The Olza connects
Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity in Cieszyn
The Regional Branch of SPCzS as the promoter of integration processes in the Cieszyn region
Amongst the six regional offices appointed during the 1st General Assembly of Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity (Wrocław, February 1992) was the Regional Branch for Bielsko - Cieszyn. Andrzej Grajewski was appointed as the spokesman of the Branch, and Marian Dembiniok was appointed as his deputy (he was promoted to spokesman in June 1998). Jerzy Kronhold – a member of the newly-established Branch - became a member of the Council of Spokesmen selected during the General Assembly. The Bureau of SPCz Foundation had been operating much earlier, from 1st November 1991, and following the General Assembly in Wrocław it was renamed as the Facility of SPCzS Foundation.
However, the Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity launched its informal activities in Cieszyn Silesia already in 1989, and had initiated environmental protests and a manifestation carrying a political overtone in the period from May to October.
Cieszyn market square during a demonstration against the construction of coking plant in Stonava;
Photo by Karol Franek
On 19th May, the Association No. 5 of Cieszyn Area Motherland, consisting primarily of members of the Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity, organized a “great picnic protest” directed against the construction of the coke plant in Stonava in the region of Zaolzie Silesia. During the rally, which gathered thousands of participants, there was mention of the need to launch a Polish-Czech Community to shape the image of the entire Zaolzie land, and a resolution was adopted which contained categorical demands not only to cease the construction of the coking plant, but also stop the devastation of the natural environment of the Czech part of Beskidy mountains. On 5th October, members of the Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity once again organized a protest march in Cieszyn as a response to the violation of international conventions by the Czech authorities and the continuation of the construction of the coking plant. The demonstration planned in Český Těšín with an identical course, was ultimately canceled. The first joint, bilateral environmental demonstration was organized in the new political reality on 27th April 1990. Only then did Stonava cease to be a matter solely of SPCz activists and residents of the Polish part of Cieszyn Silesia as well as the Czech opposition. Demonstrations organized by the Civic Committee in Cieszyn, Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity and Karviná-based “Ekoforum” were held simultaneously in Cieszyn, Český Těšín, Karviná and Havířov. Environmental protests yielded the desired effect - on 15th November 1990 the CSRF government decided to withdraw from the construction of the disputed coking plant.
Market Square in Cieszyn - speech by Janusz Okrzesik;
Photo: Karol Franek
Amongst the environmental manifestations there was also a demonstration of a pure political character, the so-called “expiatory manifestation”, organized on 21st August by the Association No. 5 of Cieszyn Area Motherland (de facto through members of SPCz supporting the Association) on the anniversary of the disgraceful Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. The contents of telegrams addressed to Václav Havel and Cardinal František Tomašek were read out loud to those who gathered at the Cieszyn Market Square along with a telegram addressed to the participants of the demonstration drafted by the Ryszard Siwiec and the Jan Palach Community. For the first time the residents of Cieszyn, along with the members of the Parliamentary Club who came by Olza river (including Józefa Hennelowa, Jacek Kuroń, Karol Modzelewski, Krzysztof Kozłowski and Jan Maria Rokita), could honor the memory of the Czechs and Slovaks who died 21 years earlier.
Market Square in Cieszyn - speech by Jacek Kuroń; Photo by: Karol Franek MŚC
The Regional Branch of SPCzS organized its last manifestation in March 1997. Under the slogan “No for the iron curtain”, they protested collectively against raising fees for green cards.
The fact that the first demonstrations organized in an informal manner by the Cieszyn unit of Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity conjoined - in the conditions of a socialist state - the Polish and Czech communities living in the border regions, is invaluable, for they would consequently lead to overt community actions amongst residents of cities and municipalities along the Olza river. Thanks to the activists of the Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, people began considering Cieszyn Silesia as a region in the need of mutual concern, and the bonds established due to shared environmental protests had their closer and further consequences, not only in terms of ecology (eg. in 1990 the formula for the joint Environmental Initiative was adopted, which associated the Ecological Club in Ustroń and Slezská ornitologická společnost/Silesian Ornithological Society) but also, and above all, in the field of cultural life.
