n 26th Of October 2017 in Madrid at the TransEuropa Festival, I had the opportunity to appeal to the international community in support of Poles struggling against their far-right government’s suppression of their right to culture. On November 18th and 19th 2017 in Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw artists, culture makers and social movement representatives will meet to discuss the cultural situation in Poland under the far right regime now and in the future. It is an opportunity for their voices to be amplified among the Polish people. On behalf of organising team of the Forum for the Future of Culture, I repeat this appeal and am spreading it online to individuals, organisations and activist networks. Please respond.
In order to better understand an urgency for acting in solidarity with culture makers in Poland and to know why Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw became a flashpointfor the right to culture, please watch the following short film (English subtitles included):
On May 27th, 2017 far-right activists supported by religious groups sparked riots in front of Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw – a municipal, public, cultural institution. They also broke into the building and spread gas; injuring one. The attack was directed againsta performance by Croatian artist Oliver Frljić entitled “Klątwa” (“The Curse”) which – according to the rightists – offended their religious feelings and disgraced thet Polish nation. It was another episode of our culture war, organized by far-right in Poland for the last twenty years, against freedom of artistic expression, freedom of speech, autonomy of cultural institutions, and the right to culture. (For having an insight into discussions around “Klątwa” case and the culture war in Poland contexts, please read an issue of “Polish Theatre Journal” dedicated to relationships between theatre and democracy.)
In 2015 however, the equilibrium in Polish culture war swung sharply to the “illiberal side”. The Polish Law and Justice party and its Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. – immediately after having won total majority in Polish parliament in October 2015 elections – openly demanded the transformation of Polish culture, so would mirror the party’s patriotic fervor and Christian values rooted in the traditional heteronormative family. For two years members of the ruling party have executed their cultural visions by means of the political apparatus – launching new cultural institutions aimed at promoting acceptable values, changing directors of institutions directly subordinated to the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, dominating the public media, and limiting financial support for cultural civil society organisations who do not share their far-right worldview. Polish culture is turning barren.
Simultaneously, people haved presented resistance to those actions and cultivated limitless creativity, social engagement through culture, artivism as well as free and critical arts. In October 2016 over 3000 participants came to Warsaw for Citizens Culture Congress. It was a two day feast of cultural democracy with over 140 working groups. Powszechny Theatre played a crucial role in organisition of the Congress following its own approach of combining artistic productions, collaboration which civil society organisations and independent culture makers, social movements and neighbourhood associations.
In 2017, new social movements defending culture against the political designs of the far-right are flourishing – the Independent Culture movement has released a list of demands related to cultural freedoms, addressed to the government and signed by over six thousand citizens; artists are self-organising in guilds; trade unions (like Workers’ Initiative) are meeting regularly to discuss tactics to counter the transformation of the cultural field by focusing on culture workers labour conditions.
Powszechny Theatre itself is not remaining passive. On 18th and 19th of November 2017 the theatre is organising a Forum for the Future of Culture – which intends to gather social movements and activist to collaborate and define a future democratic Polish cultural. The Theatre has invited representatives of other Warsaw based cultural institutions, of university, media and citizens’ collectives to co-create the encounter. I’m a member of this working group and I hope the Forum becomes a starting point for reclaiming cultural space in Poland from the hands of the far right. In order to do that we’ve invited people from all over Europe. Inna Shevchenko of Ukrainian FEMEN collective, Árpád Schilling – creator of Hungarian Krétakör theatre and a dissident activist, Jonas Staal – well known political artist based in the Netherlands, are some of international guests of the Forum. We’ve also addressed our invitation to social movements in Poland – citizen’s movements, feminist groups, refugees’ movements, workers’ unions, ecological groups – people who have recently performed struggles in favour for respecting the fundamental rights and democracy in Poland. With this invitation we intend to express the support of people of culture for their efforts and ask them for their support for the struggles in a cultural space.
We would very much like to encourage acts of international solidarity with people of culture in Poland. Please, express your support for Polish people, please join us in a struggle for defending the fundamental right to culture. Let there be tears in the theatre again, this time however, not because of gas.
I invite everyone to contribute to a solidarity action with people of culture in Poland, with people in Poland in general. Below you can find social media contacts of the Forum for the Future of Culture:
E-mail: [email protected]
Please, send us a few sentences of your support, or a picture, or anything you want. We’ll share them among people in Poland and politicians responsible for culture in Poland – to show them that we’re not alone in our struggle and that the eyes of the world are watching. We will also present the gestures of your solidarity during the Forum for the Future of Culture itself. Thank you!
Allow me to finish by quoting the manifesto we – the organising team of the Forum – released as an invitation for people in Poland and elsewhere to participate in the 18th and 19th of November encounters.
In the autumn of 2016, this slogan brought together nearly three thousand participants of the Congress of Culture. We met up in Warsaw and talked about culture in Poland during three days. We finished the meeting with the conviction that a new heated debate had begun, the Congress being an important, but not the only, place of it. We have no doubt that culture is one of the fields and, at the same time, the subject of a political dispute growing ever more intense. Its stake is similar as when Poland’s independence was being shaped one hundred years ago and when, two centuries ago, efforts to save independence had failed.
After another hundred years, we need to answer again who we are and who we want to be. The political camp which has been in power since 2015 clearly defines its purpose: it is a top-down abolition of social pluralism and the subordination of Polish people’s life to the apparatus of the national state. Cultural reduction is the main element of this policy. Under the slogan of restoring traditional values, strengthening national identity and pride or shaping patriotism, culture institutions are being taken over and subjugated to the ideological programs of the group in power; independent culture is being impoverished and the artists’ work – censored. At the same time, the authorities are developing a propaganda system programmatically using falsehood and disinformation on a scale reminiscent of the propaganda of the People’s Republic of Poland. Culture is being confused with worship, artistic criticism of works with religious judgment, and the Ministry of Culture is dealing only with heritage and history. Hate speech and xenophobia are escalating to find their expression, more and more frequently, in physical violence; citizens’ freedoms are at risk, misogyny and obscurantism are running rampant.
It is precisely culture that is the essence of the dispute and the stake for the future. We need an all-encompassing, open and socially shared vision which will embrace the multitude and variety of experiences, practices, tastes; a vision based on humanist values, founded on respect for human dignity and rights as well as for the environment; drawing on the resources of local, national, European and human heritage.
Recognising this challenge, referring to the achievements of the Congress of Culture in 2016 and its message, we call: let us get together again!
Let us meet up in the autumn of 2017, to discuss culture in Poland and its future.
Let us meet up to work on the vision of culture and society of the 21st-century Republic of Poland, a member state of the European Union and a responsible member of the international community.
Let us meet up to undertake the task of inventing a project for the future: creating a vision of the culture we dream of, one which we would desire for ourselves today, as well as for future generations. We need new stories which will return us hope and sense of commitment and action for shared values. It is the Bildung work, mentioned by Maria Janion in her letter written to the Congress – the work of understanding leading to empathy, the wise effort of transforming oneself and the world around. Let us not allow the vision of the future to be taken away from us!
Let us meet up, there is no alternative to free culture.