During the three days of the ICORN General Assembly, convened in Ljubljana City of Refuge 21-24 May 2014, city delegates, guest writers and observers shared valuable knowledge and experiences, came closer together, and pointed out the future direction of the thriving network. Below follows a report. But first a vote of thanks:
ICORN would like to thank all participants for joining us in Ljubljana last week for the 2014 General Assembly; making it an inspiring and unforgettable event. A special thanks to our amazing hosts, who welcomed all of us, 140 participants from 39 countries, so warmly in Ljubljana, and particularly to Jasmina Rihar of Slovene PEN who did a fantastic job organising the gathering with local partners from the city and cultural sector.
Find the official minutes from the GA at the bottom of this report.
Wednesday 21 May
The assembly kicked off with a welcome reception hosted by the Mayor of Ljubljana at the City Museum. The Director of the City Museum Blaž Peršin and the Mayor of Ljubljana Zoran Janković greeted welcome to the city of Ljubljana and underlined the importance of the alliance with ICORN. Chair of the ICORN Board Peter Ripken and ICORN guest writer in Ljubljana, Girma Fantaye, continued, thanking the city for its generosity and stating their genuine spirit of hospitality. The local gypsy band, Manouche, provided the entertainment for the evening while a buffet was served on the beautiful patio of the museum.
Thursday 22 May
The ICORN General Assembly 2014 began with greetings of welcome by the assembly host, Ljubljana City of Refuge: Director of the assembly venue, the Puppet Theatre, Uroš Korenčan, President of Slovene PEN Marjan Strojan, and Deputy Mayor of Ljubljana Tjaša Ficko. ICORN Chair Peter Ripken extended his gratitude and formally announced the opening of the assembly. Larry Siems (PEN International) was elected Chair.
A brief introduction followed of all delegates, guest writers and observers, representing a wide range of dedicated individuals and organisations from all over the world; member city delegates and guest writers, politicians and human rights activists.
Three ICORN guest writers, Nasrin Madani (Iran/Växjö), Fadi Abou Hassan (Palestine/Syria/Drøbak) and Dessale Berekhet (Eritrea/Bø), reminded us of the dangers of intolerance, of violations of freedom of expression in the world and the importance of democratic values and the acts of hospitality.
PEN WiPC report and cooperation
Cathy McCann from PEN International Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) delivered a worrying report on the conditions of freedom of expression, presenting key cases she has been working on lately: In China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Africa Horn and the Middle East. But also in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine where we see a series of new laws severely restricting freedom of expression.
ICORN benefits greatly from the research capacity, expert advice and the professional network that PEN provide for ICORN - with their assessments of all the writers' applications. Some of the applicants to ICORN are people already familiar to PEN. If not, PEN uses their network to verify the applications. In January 2014 ICORN signed a new important contract with PEN International. ICORN Programme Director, Elisabeth Dyvik, used the occasion to emphasize the significance of ICORN’s relationship with PEN.
The assembly dedicated 1 minute silence to all of those whose lives have been lost in their fight for freedom of expression.
Report from ICORN writers
After lunch, the guest writers departed for a workshop at the Town Hall of Ljubljana where they discussed possibilities to get published, and how they can take advantage of the already existing resources in the network. They also expressed a strong wish directed towards the cities: That the member cities once again join forces to create promotion projects to provide more funding for promoting the guest writers, like in the Shahrazad - Stories for life project. For publishing, for touring and for training of digital self-publishing.
Report from ICORN
The assembly continued with reports on the two preceding years 2012-2013. ICORN Director Helge Lunde and Administration Coordinator Marianne Hovdan presented the ICORN Report on results, accomplishments and challenges, the financial results for 2012/2013 and budgets for 2014/2015. All were unanimously accepted by the assembly and valuable input from the participants was duly noted.
29 writers took up recidenct in ICORN member cities, and many writers have already arrived in 2014. There has been a dramatic increase in applications during 2013. To be able to help more writers ICORN needs more cities to join the network. There are two main reasons for the growing number of applicants to ICORN: 1: War in Syria. 2: ICORN is generally getting more known.
