On Differences and Diversity

Our “On Differences and Diversity” cycle was introduced at a very special time for the Polish society – during the year 2016, which proved to be a year of rising radicalism and polarisation of views and attitudes. Our educational cycle during which we wanted to explore the concepts of differences and diversity was intended to serve as a space in which we may take a closer look at one another, seek common ground and think about who “we” and “they” really are. An analysis of various areas of culture and the arts which served as a sort of mirror that reflected the sentiments prevailing in society at the time was intended to serve as a pretext for such a debate. A series of meetings conducted by Professor Wojciech Pawlik, a sociologist, served as an introduction to the entire cycle; during these meetings, we have examined the notion of “community”, examining various types of communities and their roles and significance in our lives. During the subsequent meetings, we have analysed selected theatrical performances which have, for various reasons, made a substantial impact and formed an important part of the public debate at the time. The meeting was conducted by Weronika Szczawińska, theatrical director, playwright and expert in the field of cultural studies. During our meetings, we referred to the most frequently discussed plays of the last couple of years – “Golgotha Picnic”, “Death and the Maiden” and “Your Violence, Our Violence”. We have discussed why did those plays caused such strong reactions, why did these reactions occur at the time they did, what forms did the resulting protests take and what were the arguments advanced by those who supported the specific performances and the ideas that underpinned them as well as by those who fiercely opposed them. At the very end of the cycle, we gathered to watch a play called “Take It or Make It”, directed by Ana Vujanović, which was a jocose attempt to look at how people can get together and act along democratic principles. 

Theatre remained an important point of reference during our cycle of meetings, which reflected the general trend in that it was theatre which has always served as a sort of safe haven at times of crisis. One of the meetings which we conducted was headed by Joanna Krakowska, drama theorist and vice-editor-in-chief of the “Dialog” (“Dialogue”) monthly magazine, as well as by Magda Mosiewicz, director and environmental activist, its main theme being a play towards which both of the panellists have made their contributions as co-authors. The play in question was “Pogarda” (“Contempt”), which premiered in early December 2016 at the Komuna theatre in Warsaw. The authors of the play have decided to take a closer look at the divisions which cut across the Polish society and to make a critical analysis of not just the “other” side, but also of the very views which the authors themselves supported. The main theme explored by the play is the language of contempt used in the public debate – a language which all sides of the conflict seem to use.

The attempt to look at both sides of the divide – at “their” side and at “our” side – has also been made in the course of the meeting conducted by Joanna Ostrowska, a historian and expert in the field of culture and film studies. A performance by the German performer Christoph Schlingensief (who has since passed away) formed the starting point for the discussion. In his performance, which took place back in the year 2000 in Austria, shortly after a new, right-wing nationalist government came to power, the artist initiated an action the form of which referred to the reality show “Big Brother”, which had enjoyed a substantial popularity at the time. The artist would invite people into a shipping container placed in the centre of Vienna to act as refugees; meanwhile, the viewers had an option to decide whom to deport and whom to allow to stay in Austria. The language used by the artist played a vital role here, as it referenced the violent, judgemental and divisive language present in the media; however, another notable factor was the way the “refugee rights campaigners” would react, since they treated the liberation of all those detained as their mission and yet proved unable to approach the “refugees” as actual human beings and not as mere subjects of their quest. 

Another important event were the workshops conducted by Iwo Zmyślony, a methodology specialist and art critic, holder of a degree in philosophy and art history. During these workshops we have analysed the approach to art as a democratic space which may help set our society free. Iwo Zmyślony also conducted a debate which rounded off the entire cycle, during which he, Joanna Ostrowska and Joanna Krakowska discussed the presence of contempt, xenophobia and violence in public debate as well as the ways in which we may change our own thinking and conduct so that we may avoid doing harm to those with whom we disagree or whom we do not understand. The panellists have considered the question of how we can differ and disagree without recourse to violence and whether dialogue without violence is still possible at all.