Photo exhibition “New Space for Culture”, 3 Febr, 18.00, EP Brussels

Photo exhibition in the EP “New Space for Culture”, 3 Febr, 18.00. Please register at: bogdan.zdrojewski@ep.europa.eu

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Radio Wrocław na temat restrukturyzacji Kompanii Węglowej

Sławomir Sobieraj, ekspert Business Center Club, w audycji Radio Wrocław na temat restrukturyzacji Kompanii Węglowej
19.01.2015 J.Piątek PRW

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Is Change for Women Possible?

(an extract from my term paper inspired by the book by K. Kielos Jedyna płeć)

“Being oppressed means the absence of choices.”
(hooks, bell. “Feminist Theory.”)

Today, the majority of people in the world living in poverty are women. Disregarding the part of the world they live, women have worse access to education, technology, clean water, and healthcare. They also have worse access to credit and come across more problems when trying to register their own company. Additionally, they face more difficult working conditions, lower salaries, and unstable employment. Especially migrant women are confronted with difficulties at workplace, discrimination, and are often unable to gain an independent legal status. Additionally, as research shows they have less knowledge about their rights.1

War and subsequent increasing militarization continue to devastate the lives of women and girls in the conflict regions. Women become victims of men’s violence, also on a sexual background. In several EU countries, including Poland, women are denied the right to decide freely about their bodies, and lack or have severely restricted, access to affordable gynecological public health services, including abortion.

Moreover, in our economic system women continue to do most of the unpaid care work. In the European Union, the gender pay gap is still, on average, 17%. Both EU and national decision-making structures remain extremely gender imbalanced. Women represent on average only 23% of national parliamentarians.2 In the European Parliament of the 8th legislature, there are currently 37% of women.3

Feminist Economics

In the late 80s and early 90s, a new field in feminist theory emerged emphasizing that the state, public policies and institutions have the impact on gender relations and thereby “offer important contributions to the analysis of the state and to political science in general”.4 Political feminists have analyzed the state in its relations of power, class, social and economic groups in feminist perspective. The state’s instruments for subordination of women, structuration, and the influence of gender roles and relations, but also positive economic policies for lessening of the financial dependency of women on men are subject to investigation. Moreover, centered around comparative research, political feminism focuses on the promotion of women’s interests within the state. It concentrated, in particular, on the ways in which gender constructs politics, and the ways in which gender issues such as ‘women’s inequality’ are constructed in policy debates and decision-making.5 However, as feminist political researchers point out the main problem in our society today is not inequality but the male domination linked with racial and economic domination. This issue is addressed more closely by a new branch called feminist economics.

Economics, like most academic disciplines, has traditionally been thought to be a neutral, non-biased field of thought. Economists – who have until recently been primarily white, privileged men – have assumed that the description of life which they created is universal and true for everyone. But as more and more people started to participate in the discipline, the hidden assumptions of economics have come to light. Since the 1960s, feminist economists have pointed out the ways in which economics favors the experiences of men to the exclusion of women, and promoted opportunities for economic enquiry that improve women’s economic status.6

Feminist economics is a new research field that emerged as a result of this movement. It attempts to critically study economics to overcome androcentric biases. Therefore, it draws attention to the social constructions of traditional economics, questioning the extent to which it is positive and objective, and showing how its models and methods are biased towards masculine preferences.7

The neoclassical economic model of homo economicus describes people as rational actors who engage in marginal analysis to make their decisions, who “interact in society without being influenced by society,” because their “mode of interaction is through an ideal market” in which prices are the only necessary considerations”.8 Feminist economists argue that people do not fit this simplistic mode, and call for “a more holistic vision of an economic actor.” They seek to produce a more gender inclusive economics and emphasize that gender and race must be considered in economic analysis.9

The research into the causes and consequences of occupational segregation, the gender pay gap, the “glass ceiling”, and deficiencies of economic models, such as disregarding intra-household bargaining have been a significant part of feminist economics. While conventional neoclassical economic theories of the 1960s and 1970s explained them as the result of free choices made by women and men who simply had different abilities or preferences, feminist economists point out the important roles played by stereotyping, sexism, patriarchal beliefs and institutions, sexual harassment, and discrimination.10

Feminist critique of economics includes the claim that “economics, like any science, is socially constructed.” Feminist economists show that social constructs act to privilege male, western, and heterosexual interpretations of economics.11 A recent voice in this debate has been taken by a Swedish journalist, Katerine Kielos, with her book The Only Sex.

