Last week, Adam Michnik returned to The New School and gave a provocative lecture, “After the Election of Pope Francis: What Paths for the Catholic Church?” In his talk, more about the Church and democracy in Poland than about events in Rome and the Catholic Church as a whole, the renowned Polish intellectual highlighted the two different paths taken by the Church in current public debates: the increasingly popular fundamentalist approach, termed “Integralism,” resistant to the recommendations of openness formulated at the Second Vatican Council, and the marginalized liberal approach, termed “Progressivist,” adopted by the liberal-oriented Catholics. Michnik worried that Pope Francis would be on the wrong side of this debate, or on the sidelines, given his ambiguous at best relationship with dictatorship in Argentina. The talk addressed pressing issues in Poland. Michnik, as usual, was bold in his presentation. It has broad implications beyond Polish borders, which I appreciate. Yet, I also have a question. For, I think Michnik misses a crucial point, concerning Poland, and also concerning the Pope and the Catholic Church and the need to address religious fundamentalism.
Michnik pointed out that the integralist and the progressivist paths emerged as part of the Catholic Church’s struggle for power to shape public debate in post-1989 democratic Poland. To his great dismay, instead of strengthening the Church’s liberal voice, open to the new issues that the newly democratic country had to face as it opened to the outside world, the Church has become dominated by simplistic conservative and nationalistic arguments, which reinforce hostile attitudes toward all that is unfamiliar or strange. As a consequence, the church has fostered a destructive divide between “us” and “them,” which cuts across Polish society. According to Michnik, a significant role in disseminating the fundamentalist message is played by “Radio Maryja” and “TV Trwam.” These media outlets, owned by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, a controversial Catholic priest often accused of promoting xenophobia and anti-Semitism, are widely popular in small towns in Poland.
Michnik did not have a simple answer to his question, “What Paths for the Catholic Church?“ . . .
Read more: Adam Michnik on The Church: The Opening of a Polish Dialogue
“At the time the circumstances of my arrest in Poland seemed trivial. I hardly thought about them afterward. But now, when I consider the fall of 1989, and the fall of communism, my little run in with the Polish authorities seems highly suggestive of how things were then and what has since come to be.”
With these words, I opened my book After the Fall: The Pursuit of Democracy in Central Europe. I used a description of my brief detention in Lublin at a student theater festival to reveal the struggle for a free public in Communist times. I used my memory of the event to open my exploration of the relationships between public and private, and how the relationships formed the bases for the pursuit of democracy of post communist Central Europe.
In today’s post, I return to my experience in 1974 (drawing from the report in my book) to further my dialogue with Dayan Dayan, as we explore together the relationship between “monstration” and power. I report here first my recollections of my “trivial day” and why what seemed so unimportant at the time was of practical significance in Poland back then. I close by highlighting what I take to be the theoretical significance of my little story.
Disorientation is what I remember about that April afternoon in Lublin, when the People’s Militia detained me for a couple of hours. I was attending a Festival of Youth Theaters. The bulk of the theater presentations in Lublin that week were not very interesting. Some of the best theater groups of the Polish youth movement were not represented in this relatively minor festival, and others of mediocre quality were in great number. Veteran theater critics, journalists, directors, and actors were generally dissatisfied, particularly with one performance I attended, billed as a “happening.” It took place in a gymnasium and involved little more than a rock soundtrack, a colorful slide show, and some student actors playing with an orange and yellow sheet. When it ended, a group of Polish . . .
Read more: My Arrest in Poland and the Ironies of Consequence
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 . . .
Read more: Political Repression in Poland: Ewa Wójciak and the Eighth Day Theater
The recent protests at the gated Refugees’ Camps in Poland remind us about the challenges that migration, refugees and multiculturalism bring – and about the inability, the shear clumsiness of our policies that attempt to address these challenges. Poland is not a country that has historically been the destination for refugees. We are having a hard time, though there are some signs of more promising responses.
