Global Dialogues

Political Repression in Poland: Ewa Wójciak and the Eighth Day Theater

Tomek Kitlinski informed me yesterday about a new round in the continuing story of the escalating cultural war in Poland. This one hits close to home for me. I have a tragic sense of déjà vu. The greatest of the student theaters I studied in the 1970s, Teatr Osmego Dnia (Translated as Theater of the Eighth Day, or The Eighth Day Theater), continues to face official repression. A theater that combined the theatrical insights of Jerzy Grotowski with deep exploration of the existential problems of “socialist youth” continues its critical journey in the post-Communist order, revealing that some things haven’t changed: their challenging artistic excellence, the intolerance of authorities to alternative sensibility, opinion and judgment, and remarkably, the political monitoring of the private life of artists, the theme of their powerful play, “The Files,” which juxtaposes their dairies with their security files of the Ministry of the Interior from the 70s (think “The Lives of Others” with more dramatic and documentary power, expressed through superb fully embodied acting). The invasion of privacy in this case involved Ewa Wójciak Facebook page, as reported in the letter below. I reproduce the letter of protest here, which points to the unfolding events and comments by Kitlinski, illuminating the meaning of the events. Readers wishing to support this letter of protest should send their names and comments to teatr@osmego.art.pl

On the day of the elections for a new pope, shortly after the official announcement was made, Ewa Wójciak took to her private Facebook profile and wrote: “…and so they elected a prick, who denounced left-wing priests during the military dictatorship in Argentina.”

To Wójciak’s astonishment, her status almost instantly became the cause for a massive media outrage.

She was invited onto a show for the local TV channel, where she defended the private character of her Facebook status, while retaining her conviction that the choice made by the Vatican was of scandalous nature. She explained that, regardless of specific cases and their finales in court trials, the Argentinian Catholic Church – including the newly elected pope – had in fact maintained a close relationship with the military dictatorship responsible for mass ‘disappearings’, tortures and deaths of some 30,000 people.

The councilmen of the city of Poznań demanded that the mayor dismisses Ewa Wójciak from the position of a director of the theatre immediately. Facebook shut down her account. The theatre became flooded with letters filled with threats and insults. Whereas the town hall continues to debate the suitable punishment for Ewa Wójciak, the right-wing councilmen attack the theatre and its ‘leftist’ character, calling for its shutdown. It turns out that in a democratic country, the authorities expect artist subsidised by local councils to share their official worldview. Especially their catholic beliefs.

The situation appears serious. The witch-hunt against the theatre has been going on for years now. The theatre that has over the past few decades become a hub for lively discussions and debates, a platform for independent, young artists, and an important cultural centre is under constant fire from the local authorities.

There has come yet another critical moment for our theatre, and we kindly ask for your support in the form of an open letter or a petition. One such letter has already been produced and signed by approx. 600 representatives of Polish intelligentsia.

Tomek Kitlinski’s Commentary

“In the mid-1970s, the Eighth Day suffered most severely from censorship. Indeed, in the first production of “The Sight of the Crime,” in 1973, 80 percent of the original text was eliminated by the censor.” (Jeffrey C. Goldfarb, On Cultural Freedom. An Exploration of Public Life in Poland and America, p. 99) The current attempts at censorship against Wójciak in Poznan testify to the violence of culture wars (analyzed in Deliberately Considered, herehere and especially here) and Poland’s polarization.

There is a pattern of cultural repression which is also notably observable in my home town, Lublin. There, the City Council decreed: “Producing the Positive Educational Climate for the Younger Generation of Lublin Residents” which implies art censorship; Lublin artists and scholars have immediately started a petition against this repressive measure (in English at the bottom of the page).

Similarly, Poznan cultural operators have been campaigning against the scapegoating of Wojciak. The legendary poet of the opposition, former Harvard professor and Eighth Day playwright, Stanislaw Baranczak and foremost international artists, Miroslaw Balka and Zofia Kulik, intellectuals Irena Grudzinska-Gross and Elzbieta Matynia and hundreds of people in Poland have signed a previous letter of support for Wójciak.

