Under John Galsworthy’s presidency, the eleven centres that constitute the PEN International Club have already met, one of which, the PEN Català, is represented by the presence of Pompeu Fabra and Josep Millàs-Raurell. They attend the preparation of a complex process where the initial movements are insecure and one where the cogs of the machine that is already on the move need to be carefully put together in a consensus-building fashion. It is more difficult than it seems and the congress sessions are carried out with an undercurrent of unrest. Even though PEN International has clearly stated that they will remain cut off from politics, there is an internal tension in the air from the very first day.
The Belgian writers have refused to take part if the Germans are to be invited and the French centre, presided over by Anatole France, protests because the English PEN has nominated Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Romain Rolland, as the honourable president of the Congress. The wounds of the First World War haven’t completely healed yet and they are easily reopened. During the war years, Romain Rolland distinguished himself for his energetic commitment to peace, and from the oasis of Switzerland, he had appealed to several French and German intellectuals asking them to collaborate in favour of peace. His essay Au-dessus de la mêlée (1915), has created enemies for him amongst the French writers, but at the same time it has been the springboard for his entry into the Nobel Prize laureates. With the controversy and tensions more or less buried, they will nevertheless continue throughout the twenties and heighten during the thirties. PEN International will take the wise decision to maintain a certain distance and autonomy from states and political parties and align itself, in a general manner, to the defence of human rights.