Iwona UbermanA myth undergoes a test – Polish political-social theatre from the German perspective
If one looks at a landscape of the German theatre from the Polish perspective, it is hard not to notice the almost omni-present call for changes in the society. This season’s “Enemy of the people” production series in Berlin and Brandenburg or the Gorki-Theater current “Aufstand proben” (“Uprising attempts”) motto are aiming at political and social issues. The idea of a revolution or an “upcoming uprising” is gaining considerable popularity.
In Poland the issue of social changes is gradually being directed at the past much more than at the future. Polish theatre authors are increasingly focused on the revolutionary situation that began over 30 years ago with the rise of the “Solidarity”. How was it really? What is a legend? They myth of Solidarity is being examined and what is interesting about it is that it happens in theatres outside of Warsaw which after all is considered a trendsetter.
THE MIGHTY WOMEN OF SOLIDARITY
It is worth mentioning the new feminist interpretation of Solidarity history in plays such as “If Not Now Then When, if not Us Then Who?” (“Jak nie teraz to kiedy, jak nie my to kto?”] by Małgorzata Głuchowska in Kraków or „Understanding H.” by Paweł Palcat in Legnica. They pose the question: Where exactly are the Solidarity female activist mentioned?
The name of Anna Walentynowicz does not remain wholly unknown (even if in Poland almost no attention has been paid to “Strike” by Volker Schlöndorff, a film which tells the wom- an’s story). In recent years the public opinion, if it aware of Walentynowicz’s existence it is as of “the one who has something against Lech Wałęsa.” Is there anyone who still remembers that the fact that the crane operator was made redun- dant was one of the major causes of the strike in the Gdańsk Shipyard?
Things are very different in the case of Henryka Krzywonos. In the August of 1980 she was working as a tram driver and on hearing of the strike in the Gdańsk shipyard she was the first to stop her tram, which marked the beginning of a solidarity strike of the Gdańsk public transport which in turn gave way to strikes in numerous workplaces in the city. Shortly afterwards the four women: Henryka Krzywonos, Anna Walentynowicz, Alina Piekarska and Ewa Ossowska dissuaded the shipyard workers from agreeing for the promise of pay rise and a premature finishing of the strike. In turn, they persuaded them to sympathise with all those on strike in the city – in this way protecting them from the authorities’ repressions. Solidarity became a common movement, gradually firing up the whole country.
FEMALE AVTIVIST WITH NO MEMORIAL PLAQUE
Where are the monuments to honour those women? Where are they as role models and characters for identification? These types of questions are asked in the Kraków show “If Not Now Then When, If Not Us Then Who?” directed by Małgorzata Głuchowska and written by Justyna Lipko-Konieczna. It’s a journey that makes us wonder about Alice in Wonderland – a young Polish woman Lamia goes back in time into the past of her home country; especially a lot of emphasis is put here on the times of Solidarity. Lamia meets Anna Walentynowicz and Henryka Krzywonos, and listens to their stories of the events of the ‘80s. In the background there’s Lech Wałęsa jeering at their restrained depiction of events – as their story is far from tales of pathos and heroes, which seems the only proper way in historiography for “Lech” and his hegemonous men. The more you gloat, the bigger will be your reward while the modest will soon be forgotten – the criticism towards the approach which narrows the events to the stories told by the later-to-become movement leaders is clearly audible in the piece.
In a similar way Paweł Palcat in Legnica shows the mighty women of Solidarity in the play “Understanding H.” [“Zrozumieć H.”]. The main theme of the production is the life of Henryka Krzywonos and her merits for the formation of trade unions. But the director is interested in yet another thing. In the late 80’s Krzywonos withdrew from the underground activities due to private reasons. She and her second husband found a private orphanage. Henryka does not want to passively continue watching the most vulnerable of society left at the mercy of Circumstances.
Like in a kaleidoscope, in short scenes, without pathos and with minimalistic use of means the piece also shows how an unexpected inheritance from Canada is donated for the care of the orphans and how difficult it is for a woman suffering from cancer to look after children. The figure of Henryka K. is performed by three actresses. Asked about his intentions the young director talks about his longing for common solidarity, which Henryka’s life brimmed with, and how jealous he is not to have the possibility to live in times that required such sacrifices.
DANUTA WAŁĘSA CELEBRATES HER HOUSEWIFE STATUS
Not every production with characteristic female characters has to immediately leave scratches on the myth of Solidarity – this is clearly proven by the monodrama “Danuta W.”, created in cooperation of theatres from Warsaw and Gdańsk. The play shows the events which took place 30 years ago on the basis of an autobiography “Dreams and Secrets” [“Marzenia i tajemnice”] by Danuta Wałęsa, the wife of Solidarity leader who was later to become Polish president– Lech Wałęsa. Again, this is a point of view of a woman who lived through the times of transition as a housewife and had to look after her nine-piece family, while her husband was a “fighter for the cause.”
With Krystyna Janda in the leading role – an actress starring in numerous movies by Andrzej Wajda – the play was quite a media event long before its premiere. It was surely a delight for those who longed to be ensured that at that time the women were mainly just supporting their men while remaining in the shadow of the historical warriors’ glory. However, the younger generations criticized the production as a tool in the recent process of narrowing the historical perspective. Many critics have already rejected the bestselling book by Mrs Wałęsa as a kitchen philosophy chatter.