Market of ideas
The day proceeded with workshops on vital issues, such as Exit strategies, new beginnings where guests writers, host cities, partners and ICORN worked together to explore possibilities and strategies for writers who cannot return to their home countries; Xpress Freedom where bloggers, publishers, writers and communicators were in dialogue on how to break traditional barriers, reaching out to an ever changing landscape of media and publishing, and how to develop new audiences; locally, nationally and internationally, including in the guest writers’ home countries;The arts of hospitality on how to assess the needs of writers and artist in distress, and get concrete tools and well-tried practices from people who have been successful in supporting artists and culture workers; and Creative ICORN on how to take advantage of the expertise and resources contained in the network of cities, guest writers and partners to create promotion opportunities locally and internationally.
Hell is Empty
The assembly coincided with the 2014 edition of the Overflight Theatre Festival. All participants were invited to a magnificent opening of the festival Thursday 22 May, with a specially commissioned performance titled Hell is Empty. The play was based on texts and contributions by among others the four ICORN guest writers Girma Fantaye, Jahangir Akash, Naeimeh Doostdar and Mansur Rajih. The play is directed by choreographer Marko Mlacnik. It was a resilient performance on the concept of freedom and the perspectives given by the represented writers. It was followed by a dinner in the garden of the theatre.
Friday 23 May
While the delegation continued with the formal agenda of the General Assembly at the Puppet Theatre, the guest writers attended a workshop hosted by the Mladinsko Theatre, where they met with other writers attending the festival. They also saw the play Damned be the traitor of his homeland, an Overflight festival performance directed by Olivier Frljić.
Peter Ripken introduced the ICORN Strategic Plan 2014-2018 to the General Assembly stating its importance and influence on the future development of ICORN. He stated that it is an ambitious document that maps out certain features that has been under debate the recent years, namely the expansion of scope to include other artistic genres, and the geographic expansion, particularly outside Europe. The plan proposes a trial period of four years on the expansion of scope.
The geographic expansion outlined in the strategic plan might seem ambitious, but, as Helge Lunde points out, without growth ICORN will not be able to cope with the tasks ahead. ICORN is already working with many new partners across Europe and beyond on establishing new cities of refuge, and many of them were present at the assembly and presented their work and progress in their respective cities.
We heard from: John Rich, the Guild Literary Complex/Chicago; Kate Klein, University of Ithaca/Ithaca New York; Vida Cross, Milwaukee; Henry Reese, City of Asylum/Pittsburg; Zita Tinoco, Bogota; Michael Smith South Africa; Isabel Ferrari, House of Rousseau/Geneva; and Sylvi Debs from CABRA/Brazil.
Arts and human rights defenders
Sophie Kammerer from the European Instrument for Democracy & Human Rights (EIDHR) made a presentation of their support to human rights defenders. EIDHR is currently developing a database for organisations working for human rights defenders in need of financial support and shelter. It includes access to long term shelter solutions. In 2014 they will launch the call for a human right defenders support mechanism, with a financial frame of 15 mill. EUR, to strengthen the coordination between HRD initiatives and actors supporting them. EIDHR have also emergency funds for human rights defenders at risk and particularly for those who need urgent protection locally, and can give up to 10 000 euros for one case.
Oliver Spencer-Shrestha from Article 19 continued, demonstrating persecution of artists and artistic freedom of expression and the organisations work, defending the right to freedom of expression and freedom of information wherever it is threatened.
ICORN communication and new digital platforms
ICORNCommunication Coordinator Cathrine Helland presented ICORN’s latest work on developing new digital platforms to enhance the cooperation and the promotion of the network, to accommodate the needs of a complex organisation of different stakeholders. Though digital platforms are important tools to reach out and to share knowledge, ICORN acknowledges the significance of personal contact, and meetings such as the annual ICORN gatherings, and presence at relevant events hosted by cities, partners and writers. Cathrine also stated the importance of the cities, partners and writers sharing information with ICORN, to be able to provide good support and matches for the cities and the writers, and to be able to demonstrate the important and fantastic work that is being done on promotion and protection across the network.
