Sun, Nov 05, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Poetry festival succumbs to bureaucracy: organizers

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

A combination of political maneuvering and bureaucracy has bruised the 2006 Taipei Poetry Festival, festival organizers alleged yesterday.

The festival, which was launched yesterday by the Taipei City Government's cultural affairs department at Zhongshan Hall and will run to next Sunday, was scaled back for lack of two guest poets from abroad, who couldn't obtain visas.

The world-famous poets -- Nancy Morejon from Cuba and Apti Bisultanov from Chechnya -- were denied visas by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) for petty political reasons, festival organizers said.

Morejon was reportedly denied a visa because she is from a communist country with which Taiwan has no relations. Bisultanov, meanwhile, was denied a visa because Taiwan, which plans to open a representative office in Vladivostok, Russia, doesn't want to rock the boat with Russia by issuing a visa to a Chechen nationalist, local media reported.

Russia has fought two brutal wars since the end of the Cold War against separatists in the southern republic of Chechnya, which Russia considers a part of its territory.

Cultural Affairs Department Spokesman Teng Tsung-te (鄧宗德) said that deliberate political maneuvering by the ministry as well as bureaucracy were to blame.

Ministry's response

MOFA spokesman David Wang (王建業) told the Taipei Times yesterday that Morejon and Bisultanov hadn't met the procedural requirements for obtaining visas.

Bisultanov, Wang claimed, submitted travel documents that were valid for less than six months, while the ministry requires that foreigners possess relevant documents that are valid for at least six months to be eligible for a visa.

As for Morejon, Wang said she would have needed an invitation to participate in an event organized by the central government to be eligible for a landing visa. As the poetry festival is a local government-sponsored event, she didn't qualify, Wang added.

Responding to a suggestion by the festival organizers that Morejon could have been issued a landing visa by Taiwan's Guatemala office, Wang said,"landing visas are issued only under special circumstances -- we can't have everybody coming over on a landing visa."

Department Commissioner Sebastian Liao (廖咸浩) responded to Wang's comments by saying that Morejon was so demoralized by the visa application process that she lost interest in coming to Taiwan.

"This is really a pity. We need to win respect [on the international stage], not discourage people like Morejon from coming," Liao told the Taipei Times by telephone yesterday.

Mixed messages

"Taiwan has been trying to get the message out there that the world needs to distinguish between culture and politics. But here we are contradicting our own message," Liao said, adding that the ministry's behavior wouldn't win the country "permanent friends" in the international community.

"My office sat down with a ministry official, and he effectively told us that the festival wasn't important enough for the ministry to go the extra mile in helping Mrs Morejon come to Taiwan. I don't blame the whole ministry; I have good friends who work there," Liao said.

According to Teng, the festival has been held annually for seven years. He added that the festival's theme this year is poetry whose authors hail from "marginalized countries" in the West -- countries that have a lot in common with Taiwan.

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