May 31, 2023

NEW YORK (AP) — Author and journalist Masha Gessen has resigned as vice president of the board of directors of PEN America, citing their dismay at the literary and free speech organization’s cancellation of an event featuring Russian panelists.

Last week, PEN hosted dozens of events for the annual World Voices Festival, an international gathering of writers and other public figures. One conversation allegedly involved two Russian dissident writers, with Gessen as moderator. A separate panel would consist of Ukrainian writers Artem Chapeye and Artem Chekh, active members of the Ukrainian military.

In an extended statement Tuesday, PEN acknowledged that a “misunderstanding” led to the Russians not being invited. Because of last year’s Russian invasion, the Ukrainians had objected to the presence of Russian panelists – a condition that PEN believed only applied to the event in Ukraine. After learning that Chapeye and Chekh generally did not want the Russians at the festival and could not reach a compromise, PEN recalled the Russian panel.

“They (the Ukrainians) informed us that they would not be able to participate, explaining that if both events had gone ahead, they could be barred from returning to Ukraine or face repercussions upon their return,” the statement said. statement from PEN.

“Confronted with the consequences of our mistake and without good options, we decided that the event should go ahead with the Ukrainians, given their circumstances and the risks they face as soldiers, that they had traveled a long distance to participate , and that they came up with a misunderstanding that we had contributed to.”

Gessen, whose decision was first reported by The Atlantic on Tuesday, is a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and an award-winning writer. They called PEN’s decision a betrayal of its principles and said PEN should not have tolerated guests not being allowed to speak “because someone else doesn’t want to.”

Gessen said they would remain a PEN member and continue to work with them on a journalism project, the Russian Independent Media Archive, which was announced in April. They won’t be attending the PEN Gala in Manhattan, the organization’s largest annual event, on Thursday night, “because it would be uncomfortable and sad to go,” Gessen told the AP.