Neoliberal Thought Discriminatory for Women

In her work, Kielos looks at how women are left out of the study of economics and human behavior, and how this affects human understanding of the world economy. She goes back to the works of Adam Smith, the founding father of contemporary economics, who in 1776, published a famous book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. In this book, he posed a question that has become the foundation of contemporary theory of economics: “How do we get our dinner on the table?” Kielos paraphrasing his question asks: “Who cooked the dinner for Adam Smith?”12

The author notes that in the XVIII century, the world in which Adam Smith lived clearly separated the market sphere from reproduction. In the theory of economics, which is based on the principles and mechanisms described in 1776 by Adam Smith, wealth is created by the work of an “economic man” who takes action because he wants to generate income to meet his own needs. Thanks to the “invisible hand of the market” his work produces exactly what is demanded by people.13

In neoliberal thought, homo economicus is primarily a man who develops and realizes his own needs on the free market contributing to the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the total amount of goods and services produced in the country, which is the measure of economic growth. At the same time, a woman as if out of great love chooses to run a household and take care of children, elderly, and sick family members.14

Adam Smith did not ever have to wonder, as Kielos writes, “how the dinner gets onto his table” because he never married and most of his life lived with his mother, who ran the house for him. It could lead him to the conclusion that house duties are a free, motivated only by love and the “natural need” of women to surround her family with care.
Neoliberal theory excludes women from the labor market because it considers the experience of working at home has no value in the market. On macroeconomic level, women’s house work is not taken into account. On the other hand, investments in equality of opportunity, infrastructure, health and other matters within the social sphere is a cost in terms of GDP.15

Therefore, the inclusion of the sphere of reproduction to economics requires a new approach to the problem that economy should deal with (besides the increase of GDP). It is also necessary to look at investments in the sphere of reproduction and care work as an integral part of achieving growth. These changes are also partially triggered by the current demographic challenges. The market cannot function efficiently without unpaid domestic work. These two areas are closely related.

One can only speculate how the theory of economics would develop, if also the second work of Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, became a source of inspiration for economists, Kielos asks.16 In this work, the author defines the principles of social justice, including the obligations of the state towards the poor, as well as the functioning of goods and services which are outside the market.

‘Homo oeconomicus’ is characterized by the market requirements, viewed as both male and gender-neutral. It is seen to have stereotypical male qualities but is also portrayed as something that all people, male or female, can strive towards. As a result, male perspective becomes the default position, which some economists then use as a way of claiming that gender need not be analyzed in discussions of economics. Women entering the labor market are, therefore, forced to submit to the male model of motivation, rationality and decision making.17

Kielos proves in her book that the exclusion of women from economic theory distorts reality and hence economic decisions, and makes it additionally difficult to solve social problems. It constitutes not only a barrier to equality between women and men but also a limitation to the prospects for sustainable economic development.18 The author warns that if economists and politicians do not change their approach to economy and continue to disregard the interests of women, the global economy will be threatened with a crisis much larger than that of 2008.

Conclusion

Gender plays a role in a world where 70% of the poor are women and where women are absent from the global super-elite which has an increasingly greater impact on the mechanisms governing economic and political activities. Gender makes a difference in a world where women have low salaries, poor working conditions and carry out a significant part of the work for free. Finally, gender also is important in the world where norms, culture, and ways of evaluation block women solely because they are women, and in which economic science at the same time proclaims that the norms, ideas, culture, and values are insignificant in the economy.19

Economics today has become the dominant reasoning, promoting the belief in salvation through economic growth. If economic neoliberal models, built on the principle of rationality that favors men, do not take into account the unpaid work of women, we will never understand the relationship between employment, poverty and the lack of equality between sexes. To understand the mechanism of the economic growth properly, economic models need to take into account other factors than self interest. Economics cannot continue to blindly follow the model of a world in which there is only one sex, and economists must incorporate gender into their models of how the world operates.20 21

Despite legislating extensively for equality between sexes and setting a complicated institutional structure to safeguard these laws, the EU is unable to effectively take a stand in the field of women issues. Regrettably, the discussion on the structure of the political and economic system is still lacking on any level of decision making. Without this debate the situation of women on the market will remain unchanged and their choices limited. With no real choices, women will remain not only dominated but also oppressed in the androcentric society.

Katerine Kielos. Jedyna Płeć. Tłum. Milena Haykowska. Wyd. Czarna Owca. Marzec 2014.