Officially, the need to “raise awareness of a common responsibility for the fate of Cieszyn Silesia” and “the need to act in order to create proper neighboring conditions for Poles, Czechs and Slovaks” was postulated on 17th February 1990 in Ustroń in a statement crowning the work meeting of the Cieszyn-based unit of Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity with Polish parliamentarians of the Podbeskidzie region: Maciej Krzanowski, senator of the Republic of Poland, and deputy Janusz Okrzesik, as well as members of the Czech National Council: Jaromír Piskor and Tadeusz Wantuła. Furthermore, the statement also included a note that the official (thus already existing) cultural exchange “should be complemented by actions from independent environments as well as activities free from any ideological pressures, presenting the achievement of various artistic circles”.
The Statement (full text: “Głos Ziemi Cieszyńskiej” 1990 No. 8), considered by Kazimierz Kaszper as “probably the most important document of the era” (see. “GZC" in 1994, No. 29) actually resulted in new forms of Polish-Czech-Slovak cultural cooperation proposed by the Cieszyn SPCz.
The genesis of cultural projects (both cyclical and incidental) was the idea of organizing an annual Polish-Czech-Slovak Festival of Reciprocity covering the entire Cieszyn Silesia in its historical boundaries, hatched during the February meeting. The Festival, with its program that was both ambitious (including a review of the works of Václav Havel in theaters in both right- and left-bank of Cieszyn, screenings of Polish films on the western and of Czech and Slovak films on the eastern side of the Olza river as well as concerts of musical groups, exhibitions of Czechoslovak art, sporting events) and risky in terms of time (7th-15th July 1990) did not live to see its realization either in the intended time or in the proposed form, but some valuable ideas, subject to enriching modifications, gained an independent entity - the intended modest overview of the Polish, Czech and Slovak stagings of Havel’s plays transformed in May 1990 into the International Theater Festival “On the Border”/Mezinárodní divadelní festival „Na hranici” and the planned screenings took place in April 1999 in the form of the Czech Film Review “Cinema on the Border” (current name: “Cinema on the Border/Hranici; Film Review/Filmová přehlídka).
The February plan to hold a joint Polish-Czech-Slovak meeting in culture, however, has been realized to a certain extent. The Festival of Polish - Czechoslovak Solidarity took place from 12th to 16th September 1990 in both Cieszyn and Český Těšín. The event joined the two cities into a single cultural body, and allowed the residents to cross the border without an invitation (the function of which was taken over by a ticket purchased for the given festival event). The role model for the Solidarity Festival, the primary aim of which was to identify neighboring cultures and verify negative national stereotypes, was undoubtedly the Wrocław-based Review of Independent Czechoslovak Culture organized in November 1989. Hence the heavily exposed music trend (including a concert at the Cieszyn Market Square given by the bards of opposition: Jacek Kaczmarski and Jaromír Nohavica, performances by jazz formations and rock groups from both countries), also presenting what was absent in Wroclaw (presentation at the Gallery of the Office of Silesian University in Cieszyn of the paintings of Czech and Slovak artists hailing from the opposition circles, seized at that time at the border crossing by the Czechoslovak border and customs services). Strong exposure of the plastic movement (besides the exhibition also six individual exposures that were “confiscated”) was aimed, in the intention of the organizers, at visualizing the civil and artistic kinship amongst the plastic artists of the three nationalities. During the festival, Polish films were presented in the cinemas of Český Těšín, and Polish cinemas screened Czech films.
The festival was accompanied by a plethora of non-artistic projects: discussion between the SPCz spokesmen and Minister Václav Klaus (during which the Czech politician confirmed the government’s willingness to restore the Czechoslovak local border traffic) and the protest manifestation on top of Czantoria on the last day of the Festival with participation from members of SPCz, Polish parliamentarians (including Adam Michnik), recent Czech and Slovak dissidents (including Petr Uhl), representatives of the Polish Embassy in Prague, and representatives of the Council of Poles in the Czech Republic, directed against the last “iron curtain” of Europe. Poles ostensibly arrived at the Czech hostel without passports. “I did not take my passport on purpose, and had thus violated the law - said Michnik - because it is in my habit to violate every law that is absurd” (see. “Kronika” 1990, no. 38).
