it our responsibility to call to prevent the crimes that may lie ahead in this humanitarian crisis, and to stop those ongoing.
As Attila József, the renowned Hungarian poet has it,
Like clots of blood,
these words fall
only the law speaks clearly.
In a world where we are witnessing an appalling and unceasing disregard for international law, leading to mass killings and millions forced to leave their homes, law should be made to speak clearly… since blood cannot. But, as it can be taken for granted, it will go on being shed until law starts to speak clearly. Law was invented by us, humans to serve us, humans by protecting us—humans—from ourselves. Nothing can ever justify the use of violence. Those responsible must be brought to justice. Genocides like the Srebrenica massacre (1995) or the mass killings in Rwanda (1994) must not happen again.
The Hungarian PEN Club supports the project launched by the Free Yezidi Foundation aimed at “matching perpetrators to testimonies and evidence”.
“Humanity must show that the inhumanity experienced by the Yazidi community must never be tolerated.” (The Guardian)
First and foremost, a culture of prevention must be developed. Second, a timely and decisive response must be made whenever the world is confronted with atrocities. Third, the window of opportunity must be flung open as wide as possible when it comes to building the peace after the crisis. Responsibility must be shared with the international community.
We wish to take this time to offer our condolences and sympathies to the people of Sinjar.
We need to remember, we are all Yazidis.
We wish to express our solidarity with the people of Sinjar. We also want to give voice to our admiration for the extraordinary bravery of the Yazidi “woman batallion” fighting against the terrorists.
Our hearts and sympathy go out to the Yazidi people, and especially the families of the victims of the tragic attack two years ago.
With this memorandum we wish to express our solidarity with the people of Sinjar at this trying time.
Thank you for your attention.
Stutter or Speak – that is the Question
Seeking to Re-gain the Paradise Lost – Justice for the Yazidi Community