Notes

1. Kielos, Katerine. Jedyna Płeć. Tłum. Milena Haykowska. Wyd. Czarna Owca. Marzec 2014, s. 198.
2. “European Commission Directorate-General for Justice”. European Commission. Retrieved on August 22, 2014. < http://ec.europa.eu/justice/mission/index_en.htm>
3. “Men and women distribution.” European Parliament – Results of the 2014 European elections. Retrieved on August 30, 2014. <http://www.results-elections2014.eu/en/gender-balance.html>
4. Mottier, Véronique. “Feminist analyses of the state.” Feminist Political Theory. University of Essex. Retrieved on August 13, 2014. <http://www.ecpr.eu/>.
5. Ibidem.
6. “Feminist Economics.” Women and the Economy. A project of UNPAC. Retrieved o August 24, 2014. <http://www.unpac.ca/economy/ecofem.html>
7. Nelson, Julie A. (Spring 1995). “Feminism and Economics”. The Journal of Economic Perspectives 9 (2): 131–148.
8. “Feminist economics.” Wikipedia. Retrieved on August 24, 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Feminist_economics>
9. Ibidem.
10. Ibidem.
11. Ibidem.
12. „Katerine Kielos. Ekonomia dla zwykłego śmiertelnika.” Wysokie Obcasy. Retrieved on August 24, 2014. <http://www.wysokieobcasy.pl/wysokie-obcasy/1,96856,16013443.html>
13. Kielos, Katerine. Jedyna Płeć. Tłum. Milena Haykowska. Wyd. Czarna Owca. Marzec 2014, s. 7.
14. Ibidem, s. 8.
15. Ibidem, s. 12-14.
16. Ibidem, s. 9.
17. Ibidem, s. 11.
18. Ibidem, s. 7.
19. Ibidem, s. 9.
20. Ibidem, s. 199-201.
21. Epstein, B. J. Review of the book The Only Sex by Katrine Kielos. Retrieved on August 23, 2014. <http://www.swedishbookreview.com/show-review.php?i=387>

Bibliography

1. Epstein, B. J. Review of the book The Only Sex by Katrine Kielos. Retrieved on August 23, 2014. <http://www.swedishbookreview.com/show-review.php?i=387>
2. “European Commission Directorate-General for Justice”. European Commission. Retrieved on August 22, 2014. <http://ec.europa.eu/justice/mission/index_en.htm “Directorate D – Equality”. Europa website. Retrieved on August 22, 2014. <http://europa.eu/whoiswho/public/index.cfm?fuseaction=idea.hierarchy&nodeid=178599>
3. “Feminist economics.” Wikipedia. Retrieved on August 24, 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminist_economics>
4. “Feminist Economics.” Women and the Economy. A project of UNPAC. Retrieved on August 24, 2014. <http://www.unpac.ca/economy/ecofem.html>
5. „Katerine Kielos. Ekonomia dla zwykłego śmiertelnika.” Wysokie Obcasy. Retrieved on August 24, 2014. <http://www.wysokieobcasy.pl/wysokie-obcasy/1,96856,16013 443.html>
6. Kielos, Katerine. Jedyna Płeć. Tłum. Milena Haykowska. Wyd. Czarna Owca. Marzec 2014.
7. “Men and women distribution.” European Parliament – Results of the 2014 European elections. Retrieved on August 30, 2014. <http://www.results-elections2014.eu/en/gender-balance.html>
8. Mottier, Véronique. “Feminist analyses of the state.” Feminist Political Theory. University of Essex. Retrieved on August 13, 2014. <http://www.ecpr.eu/>.
9. Nelson, Julie A. (Spring 1995). “Feminism and Economics”. The Journal of Economic Perspectives 9 (2): 131–148.
10. “2014 European Elections through the lens of Gender.” Time for Equality. Retrieved on August 23, 2014. <http://timeforequality.org/news/2014-european-elections-through-the-lens-of-gender/>

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Polsce potrzebne jest społeczeństwo obywatelskie

W 25-lecie polskiej demokracji Polak został wybrany Przewodniczącym Rady Europejskiej, potocznie zwanym Prezydentem Europy, ale Polacy nadal muszą mocno pracować nad budowaniem społeczeństwa obywatelskiego.

Od 13 lat mam prawo jazdy i prowadzę samochód, zawsze raczej zgodnie z przepisami. Kary dostaję zwykle za przekroczenie czasu parkowania. Tego lata jeździłam w Belgii, Niemczech, Kanadzie i USA, ale to w Krośnie dostałam mandat za rzekomy przejazd przez skrzyżowanie na czerwonym świetle. Problem w tym, że wiem, co widziałam i wyraźnie pamiętam, że kiedy wjeżdżałam na skrzyżowanie światło zmieniło się na żółte.

