"My ambition is not to become president: that is too pedestrian for me."
Homero Aridjis for Právo, 18.4.2002
You have been active in politics and diplomacy. When you gave up this career was it because you wanted to do something more useful?
I decided not to work in the government any longer because I could not stand the massive corruption in the pyramid of power, from the president on down. Whenever a Mexican president left office, with billions in his pockets, there were millions of poor people living in the cities and countryside of Mexico. In 1982, I resigned as director of culture in my state in protest against the arbitrary cancellation of an international poetry festival which I was organizing. The country had just been declared bankrupt by the president, and Mexico was reeling. After holding the poetry festival with the support of artists and private citizens, I was blacklisted for the next three years, a blessing in disguise as I was able to work ten hours a day on my first historical novel 1492 THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUAN CABEZON OF CASTILE.
Later you have become what we call today an ecological activist. Do you think the Earth - and mankind - will survive what people do to it?
On March 1, 1985, I and 99 other writers and artists issued a protest against air pollution in the Valley of Mexico, and suddenly the Group of 100 was born. A sea surged from the Pandora's box we opened and I have been riding the waves ever since. Nature can survive without man - in fact, that may be its salvation ---, but man cannot survive without nature. The Greek stoics believed that man had a place in the universe, which was a living organism with a soul, a material deity. The deity was the universal law of nature. How can we make human beings perceive losses in nature as their own personal losses? The melting of polar ice, the death of the Aral Sea or even the disappearance of a minute and still unnamed organism in a tropical forest affect us all. Only by changing the consciousness of human beings can we hope to change their behaviour towards the earth. If we don't, we are undermining our future as a species.
Have you ever experienced anything that prevented you to write? And how do you cope with such experiences?
Since becoming involved in the defence of the environment, I have often felt like a doctor in an emergency room. And during these five years as president of PEN, there have often been interruptions to my writing. Defending human rights and defending nature have been exhilarating, but also have been depleting my energy for the past 20 years. I recharge my batteries by returning to nature and to literature and then I feel at peace again, and by loving my wife and two daughters. As William Butler Yeats wrote, "in dreams begin responsibilities." I think there are no more tyrannical dreams than the moral commitments we take upon ourselves.
You are the president of the International PEN Club. Do you think that organizations such as PEN are useful?
If I didn't feel that PEN serves a purpose, I wouldn't be in my fifth year as its president. PEN was founded in London in 1921 and it's one of the world's oldest international alliances, ‚the leading voice of literature world-wide.' Czech PEN was among the first centers to become active in the early 1920s. Today PEN's 124 Centers in 93 countries are committed to protecting and defending writers who are threatened and to upholding freedom of expression wherever it is under siege. PEN has weathered the rise and fall of fascist and communist dictatorships, and has witnessed brutal civil wars and ethnic cleansings and the globalization of the arms trade, and most recently, the globalization of terrorism, which strikes directly at the open, democratic society which is our shared global ideal. Terrorism and the war on terror undermine freedom of expression and give governments a pretext to curb civil liberties. Writers must be free to bear witness.
Recently, PEN appealed to writers to rise above the politics of war and hatred, and to take leadership roles in the search for peace. We wrote that laying blame will not save lives and asked all our colleagues to look beyond our differences and campaign together for peaceful coexistence in the Middle East.
Have you ever considered returning into politics? Maybe to change things you cannot change otherwise? Would you candidate for presidency?
The temptation to work inside the government has been strong at times, but the brutal realities of politics require too many compromises. I was asked to run for governor of my home state, but I turned this down. A politician seeks to stay in power; a poet dreams of writing a masterpiece. I would never exchange my intellectual and spiritual freedom for money and power. My ambition is not to become president ---that is too pedestrian for me. My fantasy is to be an exterminating angel and change the world.
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