Belarusan ICORN’s fellow visits Krakow

Lavon Barshcheuski, whose name appears on several hundred publications, a writer, poet, translator and human rights activist politically persecuted in Belarus, became this year’s fellow of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN). The author of translations from Latin, ancient Greek, German, English, French, and Polish is the fourth ICORN fellow in Krakow. Villa Decius, for years an important residential centre for writers and a place of reflection about human rights and the freedom of speech, implements the scholarship programme and provides the fellows with a place for creative work in cooperation with the Krakow Festival Office and the Municipality of Krakow. Krakow’s role in the international ICORN’s strategy is emphasized by the fact that the Head of the Villa Decius Association, Danuta Glondys, was elected a new member of the network’s board. This prestigious body is also composed of representatives of other cities belonging to the ICORN: Peter Ripken (Frankfurt), Leikny Haga Indergaard (Bergen), Jasmina Arambasic (Ljubljana), Annika Strömberg (Uppsala) and Chris Gribble (Norwich). International cooperation within the ICORN has a strategic position in the Krakow UNESCO’s City of Literature, in view of the development strategy comprising 10 crucial thematic areas, including the development of the connections between literature with human rights.

We are happy to introduce the next literary personality who found himself under the wing of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) – says Izabela Helbin, Director of the Krakow Festival Office. The issue of fighting for the freedom of speech and of artistic work is very much a current problem and there is still a need to defend both the literary independence and the writers. This time, the ICORN has offered a refuge to an outstanding Belarusan humanist and activist, Lavon Barshcheuski.

The International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), which was set up in 2005, offers asylum to writers and human rights defenders, who because of persecutions may not live and create freely in their own countries. One of the network’s originators was Salman Rushdie, whose novel, The Satanic Verses, raised violent protests throughout the Islamic world and resulted in a fatwa being put on the author by Ayatollah Khomeini. This sentence meant that each faifhful Muslim was obliged to kill the writer.

Krakow joined the ICORN in 2011. The moment of the City’s accession to the Network coincided with the solemn celebrations of the Czesław Miłosz Year in Poland. Krakow received the invitation as the first member city from Central and Eastern Europe. In the address to the City Council of Krakow, the ICORN’s executive authorities indicated that Krakow was an important and most justified candidate, which would set up an excellent model for other cities of that part of Europe. Helge Lunde, the Director of the ICORN, pointed out that thanks to its cultural traditions and rich artistic and literary life, Krakow would be a perfect place of refuge and creative inspiration for persecuted authors. He also indicated that the geopolitical situation of the city was equally significant and he called Krakow the Gate to the East, especially that numerous writers persecuted in Eastern countries neighbouring Poland are in the focus of ICORN’s interest. Since then Krakow has hosted three writers staying here under the residencyl programme: Maria Amelie (real name Madina Salamova (North Ossetia / now in Norway), Kareem Amer (Egypt / now in Sweden), and Mostafa Zamaninija (Iran).

In 2014, ICORN’s residence was granted to a Belarusan writer, poet, translator and human rights activist, Lavon Barshcheuski. As a result of the protests against the pro-Russian policy, in which he participated, in the years 1996-1999 he was excluded from the parliament, where since 1990 he had served as a member of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Belarus of the 12th term of office. In spite of the political discrimination he continued to be involved in politics and to appear on the international arena in connection with the issues concerning Belarus. Among others, he translated the works of Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Bertold Brecht, Franz Kafka, Stanisław Wyspiański, Bruno Schulz, Czesław Miłosz, and Sławomir Mrożek. In the years 2003-2005, he was the President of the Belarusan PEN Club.

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