Po szybkim wyszukaniu w internecie okazało się, że mój przypadek nie jest odosobniony, a sprawa kontrowersyjna, bo kierowcy w całej Polsce kwestionują zapisy fotoradarów dotyczące przejazdu przez skrzyżowanie na zółtym/czerwnym świetle. Ukarani twierdzą, że nie chodzi tylko o bezpieczeństwo. Uważają, że to kolejny sposób na zwiększenie wpływów do budżetu. Na forach internetowych podkreślają, że wjechali na skrzyżowanie na żółtym świetle.

Mimo, że jak zapewnia Zarząd Dróg Miejskich, każdy kierowca jadący z dopuszczalną w terenie zabudowanym prędkością może bezpiecznie wyhamować przed czerwonym światłem (moja prędkość według pomiaru również była poniżej dozwolonej granicy), pozostaje pytanie, czy musi to robić w każdych okolicznościach. Specjaliści od przepisów ruchu drogowego twierdzą, że wjazd za sygnalizator nadający sygnał żółty musi być indywidualną oceną kierującego, który weźmie pod uwagę wszystkie okoliczności w tym czasie i w tym miejscu. Według kodeksu kierowca jest zobowiązany wjechać na skrzyżowanie na zółtym świetle, jesli zatrzymanie spowodowałoby zagrożenie w bezpieczeństwie ruchu drogowego, a nagłe zatrzymanie przed czerwonym światłem nie należy do sytuacji awaryjnych. Czy fotoradar jest zatem w stanie uwzględnić wszystkie okoliczności dotyczące sytacji w ruchu drogowym? Kto zatem zdecydował, że teraz fotoradary mają odbierać kierowcom prawo do podejmowania decyzji o bezpieczeństwie własnym i pasażerów?

I chociaż większośc moich rozmówców przyznaje mi rację i rozumie moją frusktrację to jednak ich reakcje sprowadzają się mniej więcej do słów “no widzisz, ale musisz zapłacić, bo co pójdziesz do sądu? i tak nie wygrasz.” Ale dlaczego nie skoro mam rację?

Gdzie się podziała nasza polska wola walki o wolność i o państwo, w którym nikt nie będzie już używał wobec obywateli przemocy i mówił: “tak, bo tak”, gdy my uważamy , że mamy rację, sądząc przeciwnie?

Czcimy powstania, nawet te, które poniosły klęskę, bo nasi rodacy walczyli o lepszą Polskę. Kształtowanie społeczeństwa obywatelskiego może nie być tak spektakularne, ale jest również walką o lepszą Polskę. Jeśli chcemy żyć w lepszym kraju, musmy sie angażować w jego budowanie, także poprzez próbę zmiany systemu, który nie uważamy za dobry. Jak widać ta praca nadal jest potrzebna.

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“Ciemno, prawie noc” by Joanna Bator

Nie piszę, by świat upiększyć, ale by go zmienić.”

- Joanna Bator

In “Ciemno, prawie noc,” Joanna Bator sets her story in the Polish border region near the town of Walbrzych where throughout the years history intermixed lives of Germans, Roma and Polish people.

This incredibly dense novel investigates, among others, the complex identity of borderlands. The book raises questions about identity such as: what is past and what meaning does it have for an individual?; is it possible to escape from the past, to leave it behind?; is there something like a previous identity?; is it possible to erase one’s previous identity?; can we forget?

Moreover, the book suggests that although so much has changed throughout the years and we are proud of the progress we made as a nation, there are still social problems that make the childhood experience of many young people not that different from the dramatic experiences of an individual in a war time.

This detective story draws a condensed picture of the Polish society with its xenophobia and fake Catholicism.  At the same time, it is not stripped of magical elements. The book contains great literary portraits of people. Bator mixes genres and explores new literary forms such as internet fora – with an obsessive language they use they are perhaps the most artistic parts of the book.

A tremendously good read.

„Jestem wrażliwa na okrucieństwo, a ta książka powstała z poczucia, że na świecie jest niewiarygodna ilość zła, że tego nie sposób wytrzymać: tej ilości przemocy wobec dzieci, zwierząt, ludobójstwa za ludobójstwem, bez końca.” – mówi Bator.

„ Zawsze czułam w życiu obecność mrocznej bliźniaczki – mówi. – W dzieciństwie nazywałam ją Helga. Siedziała ze mną w poniemieckiej szafie. Ona przychodzi do mnie z ciemności, daje mi dziwne przedmioty i mówi: „Siostro, bierz i zrób coś z tym”. Głównie przynosi mi obrzydlistwa.”

ciemno-prawie-noc-1e2058649-o

Joanna Bator, Ciemno, prawie noc, W.A.B. 2012.

