Open letter of The Anti-Fascist Year regarding censorship at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle

Warsaw March 4th 2020

It is with great surprise and disappointment that we announce the censorship of the series of seminars titled „Anti-fascism for the Unconvinced”, enforced by Piotr Bernatowicz, the director of CCA Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw. The director made his decision after just one seminar, which took place on February 11. The meeting was focused on the classical essay "Elements of Anti-Semitism: Limits of Enlightenment” written by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno in 1943, historically the first philosophical text to face the reality of the Shoah.

The series of seminars was initiated and organised by a grassroots reading group interested in critical reflection on the phenomenon of fascism. It was held at the invitation of the curatorial board of CCA Ujazdowski Castle and with the approval of the institution’s previous directors. The seminars did not require financial contribution from CCA, as Dr Michał Kozłowski from the Institute of Philosophy of the University of Warsaw agreed to lead the seminars for free.

We are genuinely shocked that seventy-five years after the end of Second World War, in the capital of Poland, an important public institution evicts a seminar devoted to critical reflection on the links between anti-Semitism, fascism and the Shoah. In an explanation given to Kozłowski, Bernatowicz directly criticised Theodor Adorno as an author who, allegedly, had been ultimately disavowed. In the real world, however, Adorno's thought remains a fundamental point of reference not only in reflection on the Shoah, but also on modern art, whether for conservative, liberal, or left-wing thinkers. Bernatowicz has made the fight against "cultural Marxism" one of the goals of his tenure at CCA Ujazdowski Castle, as expressed by himself in his programme statement. This label is not a theoretical category that would neutrally describe a school of thought or a worldview. In fact, it is an ideological cliché imported from Nazi propaganda, which aimed to eradicate "Kulturbolschewismus" (cultural bolshevism).

We wish to warn academic and artistic communities and all people of good will against the deceptive rhetoric of Piotr Bernatowicz, who censors while ostensibly declaring openness to discussion. He rejects the legacy of European culture while protecting anti-Semites and propagators of conspiracy theories, naming critical thought ”ideology” while using dark political fantasies as facts.

“False projection is the usurper in the realm of freedom as of culture; paranoia is the symp­tom of the half-educated. For such people, all words become a system of delusion, an attempt mentally to occupy the regions to which their expe­rience does not extend,” Adorno and Horkheimer wrote in 1943. Without doubt, today they could repeat these words again.

The Anti-Fascist Year

PS: We would like to thank the curatorial team of CCA Ujazdowski Castle and the previous management of the institution for the fruitful cooperation within the framework of The Anti-Fascist Year, which included numerous events, seminars and exhibitions. We also express our solidarity with the employees of CCA Ujazdowski Castle. We consider this act of censorship a final confirmation of how important the memory of fascism and reflection on its nature is to society today.

The Anti-Fascist Year is a country-wide initiative promoted by a coalition of public institutions, NGOs, social movements, art collectives, individual artists and activists. Its goal is to commemorate all anti-fascist activists, men and women, who actively resisted fascism in the past, and to oppose the reoccurrence in the public domain of neo-fascist and neo-Nazi movements as well as of any and all parties endorsing and idolizing fascist ideas, discourse and practices. The Anti-Fascist Year is a collective expression of protest against the glorification of war, the cult of violence, authoritarianism, nationalism, intolerance, misogyny, homophobia and racism which wreaks havoc on human conscience and destroys our community and natural environment. The coalition is guided by the ethos of equality, freedom and solidarity of all human beings and deep care and concern for non-human beings. The program of the Anti-Fascist Year is developed based on a grassroots approach and encompasses numerous anti-fascist and anti-war cultural events and social activities which will be organised all over Poland between September 1, 2019 and (80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II) and May 8, 2020 (75th anniversary of the end of WW II in Europe). The development and coordination of the AF Year’s program is a joint effort of individual artists and activists, foundations, non-governmental organizations, social movements and cultural institutions. The complete program of events and activities organized as part of the Anti-fascist Year can be found on our website in the constantly updated events section. Additionally, on the website you will also find the atlas which is a social archive of anti-fascist and anti-war activities and attitudes in culture, art and other walks of life. We also have a fanpage on Facebook, an Instagramaccount and a YouTube channel where you can also find many interesting materials. More information on how to contact and join the Anti-fascist Year can be found here.