Uppsala was the third of currently 24 cities in Sweden to become a city of refuge for writers at risk, and to join ICORN. The city provides writers and artists with a safe place for continued creative and literary activity. Since 2017, Uppsala also hosts the national coordinator of ICORN cities in Sweden, Karin Hansson.
Peter Gustavsson, President of the Board of Culture in Uppsala says:
”Ten years on as a city of refuge for persecuted writers and artists, Uppsala has become a more open municipality that has learned a lot about hosting and looking after the experiences of people who are prevented from expressing themselves freely in their home countries. This is an important foundation for Uppsala’s development as an international city of literature, and we value the collaboration with ICORN and the cities in the network, in Sweden and internationally.”
Uppsala – an international and open city
The ICORN programme is organized under the Cultural Administration in Uppsala, and provides a 2-year scholarship and accommodation to a persecuted writer. Since the start in 2008, Uppsala has worked actively with a gender equality perspective by welcoming every other woman every other man as ICORN writers, when possible. This year, the Committee of Culture has raised the budget for the ICORN programme, which enables the city to welcome a whole family, expected to arrive later this spring. Annika Strömberg, ICORN coordinator and board member says:
Uppsala expanding its commitment this year is a natural continuation of our work with writers and artists who have been prevented from expressing themselves freely in their home country. Besides celebrating the 10th anniversary of Uppsala as city of refuge, this year also marks 70 years since the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights. The person subjected to persecution is seldom isolated. Family, relatives and friends are often affected and sometimes themselves exposed to threats. In exile, there is often a great and fair concern about what happens to the family left in their home country. Most applicants to ICORN have a family and there is a need for more cities to accommodate to this need. To receive a family also becomes a way for Uppsala to pay attention to children's right to protection from persecution.
Director in ICORN, Helge Lunde says:
Sustainability and endurance are fundamental values to ICORN, says ICORN Director Helge Lunde.
We are dealing with people, individual destinies, very often traumatized and under immense mental pressure. When a city like Uppsala so wholeheartedly has dedicated itself to protect and promote persecuted writers and artists for ten years, it represents an attitude and the perseverance ICORN needs. Opening up also to inviting the family of their upcoming residents is a very promising step, further underlining Uppsala as a role model for ICORN, nationally and internationally.
A great responsibility
Annika Strömberg is a cultural strategy officer and the Coordinator of the ICORN programme in Uppsala, and has been a member of the ICORN Board since 2012. Early on, Annika drafted the statutes and penned the working methods for the establishment of the ICORN programme in Uppsala. She has had the responsibility for the programme implementation since Uppsala decided to be a safe haven, and has long and in deep knowledge of hosting persecuted writers. She welcomes the writers at the airport, makes sure they are introduced to Uppsala, arranges a workplace, a national platform and local contacts, for example with the local writer’s union and other relevant cultural organizations.
An ICORN Coordinator will constantly learn new things and I think that this is why my job is so engaging. The work is largely based on meetings of various kinds. The meeting between the invited writer and the coordinator is of course at the core. But even the meeting with a different language, with a different culture as well relevant issues related in the country the writer comes from, are important. It is always a pleasure to meet with our distant colleagues and the other writers, artists and coordinators in the International Cities of Refuge Network.
My work spans from all the practical doings related to welcoming and hosting an ICORN resident in the city, to more strategical considerations. The greatest challenge comes when the writer or artist will end their 2-years residency. There is a natural worry about the future and what comes next, but also an expectation that he or she can continue to work in the city. The possibilities for working within culture are tough. That is why it is important to use the time as ICORN writer/artist well and make a network of contacts. Learning Swedish also makes the possibilities for work easier in the future.
10 years – four writers
Since 2008, Uppsala has welcomed four writers within the ICORN programme: Taslima Nasrin, Anisur Rahman, Sedigheh Vasmaghi and Bisrat Woldemichael. Taslima Nasrin is a fiction writer from Bangladesh and was Uppsala's first safe haven author 2008.
Anisur Rahman, journalist and poet from Bangladesh arrived in 2010 and has since the had a large impact on the cultural life in the city. After his residency he stayed on and founded the local Litteraturcentrum where he is still active. He says:
Let me reflect on Uppsala: My time during my scholarship period in Uppsala was ‘win-win’. It gave me a new meaning of life. It is to continue, it is to survive. I got a new reality for using possibilities and creating opportunities for others. That is Uppsala for me.
Sedigheh Vasmaghi is a lawyer, theologian and poet from Iran. She stayed on in the city after the residency, working at the university. She travelled back to Iran during the autumn 2017 and was then imprisoned, but released. Her case is under judicial review.
Uppsala´s latest ICORN writer is Bisrat Woldemichael from Ethiopia who works as a journalist and blogger. His residency ended in September 2017, but is now studying and working with youths and students in the city.
“Uppsala City of Refuge has given us new international outlooks, says Annika Strömberg.
With the programme, with the writers and artists who come to Uppsala, our society and cultural activities occur in new contexts and have gained new perspectives. Our work with ICORN, with writers and artists who face restrictions on basic freedoms in their home countries, has led to developments in the local cultural life, and to a better understanding of the values of freedom of expression, in Uppsala, in Sweden, and the world. We have established contacts and cooperation partners world wide, which perhaps would never have been made if we did not engage as a city of refuge.
Uppsala City of Refuge 10 years: The anniversary programme
During this 10 years celebration, Uppsala municipality would like to draw attention to the ICORN-programme by organising ten programmes in ten different places that highlight freedom of expression from an international, national and local perspective. During the year 2018, Uppsala will be visited by several ICORN artists that will address topics as censorship, freedom of expression, LGBTQ – rights, un- written history and art as a tool for processing trauma.
On the anniversary webpage, the program will be posted on a regular basis.