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My life during the 10 years of Poland in the EU! #PolskaEU10

Today, Poland and nine other European countries celebrate the tenth anniversary of their accession to the EU. I do not remember where I was on the very day of the accession but I can imagine I must have celebrated with a group of people with whom I volunteered to work in the campaign preceding the referendum on accession in Poland in 2003. The following summer, with equal excitement I worked in the election campaign in which we were to choose our first representatives in the European Parliament. Later, I was among the first generation of Erasmus exchange students who left to study abroad just one year after the accession. I graduated at Humboldt University in Berlin and until now I consider it to be my best educational and mind opening experience. Shortly after I graduated, I was accepted for a traineeship at the European Commission.  Again, it was supposed to be just for a couple of months. Today, I work as an assistant to Vice President of the European Parliament in Brussels. I am also writing my PhD at the University “back home” but I cooperate on research projects with the University of Oxford and Catholic University in Leuven.

None of this would be possible without the EU.

Today, when I compare the biographies of people even just a couple of years younger than myself, I can see it even clearer, how many new possibilities that we never had are being opened to young people.

And having witnessed firsthand the difficulties the union of 28 member states must cope with, I am still convinced that this project is worth pursuing. We must work on improving our Union, on improving the governance, the transparency of decision making process and on building the true European public sphere, and these are just a few. But it is the most challenging and ambitious project we ever set ourselves on.

I do believe that acting together we, the Europeans, can do so much more than separately. I believe in federal Europe, Europe “united in diversity,” where people are aware of their roots but at the same time have wings that give them freedom to face challenges and to reach for their dreams, a Europe where we are proud to call ourselves Europeans.

In just a week, on May 9, we will celebrate the Europe Day. I sincerely hope the EU will not forget to celebrate its largest enlargement.

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Seksistowskie Smerfy

Po wczorajszym ponownym odkryciu smerfów w Muzeum Komisku w Brukseli (nie wiedziałam nawet, że to był komiks, a już na pewno nie, że belgjski) postanowiłam odświerzyć swoją faksynację z dzieciństwa (w moim najwcześniejszym wspomnieniu siedzę na kanapie przed telewizorem i ogładam dobranowkę – Smerfy). Ku mojemu zdruzgotaniu w pierwszym odcinku zatytułowanym „Smerfetka” (link to the episode) Gargamel postanawia zniszczyć smerfy uderzając w ich najsłabszy punkt – dobre serce – i zgodnie z ludowym powiedzeniam „gdzie diabeł sam nie może, tam babę pośle” na zgubę smerfom posyła Smerfetkę. Akt stworzenia „pierwszej na świecie dziewuszki” odbywa się poprzez czary. W skład przepisu na Smerfetkę, wchodzą krokodyle łzy, pół tuzina kłamstw, wrzask sroki i najtwardszy kamień zamiast serca. Ma być piekna, ale zła. Gargamelowska Smerfetka oczekuje specjalnego traktowania, prezentów, jest podstępna w dążeniu do swoich celów. Odrywa smerfy od pracy i codziennych obowiązków, a one tracą dla niej głowę.

Niezbyt urodziwa brunetka knuje plan jak wpędzić smerfy w sidła Gargamela, ale urzeczona ich dobrym sercem, ostatecznie wyjawia im kim jest i oddaje się smerfowemu wymiarowi sprawiedliwości. Dobroduszny Papasmerf nie chcąć oddać jej w ręce Gargamela postanawia czarami uczynić z niej prawdziwego, dobrego smerfa. Odczarowana Smerfetka ukazuje się smerfom jako długowłosa blondynka na obcasach, w sukience z falbankami i z nienaturalnie długimi rzęsami. Smerfy szaleją. (Nie sposób nie dostrzec podtekstu seksualnego.) Smerfetka jest bezkonkurencyjna, nie tylko z uwagi na fakt, że jest jedyną smerfetką wśród smerfów. Nowa Smerfetka nie jest już skażona złem i nie knuje planu, jak zniszczyć smerfy, ale chyba dlatego, że nie byłaby w stanie. W dalszej części historii choć jest już piękna i dobra, to ukazuje się widzowi jako głupia i łatwowierna. Skoncentrowana jedynie na własnym wyglądzie, przebiera w szafie wśród sukienek, a przegładając się w lusterku, daje się zwieść Gargamelowi. Najwyraźniej obok szczypty Wenus i księżycowego blasku na urodę, Papasmerf zapomniał w przepisie dołożyć czegoś na inteligencję. (Warto przy tym wspomnieć, że lusterko jest jednocześnie dla obu Smerfetek sposobem komunikacji z Gargamelem, a zatem źródłem zła.)

