“Russian PEN Center got broken on Sentsov”

That is how the Russian journalist Serguei Parkhomenko has commented on the decision on his lifelong expulsion from the creative association for alleged “provocative activity.” He believes the expulsion is directly linked to his criticism of Russian PEN leaders for their servile position regarding the fate of Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian filmmaker and writer illegally sentenced in Russia to 20 years in jail.

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Serguei Parkhomenko

In December 2016, more than sixty members of the Russian PEN, along with other intellectuals, urged Putin to “correct profound injustice,” that was the illegal conviction of Sentsov. The PEN Executive hurried to disown the initiative, calling it a stunt of the “opposition” members and then launched an internal purge within the organization. In its own statement, the Executive expressed its ‘arguments’ against the hypothetic presidential pardon and release of the Ukrainian prisoner.

“The PEN decided that, generally speaking, Sentsov should remain in jail and serve his term, and that there was no way to free him at all, let alone after the apology; he should be kept in soft and nice conditions, eat well, do exercises, sleep on a soft cushion, but still remain in jail,” the journalist Viktoria Ivleva sardonically describes that craven attitude.

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Oleg Sentsov

She notes that the Executive has been fully complying with the traditions of the Union of Soviet Writers, which once had ‘cleansed’ their ranks of the famous dissident literati Yuri Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Galich, Viktor Nekrasov, Vladimir Voinovich, Ivan Dziuba… “Serguei Parkhomenko, I think you are in a good company! Bravo!” adds Viktoria Ivleva. “Oleg Sentsov, please hold on! There are still people in Russia who love you.”

The Belarusian writer, Nobel Prize winner in Literature Svetlana Alexievich has also drawn a parallel between the current developments within the Russian PEN and the worst Soviet times. Responding to the expulsion of Parkhomenko, she has announced her own withdrawal from the association. Not for the first time, she stresses, do its leaders refuse to stand in defense of the victims of the Putin regime, thus scorning the foundational humanistic ideals of the PEN movement. “But Putin will go off, while this page will remain in the history of the PEN,” warns the writer.

In protest against the loyalist policy of the literary bureaucrats, other notable writers: Boris Akunin, Lev Rubinstein, and Aleksandr Ilichevsky also left the ranks of the Russian PEN. Thirty members of the Center signed the open letter calling the recent developments shameful and denying the legitimacy to the current Executive.

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