Writer in exile Stella Nyanzi: Give PEN Berlin a chance!

The poet and anthropologist Stella Nyanzi from Uganda lives in Germany, supported by PEN. In her guest contribution, she calls for coexistence.

Stella Nyanzi, writer from Uganda
Stella Nyanzi, writer from UgandaKonrad Hirsch

For me, there is NO conflict between my belonging two rivaling PEN chapters in Germany. I am hosted as a Scholar of the Writers-in-Exile program of PEN Germany. I am also a founding member of PEN Berlin which mainly comprises a splinter faction of members who variously deserted my host earlier this year.

PEN Berlin is a critically necessary creation out of the internal conflicts, friction and fissure of PEN Germany. Rather than continue with the unhealthy toxicity arising out of clashes in leadership/ management styles between the older guard and the new guard, disagreements in positions on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, and differences about how to prioritise the money for the Writers-in-Exile program, it was better to separate the warring factions. When President Deniz Yücel stepped down in Gotha, several other members deserted PEN Germany because they understood the necessity of separating themselves from the traditional outlook and practices in the former chapter.

The author
Dr. Stella Nyanzi is a Ugandan medical anthropologist, published poet, activist for the rights of women and sexual minorities, and a politician belonging to the opposition political party called Forum for Democratic Change. She was imprisoned twice in maximum security prison for her writings which offended Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni. She fled to Germany with her three children in January 2022, where she is a scholarship holder of the Writers-in-Exile program of PEN Germany. She is also a founding member of PEN Berlin.
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Considering that many writers withdrew their membership from PEN Germany, where is the logic and justice in stifling their formation of a new association comprising poets, essayists and novelists living in Germany but lacking a club for writers? Why strangle the formation of a association registered under PEN International, yet this new group will still be advancing all the principles of the PEN Charter? Surely Germany is big enough of a country to be the home of two autonomous PEN chapters whose mandates can co-exist in a healthy manner.

PEN Berlin must be allowed the freedom to 1) develop its independent mandate and mission, 2) apply and compete for available resources including funding, 3) attract and source for new members, 4) design and develop timely programs for various forms of persecuted writers all over the world, and 5) provide a platform for German-based writers to affiliate with others of like mind - particularly those whose needs are not met within the older PEN Germany.

Instead of strangling the new baby (PEN Berlin) before it even starts crawling, all well-meaning writers and fore-sighted organisers for writers’ rights must support this new association to thrive. This is why I whole heartedly believe in the founding of PEN Berlin, even when I am a committed scholarship holder of PEN Germany's Writers-in-Exile Program.