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PEN YOUTUBE: Why Dictators Are Afraid of Literature

December 22, 2023 IN WIP
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Although writers have no armies they are feared by autocrats, says Indian-born British-American novelist Salman Rushdie, because of their alternative versions of the world. Rushdie survived an assassination attempt in 2022 which came 32 years after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him for alleged blasphemy.

The number of writers who are persecuted and often driven into exile has been increasing all over the world for years. Arts Unveiled talks to writers Salman Rushdie, Stella Nyanzi, Gioconda Belli, Burhan Sönmez and Volha Hapeyeva about the power of novels and poems. And why they refuse to give up despite intimidation.

Stella Nyanzi from Uganda was imprisoned twice in a high-security jail and her family was threatened because of a poem which was deemed insulting to President Museveni.

Gioconda Belli, a bestselling author from Nicaragua, had her citizenship revoked by President Ortega and all her property confiscated. She lives in exile but continues to write and fight against what she calls an unjust regime.

Burhan Sönmez, President of the writers’ association PEN International and a Turkish Kurd, has also been imprisoned under various Turkish regimes and receives death threats to this day.

Dmitry Glukhovsky is a bestselling author of dystopian novels. And he’s been living in exile from Russia since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Only a few weeks ago, he was accused of being a “foreign agent” and was sentenced to eight years in prison. For condemning the war, he’s been accused of being an “enemy of the state.” #dwhistoryandculture For more visit: ⮞ Follow DW Culture on Facebook:   / dw.culture   ⮞ Follow DW Culture on Twitter: Please follow DW’s netiquette: 00:00

Intro 01:05 Why dictators are afraid of writers

03:09 Stella Nyanzi vs. Yoweri Museveni

08:09 Salman Rushdie vs. the Iran authority

10:00 Burhan Sönmez vs. Turkish nationalists

13:33 Gioconda Belli vs. the Nicaraguan regime

18:38 Dmitry Glukhovsky vs. the Kremlin

23:42 What does the future hold for the writers?

25:29 Conclusion

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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International