The question of refugees hit the news October of last year, sparked by a refugee hunger strike at Guarded Centers around the country. Foreigners settled at these centers were demanding their basic rights: the right to decent living conditions, to have access to information, and to have contact with an outside world. Mostly, however, the strike revealed the injustice and cruelty of the system. These centers work, in effect, as prisons. They confine the under-aged (including young children), affecting them, especially those who have recently experienced war, in ways that are hard to imagine. They don’t have full access to education, nor contacts with their peers. Their situation excludes the opportunities for the regular development.
The news of these problems was alive for three weeks until the end of the hunger strike. However, the challenges of immigration, refugees and multiculturalism remain, in a society that has little or no experience with any of this. The challenges must be faced not only by refugees themselves, but also politicians, people working with refugees, and mainly Polish society. Polish towns are unprepared, as they are becoming increasingly multicultural.
In 2009, the information about a beating of two Chechnyan women in Lomza [in north-eastern Poland, actually close to Jedwabne, M.B.] made the news in the Polish media. A young man assaulted the women because they are Muslim and Chechnyan. Both of them were living in Lomza. Their children attended Lomza school. They had Polish friends. Why, then, were they targets? What was their mistake?
Their first basic “mistake” was in appearing in a place (this town, but in fact Poland as a whole) in which the inhabitants . . .
Read more: Refugees in Polish Towns
To skip this introduction and go directly to the In-Depth Analysis “How to be an Intelligent Anti-American,” click here.
I saw Lincoln yesterday. I intend to write a post on its significance over the weekend. I have fundamentally two responses to the film, aesthetic and political. On aesthetic grounds, I don’t think it is his best, but, on the other hand, I am blown away by the film’s political power. The debate it has opened is impressive. Fundamental questions about the nature of politics, the connection of past and future, and the human capacity to change the world are now being raised in the discussion of Spielberg’s latest, and a broad audience is taking part and listening in. I will explain more fully on Monday.
Today, I have decided to post an essay I published ten years ago, inspired by my ambivalent response to Schindler’s List, which of course Lincoln resembles, for better and for worse, in many ways. My essay, as I explain in its opening, was inspired by two occasions which led to its composition as lectures. My theme on the two occasions was anti-Americanism, and Spielberg came to mind. I am posting the piece today both because I think an American film genius has does it again, revealed all the strength and weaknesses of American popular, democratic, culture, and because the main theme of my lectures, anti-Americanism, continues to be a pressing topic, both in its comic and tragic dimensions.
So today: an in-depth post, a lecture on how to be an intelligent anti-American.
To read the In-Depth Analysis, “How to be an Intelligent Anti-American,” click here.
The original idea for this paper dates back to 1996. At that time, I was teaching in Cracow, Poland, in a summer institute on democracy and diversity. Since 1992, I had been teaching a course at that institute on democratic culture, utilizing both the political theory of major western thinkers, particularly Hannah Arendt, and major thinkers and political actors from around the old bloc, particularly Adam Michnik and Vaclav Havel. Since the early seventies, I had studied and worked with the developing democratic movement in Central Europe, particularly Poland. The course was a continuation of these activities. But something new and different presented itself in ’96. In a region where (outside official circles) Ronald Reagan could do no wrong, students started presenting fairly standard, but from this part of the world, very exciting, critical judgments of America.
The students came from East and Central Europe, Western Europe, North and South America. In the first years of the institute, the young Westerners automatic critical approach to liberal capitalism and their insufficient appreciation of the force of totalitarianism led to strong disagreements across the old political divide. Suddenly, in 1996, there was an informed and not so well informed anti-American consensus articulated around our seminar table, with some forceful dissenters. I found myself caught in between the consensus and the dissenters, between automatic condemnation and automatic celebration. With that in mind, for the last class, rather than proceeding with the seminar discussion and ending it on an informal note, as is my custom, I presented a formal lecture. It was my first anti-American advisory.