Gertruda Chowaniokova, Jolanta Dygoś, Marian Dembiniok, Jerzy Herma, Julian Golak, Paweł Skrzywanek;
Photo: Private collection of M. Dembiniok
The festival proved, therefore, that the Cieszyn unit of Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity had the ambition to model the decisions of politicians at a ministerial level also in the new political and social reality, and present categorical demands to restore local border traffic, eliminate legal and administrative barriers in mutual tourist traffic and propose rapid and dramatic increase in the amount of border crossings between Poland and the CSRF. The Cieszyn unit of Občanského forum (Civil Forum) participated in the above-mentioned activities as a direct partner of SPCz. The Občanského forum was an opposition movement founded in Prague on 19th November 1989 which brought together opposition organizations and proclaimed a program for the democratization of cultural life. (It should be noted that currently, pursuant to the Articles of Association of SPCzS, Czechs constitute members of the Regional Branch in Cieszyn as well).
Execution and, afterwards, realization of the agreement on visa-free traffic between Poland and CSRF (May 1991) as well as the conclusion of relevant intergovernmental agreements (September, October 1991) undermined the sense of continuing the Festival of Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity. Part of the cases that comprised the purpose of the festival became obsolete due to the fact that the tight insulation barrier dispersed. Culture, released to some extent from any political connotations, could hence speak on its own, and not just through the mouths of contesting creators.
The gravity of the cited Festival of Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity seems invaluable. Thanks to its cross-border and interdisciplinary character, it served as the milestone for many cultural initiatives in the border towns, and made it clear that Cieszyn “can become (...) the meeting place of two cultures, two nations, two states” (Adam Michnik perceived the city located by Olza river as such already in the autumn of 1990; see “GZC” 1990, no. 38).
The Festival of Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity, however, was a one-off initiative. Nonetheless, there were also cyclical events contributing to the integration, including festivals of both theater and film.
The first - the International Theater Festival “On the Border” /Mezinárodní divadelní festival |On hranici|, today known as the International Theater Festival “No Borders”/Mezinarodní divadelní festival “Bez Hranic”), besides the obvious political connotations (fusion obtained through the metaphorical breakage of the barrier borders between Cieszyn and Český Těšín, creating a single urban organism; granting the theater ticket the rank of invitation required by the Czechoslovak authorities in 1990) had (and still has) comprised an artistic presentation of the best, most interesting and most representative theater phenomena of three Central European cultures: Polish, Czech and Slovak, and since the late 1990s - also Hungarian. The festival, besides performances of countries from the Visegrad Group, also included performances of artists from other countries (Austria, Ukraine, Germany, USA).
The primary criterion for selection of performances was, and still is, their quality. The remaining criteria include: representativeness and “cross-border character”. Adherence to the latter results in a significant presence of alternative groups at the festival, propagating political and social journalism, as well as anthropology. The specificity of the Polish-Czech border in Cieszyn also authenticates the presence of bands known from the joint Czech-Polish and Slovak-Polish theater enterprises, and justifies the emergence of international groups, groups active in exile and theaters of cultural enclaves. Whatever the selection criterion, the organizers (the partners of SPCzS in this case are, or were, the “National House” Cieszyn Cultural Centre, Kulturní a společenské středisko „Střelnice”, Těšínské divadlo, Adam Mickiewicz Theater, the University of Silesia - Branch in Cieszyn, Člověk na hranici,) tried and still try to continue inviting to both cities ambitious performances, often deemed difficult and controversial, which contribute to increased knowledge about ourselves and about our reality. Presentations of performances, both competitive (since 1993 the best performances have been recognized with the “Broken Barrier” award, granted in the period 1993-2000 by professionals composed of Polish-Czech-Slovak jury, and since 2011 by the festival’s audience) and played out outside the competition - were accompanied by scientific conferences, organized by the Regional Branch of SPCzS and Branch of the Silesian University in Cieszyn (“Problems of contemporary theater”, 1992; “Theater without borders”, 1997; “National theaters - tradition and the present”, 2001), the Regional Branch and the University of Bielsko-Biała (“Multiculturalism of the border region”, 2004). Also - theatrological seminars (including “Theater and politics, the politics of theater”, 2006), debates with active participation from the festival’s audience (including “New drama in Central Europe”, 2011). In 2012, as part of the “Havlov inspirations/Inspirace Havlem” project, a series of panel discussions entitled “Havlov dialogues/Havlovské dialogy” were launched (including “The paradox of freedom”/Paradox Svobody”, 2014).
