Laureates 2014

2014 Past - History & Memory

Krzysztof Czyzewski

czyzewski krzysztof

Mr. Krysztof Czyzewski is a renowned Polish publisher, writer and theater director, public intellectual and social activist.

He is the founder of the Borderland Foundation (Fundacja Pogranicze), situated in Sejny, a town close to the Lithuanian border with a highly multicultural past.  He is one of the founders of the Gardzienice Theatre Company in Lublin, which collects ethnographic materials from around the world to create what they call an "ethno-oratorial song theater."

Czyzewski's whole life and work, for decades, has been dedicated to the integration of the Polish past into the creation of a robust, living, civil society that is capable of recognizing the complications of the past, and that insists on their inclusion in the country's foundations for the present and future. His professional world is the very embodiment of the theme of "history and memory."

In the wake of Poland's 1989 transition from communism to a democratic regime, Czyzewski's explicit and great mission was to help in the creation of Polish civil society. During the 1980's he was deeply engaged with history and memory via an experimental theatre – designed to bring theatre directly to the public, in villages, mainly in eastern Poland. The actors in these dramas would solicit from the villagers for whom they were performed memories and recollections of the local collective past; these elements would then be incorporated into the plays themselves.

This in turn led, especially after 1989, to his understanding of Poland's great need for civil society – which in the wake of communism had been completely decimated. Czyzewski insisted that civil society would have to be remade on the basis of a genuine engagement with Poland's past – not a glossing over of unpleasant elements and a burnishing of comforting national verities, but through a genuine engagement with the country's true, complicated and variegated past. To this end, Czyzewski established the Borderland Foundation, from which he furthers his project of building such a civil society – in Poland and beyond.

A further core component of his mission is a publication project, which has as its aim both to bring books from the Polish Borderlands to the wider world, and to bring important history and fiction into the Polish language. Amongst the hundreds of books so far published in this project, the most famous is of course Jan Gross' Neighbors – a book about Polish citizens' anti-Semitic atrocities in the war and the systematically hidden and falsified past.  At the time, its publication was a great act of bravery: the book concerns the very region where Czyzewski himself is based, and produced huge and angry public debate and soul-searching.

Mr.  Czyzewski is a member of the European Culture Parliament, has served as Polish Ambassador to the European Commission's European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, and in 2012 was appointed Artistic Director of Wroclaw – European Capital of Culture 2016.