Already in 1997 Jacques Derrida held a prophetic lecture. This was during the International Parliament of Writers’ conference in Strasbourg on the topic of creating shelters for writers. The IPW had been formed on the initiative of Vaclav Havel and it campaigned the issue of sanctuaries for threatened and persecuted writers—a movement that followed on the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989. But as the IPW and PEN had claimed, the threat against Rushdie threw light also on the large group of writers who had either been killed or who were being persecuted but who had hitherto gone unnoticed—writers who were in need of protection to be able to continue to write and spread their or others’ ideas. Today in many places authors, journalists, and other cultural workers are being ever more harassed precisely because they put into words those things that totalitarian regimes and terrorist groups have forbidden in discourse.
The refuge network is a response to this silencing. Already in 1996 Stockholm provided a few refuges and two years later Gothenburg followed suit; in the entire world there are now approximately fifty such refuges—refuges that cooperate with ICORN in Stavanger, Norway. In 2006, when the IPW had monetary problems ICORN became the financial guarantor of the network. Besides ICORN there are also a few private shelters that offer protection and peace to work for those who are writing about controversial or forbidden topics.
But let us go back to Strasbourg in 1997. Derrida was also one of the initiators of the refuge network, and in his lecture he aimed to build a philosophical foundation for the enterprise and argue for its necessity. As witnesses to this necessity he lists several well-known persons who needed shelter such as Dante Alighieri, Immanuel Kant, and Hannah Arendt, but there are two strains in particular in Derrida’s reasoning that are important to highlight.