Smerfy jednak cierpliwie akceptują i wybaczają Smerfetce głupotę w myśl zasady – miłość zawsze wybacza – jak widać również głupotę i nawet wtedy, kiedy doprowadza ich prawie do zguby.

W odwecie Papasmerf wyczarowuje Gargamelowi kobietę przed, którą ten ucieka gdzie pieprz rośnie. Jak widać nawet zły czarnoksięznzik wie, że nie ma nic bardziej zgubnego niż kobieta. Bardzo polecam spojrzeć ponownie!

 

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Black mirror: The National Anthem

In the first episode of the BBC series Black Mirror, the kidnappers of Princess Susannah, Duchess of Beaumont, pose a seemingly crazy demand requiring the UK’s Prime Minister to have a sexual intercourse with a pig live on the TV. It is, however, used in a very clever way to illustrate how media and politics are interdependent and work together.

black-mirror

In this undoubtedly crisis situation, every decision and every step of the politician is analysed from the perspective of media response. The results of the polls are being literally thrown at him from behind his shoulder.

On the other side, we see the media whose very existence is dependant on such stories and therefore, journalists are so determined to get one, even if on the expense of decency and moral values or putting their lives and safety at risk.

Additionally, the producers of the show point out how social media change the relations between politics, public, and the media. The show illustrates how social media take away the power from the policy makers to control the information. The PM demands that the news does not reach the public and all the major news TV stations adjust to this request. However, the ransom video had been posted on YouTube and, despite having been there for nine minutes only, it had been enough time for it to be viewed and spread around the net thus making it impossible to control any longer.

The third corner of this triangle is the audience who is, at the same time, at stake in the game. Although outraged and disgusted with the whole story, it stays glued to the screens until the very last minute of the broadcast. In the end, the princess is discovered safe and sound in the streets. She was released by the kidnapper before the deadline, but went unnoticed as everyone was distracted by the broadcast.

A must see!

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“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right.” (Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild)

A lot of warm words have already been said about the Beasts of the Southern Wild directed by Benh Zeitlin, especially regarding its main protagonist Quvenzhané Wallis who was nominated for Oscar in the Best Actress category. Promised Land by Gus Van Sant starring Matt Damon was also nominated to Oscars in several categories. As it seems the subject of environmental protection has finally reached Hollywood this season.

Filmed in Louisiana, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a powerful fantasy tale told from the perspective of a 6-year-old girl called Hushpuupy. It is almost inappropriately positive and leaves the viewer with the feeling that everything is possible if only you are determined enough to try.

The story might seem to be a fairy-tale while in fact it bears a strong reference to the real world. The  fictional island of the film known to its residents as the Bathtub, was inspired by isolated and independent fishing communities which existence is nowadays threatened by erosion, hurricanes, and rising sea levels caused by the global warming. The most rapidly eroding Isle de Jean Charles is located in Louisiana’s Terrebonne Parish, where the pictures were taken.

We know from the beginning of the movie that the island is going to disappear, flooded by the raising water levels. However, it is not the whole picture. The island is also being sacrificed to protect the mainland from which it had been separated by a damm that is supposed to secure the mainland from flooding. Despite numerous warnings and orders, the inhabitants of the island refuse to leave their homes and keep fighting for them. The movie touches, therefore, on a subject of global environmental change, but also on the choice of securing our civilized world and cities, sacrificing less “valuable” or economically unprofitable places and disregarding the people living there.

In this adverse, world a father is trying to raise his daughter in harmony with the universe (Hushpuppy: “I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right”.), aware and respectful for nature and environment (Hushpuppy: “Everything in life has its heartbeat”), and prepare her, at the same time, for the difficulties she will need to face and tackle in life (Wink: “My only purpose in life is to teach her how to make it.”).

It can be read as a sort of environmental version of the American dream in which the hero, despite all the difficulties and disadvantages like poverty, overcomes its limitations to become something better in the adverse world. Moreover, the script is full of life wisdom coming out from the mouth of a little girl and wonderful pictures.

Another Oscar nominee addressing the problem of exploiting the environment for profit or out of necessity (depends on the side you are on) is Gus Van Sant’s acclaimed Promised Land.