My second advisory was presented just a few months ago (but before 9/11/2001). One of the students in the original class, Jacek Kucharczyk, is now the vice-director of Poland’s major social science think tank. He had an idea for a conference on European Integration. There were sessions on political, economic and cultural integration. My paper framed a discussion about the cultural relationships between Poland, Western Europe and the United States. The paper was received well, meaning that it stimulated a spirited discussion. Particularly pleasing to me was my friendly public debate with the Polish film director, Krzystof Zannusi, over the films of Steven Spielberg. I was appreciative. . . .
Read more: How to be an Intelligent Anti-American
The performance of Pussy Riot and its repression represent the deep political challenge of post communist authoritarianism and its progressive – transgressive alternatives. This is the first of two posts by Kitlinski that have great significance for Eastern Europe and beyond. -Jeff
Don’t let Putin fool you. Banishing Pussy Riot to a penal colony allowed the Russian leader to reassert his rule. Democracy be damned. Civil rights, religious freedom, and gender equality from herein would be subject to his purview. The ex-KGB officer’s message wasn’t just aimed at Russia. It was directed at all of Eastern Europe, too.
For anyone familiar with the history of regional politics, Putin’s positioning was thick with signifiers. Pussy Riot’s sentencing would please fellow reactionaries, obviously, as well as help serve as a salve for social distress. It also confirmed that the post-Communist period was formally over. Authoritarian capitalism is the rule of the day. There’s no alternative.
The political transition in post-Communist countries has turned majoritarian, as ex-Soviet bloc states start to formalize discrimination against pro-democracy forces. Curiously, this reaction, of what can only be described as the ancien regime, both Stalinist, and its antecedents, focuses on sexual dissidence, to broadcast its worldview. In the Ukraine, it’s Femen. In my own home, Poland, it’s Dorota Nieznalska, an artist who was convicted of blasphemy.
It’s a familiar story, one that Pussy Riot’s Nadia Tolokonnikova was quick to point out, when, in her closing statement, she compared her band’s fate to the trial of Socrates, and the kenosis of Christ. Jesus was “raving mad,” she reminded her religiously observant tormentors. “If the authorities, tsars, presidents, prime ministers, the people and judges understood what ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ meant, they would not put the innocent on trial.” Tolokonnikov also cited the prophet Hosea, in the Hebrew Bible: “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice.” Surely, the authorities were not thrilled.
Pussy Riot’s choice of Jewish scripture is of course telling, as well as calculated. The prophets argue for forgiveness (Hosea forgave his unfaithful wife) and . . .
Read more: Pussy Riot vs. The Pseudo Religious of Eastern Europe
The recently ended 18th Woodstock Station (Przystanek Woodstock) music festival, held in Poland just across the German border, is an extraordinary event. Organized on over 120 hectares under the banner of peace, love and rock & roll by the country’s possibly most popular charity activist, Jurek Owsiak, the free, open-air festival is a draw for over 500 000 people who come from all over Poland and increasingly from Germany to enjoy the unique event.
In terms of music, there are better festivals to be found. Woodstock Station showcases mostly rock, folk and industrial music bands, which are either still before or already after their prime; but this is only part of what makes the event special. The other is Owsiak himself and his charisma, which constantly attracts different types of people unhappy with “the system,” the political order, social norms and conventional careers. Woodstock Station provides them with a space without checkpoints or metal barriers, but instead offers one where they feel at ease and where they can do whatever they want. And indeed, the place has the feel of youth, punk rock and anarchy.
Yet, what you do find in the chaos is a quite surprising sense of mutual responsibility and a sympathetic awareness of others. During a concert you might need to elbow your way to get close to the stage, but if you feel gloomy, someone will ask if you are OK. The crime rate is ridiculously low: about thirty thefts in three days for half a million people.
Apart from two main stages and tent fields, which make the huge space look something of a favela, you can also find the so-called villages, spaces with big tents organized according to a particular theme. Apart from those organized by the sponsors—a mobile phone service provider, an international beer company and an on-line auction service—where you can buy drinks, exchange plastic bottles for water and charge your phone, there are others such as the religious Hare Krishna, and Catholic Church’s Jesus Station, another one created by the Polish National Bank, and the “Academy of Beautiful Arts,” a space . . .
Read more: Woodstock in Poland, 2012