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The International Conference
"Freedom of Expression and Censorship"
to be held in Rhodes, Greece 2-5 october 2014

Seminar invitation >>

Seminar program >>

Film about Black Sea Cruising 1994 >>

Speach held by Peter Curman at the conference Sufism and Peace
Islamabad march 14-16, 2010

Honorable President of Pakistan, president Fakhar Zaman of the Pakistan Academy of Letters, representatives of Swedish Embassy, fellow writers, colleagues and friends,

Let me first express how glad I am to be back in Islamabad again. It is actually my third visit to this cultural city. In November last year, when this conference was scheduled to take place, I was invited here to receive the outstanding literary award ”Quaid-e-Azam” at the same time as Motharma Benazir Bhutto was decorated with the same honour for her unforgettable fight to democratize this country. To me it was a breathless minute of honour. In my speach at the ceremony I recalled my first and only meeting with this unique personality. It was in 1995 here in this academy and already at that time she was a bright light in the political night. She stood firm behind the multiple voices of the writers and it was she that founded these prestigious prizes that, ironically, she was the first receiver of.

I think that we all agree on how important it is that this international conference on ”Sufism and Peace” take place here in Islamabad at this hour of mankind. In neighbouring country Afghanistan a disastrous war is going on and it also effects the security of Pakistan. Therefore many people in Europe always think and speak of Pakistan as a country of violence and terror forgetting that Pakistan is a craddle of culture dating some 5000. It is also this cultural heritage that gives also the living generation of people their pride and identity. It is my profund wish that this conference will send another message to the world. A message of peace and mutual understanding. It is also our task as writers to formulate all what we have in common as human beings where ever we live. We are indeed not ambassadors of our countries and nations but of our own hearts and lives. That is also why we have a possibility and a responsibility to exchange ideas between each other and also – inshala – to find ways of acting together.

We are all part of history. Our languages, ideas and ways of expression depend on visable and unvisable factors in our present surroundings. Europe has undergone a profound historical change during the last 25 years. Of course the roots of the changes started earlier but the start signal of a new Europe was the abolishment of the Berlin wall in 1989, symbolically two hundred years after the French revolution. It was the signal to all surpressed countries in eastern Europé to liberate themselves. Also inside the mighty Sovjet Union an internal revolution took place but the fantastic truth is that this European revolution – I really think that this is the right word! – took place without any bloodshed. The words and the argumentation was stronger than pansar and weapon. And also the writers of Europe participated activly in this historical change. The most striking example may be Vaclav Havel in Tjeckosovakia, who in three weeks from being a dissident became President of his country.

But also in peaceful and faraway Sweden we felt how the world was changing. Between us and our neighbouring countries was and is the Baltic Sea. For decades the sea for us was a blue locked door and behind that door was the big and dominating Sovjet Union. Countries like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania did not exist as countries in their own right- They were all occupied territories. But after 1989 they started to call upon our attention. They sang, they protested, they showed their faces. They claimed their own lives and cultures back.

And suddenly the Baltic Sea became an open door to our neigbouring countries, a sea that did not isolate but joined us together. During this historical period I happened to be the chairman of the Swedish Writers' Union. Very soon we got in contact with the writers around the Baltic Sea. Among them were the writers of Saint Petersburg in Russia and together we decided to call for the first Baltic conference after the second world war in order to to start a new cooperation between us all. In 1991 the writers unions of all countries round the Baltic Sea met in Leningrad – today Saint Petersburg – and decided to make a joint cruise on the Baltic sea. Also the Mayor of Leningrad, Mr Anatolij Sobtjak – a professor of history – gave his full support.

On the 25th of February 1992 the Russian vessel ”Konstantin Simonov” pulled out from the harbour of Saint Petersburg for a cruise that lasted for two weeks. Onboard the ship we had discussions about freedom of speach, literature, translations and a new cultural exchange. During the cruise we visited all major cities around the coastline and we also decided to create an international centre where we all could meet in the future. We were happy to find the municipality of the Swedish island Gotland, located in the middle of the Baltic Sea, interested in our project and only a year later, in 1993, we could inaugurate the first Baltic Centre for writers and translators. Since then it has been operating under the auspieces of UNESCO and welcomes writers to stay free of charge for two or three weeks to work, not only from the Baltic Sea region but also from other parts of the world.

Inspired by this success we repeated a writers cruise together with the Greek Writers Association in the Agean and the Black sea in 1994. This time we were some 400 writers from 30 countries cruising on the ship ”World Renaissance” from Pireus in Greece to Odessa in Ukraine, Constanta in Romanua, Varna in Bulgaria, Istanbul and Izmir in Turkey. Onboard we organized readings and seminars and in the harbours we read our poems and discussed the need for international exchange. Also this cruise resulted in a new literary centre on the Greek island of Rhodes where writers from the whole of Europe – and also outside Europe – are welcomed to spend a couple of weeks or even more for work and discussions. The cost for the writers' stay is free, all running of the centre is paid by the municipality of Rhodes.

To make show you the atmosphere and spirit among the writers onboard "World Renaissance" I brought with me a Greek DVD that I would be happy to show you when we find time in this conference, perhaps tonight.

Why do I tell you these writers' cruise adventures today here in Islamabad? Because I have a dream of a third cruise in Eastern Mediterranean. I am dreaming of a cruise starting from Limasol in Cyprus going to Alexandria, Port Said, Haifa, Beirut, Izmir ending in Istanbul. I am dreaming of a ship full of Arabic, Indian, Pakistanians and European writers reading poems and shorts stories, discussing and getting to know each other. The theme of the cruise should be: ”The role of the writer in areas of conflict”. I think that many of the participants in such a cruise will have a lot of ideas since there are so many conflicts in this area. Once we tried to arrange a big conference on Rhodes regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We failed. I learnt that if you focus only on one conflict everything gets much more difficult. Instead af a discussion your are suddenly converting it into a sort of trial. But the idea of the cruise I am dreaming of is to give space for all sorts of visions and ideas. And perhaps we should also end up in an Mediterranean Writers Centre.

Of course this is a dream but reality always take off from a dream. Let´s find a corner in this conference where we can discuss how to form a working group for serious discussions about such a cruise. If we can take the first step here in Islamabad we could perhaps take the second step in Cyprus in a small group practical and organizational matters, funding and routes.

But first of all I must ask you: Do you want to become sailors on such an international ship?

Islamabad, March 14, 2010

Peter Curman


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 Peter Curman, Fatburstrappan 18, 118 26 Stockholm, Sweden
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