A company extracting natural gas has its employees come to a small town and lure the local farmers impoverished by the crisis with the possibility of millions in profits if they let their land for gas extraction. The company’s true intentions are disclosed when it comes out that it was paying not only its employees acting on their behalf but also the environmental NGO whose representatives appeared in town. The staged fight between the two was doomed to be lost by the latter. In the course of action, the bad guy (Mat Damon) turns out to actually be a good guy and … gets the girl! A must see if you fancy this kind of educational entertainment.

To sum up, even though touching on similar subjects, the movies are incomparable in the quality they represent. My heart definitely beats stronger for the Beasts.

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“Argo fuck yourself!”

Kept in the style of late 70s and early 80s, Argo tells a true story of a CIA operation of releasing American embassy employees in Iran, declassified in 1997 by President Clinton. The portrayal of the Department of State and the CIA’s administration back then, which might seem funny for us nowadays, is also an interesting aspect.

The debut of Ben Affleck as a director is obviously not bereft of self promotion. In a standard bathroom scene of a man standing in front of the mirror then getting out to the room and putting on his shirt with an amazing view from the window in the background, Ben presents his strong and muscular chest. But that happens only once and Affleck really has something to show so let’s forgive him.

The disturbing thing about the movie is the representation of women or to put more precisely the lack of it. Not only that there were very few women in the movie, playing only supporting roles and never having the major influence on the way the operation is carried out, but they were always portrayed as wives. Either a wife of CIA agent living in the suburbs where she is bringing up their son tackling the troubles of life as a wife of a CIA agent, or wives of the embassy employees, who following their husbands never really chose themselves to be in the situation they found themselves. All of them lacking the power to change anything in their lives.

Although I usually remain skeptical about actors trying to “upgrade” to a director, Ben Affleck’s  attempt is very successful. It kept the tension and made our hearts beat quicker than in the gym a couple of hours earlier. All things considered a very good debut.

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New Horizons review: “Love” by Michael Haneke (2012)

The winner of the 13. edition of the International Film Festival New Horizons that took place in Wroclaw between 19th and 29th July is “From Thursday till Sunday” by Dominga Sotomayor Castillo (www.newhorizons.pl). My personal highlight from the festival is, however, Michael Haneke’s newest movie “Love,” shown as an opening film in Wroclaw and a winner of this year’s festival in Cannes.

Love by Haneke

Haneke as always in his movies touches on a difficult aspect of human life. This time he pictures elderliness and the slow process of fading away. Although many viewers regard the movie as an “utmost sad” probably as it brings up questions of which for the time being we prefer to forget, I cannot agree with reviews saying “It’s hard to find any hope in it,” (http://www.nowehoryzonty.pl/aktualnoscm.do?id=2459) On the contrary, I have found the film positive and reassuring.

After all, the elderly couple shown in the movie has went through life for many years building a relationship full of love and respect as we see it in the movie. Aware of what was coming close – “Haven’t you ever thought that this would happen to me,” the protagonist asks his wife – they were able to enjoy their life together, and when it became necessary Georges accepted the situation with the dignity, courage, and strength that any of us could only wish in such a situation. Similarly, Haneke beautifully portrayed, how Anne with full dignity accepted the disease and the progressing malfunctioning of her body, despite moments of anger and helplessness.

Love by Haneke (George)

The controversy can be raised regarding the moment when Georges decided the suffering of his wife was too big and depriving her of dignity. Was it indeed an act of love? Why did he leave her in the room? All these questions the viewer needs to answer for herself or himself.

Haneke’s movie is at the same time perfect in its form. Every element is full of meaning, stripped of redundancies. The plot, although slow and with a predictable ending, keeps the viewer involved as every exchange between the protagonists is necessary for the understanding of the story and brings in important details.

Moreover, Haneke develops relationships not only between the elderly couple but also between them as parents and their daughter, a student and his teacher, and well as a patient and her nurse. All of them are masterfully built on scarce dialogues or just simple actions in one and the same apartment.

A similar attempt to discuss the subject of disease and fading away was made in another movie shown during New Horizons “The Good Herbs” by María Novaro. In this case, however, the director decided for a documentary style and in my opinion Haneke’s “Love” was much more effective.

I strongly recommend it to see for everyone. I will count it to one of the most influential movies I have seen in a very long time.

