Whose is Warsaw? Who may call themselves Varsovians? Where do the city's borders lie? And how many of them are there? We asked these questions during a series of activities dedicated to Warsaw (autumn 2013). Beginning from the subject of the city we are living in, we wanted to start a broader discussion on interculturalism, diversity and otherness that we experience every day.
During workshops, meetings and lectures addressed to junior and adult audiences, we discussed who a Varsovian is today and, consequently, to whom the city belongs to. While preparing individual events, we came up with the "Wielowarszawa" (MultiWarsaw) term that we used in our subsequent activities. The term encompassed the concept of multitude that we wanted to present – a multitude of perspectives, experiences and imaginations connected with Warsaw and its residents. One of the first events, a journalist and film-making workshop, involved its participants in a discussion about the identity of the city and its residents, and then took them to the streets where they carried out a survey. The participants asked passers-by a question: "Who can call themselves a Varsovian today?" The responses indicate the ambiguity of opinions and imaginations and thus underscore the sense of asking the question.
Similar questions were asked during a discussion entitled "Whose city?", featuring Professor Wojciech Burszta, a cultural anthropologist, Joanna Erbel, an urban activist, Małgorzata Pawlak, the coordinator of the "Warszawa dla początkujących" (Warsaw for Beginners) project at Towarzystwo Inicjatyw Twórczych „ę", and Tomasz Sadowski, the founder of the website "Warszawskie słoiki". The debate focused on the identity of a contemporary Warsaw resident. The participants also discussed the conflict between Warsaw's native and new residents, and on whether it was virtual or real.
Photography was a tool that we often referred to when conducting the MultiWarsaw events. We organised three photographic workshops during which we looked for Warsaw's sites and non-sites and we wondered whether the border between them was easy to detect. Additionally, we analysed the invisible divisions within Warsaw that separate its inhabitants from the tourists, the rich from the poor. We devoted one photographic workshop to the issue of neighbourhood. We looked for common spaces that would indicate how people of different backgrounds mix in the city and for places that restore Warsaw's multicultural nature in the urban space.
The photographs taken by the participants:
"Miasto podzielone?" (A divided city?) photographic workshop run by Hanna Musiałówna:
"Miejsca, nie-miejsca" (Places, non-places) photographic workshop run by Filip Springer:
"Po sąsiedzku" (In the neighbourhood) photographic workshop run by Tomasz Wiech:
We devoted one of the workshops to preparing a poster that would be a showcase for the city and would tell most about it. The workshop was run by Mariusz Lewczyk, the author of the "Miło Cię widzieć" (Nice to See You) neon light fixed to the Gdański Bridge in Warsaw. The participants discussed the symbols of Warsaw, their meaning and the reactions they may trigger. The workshop produced very meaningful posters that played with symbols and showed the transforming nature of the city.
The posters made by the participants in the "Warszawskie Słoiki a Miło Cię Widzieć" workshop:
The MultiWarsaw slogan was also with us when we were thinking of and designing activities related to interculturalism. Warsaw and the POLIN Museum became the starting points for reflection on the relations, flow and co-existence of representatives of various groups, in particular representatives of ethnic and national minorities as well as migrants and refugees. In early 2014, we organised eight meetings with representatives of national and ethnic minorities as well as migrants living in Warsaw in order to talk to them and find out their opinions of the city. What are their experiences and expectations of the city and do they feel Varsovians? We discussed those subjects with Ukrainians, Belarusians, Roma women, Vietnamese people and Chechens. There were also lectures about minorities and foreigners living in Poland today and about Warsaw residents' attitudes towards minorities. The meetings were open to the public and offered the participants an opportunity to organise their knowledge and verify information on the numbers as well as the attitude of Warsaw and Poland residents towards minorities. In her lecture, Dr Aleksandra Winiarska quoted sociological research and described the scale of social distance in Poland, and discussed who Polish people trust and who they are afraid of.
An important event from the perspective of the POLIN Museum's openness was the proposal to organise guided tours of the building (the core exhibition was not yet available at that time) in eleven languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Vietnamese, and Roma. We also organised a “Living Library", or an informal meeting at tables, during which representatives of minorities who decided to become "live books" described their histories.
See the pictures from the “Living Library" event:
fot. M Starowieyska/ Muzeum POLIN
The issue of interculturalism also covered contemporary Polish-Jewish and Polish-Israeli relations. In the summer of 2014, the participants in the Polish-Israeli Youth Exchange programme shared the experiences from their stay in Poland, also describing the attitude with which they came here. We also organised a debate on Israeli themes in contemporary Warsaw – about the cuisine, culture, and architecture that co-create the image of the contemporary city.