Past: HIstory & memory
Mr. Krysztof Czyzewski is a renowned Polish publisher, writer and theater director, public intellectual and social activist.
He is the founder of the Borderland Foundation (Fundacja Pogranicze), situated in Sejny, a town close to the Lithuanian border with a highly multicultural past. He is one of the founders of the Gardzienice Theatre Company in Lublin, which collects ethnographic materials from around the world to create what they call an “ethno-oratorial song theater.”
For decades, Czyzewski’s life and work have been dedicated to the integration of the Polish past into the creation of a robust, living, civil society that is capable of recognizing the complications of the past, and that insists on inclusion in the country’s foundations for the present and future. His professional sphere is the very embodiment of the theme of “history and memory.”
In the wake of Poland’s 1989 transition from communism to a democratic regime, Czyzewski’s great mission was to help in the creation of Polish civil society. During the 1980s, he was deeply engaged with history and memory via an experimental theatre – designed to bring theatre directly to the public, in villages, mainly in eastern Poland. The actors in these dramas would solicit memories of the local collective past from the villagers comprising the audience. These elements would then be incorporated into the plays themselves.
This in turn led to his understanding of Poland’s great need for civil society – which, in the wake of communism, had been completely decimated. Czyzewski insisted that civil society would have to be remade on the basis of a genuine engagement with Poland’s past – not a glossing over of unpleasant elements and a burnishing of comforting national verities, but through a genuine engagement with the country’s true, complicated and variegated past. To this end, Czyzewski established the Borderland Foundation, from which he furthers his project of building such a civil society – in Poland and beyond.
A further core component of his mission is a publication project, which has as its aim both to bring books from the Polish Borderlands to the wider world, and to bring important history and fiction into the Polish language. Among the hundreds of books so far published in this project, the most famous is Jan Gross’ Neighbors – a book about Polish citizens’ anti-Semitic atrocities in the war and the systematically concealed and falsified past. At the time, the publication of this book was a great act of bravery: the book concerns the very region where Czyzewski himself is based, and it resulted in heated public debate and soul-searching.
Mr. Czyzewski is a member of the European Culture Parliament, has served as Polish Ambassador to the European Commission’s European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, and in 2012 was appointed Artistic Director of Wroclaw – European Capital of Culture 2016.