A short overview on the life and the works of Janusz Korczak, doctor, pedagogue, writer. – by Lorenzo Berardi – The name of Polish author Janusz Korczak is well known all over the world among teachers and students of pedagogy. In Poland, at least four generations of people grew up…
Those who visit Warsaw for the first time may not know it, but the Polish capital used to be two distinct towns, just like Budapest. Whereas the districts on the western bank of river Vistula include the UNESCO protected old town of Stare Miasto as well as the most important landmarks of the civil, political and religious power plus the magnificent Łazienki Park, along the eastern bank there’s Praga. Yes, written precisely that way. No relation with the Czech capital of Prague, though. Historical sources mention the settlement of Praga for the first time in the 15th century, but only in 1791 the town becomes a district of Warsaw. Formerly a suburb inhabited by many Jewish people, formerly a workers district, formerly (or still) an area with a bad reputation, today is hard to stick a label to this part of Warsaw. Theoretically speaking 21st century Praga is a huge area whose western border is the Vistula river and whose northern and southern limit are two bridges: Toruński and Siekierkowski. However, the actual Praga is much smaller and divided in two districts: Praga Połnoc (North) and Praga Południe (South) encompassed by two other bridges: Gdański and Łazienkowski. Of course, this being Warsaw, there are further subdivisions such as Stara (Old) and Nowa (New) Praga, Saska Kępa and Szmulowizna, but let’s not split hairs now.
Papusza is an author who goes beyond any label. She was a Polish poet but of Romani descent and nobody knew about her or when and where she was born. Perhaps had not Jerzy Ficowski made her known by spreading her poems she would have stayed unknown. However, due to this reason, Papusza’s story is striking and fascinating. She grew up a simple and apparently uncouth woman and yet she was deep and suffering. This woman was portrayed in a movie by Krzysztof and Joanna Krauze in 2013 and, one year earlier, in a book published by Czarne and written by Angelika Kuźniak; its title? Just Papusza.
To dig deeper into a book that its own publisher labels as reportage, but that is actually much more complex than that just like Papusza herself was, we talked with the author. Kuźniak is a writer whose books are akin to portraits of exceptional women where words help drawing a perfectly balanced picture between subtlety and in-depth analysis.
On February 13, 1991, during the first Gulf War, U.S. planes bombed a shelter in the Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, killing 408 civilians. The Pentagon held Saddam Hussein’s regime responsible for “deliberately hosting civilians in military installations to serve as human shields”. In such case, as every time the weapons deployed factor out any conceivable technical error, we have grown accustomed to parley about collateral damage. A memorandum issued by the U.S. Air Force (USAF Intelligence Targeting Guide — AIR FORCE PAMPHLET 14- 210 Intelligence) broadly defines collateral damage as “unintentional damage or incidental damage affecting facilities, equipment or personnel occurring as a result of military actions directed against targeted enemy forces or facilities”. In other words, whilst achieving a high death toll among civilians is arguably not top priority in military actions, such casualties are easily dismissed as not important enough to justify the costs of their prevention, especially in the face of the massive vested interests which are usually at stake in war.
Papusza (2013) is a biopic, directed masterfully by Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze, about the Romany poetess Bronisława Wajs (1908-1987), born and raised in Poland. The film doesn’t follow a coherent chronological line, continuous flashbacks take the story from the beginning of the 20th century, when Papusza (which means “doll”, that’s the Romany name of the poetess) was born, to the first years of the postwar period, in a wounded and wrecked Poland, trying to put the pieces back together; and then to WW2 when Gipsies had to hide in the woods to escape from the horrors of the Nazis. Lastly, to the 1970s, when Papusza and her community were forced by communist authorities to become nonmigratory, settling down in houses and attending school, that will entail the cultural “death” of the Romanies (I shall come back to this).
Automatic thinking and mathematics go hand-in-hand, of course; however, the mathematician is more often than not concerned with the internal, formal structure of mathematical objects themselves. It is not before we turn mathematics into a tool for self-introspection that something interesting happens: in the spirit perhaps of Novalis’ astounding apothegm “das höchste Leben ist Mathematik”. Beckett, Borges, Queneau, to name just a few, are all busy at work in a large, coherent, systematic exploration, which climaxes with Turing’s mathematical model of a hypothetical, universal computing machine, as well as with Shannon’s information theory. Kafka’s Strafkolonie and Vaclav Havel’s Antikódy, on the other hand, turn everything topsy-turvy, investigating the progressive bureaucratisation and depersonalisation of the language of authority.
One of the very first things foreigners may notice once they arrive in Poland or move there is that people still read on public transports. Polish commuters flip through free press and chick-lit, but prefer engrossing themselves in quality dailies such as Gazeta Wyborcza and Rzeczpospolita or in weeklies such as Polityka or Newsweek Polska. What they seem to enjoy even more, though, is good old paper books with the occasional e-book reader popping up. By looking at or asking what kind of stuff Poles read, the foreign observer will soon find out that it’s mostly non-fiction. And their subject of choice is often a specific kind of journalism known as reportage here. The term dates back to the 17th century French verb ‘reporter’ meaning to ‘carry back.’ However, in both British and American English reportage is rarely used.
It was one of those autumnally drenched afternoons, when the clouds loom heavily over us pouring their chaotic grey into our eyes that continuously and repeatedly cannot stop looking after the colours of an already-gone-summer; a summer that can survive thanks to our memories seeking for a shelter into her hay-scented warm hug. Mama had dispatched me and Adela to bring the lunch to Jakub. Jakub is my dad, but he was an unlikely father and that makes it difficult to call him “daddy”, so I have always preferred to call him by his first name – a name that to me, little dreamer and drawer, sounded enchanting. It reminded me the old stories about patriarchs that my grandpa used to tell me in the wintertime, when all the other adults were too busy to take care of me, strange child that I was. Fortunately, grandpa loved to narrate and I, I loved to shape paper figures with those words; for words are kaleidoscopic tools of creation working in perfect harmony with the world.
In Poland, interest in world music is quite alive, and has managed to foster a sizable array of oh-not-so-bad artists during the last twenty years: the Kroke group from Krakow, just to mention one example, is very successful in mixing Klezmer and Balkan flavours with a decent jazzy box of tricks. Varsovian singer Katarzyna Szczot, also known as Kayah, co-authored with Goran Bregović one of the bestselling albums in Poland (Polish: Kayah i Bregović, 1999; 700 thousand copies sold); later on, she has proven an excellent evangelist of the Ladin, Yiddish, Arabic, Hebrew, Macedonian, Roman, and Polish musical traditions (Transoriental Orchestra, 2013). The Dikanda ensemble was founded in Szczecin in 1997. Its reference “space” is still the East, this time in an even more comprehensive meaning, as a semi-mythical place that extends well beyond the purely geographic scope and acquires a historical as well as an anthropological connotation.
In his seminal book Diffusion of Innovations (New York: Free Press, 2003), first published in 1962, Everett Rogers admits that “the structure of a social system can facilitate or impede the diffusion of innovations in the system”. This is especially true today, as new technologies, new thought paradigms and new models of communication are continuously disrupting and recasting our lives, whilst putting huge pressure on the underlying social structures. The penetration speed of innovation is thus a function of the amount of inertia such structures are inherently endowed with, even though it was the collapse of solid societies, as Bauman would call them, that first demanded for a global re-editing of traditional models.