Paulina Kuntze is an activist, who works in Polish Theatre in Poznań as a prop mistress. She graduated from The Higher School of Humanities and Journalism in Poznań with a degree in Sociology. She also finished post-graduate studies in Humanitarian Aid at Warsaw University. In 2017, she was awarded a title of the Volunteer of the Year. It is difficult, however, for her to identify with the award since her activities have a collective, not individual nature. She consistently prefers to stand in the shadow.
Ewelina Jarosz: You work in Polish Theatre as a prop master. It is a very specific job, but also a behind-the-curtain one. Could you tell us more about your job and if you find any cross-points between your social and professional activity for refugees, for which you were given the award of the Volunteer of the 2017 year?
Paulina Kuntze: I never thought about it. I feel I am not from the world of art. I observe it rather than create it. My work in the theatre introduced me into that world, but I watch it from the kitchen. I prepare props for performances; scenes for actors, so that their virtuosity can resound. An example for a cross-point between my work for the theatre and an activist engagement was for me a project entitled ‘Theatre for Syria’, which offered cheaper tickets and partial donation of the income towards the cause for people with refugee experiences.
There is continuity amongst my activities, which stems from my engaged attitude. I like reading writings on the wall because they show what people think. I read once a quotation from Alice Walker, which defined activism rather well. It said that it is a pay off for being on this planet. Perhaps, it sounds pompous, but I really believe in it and I care. Both types of those actions are for me an example of teamwork that I love. When you come to the theatre, you receive a product, but a creation of a performance is a collective work, where everyone has a job to do. Although actors with a director do the most important part, we need to remember about the stage managers, dressers, editors or prop masters. The interlay, you are asking about, can be found in the way human relations are shaped in a joint action.
It is very interesting to hear about the professional intersectionality, which assumes non-hierarchal relations and a withdrawal from the impulse to judge. I relate that to a moment when I realised that my scientific work has solely an academic value with no social utility. I decided to change it.
I look for that moment in people, because teamwork is all about contributing an individual professional experience to improve the state of things. The fact that someone wants to change something is translated in an activity. Activism needs the university people and their engagement in joint work. What is crucial here is their ability to direct the interests of young people, showing the priorities, but also some substantial actions. Personally, I cannot imagine getting up in the morning and dealing with some very narrow specialisation in a given discipline. I cannot imagine a situation where I look into a mirror and I say that the fact that humankind killed 80% of other species does not concern me. Capitalist ideology, which gives precedence to a personal career and a victory of an individual does not interest me. We do not live in a Hollywood film where aliens come and destroy the Earth. The real plot is different from Armagedon’s plot. It is not an asteroid that destroys our planet, but we do. We find ourselves in a moment where we pretend that this fact does not exist.
The mechanism of repression seems to be rather necessary for uplifting our mood in a situation, where the world has gotten out of human control and dominance.
How many times have I heard ‘Why are you doing this?’; ‘This is not your war, not your people’ How can you think that? We belong to each other. Every human has the same right to live in peace; to realise their potential. The fact that it is not our head the bombs are falling on, and that we don’t have to think about running water from our tap, is nothing but a chance that we were born in a relatively safe geographical latitude. It could only take a moment for us to become climate refugees. The sources for opportunism and ignorance may also lie in fear. We should re-define today the concept of morality and re-direct ourselves towards caring for each other. Every person should realise that going to a desert island yields an existence depended on many different factors. The world is too small to live for ourselves. You have a responsibility to look around yourself.
How do you imagine the workshop of a prop master on the world’s stage we are living in? The world drowned in chaos, immersed in the eruption of violence on a small and large scale? What are, in your opinion, the most emblematic props of this conflicted world, seen through the eyes of a person engaged in humanitarian aid?
