Publishing Persecuted and War-Affected Authors: Europe’s #FreeAllWords

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The new #FreeAllWords initiative is an effort by European writers and translators to publish Ukrainian and Belarusian writings.

Tulips in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Independence Square, July 7. Image-Getty iStockphoto: Slavko Sareda

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

See also: Rights Edition: Canada’s Guernica Editions Acquires Ukrainian Author Ivan Baidak’s ‘(In)visible’

‘A Bridge of Free Expression’
The newly established #FreeAllWords initiative is led by the European Writers’ Council as “a European support project by authors for authors.”

At its core, the program is a “fee and translation fund” geared to support the voices of writes “who are condemned to silence” in “countries under pressure.”

The phrase countries under pressure is a useful one in this context, referring to the kind of challenges to freedom of expression and the freedom to publish that we know too well are in play in the two nations on which the program is at the outset mainly focused: Ukraine and Belarus.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the European Writers’ Council is the writing and translating community’s face to the European Union, primarily a policy and issue organization with 46 member organizations from 30 countries. The council is joined in this new initiative by “CEATL,” as it’s known, the European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations. The key impetus for the creation of #FreeAllWords is credited to authors’ associations in Switzerland, Norway, and Belarus.

In time, the initiative’s programming is to be extended “to authors in the European book sector who deal with antiwar themes; with human rights attacks or dictatorial regimes; and/or with restrictions on speech through state censorship or oppressive laws in their writing.

Structurally, the program is developed as a “foundation- and donation-based project” with a goal of “at least 1 million published words for peace and freedom of expression.

Under the program’s aegis, the output can include “short, actual, published, as well as new original texts, interviews, reports, essays, poems, and other short forms, [which] are to be translated into European and international languages and disseminated in a wide variety of communication channels–digital, print, blogs, media, other forms. In particular, writers’ and translators’ associations in the European book sector, and also literature institutions are welcome to request texts and bring the authors closer to the public.”

Early participants include:

  • Kaciaryna Andrejeva (Bachváłava), a Belarusian journalist
  • Hanna Komar, an award–winning poet and translator, who was born in Baranavichy in 1989 and lives in Minsk
  • John Farndon, a British writer of books, plays and music who appeared on a Publishing Perspectives Talks panel on the climate crisis at Frankfurter Buchmesse in 2019
  • Ángela Espinosa Ruiz, a Spanish translator, Belarusian language poet, and researcher
  • Barys Piatrovič is a Belarusian writer and novelist
  • Svetlana Lavochkina is a novelist, poet, and translator
‘Tear Down Lukaschenko’s Information Firewall’

Nina George, the German author and president of the European Writers’ Council, says that the dissolution of the Union of Belarusian Writers by the government of Alexander Lukashenko last autumn and Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine in late February are the incidents that put these two countries into the center of the #FreeAllWords effort first.

Nina George

In Belarus, she says, the writers’ union’s “former members were blacklisted and monitored on social media. “They can no longer publish texts, not even as a blog, without risking prison or other insane, almost Kafkaesque punishments, such as the freezing of their bank accounts, travel bans, and the confiscation of their computers or mobile phones. In this project, we wanted to enable their writings and their voices to be read and heard outside of Belarus.

“We wanted to tear down Lukashenka’s information firewall.”

And in terms of Putin’s war on Ukraine, she says, “It was immediately clear to us that here, too, we must express solidarity with our colleagues, not only with expressions of protest or horror, but also with pragmatism.”

“Accordingly, the #FreeAllWords text and translation fund has been expanded, and in the long run and if more foundations decide to support the cause, it will be extended to other crisis zones in Europe–everywhere authors are persecuted, harassed, and/or deprived of their voices.”

Authors from Ukraine and Belarus are invited to apply with short, new or already published texts. These can be reports, essays, poetry, or interviews. Literary translators who translate from the Ukrainian and Belarusian language areas are also invited to register. They, too, will be presented on the homepage; their fees will be paid from the donation-based funds for writings and translations.

An opening tranche of writings and translations by 30 authors from Ukraine and Belarus are expected to be published in as many as 31 countries in coming months.

On the program’s new site, you’ll find pages for participating authors and translators as well as instructions on joining the effort as a writer and/or as a translator. European writers’ associations are being encouraged to ask for writings produced by the project, and to introduce the authors to their respective followings and constituencies. A media campaign is anticipated for late this month, and #FreeAllWords is to be presented at Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 19 to 23) in what’s expected to be by then a maturing initiative.

Alena Makouskaya is project manager, and Aliaksandra Dvaretskaya is the project assistant.

And George, in talking about the urgency and dynamics of the project says that one component of the effort is to avoid allowing the world—distracted by so many challenges in this year of upheaval—to look away or put distance between itself and what’s happening in Ukraine and Belarus and, eventually, other societies in which creative citizens are “under pressure.”

“Distance covers up fear, blood, and death,” Nina George says, “in a way that tends to prevent compassion and pragmatic help.” What the world can’t afford at this point, she says, is that distance “from the people suffering under war and dictatorship.”

#FreeAllWords is one way the vast 160,000-person membership of the European Writers’ Council’s national associations are trying to hold their colleagues close at a time of unspeakable and inexcusable difficulties.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the impact on publishing of Vladimir Putin’s Russia on Ukraine is here, more on the crisis in Belarus is here, more on the European Writers’ Council is here, more on translation and translators is here, and more from us on freedom of expression and the freedom to publish is here.

And more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.