25 November 2016 – 10 January 2017, The Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center, Ekaterinburg, Russia
Authors: Piotr Wójcik, Justyna Pobiedzińska, Tomasz Kizny
Curator: Dominique Roynette
Freedom is the continuation of the Polish freedoms project, which took place in Poland in 2014 under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Poland. Polish freedoms were an attempt at answering questions concerning the perception of freedom in Poland 25 years after the 1989 transformations. Piotr Wójcik and Tomasz Kizny developed the Russian part of the project in 2015. They discover how Russians define private and public freedom today.
The protagonists were asked about their personal stories and experiences. They create a specific portrait of Poles and Russians through the prism of freedom.
Organized by The Polish Institute in Moscow for the first anniversary of the opening of The Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center founded in 2009 in Ekaterinburg. The Boris Yeltsin Center regularly organizes exhibits and conferences about Boris Yeltsin’s life and work, as well as on Russian and world history at the end of the 20th century. The Center’s complex includes a museum, exhibition and conference space and Library. The Yeltsin Center also supports activities in the following areas: Education, Culture, Youth, Intemational, Humanitarian Cooperation, Publishing, Literary Awards.
Also look at Russians Freedoms in PDF (3,5 MB)
December 2015, Sakharov Center, Moscow, Russia
Authors: Piotr Wójcik, Justyna Pobiedzińska, Tomasz Kizny
Curator: Dominique Roynette
The Polish freedom Container
Summer 2014, 25 cities all around Poland
Authors: Piotr Wójcik, Justyna Pobiedzińska
Curator: Dominique Roynette
Coordinator: Monika Proba
The exhibition was first opened in Krakowskie Przedmieście Street in Warsaw on the 4th of July 2014, during the 25th anniversary celebrations of the 1989 political transformation and did a long tour around the country.
The educational documentary project organised under the Patronage of the President of the Republic of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski organised workshops and debates dedicated to the 1989 transformations, and recorded interviews with the participants.
Partnership: Razem 89, Fundacja Projekt: Polska
The “Freedom Container” was organised with the financial aid of the Civil Initiatives Found, Orange Foundation and the History Meeting House.
Look at the related website Polish freedoms
Media: The Freedom Container in Gazeta Wyborcza
A short version of Justyna Pobiedzinska’s reportage on the “Freedom Container” was published in the “Witamy w Polsce” series in the nationwide edition of Gazeta Wyborcza.
“Gazeta Wyborcza”, 29.10.2014 – read PDF (1,4 Mb)
You can read entire text below:
Where there is a will, there is a way
For the first few months, we were driving around Poland until we had 4,000 kilometres on the clock. We drove west and east, north and south, through the Mazovian emptiness, to the mountains and to the sea. We met a worker of the Gdańsk shipyard, a cow farmer in the Sudetes, a Jewish woman in Wrocław, a poet in Warsaw, a priest in Puck, a lesbian in Kraków, an anarchist in Poznań, a mother-activist in Toruń, a village leader in Równe, an unemployed man in Gdynia, a former Home Army soldier in Kielce, a prisoner in Leszno, an emigrant, a jobseeker, a doctor… To all forty of them, we posed the same set of questions about the present state of Poland, the Poland of 1989 and about what they could remember from before that year. We also asked them to define freedom and what surprised us was that everyone understood freedom completely differently; its meaning changed from person to person. On our journey, we were able to collect dozens of definitions. With some difficulty, we sifted through the stories in order to choose which ones to include and which, albeit reluctantly, to leave out, and we created an original tale about Poland, about the transformation to capitalism and freedom. The resulting work is, in a way, a representation of collective memory. Piotr Wójcik took pottraits of each person; I wrote the text. This is how both the book and the exhibition entitled “Polskie wolności” (Polish freedoms) were created.
(As I write these words on the train, as ever I eavesdrop and observe my fellow passengers. The people sitting to my right are travelling from Olsztyn to Wałbrzych in order to attend a funeral. None of them has any teeth left; an unintended consequence of all their swearing, perhaps. On the other hand, the people to my left still have all their teeth intact, but offer a rather peculiar choice of conversation topics: burning dogs, forests, a pantheon, dancing hyenas, walls covered with words, the antichrist, and the end of the world… They keep alternating between fluent Polish and German, compensating for their toothless passengers.)
Mobile candy floss vendors
Our “Kontener Wolności” (Freedom’s Container) is on the road for three months – June through to September. It drives across Poland and brings the exhibition, under the patronage of the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland, to 25 Polish cities, where many additional attractions await visitors. There are films, concerts, DJ sets, contests and discussions.
