Sunday 25 March 2012

Protest against Corruption and Closing of Cinema

On March 24, members of the ZSP and Tenants' Defense Committee took part in a protest against the planned closure of Kino Praha, the only movie theatre in the Praga district of Warsaw. This protest was much more a condemnation of political corruption and speculation than a defense of culture, with the vast majority of banners brought explicitly political in nature.

There is a long story behind the politics of the issue. The cinema is owned by Max-Film, which is a company owned entirely by the Mazovian Voievodship and controlled by the powerful Marshall of the Voievodship and a few friends of the President of Warsaw. The company is infamous for having destroyed many valuable cinemas in Warsaw, some of them irreplaceable cultural institutions, usually to sell to real estate developers with whom the politicians are thought to have business interests. It runs cinemas outside Warsaw as well and is currently trying to auction off cinemas in three cities where there aren't many other cultural offerings.

A few years ago, Praha was the last grand cinema left in Warsaw, with a huge hall, complete with balcony. But it was dreadfully mismanaged, not offering a good repetuar and the space was being wasted. We used it on several occasions to make film screenings, festivals or public discussions and we saw that there was tremendous interest in using the space - but no vision by the incompetent politicians who run these theaters and view them as potential real estate transactions instead of cinemas.

Five years ago, the old theater was destroyed. It was done in such a way, without proper security measures, that it damaged the foundations of old buildings nearby. A new cinema opened 4 years ago but part of the building is also occupied by the Marshall's office and fat staff of bureaucrats. The cinema still does not have the best repetuar, although sometimes it does OK. But it is very well-equipped and modern, with a nice cafe space and 4 screens. When it was built, the city hailed it as a great investment in culture in the neighbourhood. And it is enjoyed by many local residents. At the beginning of the year it had a record number of visits. Now, despite the fact that it is well-visited, the politicians are claiming it is "not profitable" and has to be shut down.

Everybody in the neighbourhood knows that something stinks, and it is the politicians and their approach does the city and its resources and just one big money-making opportunity for themselves and their friends. That is why the protest became very political. When we decided to go, we decided to try to politicize the protest, calling to get rid of the Voivodship offices and Max-Film and taking over the cinema by workers and local residents. We thought that we would go and find a bunch of artists defending culture but instead we found local residents and many banners insulting the Marshall, tying the closure to real estate speculation and corruption. So we were glad to see that the political consciousness of our neighbours is on the rise and that they are taking action about things going on around them.