JULIA HOLEWIŃSKA CRITICIZES THE GENERATION OF THE TRANSITION
Definitely a fresh perspective on the world of her parents is presented by Julia Holewińska in her “Baloon Revolution” [“Balonowa rewolucja”] which premiered in Warsaw. The author does not focus on the leading figures of the move- ment, but on the wave of passive participants in the Solidarity movement, who were to fall into the traps of commercialism very soon after the political turn. “Was it all just to have better televisions and cars, not for freedom?” – ask the children and their parents must endure heavy sentences. Today, just as in the past, they leave living the life of democracy to others.
In the text “Foreign Bodies” [“Ciała obce”] which was presented at the Berlin festival Theatertreffen Stückemarkt 2012, a year before it won an important Gdynia Dramatic Award, Holewińska attacks the intolerance prevailing among the Solidarity generation. The preview performance directed in Gdańsk by Kuba Kowalski, is based on an extraordinary story of an individual.
The main character is one of the activists of the Warsaw Solidarity unit. After the change of the system he undergoes a sex-change operation. In the now politically free country he heads for achieving personal freedom. However, his companions leave him and even his closest friends from the former underground movement erase his opus magna from their minds.
On the stage dominated by a double helix of DNA in the colours of the Polish national flag we see alternately appearing scenes from the past and the present. Marek Tynda, starring interchangeably as Adam and as Eve persuasively shows that his character remains a foreign body – both in the Poland of the old, where everything was based on religion and fighting for freedom, as well as in today’s reality, marked by grotesque features. The show is a strong statement against exclusion based on gender or liberal approach to life.
THE INNER INCOHERENCLES
Therefore, the new productions are not only about widening the horizons on the Solidarity, but also about pinpointing the tensions and contradictions in society. The resistance movement issue is also discussed, which is presented by Krzysztof Konopka’s Orchestra directed in Legnica by Jacek Głomb. It’s a great portrait of the opposition movement outside of the main cities.
What is clearly shown here is the fact that apart from the front line conflicts between the communists and the opposition, there were also animosities within the roups. It is illustrated by a dramatic story of a miner who chose to change sides after his son had been killed by zoMo during an illegal demonstration in 1982. The father argues that it is not the communists, but his own folks who are to blame for the tragedy.
In a straightforward manner the piece tells a story of a copper mine orchestra from Lubin (Lower Silesia) and shows its members in the past up to the present, when the mine is privatized, and the notion of solidarity disappears. The show is played at the scene of the events – in the closed part of the mine.
The opposition movement competitive to the Solidarity is presented by the Gdańsk production “The Case of Operational Identification” (“Sprawa operacyjnego rozpoznania”) by Zbigniew Brzoza. Freedom and Peace’s way of dealing with the authorities was very different from those of Solidarity. Pursuing a policy of open resistance the movement organized open hunger strikes, blockades, demonstrations reduced to absurdity or actions such as returning the military books as a revolt against compulsory military service. Part of this actionist tactics used by Freedom and Peace were taken over by other groups after the political upturn.
A collage staged by a veteran of this movement, oscillating between theater, documentary, multimedia show and a thoroughly practiced, minimalist and reconstructed happening, not only illuminates the nooks and crannies of the collective memory whose main focus in on the Solidarity. The show is also an attempt to find a contemporary theatre language for the issues of the rebellion culture of our democratic present.
OUTSIDE OF THE MEMORIAL CARE
The memories of the revolution of 30 years ago currently give way to a rather livelier, multidimensional memory work. This is impressively illustrated by “Popiełuszko”, written by Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk on a basis of a research, already honourable mentioned in the Gdynia Drama Award in 2012, with the preview show produced by Paweł Łysak in Bydgoszcz (picture).
Sikorska-Miszczuk courageously faces the issue of one of the biggest, still unresolved tragedies of those times. She depicts the story of the murder of the Catholic priest Jerzy Popiełuszko, who supported the activities of the Solidarity underground and was murdered by agents of SB – Polish communist internal intelligence agency, the Polish equivalent of the Stasi. Numerous facts of the case have remained unsolved to this day, also the role of the Catholic Church. Sikorska-Miszczuk is close to crossing the lines, she provokes, comes up with her own independent visions of the last hours of the priest’s life and thus she manages to create a powerful image of this important figure of the opposition movement.
Grotesque scenes where the past and the present are mixed, strip the action of gravity and pathos: the kidnapped priest lying in the trunk of the car of the security police continuously encounters the “Anti-Pole” who is listening to Radio Maryja, while his wife is struggling in vain with modern kitchen appliances. These are visions of a Dadaist density which Sikorska-Miszczuk often uses in her pieces.
Various and often conflicting points of view and political attitudes are added to the narration. As a result, Sikorska-Miszczuk manages to put together the front lines of Catholics and non-believers, supporters of Solidarity and the socialists, the Pro-Polish and Pro-European movements and show how these interact. This impressive piece, with all its Polish specifics, poses a universal question of freedom and its value in the life of an individual or a society as a whole. It does not build a marble monument in a city park, but a pulsating historical consciousness instead.