This play uses various contexts – local, historical, and contemporary – to delve into the phenomenon of one of the most fascinating religious, intellectual and social movements to have made its mark on Polish lands, the Polish Brethren community, now remembered almost exclusively by historians, and known as Arians by their adversaries. Active in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Polish Brethren lauded some groundbreaking social, religious, and ethical postulates for their day: they sought to introduce full religious tolerance, break down social barriers, promote equality of the sexes, provide universal access to education, and support pacifism. Arianism was to spread in Poland through edicts ensuring a religious freedom unknown in the other countries of Europe at the time, and its representatives were famed for their marvellous educations and broad intellectual horizons. Yet the development of Arianism swiftly and brutally came to a halt with the growing persecution of Protestant movements. It ultimately concluded with the Polish Brethren’s accusation of abetting the Swedish king in the war against Poland and the official ban on the movement altogether.
This experimental project at the Stary Theatre attempts to inquire into the possibility of an Arian gathering in our day – a space for the exchange of thoughts, political and religious freedom, a utopian community cutting through the divisions in society. Speaking up against intolerance, the play explores the possibility of a radical ethical community whose convictions are joined with respect for pluralism. It is also a chance to look at the problem of individual faith in conflict with institutional religiosity, and inquires into a vision of Christianity radically unlike the one that holds sway in Poland. Is another way of approaching community, public debate, faith, and religion even possible in Poland? If the Arian utopia had avoided persecution and managed to survive, would it have turned Poland into the most progressive and developed nation in Europe?
This performance’s point of departure is a new drama for six voices, for six actors taking on the roles of one character after another, representing subsequent generations of Polish “brothers” and “sisters” and their religious opponents.
This play came about through a City of Krakow Creative Scholarship 2019.
Told with wit and a sense of distance, the history of Polish Arians against a backdrop of the European Reformation becomes a tale of a country of tolerance and freedom, of fresh minds, welcoming arrivals with open arms, a country to which dissenters and free-thinkers swarm from all over Europe. And about how this half-invented, open-minded Poland ultimately lost its struggle against a backward Roman-Catholic obscurantism. Those words of caution against an alliance between the altar and the throne, ringing out loud and clear in the finale of Bukowski’s play, have lost none of their relevance.
Michał Centkowski, Newsweek