Frankfurt was one of the first cities to join the cities of refuge programme initiated in the mid-nineties by the International Parliament of Writers (IPW), under its President of the time Salman Rushdie. The programme was initiated because the authors who were members of the IPW felt that the time of resolutions and „quiet diplomacy“ for authors in distress was over. The city of Frankfurt soon joined the network of cities, which started to host persecuted authors and gave them a place to work without political interference and censorship for at least one year.
It was logical that the city of Frankfurt joined the new network ICORN International Cities of Refuge Network when the IPW was dissolved and its network of cities began to disintegrate. The Frankfurt representative Peter Ripken has been involved from its inception, when ICORN was formally inaugurated in June 2006 in Stavanger, Norway.
The city of Frankfurt also welcomes that ICORN is expanding its field of contacts beyond Europe by closely cooperating with cities in Mexico and North America where more and more cities have declared to host writers in distress, cities like Pittsburgh and Cornell University, Ithaca NY.
Frankfurt City of Refuge – with the support of the Frankfurt Book Fair
In 1997, the city council of Frankfurt followed the suggestion by the then city councillor for multi-cultural affairs Daniel Cohn-Bendit (later, until 2014, Member of the European Parliament) to join the network of cities of refuge. The decision was made because Frankfurt had always been an “open city” with many people coming from foreign countries to live in Frankfurt. Another consideration was that many German writers and intellectuals had found refuge in other countries during the dark times of the Nazi rule.
In 1998, the Frankfurt Book Fair’s board of directors decided – on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Frankfurt Book Fair – to support the programme “Frankfurt – city of refuge” in order to show its commitment for the right of freedom of expression in concrete terms.
The city’s cultural department and the Frankfurt Book Fair directorate conferred the programme’s project management on the Society for the Promotion of African, Asian and Latin American literature (litprom), a non-profit literary agency and information centre, which is closely cooperating with the Frankfurt Book Fair. The funds for the scholarship for the writers are provided for by the Frankfurt Book Fair, while the city of Frankfurt is in charge of lodging the writer and providing for health insurance.
The programme “Frankfurt – City of refuge” is running concurrently with the programme “Writer in Exile”, which is organized by the German PEN Centre and enjoying funding by the German government.
An evaluation – and a new beginning
Following the departure of Mohammad Baharlo in 2014, the City of Frankfurt and the Frankfurt Book Fair decided that after so many years of accommodating writers from different backgrounds in Frankfurt, it was high time to evaluate the programme in order to find out how the day-to-day work can be done better.
In February 2015 a new agreement between the previous three partners was concluded. In September 2015, the seventh hosted ICORN guest writer arrived in Frankfurt: the Russian poet Anzhelina Polonskaya.