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The Alexander Langer Prize 2004 goes to the Polish Foundation “Pogranicze” of Sejny
The Scientific Committee of the Alexander Langer Foundation has decided to award its International Prize for the amount of 10.000 € the Polish Foundation “Pogranicze” of Sejny.
“Pogranicze” means “Borderland” and is not the only example of a foundation fostering the coexistence within the large region represented by Eastern Europe, which is joining the European Union and which is still a stranger to us. It can be considered as a significant example of ideas and projects in those areas isolated for decades by authoritarian regimes, “another Europe” where other attitudes, rules and specific cultural references were present. Yet, that Europe was not so far from the one we know.
Pogranicze stresses the importance that borders have taken on in Poland, a country with uncertain and fluctuating borders, characterized by a history of invasions and divisions until the second half of the 20th century. After World War II the Polish borders were moved some hundreds kilometres westwards, causing massive migratory flows and settlements of peoples. The country was ethnically homogeneous after the departure of the majority of the Germans westwards and of the White Russians eastwards, after the removal of the Polish from the Eastern territories of Poland, which had been given up to the Soviet Union, towards the western territories “re-conquered” from Germany, after the slaughter and dispersion of most Jews.
Homogeneity is generally considered as a guarantee of peace but “Pogranicze” decided to work in a different way and settled on a borderland, according to the idea that the coexistence of peoples, traditions and religions should not be a problem, but an opportunity of development.
The “Pogranicze” Foundation was set up in Sejny in 1990 – a small town with 6 thousands inhabitants in the north-east of Poland, on the border with Lithuania – by a small group of volunteers who experienced dissidence in the 80s. They created new relationships with their neighbours in Lithuania, rebuilt the abandoned old synagogue and the Jew school, revived the old Tzigane traditions, traced back minorities, whose descendants were to be found in Belarus and Ukraine and interacted with the catholic, protestant, Greek and Russian orthodox religions of that area. It has become a meeting point and an international lab, thanks to its several activities in the field of research, documentation, teaching, musical entertainment, theatre, going back to the past but facing the present scenario, sometimes jeopardized by nationalist, racist and anti-Semite attitudes. We refer, by a way of example, to Jan Gross’ book published in 2001, “The Neighbours”, translated into several languages, which started the most important and controversial historical debate in Poland during the period after World War II about the complex and difficult relationship between the Polish and the Jews.
“Pogranicze” has not limited its work to the town of Sejny and to area nearby, but decided to be present in the most critical areas of the contemporary world, such as Bosnia and the territories of former Yugoslavia, and the other countries of Eastern Europe, which have opened their frontiers to Europe and where the coexistence of different cultures is not always a simple issue. The “Krasnogruda” magazine, the published books, the contacts and travels of its members are signs of a willingness to create relationships with other geographical or spiritual “borderlands”, which may be regions (Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Transylvania, Bukovina) or multi-cultural cities (Prague, Czerniowcy, Vilnius, Kiev) of Central and Eastern Europe. “Café Europa” is an important point of reference, a virtual travelling café, a meeting point for free debates of intellectuals and writers, coming from Eastern Europe or not, pertaining to the generation which was more influenced by the war in Bosnia rather than by the fall of the Berlin wall.
Poland has always been a crossroad of battles and crucial events in the history of Europe and it may provide the necessary sensitiveness to understand the present disquiet and problems, at a higher level than the western countries, which lived in a protected and privileged condition over the last decades. “Pogranicze” is a praiseworthy initiative promoted by generous and free people, working outside the schemes of greater politics and the country’s highest offices. It is an important point of reference and guidance in a troubled zone still involved in a transition and reconstruction process. And it is above all an open window on that area of our continent beyond the European community’s borders that is still a part of Europe.
The President of the Scientific Committee:
The President of the Foundation: