Nations and Stereotypes 25 Years After. New Borders, New Horizons

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the first free elections in Poland of the 4th June and the round anniversaries of the Polish accession to the European Union and of the creation of the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue Between Cultures (2004) became an exceptional occasion for the International Cultural Centre in Cracow to organise an international congress taking up the subject of changes in perception of oneself and others, which have taken place in the past quarter of a century as well as the issue of national identity in the 21st century.

Several distinguished people from cultural, scientific, media and political milieus were invited to discuss national, ethnic and religious stereotypes, xenophobia, intercultural dialogue and identity at the time of migrations and disappearing state borders, and also facing new  barriers and challenges. Three days of proceedings were filled with two inauguration lectures, four debates open to the public and twenty one thematic sessions with the participation of  108 speakers from 18 countries of Europe, Asia and Africa. Each day more than 180 people listened to discussions of the conference – “Nations and Stereotypes 25 Years After” or took an active part in it.

The first attempt to take up such significant subjects was taken up by the ICC already at the beginning of the Polish transformation period, by organising in 1993 a groundbreaking – as for its character and shape – conference, “Nations and Stereotypes”, in which the representatives of various nations talked about the stereotypical perception of themselves and their neighbours. Given the context of the EU enlargement with new member states, including Poland, our Central European neighbours and Croatia, of the crystallisation of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and also new challenges – mass migration within and to Europe, globalisation, resurgence of nationalism and xenophobia – the ICC realised that it was worthwhile to see what has changed for the last twenty five years in our thinking of ourselves and of others, once distant and now much closer. Within the same time period also the activity scope of the ICC itself has changed. Since 2005, the ICC, on behalf of the Ministry of  Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage has been the national co-ordinator of the Polish network of  the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue Between Cultures, which, as a consequence, enlarged the scope of the institution’s interest with the issues concerning the Middle  East and North Africa and the relations between these regions and Europe.

The Conference, “Nations and Stereotypes 25 Years After” was designed and executed as an interdisciplinary event, gathering experts and scientists from many fields of learning studying stereotypes as well as practitioners, including the representatives of civil society and a large public interested in changing national, ethnic and religious  perceptions. The plenary lectures inaugurating the conference and four thematic debates with the participation of world-renowned researchers and publicists presented great expertise in this field. Thirteen scientific sessions were created on the basis of paper proposals submitted within the Call for papers, which were then selected by the organising committee out of 150 proposals sent by the academics from Europe, Asia and Africa. Eight additional sessions were especially prepared by the members of the Polish network of the Anna Lindh Foundation within so-called joint project of the network – “Nations and Stereotypes 25 Years After”. The crowning event of the conference was the debate with Polish writers concerning stereotypes, identity and multiculturalism, titled “Literature with no Borders”.

June 4

The conference was opened with the lectures of two distinguished lectures of professors: of history – professor Hans Henning Hahn and of sociology – professor Ireneusz Krzemiński, who referred to the contemporary stereotypes and identities. The papers were preceded with the opening address of the ICC Director, Professor Jacek Purchla, who welcomed the conference creators, participants and guests, including the representatives of the diplomatic corps. He reminded the audience that at the beginning of the Polish transformation, 21 years ago, the ICC organised the first conference taking up this important topic of nations and stereotypes. At that time, the emphasis was laid on the mutual perception of Poland and the new (seven) Polish neighbours, who emerged out of the GDR, USSR and Czechoslovakia.

June 5

The events of the day were two debates with the participation of researches and publicists from Poland’s neighbours and the from the states of the former USSR.

Debate I. "Twenty Years After. About Ourselves and “Our” Others" 

The first debate of the Conference – chaired by professor Teresa Walas, the originator and organiser of the first conferences, “Nations and Stereotypes” which was conducted by the ICC in 1993, was an attempt to “recreate” the session from 21 years ago. At that time, Professor Walas talked with the participants, first confronting the “national” pairs  (e.g. with Thomas Venclova about the stereotype of a Pole in Lithuania and with Czesław Miłosz about the stereotype of a Lithuanian in Poland, etc.), and then the discussion had a character of an open debate of all the guests. This time the situation was similar. The national pairs comprised: Professor Jacek Baluch and doctor Roman Baron discussing the mutual stereotypes of a Pole amongst the Czechs and of a Czech in Poland; Professor Dieter Bingen and editor Adam Krzemiński – talking about mutual Polish and German stereotypes; Krzysztof Czyżewski and doctor Leonidas Donskis – Polish and Lithuanian, Professor Giennadii Matveev and Professor Grzegorz Przebinda – Polish and Russian; and also Professor Mykola Riabczuk and editor Adam Michnik – Polish and Ukrainian. The participants were wondering how the perception of themselves and the neighbours have changed in countries of the Central Europe within the last 25 years. They were also trying to figure out whether the theses made during the first conference, “Nations and Stereotypes” in 1993 were still valid.

