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Following international trend, Berlin's Polish Cultural Institute director dismissed without warning


The German newspaper taz reports that Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska, director of the Polish Cultural Institute of Berlin, or Polnisches Institut Berlin, has been fired without warning, allegedly for programming too much Jewish content. Poland’s conservative government seems to have a new direction in its cultural policy, favoring historical over contemporary works, and has fired 13 of its 24 cultural institute directors since this summer, reports taz.

In partial below are two taz articles translated to English by Janto Schwitters for e-flux. Uwe Rada broke the story of Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska’s firing in his December 2nd article, “Warsaw Purges in Berlin.”

Although her contract was running out in Summer 2017, Warsaw’s foreign ministry did not want to wait. On Wednesday Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska, the director of the Polnisches Institut Berlin, was dismissed without notice. taz confirmed this with the institute’s representative, Marcin Zastrożny, on Friday.

Wielga-Skolimowska took charge of the institution in 2013 and has since organized a sophisticated cultural program.

It has been known for some time that the internationally well-connected Wielga-Skolimowska didn’t fit in with the Polish national-conservative government’s new direction in cultural policy. In spring Warsaw appointed conservative Małgorzata Bochwic-Ivanovska as vice director of the institute due to the foreign ministry’s negative evaluation of the institute’s work. It was accused of giving too much attention to Jewish themes.

At the beginning of the year, Polish culture minister Piotr Gliński of the PiS party called for an end of a “culture of shame.” The Polnisches Institut Berlin had, amongst others, shown the movie “Ida,” which in 2015 was awarded the Oscar for best foreign movie. It is about a young woman who, in the 60’s, learns that she is Jewish and that her parents were murdered by their Polish neighbors.

In contrast the new vice director wanted to show a very different movie. Bochwic-Ivanovska was ordered by Polish ambassador Andrzej Przyłębski to organize the premiere of the propaganda movie “Smolensk.” But it had to be called off when she was unable to find a cinema in Berlin willing to show the film, which asserts the crash of the Polish president’s airplane in 2010 was not an accident but a Russian plot. Bochwic-Ivanovska now serves as the interim director.

The Polnisches Institut Berlin is not the only institute to undergo a forcible staff reorganization. According to liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, 13 directors out of the 24 Polish institutes have been dismissed this summer.

Rada followed up with the reactions to Wielga-Skolimowska’s dissimal with the December 5th text “Protests Against Dismissal.”

Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska’s dismissal from the post of director of the Polnisches Institut Berlin is creating a stir. In an open letter, the Jewish Museum expresses “bewilderment” and “irritation.”

“We are saddened and bewildered by this sudden and incomprehensible decision,” says the letter, which is written by Cilly Kugelman, the museum’s vice director and program manager, and addressed to the Polish ambassador in Berlin, Andrzej Przyłębski, and Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski.

The letter has been co-signed, among others, by the director of the Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Berlinische Galerie, the director of the Berliner Festspiele and the director of the New Synagogue – Centrum Judaicum Foundation.

Meanwhile, there are increasing indications that the Polish embassy played a part in contributing to the dismissal of the Polish institute’s director. In an internal evaluation acquired by taz, ambassador Przyłębski harshly criticized the institute’s work. “Blind imitation of nihilistic and hedonistic trends does not lead to anything good, in terms of civilization,” he writes. “Poland has to oppose this, also through the culture presented in the Polish institute.”

Also the Polnisches Institut Berlin should not go overboard with Polish-Jewish topics, the ambassador wrote, “especially not in Germany, which should not take the role of a mediator.”

Criticism also was directed at the selection of guests the institute invited from Poland. “Especially now it is important to invite guests, who understand the situation (in Poland) and are able to convincingly talk about it,” writes Przyłębski. Such guests were generally not fine artists or avant-garde musicians, though. Przyłębski suggests to instead invite authors and publishers who concern themselves with “historical prose.”

*Image of Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska via Deutsche Welle