Frankfurt – City of Refuge
Writers suffer persecution in many countries around the world – from bans on publication to imprisonment and threats to life and limb. It is for them that the Cities of Refuge programme was founded in the mid-nineties by the then International Parliament of Writers under its President of the time, Salman Rushdie. The city of Frankfurt joined the programme in 1997, with the support of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Since August 2007, the Cuban writer Carlos Aguilera has lived in Frankfurt as the city’s guest writer. The first guest writer under the City of Refuge scheme was the Iranian intellectual, Faraj Sarkuhi, who at the time when Frankfurt decided to accommodate him was still in prison in Teheran. This decision was largely influenced by the Frankfurt Book Fair directorate. Sarkuhi received a scholarship under the City of Refuge programme from 1998 to 2000 and he continues to live in Frankfurt under the Writers in Exile programme, started by PEN Germany. From January 2001 to the summer of 2002, Frankfurt was home to the writer Vasil Bykov (Belarus) and from 2004 to 2006, to Horacio Castellanos Moya (El Salvador). During this time, Castellanos Moya published two novels and travelled freely to promote his new books and translations into French and German. Since he cannot return to his native country because there are still death threats associated with his writings, he has in the meantime moved to Pittsburgh, USA.
Cities of Refuge
The Cities of Refuge network was started in the mid-nineties because many authors involved in the International Parliament of Writers felt that the time of resolutions and “quiet diplomacy“ for writers in distress was over. The city of Frankfurt soon joined the network, which started to host persecuted authors and gave them a place to work without political interference and censorship for at least one year. Having been part of the network under the umbrella of the International Parliament of Writers, it was logical that Frankfurt should join the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) when the International Parliament of Writers was dissolved. ICORN works closely with the International PEN Writers in Prison Committee and was formally inaugurated in June 2006 in Stavanger, Norway. The Frankfurt representative, Peter Ripken, has been involved from its inception. The city of Frankfurt also welcomes ICORN’s expanding field of contacts beyond Europe by closely cooperating with cities in Mexico and North America where more and more cities have declared a commitment to hosting writers in distress, including Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Cornell University, Ithaca.
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, (now a Member of the European Parliament) that it should join the Cities of Refuge network. The decision was taken because Frankfurt has always been an “open city” to many people from foreign countries and also because many German writers and intellectuals found refuge in other countries during the dark times of Nazi rule. In 1998, the Frankfurt Book Fair’s board of directors decided – on the occasion of its 50th anniversary - to support the programme Frankfurt – City of Refuge in order to show its commitment to the right of freedom of expression in concrete terms. The city’s cultural department and the Frankfurt Book Fair directorate designated the programme’s project management to the Society for the Promotion of African, Asian and Latin American literature (litprom), a non-profit literary agency and information centre, which co-operates closely with the Frankfurt Book Fair. Scholarships for guest writers are funded by the Frankfurt Book Fair, while the city of Frankfurt is responsible for accommodation and health insurance. The Frankfurt – City of Refuge scheme runs concurrently with the Writers in Exile programme which is organized by the German PEN Centre and funded by the German government.