Debate II. "Wind from the East, Wind to the East"

After the presentation of Poland’s relations with its closest neighbours the view was enlarged to show the relationships between the East and West of Europe. Twenty five years ago the Berlin Wall fell down, ending in this way the period of the Cold War and hostile relationships  between the two parts of the Continent. On the Western part, the integration processes strengthened whilst on the East new states emerged from the USSR. The second debate chaired by ambassador Jerzy Bahr, was titled, “Wind from the East, Wind to the East” and was the occasion to a question whether the mutual perception has changed? How are Poland and the European Union perceived by the countries of the Eastern Europe and vice versa? How do they see their own future in the context of European integration? Is there any relationship between nationalistic attitudes and communism? The attempt to provide answers to these questions was made by Professor Victor Dyatlov (Russia), doctor Robert Pyrah (Great Britain), Professor Bela Tsipuria (Georgia) and Taras Wozniak (Ukraine).

June 6

Debate III. "Do We All Live on the Mediterranean?"

The third debate of the conference, chaired by doctor Konrad Pędziwiatr, had quite a subversive title: “Do We All Live on the Mediterranean?” Contemporary political geography shows clearly that Poland – as a member state of the European Union – reaches with its borders the Mediterranean Sea. The neighbourhood of the countries of North Africa and Middle East is thus not merely symbolic, but very much real and pragmatic, which can be evidenced for instance with Poland’s participation in the works of the Union for the Mediterranean – a vast project of political, economic and cultural co-operation of the EU member states with the countries located in the Southern and eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. The panellists – Professor Shlomo Avineri (Israel), Professor Yaarah Bar-On (Israel), doctor Khaled Hroub (Palestine/Qatar), Professor Habib C. Malik (Lebanon), Robert Manchin (Hungary), doctor Krzysztof Olendzki (Poland) and doctor Sara Silvestri (Great Britain) were wondering whether one can talk about a significant turn in the relationship between Poland and the EU countries on the one side and the countries of the Mediterranean Basin on the other? Does the geographical, political and economic closeness match cultural separation and resistance towards influence? Now, when the heart of the Mediterranean beats more in Cairo and  Tunis than in Rome or Athens, this question is particularly valid. What are our connection and dividing points between us and  the inhabitants of the southern  coasts of the Mediterranean Sea? Are they rightly perceived by the Northern Europeans as a threat to Europe’s integrity? How do they perceive Europe and what place they would like to occupy there?
The basis of the of the discussion was the newest edition of the Report of Anna Lindh Foundation of Intercultural Trends”, prepared by the Foundation and the Gallup Organisation.

Debate IV. "Nations and Stereotypes 2014–2034"

The last debate of the Conference, “Nations and Stereotypes 2014–2034” had a futurological character. It was an attempt to look into the future and wonder how the relationships between nations may change within the next two decades. Economic and political crisis fosters the appearance of protectionist attitudes and populist appeal to be closed to others. Professor Jacek Purchla asked the invited guests – Andreu Claret (Spain/Egypt), Professor Yaroslav Hrytsak (Ukraine), professor Yudhishthir Raj Isar (France), Professor Csaba Gy. Kiss (Hungary), Professor Ireneusz Krzemiński (Poland) and doctor Katerina Stenou (Greece/France)– if the increasing hostility towards others in Europe, confirmed by the recent studies, is an irreversible and growing tendency? The changes in the East of Europe and just behind its Southern borders create a new reality in which diversity will play a great role. What actions then should be taken in order to break down the stereotypes and build an open society of the 21st  century? Can we be optimistic about the future?

