It seems like PEN has spent the last 20 years supporting the struggle for freedom of expression in Myanmar, championing the plight of writers in prison, such as the founding members of the Myanmar Pen, Dr Ma Thida (Sanchaung) and Nay Phone Latt, both recipients of PEN Awards.
Now PEN has come to Myanmar.
An exploratory team of senior delegates, including the General Secretary, from PEN Publisher Circle, came to Yangon last July to conduct workshop training sessions with Yangon publishers. They also spent a day with Dr Ma Thida, Han Zaw and 25 other Myanmar writers to discuss the possibility of a new PEN Chapter in Myanmar.
Only 2 months later, Nay Phone Latt presented a speech to the Assembly of Delegates at the 79th International PEN Congress in Iceland, proposing support for the launch of the PEN Myanmar Chapter.
Finally, October 3rd, saw the launch of the chapter at House of Media and Entertainment on Bo Aung Kyaw Road.
Dr Ma Thida, Nay Phone Latt and Dr Pe Myint, took it it turns to address the crowd of poets, writers and media representatives, in explaining the process behind the chapter, the chapter’s constitution and membership structure.
PEN Myanmar has 3 main goals
- establish a culture of new literautre
- protect and promote freedom of expression
- improve education through creative writing
Of course, even with recent literary reforms, Myanmar is not the bastion of free speech the Western media likes to applaud, see the Freedom House report which still lists Burma as Not Free. Pen Myanmar is not registered with the Government, nor will it in the foreseeable future. If not signatories to the new Associations Bill passed in July, PEN Myanmar will not even be legally allowed the simple things such as a logo, and if they feel obliged, the central government can constitutionally shut then down. Though Thein Sein, being an able pragmatist, would probably predict the inevitable outrage this would entail, ensures the continuity of Myanmar Pen at least until the next general election
Which is why Thursday was a milestone day for the literary community in Myanmar.
A Pen chapter in Myanmar!