In Mikołajki, the twentieth city we visit, Piotr is approached by a woman, just as he is setting up the exhibition. She asks with hostility: “What are you doing here? Who gave you permission to set up here?”
Everything is arranged – we were of course invited by the local cultural centre.
Only then does the woman explain that she works for the Municipal Council. She contacts the cultiral centre and confirms that we have indeed been invited, but some formalities have yet to be agreed with the Council. “I want you gone by tomorrow,” she orders in a voice that brooks no argument.
Later, she explained that she thought that we wanted to sell candy floss under the pretence of organising an exhibition.
As if it was not enough that she treats the city as her own property, she also thinks it is all right to be rude to candy floss vendors.
Like a horse in Dzika Dolina
In every city, a few children are given disposable analogue cameras, 36 frames each. There job is to take a picture of freedom and feel like independent artists.
The photos the children take feature mostly animals, friends, their neighbourhood, a bike. One of the photos is a close-up of a large pile of excrement with a pink plastic ball in the middle.
In Gorzów, this photo attracts the attention of a woman in black. Closely examining the photo, she finally asks: “That’s a juniper, isn’t it?”
The children in all the cities write their definitions of freedom on colourful slips of paper:
“Everybody is happy. Peace on the earth. Joy. Quiet.”
“For me, freedom means that nobody is excluded (especially not by the law). Nobody is harmed.”
“People can leave as they please.”
The mother of a blind girl writes: “A woman cannot be deprived of her freedom. A mother must be independent of her grown-up children.”
“Being happy and joyful like a horse in Dzika Dolina.”
“Freedom makes me think of holidays, a picnic, and a flying bird.”
“Freedom is following your heart.”
“Freedom is the right to express your opinions and decide about your life.”
“Freedom is running and breathing fresh air.”
“Freedom: a good, moral life.”
“Enjoyment and life without fear.”
Natalia, a 16-year-old from Ukraine: “Freedom to be yourself. Being afraid of nothing.”
“Freedom is the chance to live in harmony with oneself and with one’s conscience.”
“Freedom is the time when my sister isn’t home.”
“Freedom is escaping from home.”
“Summer holidays, not being grounded, no prisons. Being free to make your own choices and being yourself.”
“Feeling safe and confident that nobody can enslave me physically, psychologically or any other way.”
“My favourite thing to do when I’m free is playing outdoors.”
“Freedom makes me think of a bird, flying free above the city.”
People open up to us, and tell us their life stories. Many of them begin like this: “My son is a doctor in Canada, and I am lonely.” Widows, abandoned mothers and fathers sometimes try to ease the pain of being separated from their children by converting pounds, euros and dollars into zlotys.
Gorzów Wielkopolski. “I have raised my daughters well, with principles,” tells us a man who every single day brings us home-cooked meals to the square where we have set up – broth made with his own ducks and noodles. “Nowadays, parents raise their kids with a father telling his son: ‘Here you go, son, here are the keys to the Mercedes. Now go find yourself a whore to make out with.’ Pardon the French. Here are some cucumbers from my garden.”
In front of a supermarket not far from the square, there are a group of homeless men who sit there day in day out. They smoke cigars and joke about how similar they are to the prime minister. They display a news-sheet they got from a local Law and Justice member earlier that morning. “Czas na zmiany” (Time for changes) is reprinting from the front page of Fakt (a tabloid newspaper), which depicts the prime minister smoking a Montecristo cigar while on holiday. Fakt reports this scandalous turn of events giving the price of a Montecristo – fifty zlotys for one cigar!
Piła, two teenagers: “Will you put some Justin Bieber on? Or Kamil Bednarek? Can we at least have two of these deckchairs? We’re going to be by the lake tomorrow; they’ll come in handy. No? So we’ll come back tonight and take them anyway!”
Jarocin, a young man with a Mohican: “Couldn’t this exhibition be a little more active?”
Bydgoszcz, a balding fifty-year-old: “The primary mission of the current government is its compulsive bullshitting about freedom.”
Gorzów, a short man wearing peculiar shoes: “Tusk made a pact with the rich men of the West to not pay us for free Saturdays. So I ask: what kind of freedom is this, if I have to go to work on Saturday? It’s all his fault! And his democracy! Screw democracy, communism was better!”
We ask what he’s prefer – a king or dictator, but all he has to say in response is: “How much for the deckchairs?”
(My travel companions keep distracting me. They talk about how in the beginning was the word, the source of all life and everything that is good. I take a better look at them, but they do not look like prophets to me.)
Polish history (and a little bit of Rome)
In some cities, the exhibition attracts high-school students. Only a few of them know what happened in 1989, most confuse 1989 with 1981.
