The NECS Conference in Gdańsk, 2019.

The Network for Cinema and Media Studies Goes Back to Eastern Europe Thirty Years after the Downfall of Communism

Lucian Țion
Poland; Eastern Europe; academic conference; NECS; Gdańsk University; structures and voices; post-digital; intermediality
European Solidarity Centre (Europejskie Centrum Solidarności) collage made of white and red notes. Photo by author.

Possibly the second most distinctive feature of the NECS conference this year, aside from its catchy title “Structures and Voices: Story-telling in Post-digital Times,” was its choice of location: If this is not the first time the prestigious European conference has travelled to the Eastern side of the continent, the chosen site at Poland’s Gdańsk University has deep reverberations for political and cultural history. The birthplace of Lech Wałęsa’s Solidarity movement which eventually helped topple Communist governments in the ‘Soviet bloc’, and allegedly inspired the 1989 revolutionary wave in Eastern Europe, Gdańsk was—whether we like to admit it or not—also a controversial location. As I hope to show in the following, there was more than intermediality related to film practices at NECS this year, namely, a political intermediality (or was it interference?) in practices related to the dialogue between two political and economic systems which until 30 years ago, due to their distinct ways of producing and consuming media, were not talking to each other.

European Solidarity Centre (Europejskie Centrum Solidarności). Map of Cold War-era divided Europe

Given this one-time rupture, the feeling in the air in Gdańsk was that, while not fully vanished during the recent era that marked the East’s difficult and controversial transition to capitalism, the hatchet symbolizing the erstwhile animosity between East and West ought by now to be definitely buried in the ground of liberalism. This was apparent as early as Miroslaw Przylipiak, the meticulous local organizer of the conference, gave his introductory address. Holding up the conference program in front of a widely diverse audience, Przylipiak pointed to the picture on the back cover to draw our attention to a color photograph taken so as to imitate the feel of a socialist-era lecture hall. In this sepia-toned picture a rather despondent female student dressed in a nondescript block-print shirt and beige skirt holds under her arm a textbook that rather conspicuously displays the title “The Political Economy of Socialism” on its faded red cover. Aside from the (photo-shoped) intermediality resembling a mise-en-abyme effect, which has its own implications for film practices and theory, the photograph symbolised, as Miroslaw pointed out with a particular tinge of pride in his soothing voice the city’s rupture with its dictatorial past, and overall, Poland’s unrestrained embrace of Western-style democracy in the age of European integration.

Back cover photo of the NECS conference program, 2019

For a traditionally left-leaning institution like academia, this rupture has its own implications: While Western universities in the last few decades have picked up the pace of condemnation of neoliberal institutions which are currently viewed as agents of a nefarious capitalist system, things look a bit different for East European countries like Poland: Stuck between the resurging nationalism of a rightist government and the country’s three-decade long fervent commitment to European integration, Polish academia seems eager to sever all ideological ties with anything reminding itself of its socialist past, and to favor an alignment with the very neo-liberalism condemned by the West.