Jiri Grusa on his plans as PEN Club President


Jiri Grusa, photo: CTKJiri Grusa, photo: CTK Two weeks ago, we told you that the sixty-five-year old Czech writer, Jiri Grusa, had been elected president of the International PEN Club at the organisation's congress in Mexico City. A few hours after Mr Grusa got off his plane in Vienna, where he serves as the Czech Republic's Ambassador, I caught up with the - in his own words - jetlagged new president in the Austrian capital and asked him about his objectives in his new post.

"If we're talking about goals it means to prepare a plan of operation. I first need to talk to all my partners because the function of the president is more diplomatic than literary. My priorities are communication and openness. It is important to stress that freedom of expression is actually freedom from hatred. Then we will try to support "small literature" and try and facilitate its access to major markets. By "small literature" I don't just mean Czech literature but all indigenous literatures. I need to consult my Austrian organisation, the London centre and travel around a bit to find out more."

Jiri Grusa writes in German as well as in his native Czech. Although he is a Czech diplomat, he had been nominated for the presidential post by the Austrian branch of the PEN Club. The reason is simple.

"Originally, I was a member of the German PEN club, after my return I joined the Czech branch and in Vienna I became a member of the Austrian PEN club. The Austrians got the idea to nominate me and the Czechs supported it."

Mr Grusa is still the Czech Republic's Ambassador to Austria but he wants to work full time for PEN. According to the CTK news agency, he plans to work from Vienna. However, this is what Jiri Grusa told me when I asked him where he was planning to live from now on.

"I live in the Czech Republic. I live close to the parliament and so I have everything under control, so to speak. So I don't need to move anywhere. It is now just a technical question to phone the Foreign Minister to tell him about the election and we'll agree on further proceedings. I live in Mala Strana; I can see Prague Castle above me. Home is home."

In the former Czechoslovakia, Jiri Grusa was an active opponent of the Communist regime and was expelled in 1981 for his dissident activities. The organization whose acronym stands for Poets, Essayists and Novelists (P.E.N.) was founded in 1921 in Great Britain and the Czech branch was one of its first national centres. Its founder was the famous Czech author, Karel Capek who headed the Czech chapter for twelve years.