Organizers of the Theater Festival; Dagmara Černochová, Jerzy Herma, Jitka Kiková, Adam Cieślar, Regina Bandarewicz, Zbigniew Tanenberg, Gertruda Chowaniokova, Marian Dembiniok, Bogusław Haręża, Petra Rypieniova, Vladka Nováková Andrzej Łyżbicki, Jolanta Wozimko, Renáta Křivánková;
Photo: Priv. collections of M. Dembiniok
Among the plethora of events accompanying the theatrical presentations it is also worth mentioning prestigious art exhibitions, concerts, film screenings, workshops, readings, “the theater train” organized in collaboration with the Dream Factory festival in Ostrava, etc. The cognitive benefit of the Theater Festival “On the Border”/”No Borders” in various artistic disciplines of the two neighboring nations is therefore invaluable.
The importance of the festival was, and still is, confirmed by the attendance of politicians. A personal meeting between the Minister of Culture of Poland - Andrzej Zakrzewski - and the Czech Republic - Pavel Dostal - and Slovakia - Milan Kňažko, was held during the jubilee 10th edition organized on 9th October 1999. The politicians presented their plans for the creation of the Visegrad Group Culture Fund, and the Polish Minister of Culture officially recognized the Theater Festival “On the Border” as “our [Polish-Czech-Slovak - M.P.] pass to a shared Europe of free nations”. Honorary patronage over the festival was provided by the ministers of culture, ambassadors, consuls, and national cultural centers of each country. The festival gained, and still gains, financial support from local, national and international funds.
The second initiative of the Regional Branch of SPCzS – the film review “Cinema on the Border” was, through the selection of repertoire, dependent from its very beginning from social (and political) contexts, especially in case of its first edition held under the slogan: “1960’s Czech cinema”. Already at that time a certain scheme, applicable during the subsequent reviews, was formed: the first part was given a retrospective character, the second provided a presentation of the latest achievements of Czech cinematography (since 2001 - also Slovak). The retrospective part continues to maintain a monographic character, with the director of the films serving as the guest of the event. The screenings take place to this day in the Cieszyn “Piast” cinema, and since 2002, also in the “Central” cinema located in Český Těšín (therefore the event obtained an international status). The film review, similarly to the theater festival, is accompanied by numerous additional events: lectures, scientific sessions (eg. “Cinema of Agnieszka Holland and the identity of European culture”, Český Těšín 2004), concerts, exhibitions as well as culinary attractions. In the years 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013 the jury nominated the Film Review “Cinema On the Border” to the Award of the Polish Film Institute in the category of “International Film Event”. “Cinema on the Border” was recognized with the award in 2013.
Besides such spectacular projects as the afore-mentioned festivals, SPCzS activists also pursued projects of a more modest nature, and found support in the Bureau of SPCz Foundation, launched in 1991 and renamed after the 1st General Assembly to the Facility of SPCzS Foundation. Both the bureau and the facility located at Szeroka Street were run by Marian Dembiniok, and its activities were funded by the above-mentioned Foundation, the president of which was Jarosław Szostakowski. In a short time, for after the facility’s 30-month activity it was possible to launch and execute many interesting initiatives. Environmentalists from both sides of the border have frequently and repeatedly met at Szeroka Street. It was there that the idea for establishing the ecological section of SPCzS was born. Finally, a formula for the Environmental Initiative was adopted, under which the Ecological Club in Ustroń (Zbigniew Białas, Eugeniusz Zielonka), SPCzS (Janusz Okrzesik), Slezská ornitologická společnost Krista Afengova, Kurt Rusek) and individuals (Petr Grendziok, Jan Cymorek) have been operating. The cooperation with Polish and Czech Esperantists was deemed important, while their monthly meetings devoted to mutual understanding of culture, art and history were partially subsidized. The culmination of this experiment were the Esperanto classes taught to children from the area of former Yugoslavia living in Ustroń sanatoriums. The classes were held by Zdzisław Glajcar. One of the most important activities of the facility was the initiation, organization and execution of ethnographic research, focusing on the theme “Crosses and wayside chapels of Cieszyn Silesia”. After establishing contact with the Department of Ethnography at the