Major series of talks

Press release of 1, July 2024

Parliaments elections in federal states in Eastern Germany: major series of talks organised by PEN Berlin

In the run-up to the parliaments elections in Eastern Germany, PEN Berlin is organising a series of talks in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg under the title “You Can’t Say Anything These Days – talks about democracy and freedom of expression”. There will be 37 events, from Annaberg to Perleberg, from Ilmenau to Zwickau.

Freedom of expression is at the heart of the international writers’ association PEN. PEN Berlin, founded in summer 2022, stands up for writers who are persecuted, threatened and arrested simply because they have exercised their right to freedom of speech and artistic freedom.

Many people in Germany also feel that freedom of expression is in jeopardy. The means and opportunities to formulate criticism and make one’s voice heard have never been greater. However, the number of people who feel restricted is growing.

While in 1990, 78 per cent of Germans still believed that people in Germany were free to express their views and only 16 per cent considered caution to be appropriate, the two figures have steadily converged since then. In 2023, the Allensbach Institute found that, for the first time, more people thought freedom of expression was restricted (44 per cent) than thought it was guaranteed (40 per cent).

If we take a closer look, we can see that some of those who complain today about “narrow corridors of opinion”, “bans on thought and speech” and “cancel culture” will tomorrow – depending on the issue at hand – try to draw their own boundaries of what is permissible.

Freedom of expression doesn’t mean we’re free from being contradicted. But even the feeling of restricted freedom of expression makes social dialogue more difficult. Those who believe they cannot speak freely are also much less willing to listen to their counterparts.

This is where PEN Berlin wants to start with this series of events: “We are convinced that democracy thrives on dialogue. That is why we are seeking dialogue with people who fear that they will no longer be able to express their opinions freely”, says PEN Berlin spokesperson Eva Menasse. “We don’t want to get involved in party politics ahead of the state elections in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg. Our focus is on encouraging genuine, even tough dialogue.”

PEN Berlin attaches great importance to audience participation. The two panellists and one moderator (renowned journalists from regional and national media, writers, publicists, cabaret artists) will engage with people. “We were unsure how our idea would be received in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg”, says PEN Berlin spokesperson Deniz Yücel. “Over the past few weeks, we have approached around 50 cultural institutions – theatres, independent and municipal cultural centres, libraries, citizens’ initiatives, etc. – as cooperation partners. Nobody thought our idea was schoolmasterly, everyone was very open-minded.” “We are therefore confident that the idea is not such a bad one.”

The series will kick off on 5 August at the “Weltecho” in Chemnitz with a discussion between German scholar and journalist Dirk Oschmann and historian Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk, moderated by journalist Bettina Baltschev. On 19 September at the Waschhaus Potsdam, the writer Monika Maron will speak with the writer and PEN Berlin spokesperson Eva Menasse, moderated by journalist Jan Feddersen (taz). As with all opening and closing events, there will be a small accompanying cultural programme, with the musician PeterLicht in Chemnitz and the comedian Sebastian23 in Potsdam.


You can find all the information  on our website, including an overview of the participants, dates and venues, as well as detailed descriptions with short biographies of the participants (Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg).

We extend our heartfelt thanks to the Stiftung Orte der deutschen Demokratiegeschichte, the programme “Tolerantes Brandenburg”, „Denk bunt”, the Thuringian “Landesprogramm für Demokratie, Toleranz und Weltoffentheit”, and the Thuringian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports for their sponsorship. We would also like to thank all the participating cultural institutions and city councils for their open-mindedness and excellent cooperation.

PEN Berlin – We stand by our word




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