It would be a repository where there is a constant lack of something. It stems from my personality. When we collect money with my friends as part of Poznan Garage Collective a group of people, a bottom-up initiative and organisation, which realises actions organising material aid for refugees from various parts of the world consumed by war, dictatorships and humanitarian crisis), I feel that we didn’t collect enough. When we organise events, I grieve over how little people came. I have constantly a feeling that we can do more. We are meeting at the time when I feel a lack of energy and I have a fatalistic vision of our future – but still I make sure that I stress here how wonderful activists we have in Poznań (i.e.: The Soup at the Main, the anarchists’ actions, The Greater Poland’s association of tenants, etc.). I remember 1994 when as a child I watched with my father some simple news pieces from Ruanda. In my memory, I have this image of a mother with a child accompanied by UN soldiers. That image made me delve into the topic of genocide which happened there. I asked my father then what it was all about. He told me that I would understand the things happening in the world later. But, I could never understand them. I told that story when we organised Civil March for Aleppo (2016). We were nominated with Nobel Peace Prize for it. When Aleppo fell, my Facebook was black. I watched people saying their goodbyes. I will never understand how we can allow such situations when we have at our disposal more and more advanced technologies. My fatalism was further enhanced by the fact that in 2015, we were to change the Millennium Development Goals to accommodate sustainable goals, whereas what we do destroys the planet we are living on. One of the goals was to do away with hunger in the world. Today in Yemen every 10 minutes a child dies of hunger.
Polish media speak very little about the situation in the world. What dominates there is a shortsighted politics. We lack programmes, which deliver reliable points of orientation in our reality in a wider context. How should good journalism look like in your opinion?
In my opinion, good journalism is not speaking to people engaged in humanitarian aid at the moment of a catastrophe, but a lot earlier when through raising public awareness, it could be prevented. What is important is an observation and prediction of the processes that could appear. I appeal to students of journalism: You don’t study to get a piece of paper. If you think that, give up your studies. Your studying has no sense. If you want to study journalism, ask yourself why, because your responsibility is similar to the doctor’s responsibility to save someone’s life. We have to take a co-responsibility for creating a reality in which we are all living – also for the atmosphere around the refugees’ issues. if you want to find the truth, read, talk to people, dig the topics. Don’t rewrite news pieces from the world services. Without honest journalist info, people engaged in humanitarian aid cannot do a lot of things. You, journalists, can change how the climate change will be viewed – are we happy with nice, long summer, or shall we ponder why it is the way it is; what global consequences of global warming we experience.
You mentioned the so-called refugees’ issue, I know that you truly don’t like the word – ‘refugee’.
I hated the word when I worked for a month in an infamous ‘Moria’ in Greece. I went from there to my friends to the Syrian border. Every day, I met dozens of people trying to reach Europe. I felt love for those people and I was interested in their stories. I felt ashamed when they greeted me ‘Hi, I am Sami, Ali, John, Zahra, I am a refugee’. We created a situation where these people had to label themselves to show us who you are dealing with. For me this word is negative, it introduces unfounded hierarchical relations. I am not better than those people. They are people with higher education, they are professionals, people who speak multiple languages. I am learning Arabic, I know English communicatively. They know sometimes four languages. Why do these people have to feel worse because of their decision to flee their country? There is a beautiful poem, which says that a decision about leaving a place, in which your dreams were born where you kissed for the first time, is very difficult. Refugee camps located on the edges of Europe stand there like a pang of conscience for us – the safe ones, belonging to various classes, less or more privileged. The first thing I would like to say to the people who present themselves as ‘refugees’ is ‘I am sorry’. Especially that I come from a country which does not want to accept refugees. Instead of labelling, which became part of these people’s identity, I would like to hear about their plans and dreams.
In Greece, there is a place in an open field, which I asked my friend Nikos about. This is the resting place of those who did not manage to get here. It is a cemetery, which has provisional graves made of stones. There are names or numbers. What else do you need to do, so that in a country where people speak about Christian morality and love for the other, people would finally understand that those who decide to flee their country are not numbers!
Regeneration is an important word. Activists are permanently trying to heal our planet. In principle, we don’t have any time to waste. But to undertake actions for regeneration, you need to be in a good form. How do you deal with fatigue and how do you spend your free time if you have it?
I am saved by music and nature. I earnestly ask people who work for various exhausting initiatives to look after themselves! I speak from the position of a person who does not look after herself. We are needed healthy and strong. I speak with the words of my relatives because I find it difficult to calm myself. Recently, I have stopped all applications, which I have been using to learn about various aid needed. I am on a detox after a period when I was well-informed where the troops were in Syria. I know that I need to catch my breath before I start working again.
Thank you for the conversation.
translation: Ela Wysakowska-Walters