University of Wrocław (Małgorzata Michalska) and performing fieldwork cards, on 2nd September 1992 the first group of students launched studies on the northern part of Zaolzie. In June 1993, further research covered the southern part. Materials obtained during the research completed the archives of the University of Wrocław and the Museum of Cieszyn Silesia in Cieszyn. The bureau at Szeroka Street also served as the meeting place with the consuls Jan Jacka and Jiří Kropacz. Furthermore, the possibility of implementing the idea of organizing a meeting in Cieszyn between the Ministers of Culture and Foreign Affairs of Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia was discussed there as well. The main task of the facility, however, was to coordinate the activities related to the organization of the International Theater Festival ON THE BORDER, the more that the SPCzS Foundation was the main sponsor of the event alongside the Ministry of Culture. The actions included activists from the Polish side (Mirosława Pindór, Marek Gaj, Janusz Legoń, Jerzy Herma, Jerzy Kronhold) and Czech (Gertruda Chowaniokova, Roman Rozbrój, Ladislav Sliva). The facility naturally became a meeting place for members of SPCzS in Bielsko (Janusz Okrzesik, Stanisław Polaczek, Marek Szafrański, Piotr Szwarc, and others), and Cieszyn (Jolanta Dygoś, Jerzy Herma, Jerzy Kronhold, Arkadiusz Miodoński, and others). Here the idea of establishing a regional branch, the subjectivity of which would improve further actions, and particularly those related to the organization of the Festival ON THE BORDER, was conceived as well. Therefore, on 11th September 1992 the repeatedly postponed general meeting finally took place, appointed by spokesman for the Bielsko-Cieszyn branch Andrzej Grajewski. His deputy was Marian Dembiniok and secretary -Jolanta Dygoś. The Foundation’s financial difficulties in obtaining money for democratic actions on the Polish-Czech-Slovak border led to the liquidation of the Cieszyn-based facility. The last report includes data for April 1994. Before that happened, however, an exhibition of the excellent Polish graphic designer Jadwiga Symkowska was organized at the Polish Culture Center in Prague followed by an exhibition by Daniel Balabán in Cieszyn. Leszek Mazan succeeded in visiting Cieszyn and met with the residents of the city at the invitation of the Cieszyn facility.
Jerzy Herma, Regina Bandarewicz, Marian Dembiniok, Jolanta Dygoś, Jerzy Kronhold;
Photo: Priv. collections of M. Dembiniok
The priorities, objectives and tasks of the Regional Branch of SPCzS have changed over the years. Nonetheless, one goal remained unchanged - breaking, through theater, film and related arts, any “manifestations of closed thinking” understood as a persistent clinging to stereotypes without confronting the fixed mental constructs with the reality.
The merits of the Regional Branch in Cieszyn have been recognized by state authorities. In 1999, the Branch received a diploma for its participation in the competition “Pro publico bono” and received two diplomas awarded during the National Competition “Closer to the Theater” held under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of National Education and Sport (1994 - “Diploma for the outstanding achievements in the development of participation and theater education in 1993”, 2002 -”Diploma for the achievements in the dissemination of theatrical culture”).
Miroslaw Pindór, Ph.D.
Individual recognitions were also awarded to members of the Branch. Marian Dembiniok, the spokesman of the Regional Branch was honored in May 2001 (during the 12th Theater Festival “On the Border”) with the Medal of “Artis Bohemia Amicis” (“Friend of Czech Culture”), awarded by the Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic for “spreading the good name of Czech culture”. In 2004, Regina Bandarewicz and Marian Dembiniok were awarded with the Honorary Medal of the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic “for merits in the development of the Polish-Czech cultural cooperation”. The President of the Republic of Poland honored M. Dembniok with the Gold Cross of Merit (1997), and afterwards Jerzy Kronhold (2004) and Jolanta Dygoś (2008), and with the Silver Cross of Merit - Jerzy Herma (2004), and the Knight's Cross - Gertruda Chowaniokova (2008). Several members of the Branch were also honored in 1999 by the Minister of Culture and Art with the medal of Merit in the Service of Culture (Regina Bandarewicz, Henryka Jałowiec, Mirosława Pindór). The distinctions and awards granted prove that the activities of the Regional Branch of SPCzS in Cieszyn have been noticed and appreciated by the governments of both countries: the Republic of Poland and the Czech Republic.