Parallel sessions

The four key lectures and debates intertwined with parallel sessions, which contained the papers, arranged thematically, which were  submitted for the conference and selected by the organising committee. The panellists presented the way in which other nations are perceived by the Poles (session – “In the eyes of the Poles”), and also presented stereotypical vision of Poland seen from abroad (session – “Poles in the eyes of others”) and the problems of national minorities (session – “In a foreign country”). There were also parallel session devoted to Polish-Russian relations (session –“Poles and Russians – mutual perception”), the problem of a stereotype of a Muslim (session – „Islamophobia”) and Jewish issues (session – “Adequatio”). Some papers concerned the stereotypes transmitted in language, literature and media (session – “Stereotypes in jokes and language” and “Between fantasy and reality”) and also in music (session – „Stereotypes in music”). Also a geographical look on the problem of a stereotype was presented in the such sessions as “The Middle Europe” and “On the Border”. A dichotomy in the mutual perception was discussed in the sessions “Ours or Alien” and “In a double way”. Altogether there were 47 papers presented. Their authors will be asked to send scientific articles elaborating on the subject of the presentations and the best of them will be published in post-conference proceedings.

The session of the Polish network of the Anna Lindh Foundation

The parallel sessions were also carried out within the joint project of the Polish network of the Anna Lindh Foundation, titled “Nations and Stereotypes 25 Years After”. Its objective was the involvement and activation of the members of the Anna Lindh Foundation around the common problem being a dialogue within the Euro-Mediterranean region, the issue of mutual perception of Polish men and women and their neighbours (both closer and more distant ones) and the issue of cultural and social diversity in Poland. During the sessions organised by the members of the Polish network, the participants not only had the occasion to broaden their knowledge in this area, but also take part in the discussion and exchange their experiences. Each of the sessions had a slightly different formula,  starting from a discussion, through a film screening, to end with academic presentations. The subjects of the meetings were very diversified. “INTERKULTURALNI PL” Association dealt with the issues of stereotypes in co-operation for socio-economic development. “U siebie – At Home” Society took up the discussion about the syndrome of a victim and its role in the creation of an image of Poles and Germans, on the basis of the film Nie wolno się brzydko bawić. The subject of new stereotypes, based not as much on nationality, but rather on social differences, gender and sexual orientation was taken up by the City Culture Institute (“Herstory as a Method of Preventing Women Stereotypisation”) and the Foundation for Social Diversity (“Who is ‘Other’ Today in Poland K? A foreigner, nationalist, leftie, gay…?”). A stereotypical vision of literature was discussed by the Institute of Slavic Philology of the Jagiellonian University  (“’Small’ literatures – stereotype, auto-stereotype, reality”). The subject of a multicultural past of a city and contemporary intercultural dialogue was taken up by the Soclab Foundation whereas the UNESCO Initiatives Centre dealt with Polish and Czech stereotypes, the image of Poles in the Czech Republic and of the Czechs in Poland. The special guest, invited by the Polish network was the co-ordinator of the Swedish network of Anna Lindh foundation, an experienced trainer and animator, who conducted workshops in intercultural communication.

"Literature without Borders"

The meeting organised in co-operation with Cracow Festival Office, gathered Joanna Bator, a laureate of the Nike Literary Award in 2013 for her book Ciemno, prawie noc [Dark, Almost Night], Olga Tokarczuk, the author of the famous novels : Prawiek i inne czasy [Primeval and Other Times], Dom dzienny, dom nocny [House of Day, House of Night] or Bieguni [Runners] as well as Ziemowit Szczerek, a prose writer and reporter, a laureate of the Paszport POLITYKI 2013 [Polityka’s Passport]  for “the First Polish gonzo” – a report Mordor Will Come and Eat Us, or A Secret History of Slavs. The meeting was chaired by Adam Szostkiewicz, a journalist, translator and a member of the Polish Section of the PEN Club. The starting point for the discussion was a question to the guests whether in the world which increasingly keeps rejecting the idea of a dialogue and returning to stereotypes more and more willingly, which is also seen in Poland, it is possible to write books containing the idea of a dialogue and whether prose is a monologue by definition.

Organiser: International Cultural Centre in Cracow
Conference office: doctor Robert Kusek, Joanna Sanetra-Szeliga

The Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue Between Cultures
Krakow Festival Office 
Krakow City of Literature 

Polish Cultural Institute London