Before we present the concept of this year’s Idiom of Malta Festival Poznań, it is extremely important to take a closer look at the circumstances, contexts and the specific moment when thi event is being organized.
The festival will be take place in Poznań, Poland. The last parliamentary elections ended here in a victory to the right wing that was so convincing that none of the left wing parties managed to reach the minimum election threshold and gain seats in parliament. Following the choice of some of its citizens, Poland became one of the foundations of a new right-wing populism in Europe, and it became dominated by absurd right-wing hysterics directed against refugees, although they are in fact barely represent here. It is said that the history of this country is a symbol of the fight against oppression, yet today it is ruled by authorities whose decorations and awards are rejected on moral and ethical grounds.
We are preparing the Festival’s programme at a time when the persecution of artists and various forms of political and religious censorship happen on a daily basis, and they are nothing but serious attempts to limit the freedom of speech and artistic expression.
In a country in which the Catholic church protests against “its” symbols being used in artistic undertakings, but stays silent when in the name of the very same symbols, neo-Nazis organize persecutions of non-Catholics and foreigners, when under the cross, people raise hands in a fascist gesture of greeting or march in uniforms deceptively modelled on the Nazi uniforms from World War II. At a time when right-wing extremists are marching on the streets of Warsaw, Poland’s capital, a city which was razed to the ground in the name of another Nazi ideology. In a country in which ultimately none of the politicians react to this situation; but they do react to the art we create, and openly encourage the lynching of artists.
We are preparing a programme for the Festival towards which the Polish Minister of Culture publicly manifests both his liking and aversion, comments on the artists’ activities and decides about its budget based on his personal preferences, rather than quality or artistic criteria. On the other hand, the Ministry officially promotes and supports financially “bizarre” institutions and monuments of nationalism. That which is national, traditional, backward, becomes desirable, pushing out all that is associated with cosmopolitism and progress.
We were given the task to prepare and present a programme about the Balkans in this context. About an area which is traditionally perceived as the “other”, “not ours”, “dangerous”. In the official discourse it denotes all that today is subject to elimination from the Polish reality.
Due to the described political situation, which strongly impacts not only on our artistic choices but also directly on the Festival’s economic resources, we named this year’s Idiom the Balkan Platform. The platform stands here for both an abstract meeting place of ideas and a real meeting place of people.
We do not aim to present a real geopolitical area and the cultural product characteristic of it. The selected artists, their shows or visual projects are to present the Balkans as a discursive construct. Just like any other, it is subject to multiple applications and misuses, and ultimately to a negative or positive stereotyping. However, we present, imagine and experience it a bit differently. As a non-existent, non-national area which is constructed for the moment of the meeting and exists only when we participate in it. In a concept outlined in this way, the Balkans have the potential to become a platform – a place enabling an exchange of experiences and knowledge across the 10 days of the Festival.
Our choices as curators are not intended in so much to present art, as to generate specific knowledge and indicate artistic means and strategies which are a powerful critical tool to comment on the present-day social and political reality. That is why this year’s programme of the Idiom is not, as is usual, theatrical; we devised this year’s edition to be different. To a larger extent, it consists of artistic projects, lectures, conversations and meetings with theoreticians. All of them are activist and discursive at their roots.
The question remains: will you find traces within you of the image of the Balkans in the programme we proposed? No, you won’t, because the programme will not include that expected picture. We regard the reproduction of stereotypes about this corner of Europe as dangerous, just as the national politics which, in this very area at the beginning of the 1990s led to bloody wars. And today, as it seems, they have become relevant in other places too.
Oliver Frljić, Goran Injac