In recent years, arts and culture have become a domain of solidarity and support, and this is exactly the role a theatre festival should assume. Back in the autumn of last year, when we began work on the next edition of the Malta Festival, the situation made us, the organisers of culture, to take a stand, speak out, and actively participate in shaping the world we want to live in. The programme of the Malta Festival Poznań 2022 was developed in response to the humanitarian crisis on the Polish-Belarussian border, racism that the crisis was and is a manifestation of, extreme social divisions and cultural conflicts. The war in Ukraine enhanced our intention to create a festival which would be a space for empowerment and the realization of the collective dream of a more equal tomorrow.
Based on statistics as of October 2021, the population of Ukrainians living in Poland holding a permanent residency card is 293,800 people, of Belarussians – 37,100, Germans – 19,7000, Russians – 13,700, the Vietnamese – 11,200, Indians – 10,900, Georgians – 9,600, Italians – 8,500, Britons – 6,900, and the Chinese – 6,900. That same year Poland received 7,700 applications for international protection from, among others, the people of Belarus, Afghanistan, or Iraq. In connection with the Russian invasion on Ukraine, approx. 600,000 refugees fled to Poland within just a few days. How can we share the space we live in with them? How can we build a community life? How can we support them, not only right now but in the long-term, in their day-to-day lives? How can we lend them a voice?
We feel that the Malta Festival Poznań ought to reflect a more diversified social and cultural context that it operates in. We have found ourselves at the beginning of a long process which is both outside- and inside-oriented. Opening up to the Other is tied with co-creation, responsibility, mindfulness, giving way – this is something we are still learning to do. We clearly feel that it is not conflict, manifestation, and separateness that make contemporary performative arts meaningful, but the search for new forms of expression advocating solidarity and egalitarianism.
The festival does not exert a direct impact on reality (it is not based on the border nor is it fighting on the front lines), but it can act, just as most of us can, on the second line. In a world where a grip has the potential of bringing both death and love, where it can take the form of barbarian violence and tenderness for the suffering, we want to clearly voice the option we are supporting. The unity in bringing help that we are witnessing right now gives us hope for a better future.
Still, this unity also fills us with dread: it is selective, it excludes people with skin colour other than white, and rejects people who do not look like us. Part of the applications for asylum filed by people fleeing from regimes, wars, and the climate crisis have not been approved by Polish authorities, which is a violation of international law.
We want to confront the reality and do our part to build a less unjust world. This is the idea behind this year’s theatrical and musical programme for the Malta open stage, behind the Forum, the children’s programme, behind part of the international programme, and the open call that we will announce on 10 March. The call will be addressed to artists from abroad living in Poland and international tandems.
A festival should be a platform for the exchange of thoughts and experiences and it should participate in shaping reality while remaining an inviting and open space at the same time. We were guided by this premise also when we were developing the outdoor programme, which will consist of performances using universal language, connecting people of different generations, professions, and cultures. United and open, let’s meet in June under the same sky.
Michał Merczyński / Malta Festival Poznań director
Joanna Pańczak, Dorota Semenowicz / Malta Festival Poznań programmers