German writers’ association PEN dismantled itself in Gotha

A restart is sorely needed: Deniz Yücel, no longer President of the Bratwurstbude, and Christoph Nix.
Image: dpa

After the dispute at the conference of the German PEN, it is completely uncertain how the writers’ association will come to an understanding in the future. Daniel Kehlmann attested the club a “Brexit moment”.

Dhe German writers’ association PEN dismantled itself at its annual conference in Gotha over the weekend. For two days, in a breathtakingly toxic atmosphere, the members could be seen accusing each other of bullying, slander and insincerity – and they never stopped. The meeting lasted more than ten hours on Friday, at which words like “asshole” were shouted – and on Saturday members showed the middle finger. The previous PEN President, the journalist Deniz Yücel, was re-elected on Friday evening. When his embittered opponent, General Secretary Heinrich Peuckmann, was subsequently confirmed with a significantly larger majority and loud jeering broke out after the vote catapulted writer Joachim Helfer from the office of treasurer, Yücel ran to the microphone, into which he introduced the now legendary Satz yelled, “I don’t want to be president of this bratwurst joint, I’m resigning!”

Julia Encke

Responsible editor for the feuilleton of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sunday newspaper in Berlin.

How could it possibly come this far? After all, the “Welt” journalist, born in Flörsheim in 1973, who spent a year in Turkish custody for alleged terrorist propaganda, was only elected president in October 2021 in Frankfurt’s Paulskirche. On the one hand, the dispute was sparked by statements by Yücel, such as his demand for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which five of his predecessors considered incompatible with the PEN charter. Above all, however, in Gotha it was about internal processes that were then made public, allegations of bullying of employees, accounting reports and the question of whether the association should focus more on the political or the literary. Yücel himself attested to an increase in awareness of PEN, which was scornfully commented on by older members. His work for persecuted and imprisoned writers such as the Sudanese author Stella Gaitano and for the release of the Ugandan writer Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was enormous and successful.