Kostrzyn nad Odrą: on the first day of August, the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, the exhibition arrives at the Woodstock Festival. Jurek Owsiak [the organiser of the festival] intones the national anthem and hundreds of thousands young Poles stand to attention and sing.
In Radomyśl Wielki, two young men, a Rasta and a fan of metal music: “I think Wałęsa was a collaborator after all, wasn’t he?”
Poznań, a man who likes an official: “You use the Solidarity font, so tell me please, why wasn’t anybody from Solidarity invited to the 25th anniversary celebrations?”
Warsaw, a man with a moustache, wearing glasses: “Solidarity killed all the good ones.”
Płock, an older man with an umbrella: “The Jewry is doing well and keeps stealing from Poland. After the war, there were special squads of Jewish women who tortured Polish boys. They would slam drawers on their genitals!”
Poznań, a woman with shopping bags: “You call this freedom?! This is a regime… A regime!”
Bydgoszcz, an old lady with an elaborate coif: “It’s a very pretty slogan you have there on on the tent: ’25 years of freedom’, but why don’t you add ‘the partitions are coming anyway’. You’ll see. I know what I’m talking about, I studied history.”
Słubice, a bulky man, who looks somewhat like a Nazi: “Did you know that phallus of Osiris still stands in Rome?”
Gorzów, an old lady with a bouquet of wild flowers: “In Warsaw, that Hanna [mayor of Warsaw], that witch, has allowed the gays to have their rainbow, but forces out that doctor. It’s a good thing that the child was born and died. What’s all the fuss about?”
In Łańcut, a man, holding his wife’s arm: “Catholicism and capitalism are the two biggest criminal organisations!”
Bydgoszcz, a tall brunette: “Lemański should be the pope.”
Malbork, a smiling sixty-year-old: “They used to tell us on the phone that somebody is listening in on the conversation – people were outraged. Now, they keep telling us that the conversation is being recorded and nobody seems to mind in the least.”
Rzeszów, a man in a baseball cap: “I spent thirty years in the States. I came back. Poland is a beautiful, wonderful country, but Poles fail to notice. It’s a pity because the progress is unbelievable. But all people ever do is complain.”
Much to my disappointment, there was just not enough space to include all the stories we heard.
One of the stories that we had to leave out was about mummified fly larvae which led Polish archaeologists to the tomb of three Peruvian princesses, who lived 1,200 years ago, and their golden treasure.
Another was about an illegal night-time funeral, carried out in secret by a group of villagers somewhere in the Kłodzko Valley when the local priest refused to bury Agata in her husband’s grave because she was of a different denomination. The kind neighbours of the old lady fulfilled her wish. Now, Agata rests with her husband, just like she wanted, and the priest is none the wiser.
(We pass Czempiń. My attention is drawn to yet another passenger or, to be more precise, to what he is reading: “Bezpieczeństwo ryzyka” (The safety of risk), borrowed from a library. Another passenger talks about the Danubian monarchy, while a toothless man is talking on the phone, constantly swearing. These parallel worlds will never cease to amaze me.)
I turn my attention back to the stories for which I could find no place in the book.
There was one about the freedom of cows and calves who like, or rather love, to frolic about in forests. If there is a storm, they all take shelter in the same coppice. They even have their own mourning rituals, like howling over slaughtered comrades. For a few hours a day, the most aggressive cow becomes a caregiver for all the calves in the herd.
“I’m Logos,” says a passenger with teeth. I think I’m hallucinating. I must be in delirium, while my mind is being attacked by sepsis, engineered using bacteria collected from all over the country.)
In our project, we have also failed to include a comment made by a nearly hundred-year-old man. When asked about what he considers to be most important in life, he told us he did not know because he had only just begun living.
In Bydgoszcz, a woman bearing a close resemblance to Hilary Swank: “At the chemical plant, a friend from the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) helped me fill out the forms needed to establish ‘Solidarity’. We need to remember what ‘Solidarity’ meant for us back then and what this word actually means. Before 1989, it was a time to not shake hands with those it was considered shameful to shake hands with, but let us remember that that time has long since passed.”
(A ticket inspector enters the carriage and gets annoyed that people keep asking him about the train running late. Finally, she stands in the middle of the carriage and cries: “Ladies and gentlemen, why does nobody close the door after them? I have to walk through the entire train closing all the doors myself! Three minutes here, three minutes there, and suddenly the train is a quarter of an hour late!”
We sat there in silence – teeth and no teeth – in solidarity, trying to remember whether or not we closed the door while entering the carriage. The ticket inspector says: “Fellow Poles! All you need to do is start closing the door behind you, and our trains will stop running late!”).