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This report is taken from PN Review 108, Volume 22 Number 4, March - April 1996.

Letter from Belgrade Stephen Romer

The thirty-second Belgrade International Meeting of Writers took place in late October 1995. Although President Milosevic insists that Serbia is not at war, it was not an easy invitation to accept, especially coming from a NATO country: 'but they're dropping bombs on us' was apparently the initial reaction of a member of the Writers' Association of Belgrade. In addition to this, to the five topics proposed for discussion - A Prayer for the Twenty-First Century, The Internal Light of the Microcosmos, Literature in the Global Village, Literature and Love, The Writer and the Cold Peace - a sixth was added at the last moment, and faxed through to participants: Why are they killing the Serbs? I found out later, on arrival in Belgrade, that this topic had occasioned the withdrawal of Serbian PEN from supporting the meeting, as (not surprisingly) too nakedly political…

Last year's topic was Literature and Violence, another invitation to discuss current events, though with Bosnian Serb forces losing territory and the target of Nato air-strikes the situation was if anything more desperate this year. However, cultural sanctions have since been lifted, and some fifty writers from twenty countries attended the meeting.

On arrival at the airport a couple of white UNHCR mini-buses were drawn up outside, apparently being used as taxis into the city. I hitched a ride from two BBC journalists, who were headed for the luxurious glass palace of the Sheraton Hyatt. On the bleak highway into Novi Beograd ...

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