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Michał Borkiewicz

Michał Borek Borkiewicz: Warsaw is a city of diversity

A founder of Plan b, Plac Zabaw, BarKa and Powidoki. One of the main animators of the Warsaw club scene. A co-founder of the Chlebem i Solą initiative (Bread and Salt Initiative), works to improve the fate of refugees and immigrants. The Warsaw Diversity Days start this week and are organised by the Chlebem i Solą and Komsja Klubowa initiatives. 

The description of the event says: “Warsaw is a city of diversity. There are no foreigners, no locals”. My hair stood on end.
– A deliberate provocation. It is, of course, a kind of utopian vision. The city wants to be like this, it presents itself this way for sure. And it is, of course, a very good attitude, however, later on in the text, we pose a question about the reality. 

Every day I am a witness of violent attacks against foreigners in public places. And this practice is, unfortunately escalating.
– It is indeed. And there is no coincidence in it. It is not only a result of xenophobia rooted in every nation but also a very conscious and cynical political play and media coverage connected with it. However, even inside our own bubble, we pride ourselves on being so tolerant, open-minded and modern that we sometimes don’t see with our own eyes what is happening around. We don’t even recognize discrimination. Let’s have a closer look if we, by any chance, don’t discriminate against others. Let’s learn to react properly if something like this happens around us – at work, on a tram or even on the Internet.

During Warsaw Diversity Days, you focus on a wide range of issues which are not necessarily related to immigrants.
– We wanted to present issues which have already been widely covered by NGOs and various engaged groups in narrow community circles. We wanted to show social initiatives working towards discriminated and excluded groups: LGBT, immigrants, refugees, seniors, disabled and homeless people. There is a constantly growing number of such initiatives in Warsaw. 

What does a club scene do?
– A lot. The Synergia and Flauta collectives regularly organise benefit parties. Brutaż – an ambitious techno party series also organises important initiatives. Musicians and clubs get involved. We have been involved for a long time. 

You can call it a trend but I wouldn’t be so optimistic. For me, it has always been part of an alternative scene. I have missed that over the recent years. Anti-Racism concerts were associated with some prehistoric times or stories told be some detached from reality old punks. It’s great that it’s changing right now. In Berlin, during almost every party there are benefits organised for some bottom-up initiatives. When the immigration crisis broke out in 2015, almost all society including club and music scene reacted in a positive way. It is a sign of a quite mature society.

Chlebem i Solą has been active for five years now. What are you most proud of?
– It all started with some ad hoc interventions. We were visiting Bulgaria, the Balkans bringing there collected stuff. Sometimes we stayed in these places for a couple of weeks or months and we worked with these initiatives. 

Now we focus on a direct help here, locally. We support immigrants in finding flats, work, we help with contacts with attorneys, we organise moves.

Volunteers help some of the kids with school work. Thus we are in a constant contact with the whole families, we can recognise better their problems and needs. 

How do you support yourself?
– We are a bottom-up initiative. We operate on a voluntary basis. As for me, I have a few bars. We raise money for specific purposes – we look for sponsors, we organise crowdfunding. We don’t have additional costs, an office. We have recently established a foundation to ensure continuity of our bigger projects, for example, a beforementioned project with kids or Uchodźcy.info. It is called Fundacja Polska Gościnność (the Polish Hospitality Foundation). We don’t want to compete with other non-governmental organizations which deal with the same problems. We only want to fill the gaps and focus on engaging people and raising awareness. 

Generally, in Poland non-governmental organizations which help foreigners are screwed. Public funds from the European Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund were frozen here nearly 3 years ago because of so-called “exceptional migration situation”. It is not clear what it is all about but maybe it is aimed at weakening NGOs in Poland, especially those which deal with these problems. And yet, it is in our common interest that immigrants who stay in Poland learn the language, legally work here, pay taxes, are part of the society. Unfortunately, someone has a completely different point of view and wants to threaten us with immigrants instead of avoiding exclusion and problems resulting from it. It is such an absurdity that it is extremely difficult to imagine that it is happening for real.

What should we remember when Warsaw Diversity Days are over?
– That we still have some influence on reality and we can always do something to make things better. 

Interview: Agnieszka Kowalska
Photos: Filip Klimaszewski

SATURDAY (25.08), 7 PM – Powidoki, Wybrzeże Kościuszkowskie St. 22 – concerts: Remont Pomp with Mikołaj Trzaska and the Ray Dickaty’s Migration Improvised Orchestra. After it, a benefit event. Revenue from the collection is intended to support the Warsaw NGOs working for minority groups.
NEXT SUNDAY (2.09), 12 AM – 8 PM – Great Picnic of Diversity at Plac Zabaw.
Admission free. Details here….

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