On refugees

One of the most important aspects of our “Faces of Diversity” project is to tackle current issues, including especially those which pertain to all groups facing the risk of stereotyping and exclusion. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years we have seen a rise in hate speech against refugees and a general lack of understanding of the situation they have found themselves in. For this reason, some of our actions are intended to explore the theme of public attitudes towards this group.

On June 20 each year, we participate in the celebrations of the World Refugee Day, established by the United Nations to draw our attention to the fate of refugees, the problems they face and the rights they enjoy. In connection with this international anniversary, we have organised anti-discrimination workshops entitled “Refugees: conceptions, meetings and attitudes”, during which we have discussed the relationships between the majority and the minority, stereotypes and prejudice against refugees living in Poland as well as on the ways in which we may react to instances of hate speech. 

We want our audiences to hear what it is like to be a refugee from people who have had this experience in their lives. For this reason, we have organised a screening of the film entitled “A Half of Me” which tells the story of a Chechen family which, despite many attempts, has ultimately failed to secure a refugee status in Poland. The film screening was accompanied by a discussion with Leyla Elsanova and Marina Aslambekova from Chechnya and Gennady Goretsky from Crimea. The discussion was hosted by Aleksandra Chrzanowska from the Association for Legal Intervention.

In cooperation with the Ocalenie (Salvation) Foundation, we have also held a discussion on the situation of refugees and the programmes for the integration thereof. During our discussion, we sought answers to the following questions: Who are the refugees who make their way into our country? What needs do they have? How can we – the host society – help them in the process of integration here in Poland? We have also discussed the features of the systems for the integration of refugees in Poland and Germany. The participants of the discussion, hosted by Katarzyna Oyrzanowska from the UNHCR, included Professor Halina Grzymała-Moszczyńska, Larisa Suleymanova (a refugee from Chechnya and a mentor among refugees), Piotr Bystrianin (CEO of the Ocalenie Foundation) and Harald Glöde from Borderline-Europe, a German NGO.

Back in 2015, there appeared the idea for various cultural institutions, non-governmental organisations and the media to fight back against the growing hostility towards refugees. It was announced that October 15 would be celebrated as the Refugee Solidarity Day. The POLIN Museum joined the appeal “to tell all of those who are forced to flee their homeland due to wars, chaos, hunger, carnage and destitution: »You are welcome here!«. Because Poland has always been a place of hospitality and solidarity. Because the fate of refugees and migrants forms an inseparable part of our culture and history. Because we have always been able to show our support and compassion to others – and we will do so again”.

On that day, one could express solidarity with refugees in a symbolic manner, for example by taking a photo with the event’s slogan as a sign of support, or by making a donation. In cooperation with the Ocalenie (Salvation) Foundation, we put up special stands for experts in the Museum hall where visitors could talk to both refugees themselves and to specialists working with refugees and migrants. On that day, the Museum also invited Refugees Welcome Poland – an initiative focusing on providing accommodation to refugees and foreign nationals awaiting the allocation of refugee status – to put up their own information desk on the premises.

Pictures of the photo actions:

In 2016, the Museum participated in the celebrations of the Refugee Solidarity Day once again. We hosted a lecture entitled “Refugees and the Holocaust”, during which Iwona Kurz, PhD, discussed the state of the public debate on the issue of refugees and migrants, emphasising the crucial role which our conceptions of the Holocaust play in that debate. We have also invited our guests to take part in an event called “The Holocaust – A Lesson Not Learned (Between the extermination of Jews and the 2016 European refugee crisis) – a tour of the “Holocaust” gallery prepared by Professor Jacek Leociak, PhD. Through this initiative, we wanted to pose a question whether exploring the gallery may help us understand the causes of the greatest crisis of contemporary Europe – the drama of Syrian refugees which unfolds before our eyes. Professor Jacek Leociak, who led the tour, demonstrated that the history of the Holocaust, examined from a contemporary perspective, demonstrates all the mechanisms of exclusion, stigmatisation, separation, isolation, persecution and, ultimately, extermination. It also uncovers the ideological foundations of the erstwhile “hate speech”, which, in fact, turns out to be quite similar to the hate speech of today – even to the point of being downright identical in places. 

In May and June 2016, we have organised an educational cycle entitled “On refugees: media, images and imaginations”. Held over the course of a few weeks, this educational cycle was an attempt to respond to the increasingly tense atmosphere surrounding the issue of refugees and also an attempt to analyse messages that we receive from the media in connection with the refugee crisis. During the meetings, we carried out a critical analysis of the images of refugees that the media had created in our minds as we tried to consider our potential influence on this message. The aim of the cycle was to create short videos that would deconstruct this image and present the subject from a different perspective. The seminar was conducted by David Sypniewski, a film-maker and anti-discrimination coach, and Khava Soldaeva, a refugee from Chechnya and an activist of the Culture Practitioners Association.

 The cycle also featured anti-discriminatory workshops during which the participants had an opportunity to discuss stereotypes and prejudices which are connected with the manner in which we speak and think about refugees, migrants and people "from the outside". The workshops were an introduction to a debate on how these aspects influence the image created by the media. The seminars also featured meetings with migrants, refugees, and people working in organisations and institutions that support refugees and migrants – Leyla Elsanova, a mentor of migrants, refugee from Chechnya and an employee of the Ocalenie Foundation, Gagik Grigorian, a migrant from Georgia, Aleksandra Chrzanowska from the Association for Legal Intervention, and Mateusz Krępa from the Office for Foreigners.

Six videos were produced as the final result of the workshops. Each of them focuses on a different aspect of being a refugee, migrant, or someone from “outside” our society. 

In her "Strachy Khavy" (Khava's Fears) video, Natalia Nguyen refers to the private story of Khava Soldaeva. The video tells us how a refugee feels in our country, in our backyard, what his or her "fears" are and how we can help them overcome those fears.

Emilia Akonom, the creator of the "Za zasłoną ignorancji" (Behind the Veil of Ignorance) video, reflects on what determines who we are. What makes us valuable in the eyes of society? Who has the right to decide what the value of an individual is? She is trying to find answers to these questions by giving the floor to the video's protagonist – a refugee, but at the same time a social activist and philosopher.

“Z komentarzem” (With Commentary) is a video by Justyna Szałańska, Marta Błaszczyńska and Martyna Dębska, in which its makers let the refugees speak for themselves. We have an opportunity to listen to the difficult histories of the protagonists who describe their experiences and painful memories as they travel again along the painful route that brought them to Poland

“Bajka o kocie bilionerze” (The Fairytale of a Trillionaire Cat) is a subversive story about overcoming difficulties and fulfilling one's dreams against all odds.

Alicja, Marika, Weronika, Volha and Vasyl – the authors of the "Granice" (Borders) video – in a symbolic and metaphorical way discuss the subjects of human rights, authority, and dehumanised rules and regulations which ultimately determine many people's lives.

The “Fale” (Waves) video by Bartosz Kania, Katarzyna Prokopowicz and Anna Sałata speaks about the nameless “wave of refugees” that the media constantly used to instil fear in their audiences. The video is an attempt to show the human face of the “wave”.