Journalist Resigns From Board After PEN America Cancels Russian Writers Panel

Journalist Marsha Gessen has resigned from the board of free expression group Penn America. Following the cancellation of a panel discussion featuring Russian writers at the organization’s World Voices Festival due to opposition from Ukrainian writers.

Concerns were raised that Artem Chapay and Artem ChekUkrainian writers who were also active duty soldiers in the Ukrainian army and were to appear in. Panel on Writers as Combatants After arriving in New York last week, Ukrainians noticed the two Russians participating in another panel on writers in exile moderated by Gessen.

According to Penn America CEO Suzanne Nossel, Ukrainians told organizers that the commission (Chinese Novelist Murong Sesson also participated), he said that he would not be able to participate. Nossel said an attempt to display the panel outside the festival was unsuccessful and was called off.

Gessen, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said in a text message that he would remain committed to PEN’s work, but could no longer remain on the board where he was vice-president.

“I’m a strong believer in Penn’s mission, but I had to step down from leadership to not get caught up in what I thought was a bad decision,” Gessen said. their resignation first reported By Atlantic.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the boycott of Russian artists and culture has been a topic of discussion throughout the cultural community. But Mr. Nossel spoke up. oppose such a boycottsaid that so far this question has not yet fully reached PEN.

At last year’s spring festival, she said, novelist and PEN Ukraine president Andrei Kurkov said: Annual “freedom to write” lecturethen he took the stage conversation With Russian-American novelist Gary Steingart. However, there were no Russian artists participating in the festival, which was scaled down compared to previous years due to the impact of the new coronavirus.

Knossel said Ukrainian authors’ concerns about performing with Russians were raised when discussions about the festival began earlier this year. But she said that until the Ukrainian delegation arrived in New York, she would oppose participation not only in panels with Russians, but also in widespread festivals in which Russians participate in any of about 40 events. Penn didn’t know, she said.

Chapai, who was contacted by email, believes that “for political and public image reasons, Ukrainian soldiers cannot be seen under the same ‘umbrella’ as the Russian participants.” said.

When asked about the consequences of appearing in court, he said: “In the presence of all those killed and tortured by the Russian army, the only consequence is my guilt.”

Gessen immigrated from the former Soviet Union as a teenager in 1981, holds both Russian and American citizenship, and is a prominent critical voice in Russia, returning to Russia in 1991 as a journalist. returned to Their books include The Man Without a Face, a biography of Vladimir Putin published in 2012, and The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, which won the National Book Award in 2017. In 2013, Gessen returned to the United States.with family quotes persecution on the rise About LGBTQ people.

Two Russians Participate in Canceled Panel, Ilya Venyavkin and Anna Nemzer, left Russia shortly after the invasion of Ukraine.both are collaborators Russian Independent Media Archiveis a joint project by PEN America and Bard University that preserves the last two decades of work by independent media, most of which have been closed or blocked by the Putin administration.

In an interview, Nossel praised Gessen for his “huge contributions” to PEN America, where he has been on the board for nine years. “It’s a big loss,” Nossel said. “But it felt like a no-win situation.”

Gessen emphasized that they will continue to be members of PEN and will continue to lead and contribute to Russia’s independent media archives. Gessen said the decision to cancel the panel was “a mistake and not a malicious act”.

“My objection is not the demands of the Ukrainian participants,” Gessen said. “They are fighting a defensive war by any means possible. My problem is solely with Penn’s response.”

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