During the years following the impact of Internet as a new channel of communication accessible to, if not all then very large groups of people, hope was born for a new and virtually overwhelming breakthrough for freedom of speech and thereby for democracy. Internet could not be supervised! Who would be able to get a grip on this medium, with no centre, to which anyone at all could connect their computer and publish their ideas?
And in the beginning that was how it was. We can see what an important role the new digital means of communication played in various popular uprisings and “revolutions” – from as far back as the ”Velvet Revolution” in former Czechoslovakia up to the revolts this spring within the Arab world. But it has also been apparent how various groups in power have done their utmost to get a grip on digital communications. Internet is no longer the free arena for ideas it was in the beginning. The Chinese power-elite have perhaps gone furthest in controlling what their own citizens may or may not see on the Web. Look in the wrong place and the police come knocking. And after the demonstrations last winter in Minsk, Belarus, the KGB knocked on the doors of many of the citizens who had participated in the peaceful demonstrations against what they regarded as ballot rigging – at any rate of those who had had an active cellphone in their pocket while exercising their rights of freedom of expression. And in Sweden we have had our own debate on the so-called ”FRA-law” (Swedish Defence Radio Authority law, allowing warrant-less wiretapping of all telephone and internet traffic crossing Swedish borders).
PEN/Opp is Swedish PEN’s contribution to bring down the new digital prison bars. We wish to be an open literary forum for those who for various reasons cannot publish their work in their home countries – and we wish to convey their ideas and experiences to Swedish as well as to international readers. Our ambition this year is to publish three ”editions” with texts by people whose voices and experiences otherwise would not have reached us. In the first ”number” you can read a short story by an – anonymous but well-established – writer from Zimbabwe. Likewise, an interview with the well-known journalist Svetlana Aleksijevitj and new poems by poet Uladzimir Njakljajeu, assaulted and imprisoned this winter; both from Belarus. You can see a brand new interview with the Nobel Laureate Imre Kertész on the situation in Hungary – nowadays he lives in self-chosen exile in Berlin. We are also opening a relay where various sanctuary writers around the world – within the Foundation ICORN there are 35 today, spread out over the world – tell us why they have to live in exile. First out is Anisur Rahman in Uppsala, Sweden.
PEN is an organisation of writers working in more than one hundred countries. If we bring such a tight and well-developed net in contact with the Web a lot of exciting things can happen. And we intend to let it happen here. On this page.
Chairman Swedish PEN