ICORN nuts and Bolts
Elisabeth Dyvik expressed deep gratitude on behalf of ICORN for the great work that the cities are doing. They know, without doubt, most about the work they do related to ICORN; their daily work with the writers.
Elisabeth gave an overview of statistics of applications from writers and of how ICORN works with partners and political institutions. ICORN has started an extensive work with building the capacity of the network and is dependent on all the knowledge and experiences that the cities have to be able to work more extensively and professionally with lobbying of governments and foreign ministries to find solutions for visa and residence and travel permits for writers.
ICORN is also working to develop knowledge of and partnerships with organisations that can help the writers, to find the best ways to assist writers before and after the placements. It is important to note, that it is not a goal to grow the organisation unnecessarily. Rather, it is better to cooperate with partners to find the best solutions available for the writers in their actual situations, which might not necessarily in all cases be an ICORN placement.
ICORN board members
Two positions for the ICORN board were up for election; the position as Vice Chair of the Board, until now held by Dagny Anker Gevelt who wished to withdraw. And Board Member Chris Gribble, who wished to continue. It was also voted at the assembly to extend the board from 5 to 6 members.
The new board as of 2014 consists of:
Peter Ripken (Frankfurt; Chair)
Leikny Haga Indergaard (Bergen; Vice Chair)
Jasmina Arambasic (Ljubljana; Board Member)
Annika Strömberg (Uppsala; Board Member)
Chris Gribble (Norwich; Board Member)
Danuta Glondys (Cracow; Board Member)
Peter Ripken wholeheartedly thanked Dagny Anker Gevelt from Kristiansand city of refuge for four important and defining years at the board. Dagny has will take up position as member of the ICORN election committee.
The General Assembly welcomed Leikny Haga Indergaard as vice chair of the Board. Having followed ICORN from the very beginning, Leikny knows ICORN well. She was the Director of Stavanger Cultural Center and Library when Stavanger welcomed Araz Elses. She is currently Library Director of Bergen Public Library. The library manages the ICORN programme in Bergen and has hosted 4 guest writers so far. Leikny is also Chair of the International Library Commission.
The General Assembly also welcomed Danuta Glondys as new Board Member, and Chris Gribble to four more years at the board. Danuta was instrumental in Cracow joining ICORN in 2011. Acting as the coordinator for the ICORN writers, she has been the Director of the Villa Decius Associasion since 2001, is lecturer at the University of Cracow and has several years of experience as Director of the Cultural Department of the Municipality of Cracow. Chris Gribble has done a magnificent job at the ICORN board for the last 4 years and the assembly is grateful that he wishes to continue. Chris is the Chief Executive of Writers’ Centre Norwich.
River Poetry, talk and open air performances
On Friday 23 May the assembly wrapped up with a talk by Ragip Zarakolu, prominent Turkish writer and publisher, and at present ICORN guest writer in Sigtuna. The strong speech titled: My Struggle: A life as fighter for freedom of expression in Turkey was the story of a man, in and out of the courts and prisons of Turkey more than 40 times, spending his whole life fighting for Turkish writers and minorities' right to write and publish.
The unique and adventurous literary event, Ljubljanica River Poetry, followed, where the audience was brought along the Ljubljanica River with poetry readings by ICORN guest writers, Slovene and international poets performing from a boat along the shore at the Makalonca and the New Square.
The evening concluded with well attended performances by the Overflight festival, To the Bridge, powerful rap by ICORNs first guest rapper, hosted in Gothenburg City of Refuge, and an open microphone where guest writers and other cultural personalities gave the crowd a taste of their creativity.
ICORN wishes to thank each and every one of the participants for contributing to the General Assembly by sharing their experiences and for all that they do to move this important work forward.
Please click here for the General Assembly minutes.