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Polish cinema abroad

10th Brussels Film Festival: “Courage” – a mini study of the state of
masculinity in a contemporary society

Although most reviews of Grzegorz Zglinski’s “Courage” shown during the 10th Brussels Film Festival underline the biblical dimension of the story and concentrate on the relationship between two brothers, my attention was strongest attracted by something else. Telling at the first glance a tragic but rather simple story, this movie touches on an important subject – the crisis of the traditional concept of masculinity in a contemporary rapidly changing society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The film tells a story of two adult brothers, where the older one - Alfred, represents conservative values that traditional society tries to preserve and the younger one, Jurek, who just came back from the US where he has received his education, reflects the undergoing social change. While Alfred is trying to cope with the social stigma after being unable to stand by his brother against violence the author takes on the discussion on renegotiating the idea of masculinity in a contemporary society.

Throughout the movie the two figures are constructed around oppositions. Already in the opening scene, the viewer learns about the subtle difference between bravery and courage – courageous behavior first and foremost avoids exposing yourself or others to unnecessary danger. This idea later plays a crucial role as a distinguishing feature in defining the notion of masculinity in the movie.

The traditional concept of masculinity has at its center the ability to create a family, traditionally understood as composed of a man, a woman and at least one child, and to protect it. Next to it and partially as a result comes, however, inability to communicate or express feelings even towards the closest people, as well as remaining distant and estranged when facing troubles.

Alfred feels silently condemned by a judgemental and oppressive society as well as his closest family. The immaturity of a traditional man is most clearly expressed when he tries to repent his sins by finding the guy who beat up and seriously injured his brother and
revenge on him. Usually self-confident and very strict, he thinks this is what is expected from him, this is what he should do as a man – be brave and prepared to face violence.

On the contrary, the “new man” – Jurek, is conscious of his feelings and emotions, can differentiate between bravery and courage and stand up to violence but only for a good cause, e.g. the dignity of a woman. He is not only able to procreate but also to take care of his children in the absence of the mother.

Therefore, the characters of the two brothers appear to me a bit tendential. Jurek seems to have almost no flaws and pays bitterly for his convictions and righteousness. While Alfred is severely condemned and stigmatised not only by the society but also by his family and himself. He seems not to have managed to live up to the requirements
of his own moral code. Although a bit simplified, these two characters illustrate very well the current tendencies and change in perception of masculinity in a contemporary Polish society.

It would be a legitimate question to ask who is the victim in this movie. Jurek is unquestionably the victim of violence and his brother’s cowardice. But equally Alfred is a victim of the oppressive society which shaped his idea of masculinity refusing to define weaknesses as acceptable and potentially constructive in one’s inner development.

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10th Brussels Film Festival

The 10th Brussels Film Festival started just last Friday. From the 8th
to the 16th June, there will be over 50 movies screened in Flagey and
BOZAR, including open air screenings on Place Sainte-Croix. European
expats will also have the opportunity to take part in special evenings
devoted to a chosen European country, when the latest achievements of
the Polish, Spanish, Belgian, and Italian cinema will be presented.
Most of these special screenings have been already booked out by
European Institutions officials and diplomatic guests who Brussels has
plenty, but some seats are still available for those who are simply
interested in seeing something new – so if you planned to go, hurry
up!

Next to the films taking part in the competition, the biggest group is
shown as a part of the Panorama section, which has already become a
standard on all major European festivals. It usually features movies
by not that well established directors but from my experience equally
worth recommending. The chances are that most of these films will
never reach broader market so it might actually be your only
opportunity to see them.

On the other hand, the festival is a perfect opportunity to meet
established directors too. This year’s masterclasses are going to be
led by Peter Greenaway, a British film director who became known for
his unconventional experiments with the film as a genre, and Peter
Aalbaek, regarded as the most important Danish film producer since the
1990s.

The only thing that could spoil my enthusiasm when going through the
program is the language policy of the organizers. Unfortunately,
although the festival is taking place in the Capital of Europe
inhabited by a diverse international community, only a gasp of movies
was made available for non-French speakers. The French-Dutch equality
is kept of course, as required by the law in Belgium. It seems to me,
however, to have been forgotten that the 27 European countries that
Brussels is the capital of speak 23 different languages. So what about
people who might be speaking even 4 to 5 of them but neither French
nor Dutch is among them, which is not that uncommon for expats from
the so called “new member states”?

The fact is that English is the contemporary European linga franca and
the main language of communication of the international expat
community in Brussels and in the world. While there are plenty of
people who do not speak French, you will surely have a greater
difficulty finding someone who does not speak English. Therefore, if
you have an interesting movie to show and you want to show it to an
audience as wide as possible, you should better do it in English.
English subtitling as a standard would make the Brussels Film Festival
accessible to a wider audience including expat community in Brussels,
allowing them to get out from the European bubble, integrate, and
learn more about each other.

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