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2022: THE POWER OF WORDS: Future challenges for freedom of expression

The Power Of Words

88th PEN International Congress | The Power of Words: Future challenges for freedom of expression | September 27 - October 1, 2022

Swedish PEN is delighted to announce that the 88th PEN International Congress will take place in Uppsala on September 27 - October 1, 2022. Representatives from PEN International’s many Centres around the world are invited to work together and develop PEN International’s core issues through discussions, debate, and decisions, sharing practices, experiences, as well as celebrating literature and all forms of writing.


The power of words – future challenges for freedom of expression

Freedom of expression is under pressure across the world, facing a number of new and old threats. Authoritarian forces are gaining control, even in countries that have been regarded as democracies. Nationalists and extremists are challenging political systems. Writers and journalists are being harassed, persecuted, and killed. Governmental control and surveillance are increasing. Hate speech is poisoning public debate, causing growing fear and self-censorship. Those who write about new challenges to humankind, such as climate change and the environment – too often face harassments and threats, even to their life. This is an alarming development since we cannot act or practice our democratic rights without access to information.

When Thomas Mann was invited to give a speech at the PEN International Congress in Sweden in September 1939, the congress was cancelled in the last minute due to the outbreak of war. Mann’s speech The Problem of Freedom was nevertheless published in Sweden, and there Mann argues:

Evil has revealed itself before us in such immensity and intensity that our eyes again have to perceive the dignity and clear beauty of goodness (…) We must again make use of the words truth, freedom and justice; the excess of evilness has deprived us the right to be modest on this point.

At the first Congress after the war, in Stockholm in 1946, momentum was given to the discussions around PEN’s founding principles in the PEN Charter, and PEN became the first worldwide association of writers to point out that freedom of expression and literature are inseparable.

The 88th PEN International Congress aims to address what is yet to be done and determine constructive ways to approach the complex questions of tomorrow. How can we as an organization prepare ourselves for what comes next? The core of the agenda focuses on the acute state for freedom of expression in different parts of the world, and we are inviting you to discuss and challenge our understanding of the specific issues of hate speech, digital surveillance and PEN’s responsibilities in terms of access to environmental information.

Main venues

The main venues for the PEN International Congress are the Uppsala University building and Uppsala Castle.

Swedish PEN

Swedish PEN was founded in 1922 as one of the very first Centres of PEN. Today Swedish PEN has more than 700 members and is managed by a board of 13 members. The President is Jesper Bengtsson. Since 2017, Swedish PEN has also had a staffed secretariat with Managing Director Hanna Nordell and the Chief Editor of the PEN/Opp Kholod Saghir.

Swedish PEN supports imprisoned or persecuted writers, and to shed light on their situations we contact decision-makers and engage in public campaigns. Through debates, lectures, and public events, we spread knowledge and increase engagement in support of freedom of speech. Via our international internet forum PEN/Opp, texts that have been censored in many countries still reach readers all over the world. Since 1985, we have also had the Tucholsky Prize, which is awarded to a merited author who, as a result of their literary work, is forced to live in exile or under threat in their own country.


Sweden has a long tradition of openness and transparency. Sweden was, in 1766, the first country to introduce the constitutional law guaranteeing freedom of the press. The Freedom of the Press Act also states that those in authority must be held accountable and all information must be freely available.

Sweden’s five national minorities have long historical ties to the country. In 2000, Sweden recognised Jews and Yiddish, the Roma and Romani Chib, the Sami and the Sami language, the Swedish Finns and Finnish, as well as the Tornedalers and Meänkieli (sometimes called Torne Valley Finnish) as official minorities and minority languages.


Uppsala is located 71 km north of the capital Stockholm. It has 230,000 inhabitants. Founded in 1477, Uppsala University is the oldest center of higher education in Scandinavia. Among many achievements of note, the Celsius scale for temperature was invented here. Uppsala is easily reached by train in just 38 minutes from Stockholm and 18 minutes from Arlanda Airport.

88th PEN International Congress in Uppsala

The Congress is organized with support from Stiftelsen Natur & Kultur, Uppsala city, Uppsala University, Världsklass Uppsala, Swedish Institute, Swedish Arts Council, Swedish Academy, Kjell och Märta Beijers stiftelse, and private donors.