Despite mostly positive and enthusiastic news about the upcoming 27th Malta Festival Poznań, there has been a small number of releases that undermine the festival’s principles. These are based on some lies and misinformation that we must disconfirm.
1. In an interview with the Polish Press Agency of 15 May 2017 entitled Skrzywiony przekaz kształtuje potoczne wyobrażenia o teatrze (A Distorted Message Affects Common Perception of Theatre), Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage (MCNH) Wanda Zwinogrodzka said:
Losing the ministerial grant is, of course, a complication for the organisers, but it definitely does not endanger the project’s success. The censorship complaints are ridiculous. No one is banning anyone from producing a festival in any envisioned form, but because this form is inconsistent with the declarations based on which the ministerial grant was approved, the grant has been suspended.
Madam Minister Wanda Zwinogrodzka is not telling the truth. The programme of Malta Festival Poznań 2017 is consistent with the submitted and positively reviewed grant application, and with the programme specified in the subsequent agreement signed by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Professor Piotr Gliński in 2016.
In its media statements, the MCNH explains that the reason it has failed to pay the grant to the Malta Foundation to date is the Malta Festival’s cooperation with Oliver Frljić, one of this year’s curators.
With regard to the above, we must clarify that the names of both the Malta Festival Poznań 2017 curators, Oliver Frljić and Goran Injac, were specified in the grant application submitted by the Malta Foundation in November 2015. This application was the basis on which the MCNH decided to award, in March 2016, the grant to the Malta Festival for the years 2016-2018. Moreover, the ministry appreciated the content and organizational value of the Festival and ranked the application third on its list of the highest rated submissions nationwide. Consequently, we must emphasise that the MCNH was well aware of the role and scope of “Malta’s” collaboration with Oliver Frljić at least since March 2016.
The Malta Foundation fulfilled all the formal requirements for the signing of the adjustment for this year’s 27th festival edition. Despite this, the foundation has not, to date, received any formal notification from the MCNH regarding the suspension of the grant.
Contrary to the opinion of Madam Minister Wanda Zwinogrodzka, the shortage of the scheduled 300,000 zlotys in the budget of the Malta Foundation, a non-profit organisation who is the organiser of the Malta Festival, is, at the stage of carrying out all the preparations for the event, extremely palpable. It forces us to revise the planned programme activities and to renegotiate some of the already existing arrangements, which we hope will allow us to produce the festival as intended.
In another part of the abovementioned interview, Madam Minister Wanda Zwinogrodzka continues:
The minister [Piotr Gliński] awarded the support to “Malta” on the basis of an application submitted in 2015, for 3 years, in the so-called multi-annual mode often used for recurrent events. The application asserted that this was an “inclusive public and artistic event which involve[d] the audience in a dialogue and activities, and open[ed] it to experiencing art.” The appointment of Oliver Frljić as the curator of this year's edition starkly contradicts this premise. He is a director who, whenever he appears in Poland, causes deep conflicts and a wave of protests. ... Frljić does not “open [the audience] to the experience of art.” On the contrary, he discourages and alienates a large part of the audience from the theater, and reinforces its diabolical image in society as an institution where demoralized nihilists defile the values their audience holds dear, and even arrogantly insult it when its members dare to oppose them. What is more, Frljić does this consciously and deliberately.
Accessibility, diversity, openness to new artistic experience – this is how we understand the inclusivity of the events to which we invite our audience. This year, the festival programme features 290 events to which admissions is mostly free. We are creating an opportunity to come face to face with the work of 580 artists and activists from 20 countries. Among them are those who are very critical of the reality which surrounds us. We are aware that this contact is often a challenge, therefore we organize debates, workshops, and film screenings to broaden the context of the specific Idioms and to provide for independent conclusions. Furthermore, busy around the clock, our Generator Malta brings together people of all ages, backgrounds, abilities and incomes. We present an international programme that intentionally goes beyond the divisions into the traditional arts and the so-called “high” and “low culture.” Every year, this concept of the festival attracts nearly 70,000 visitors, and this was the vision that the MCNH approved in 2016 by signing the aforementioned agreement with the Malta Foundation.
We do not agree with the opinion that Oliver Frljić “discourages and alienates a large part of the audience from the theater, and reinforces its diabolical image in society as an institution where demoralized nihilists defile the values their audience holds dear, and even arrogantly insult it when its members dare to oppose them.”
Oliver Frljić has experienced war in the former Yugoslavia, and this is reflected in the language of his art. By juxtaposing diverse aesthetical languages, he exposes the dangers of nationalism and the associated violence, both verbal and symbolic. The director represents critical and, in his own words, political theatre. This means that he uses the language of theatrical directness, provocation and irony to boldly reinterpret the classic texts of European drama, to uncover uncomfortable topics and to make the audience confront their own expectations. At the same time, Oliver Frljić often criticises the very institution of theatre, as well as himself as a representative and beneficiary of this institution.
The programme of this year’s Malta Festival features Oliver Frljić’s play Turbofolk, which premiered in 2008. The title of the show is a reference to a musical genre that emerged in the former Yugoslav countries in the 1980s and peaked in the 1990s during the Yugoslav Wars when it was used as a medium for nationalist ideology. As it speaks about the former Yugoslavia, the performance takes a critical look at how politics merge with aesthetics and kitsch with violence.
2. In the article Czego skutecznie pilnuje ten rząd (What this Government is Effectively Ensuring) published on 18 April 2017 in the weekly magazine wSieci, Piotr Zaremba writes:
Piotr Gliński, acting as the minister of culture, refused to hand over a state grant to the Malta Festival this year, saying that he would not be assisting a provocateur. The politician acknowledges that the decision will cause legal complications because the previous minister signed the grant for three years. He is wondering how to resolve this: he might defer the grant to next year.
The author states that that the Malta Festival grant agreement was signed by the former Minister of Culture in the Civic Platform government, Professor Małgorzata Omilanowska. This is not true. Professor Omilanowska ceased to be a minister on 16 November 2016. The three-year agreement with the Malta Foundation, the organiser of Malta Festival Poznań, regarding the grant of 300,000 zlotys per year for the festival, was signed by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Professor Piotr Gliński on 7 June 2016, whilst the results of the MCNH competition was announced in March 2016, three months after he came into office.
3. TVP Poznań has repeatedly stated that the Malta Festival director Michał Merczyński does not want to talk to TVP reporters. However, they do not explain the cause of this situation.
For 27 years, the Malta Festival enjoyed a harmonious relationship with the Poznań section of the national broadcaster Telewizja Polska, who had reported on and aired the “Malta” events with enthusiasm and accuracy. This year, for the first time, TVP Poznań has refused to become the festival’s media partner. This information has surprised and saddened us. On 10 May, during a press conference at the Malta Foundation office in Poznań, Michał Merczyński announced in the presence of media representatives and some 50 other guests that in response to this decision he would not be answering any questions from TVP journalists.