The narrative about Poland is too often limited in scope to the same few big cities – Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk or Wroclaw and the Borderline Project is here to change it. We’ve talked with Natalia Kuc about their idea and how they want to change the status quo.
What is the Borderline project about? Why focus on the Polish borders?
Natalia Kuc: The aim of the Borderline project was to explore Poland’s thematic center through its geographical fringes. We wanted to talk about what’s important nowadays, what are the changes and challenges that Poland and its people are facing at this increasingly turbulent time in our history. At the same time, we were painfully aware that the narrative about Poland is too often limited in scope to the same few big cities – Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk, Wroclaw. It seems woefully inadequate, especially now, when the disconnect between urban centers and countryside – financial and ideological – seems more present than ever, as shown in the recent election results, both local and general. That’s why we sent eight teams of journalists and photographers to eight border towns to investigate eight topics. The border is always an area of tension and transition, it is often where the ends of the spectrum collide. We thought it would be interesting to talk about the most pressing problems and dreams of Polish youth on the frontier, where some issues ring more true and urgent than in the big cities.
Why did you feel that there was a need for an independent voice in the discussion about Poland?
Many Europeans find recent news about our country baffling, to say the least. What’s happened to the Constitutional Court? Is there a good reason to cut down trees in the Białowieża forest or not? Why are Polish women’s rights threatened every other day? It must seem confusing, especially as the news comes after many years of Poland being perceived and presented as a democratic darling of the European Union in the post-communist era. What’s more, the current media landscape is strongly polarised – the stories are usually presented from one particular point of view. It might be especially troublesome for foreigners willing to learn about Poland, seeing as they have a limited range of (typically) English language sources to follow. In order to have an informed opinion on the subject, one needs to listen to all the sides and look beyond simple answers and stereotypes. Our Suwałki feature on the paramilitary youth groups in Poland is a good example of that. It would be easy to assume that young people from small border towns take interest in military out of fear or even some sort of propensity for violence. However, after our journalistic team spent some time with the young people in question and got to know them better, they realized their reasoning, emotions and experiences are much more complicated, sympathetic and universal.
If you could change one thing in Poland what would it be?
My dreams are probably similar to the ones shared by other millennials in our current political and economic landscape. I wish for a better youth job market, for a better protection of the natural environment, for the recent rise of populist and nationalist attitudes to end. It is not one thing about Poland as much as one thing about Poles that I would change, and that is our overtly sentimental and glorifying view of the past. It is often the source of problematic, stubborn attitudes that hamper the development of our country and international relationships. It is not about forgetting the past, but about being able to learn from it and moving forward.
And what is one thing that you like the most about this country?
I’ll pick two: the Polish absurd sense of humour and the ability of Polish people to think outside the box. On one hand, we’re known for being very traditional, or sometimes even narrow-minded, but on the other hand, we’re not afraid of trying new things, searching for new solutions. I like the Polish word “kombinować”, which roughly means to get something done, to put together different pieces to create a new whole. This verb has had a long history of use during the communism, when it usually meant to obtain some goods, often in an illicit manner. “Kombinowanie” as a phenomenon may have its darker, dishonest side, but I like that it implies that almost anything can be done.
What would be your advice for expats living or planning to live in Poland?
Poland and its people are full of paradoxes, so it’s better not to rely too much on stereotypes. Contrary to popular belief, things are rarely black and white here. Just as we are traditional and modern at the same time, we can be simultaneously overtly emotional and very practical, attached to the idea of Polish nation and incredibly hospitable to strangers. Take a moment to experience and judge all these contradictions for yourself. Explore and enjoy the borderline.
Where do you think Poland it’s going to be in 20 years?
A few years ago, I would have felt much more assured in my opinions and predictions. In the view of recent dynamic changes, I am struggling to tell what is the future of Poland. I feel like a lot depends on the next general election – if the Law and Justice party keeps the majority, it is going to cement its power for many years to come, making the potential change even more difficult. The future of our country is also closely tied with the future of the European Union as a whole. I would like to hope that we all go back together to the times of steady progress and cooperation, but I believe now that it’s going to take a considerable effort and change of attitudes on our part for it to happen.
Don’t forget to check out the Borderline Project website and discover an abundance of interesting and fresh articles about Poland.
The Borderline Project portrays parts and people of Poland that are often rendered invisible; their everyday lives, commitments, their initiatives and hopes, but also their worries and fears. The project was created to shed light on the (g)local problems they are faced with, but also show just how similar the lives of young people in different European countries can be, regardless of location.
Natalia Kuc is a freelance journalist, writer, and audiovisual translator currently based in Warsaw, where she also manages an independent English bookstore. Before that, she has lived in Paris, where she worked as a Polish editor for Cafébabel. Given her double background in applied linguistics and art history, her main areas of interest are culture and society, with a dash of political engagement.
Picture: Katarzyna Mazur