An eminent scholar of American literature, Zofia Kolbuszewska, has also signed it and subsequently resigned from the position of Vice Dean of the Humanities at the Catholic University of Lublin. Zofia authored a book, which by using the methodology of Lacan, Kristeva and Agamben, explores the American Gothic of such female authors as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin and Toni Morrison. Kolbuszewska was vilified in the far-right press, but defended by two open letters.

Ever a rebel, Ewa Wojciak has always stood up against authoritarianism. Ewa has always been outspoken, impudent and honest — in her protests against the one-party monopoly before 1989 and in her disagreement against the injustices of the transition. She has invited minority speakers to her Theatre: refugees, “lokatorzy,” poor Poznan residents threatened with eviction, feminists, LGBTQ. She took part in the banned 2005 women’s and gay demonstration in Poznan which was brutalized by the police and one of her actors was arrested.

La Pasionaria of the alternative theatre, Ewa recited-sang the poetry of the poet repressed under the Soviet system, Anna Akhmatova. In the recent shows of the Eighth Day, she performed with a new force, biting irony and vis comica, passionately satirizesing the megalomania “Polishness.” I will always remember her performances in “Paranoicy i Pszczelarze” on ultranationalist, vainglorious paranoiacs and open-minded cosmopolitan beekeepers, in “Portiernia” on Europe resisting refugees, and most deeply personal in “Teczki” on security police files against her and other members of the company.

Ewa Wojciak and the Eighth Day Theatre should be supported on grounds of free speech. Let’s also not forget their aesthetically experimental production, always with a message of freedom.


  • Kathleen

    Thanks for this, Jeff! I had seen something in Polish on the Internet, but not understood all the details. It’s disturbing that in now so-called democratic Poland, rights like freedom of speech and privacy are still not respected. It just shows that you can’t always take totalitarianism out of the heads of people who lived under it. One quibble–the translation of “Teczki” is not “Texts,” but “The Files.”

  • Tomasz

    Theater of the Eighth Day reviewed in the New York Times in 2009: http://theater.nytimes.com/2009/11/13/theater/13performing.html?_r=1&

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeffrey-Goldfarb/34603203 Jeffrey Goldfarb

    Your welcome Kathleen. It is not with pleasure, but deep concern that I posted this. And thanks for pointing out my translation mistake. Too busy, doing too many things, is my excuse. Correction made.

  • Felek

    Id like to disagree! Her behaviour was unworthy of so who is on the national payroll- się should have list der position imho

  • http://www.facebook.com/remigiuszalanpiotr.mokwa Remigiusz Mokwa

    I would like to point out at one important thing: anybody could access any profile on facebook and its rather tricky to agree with suggestion that E. Wójciak privacy was invaded.
    It was not Polish Government or our establishment, who criticized her aggressive language, but ordinary people of Poland. Ewa Wójciak’s wages are funded by the taxpayers, and I would assume that taxpayers have some rights to control where their money would go. And It is worth to mention that it is difficult to imagine that such eminent post – Head of municipal cultural institutions and Director of Teatr Ósmego Dnia – highly subsidized venture, was taken by somebody who is not a part of the establishment. And in fact Ewa Wójciak’s point of view on Pope, on Catholicism is shared by almost entire Polish establishment, so is the vulgar language and verbal agression. All I can say is that this article is turning things upside down. The post -communist establishment is the oppressor and ordinary people are oppressed. Local authorities in Poznań do not consist of ex-apparatchiks only, some people from “licensed” opposition party Law and Justice manage to get there as well, so no wonder that they support popular point of view. All that stories that Ewa Wójciak was affected by censorship in 1970′s are not worth too much. Over 300 people were killed in Poland between 1970 – 1984. And by the way the last three victims of communist secret police in 1989 were Catholic Priests, Niedzielak, Zych & Suchowolec. Ewa Wójcik was always on the safe side.