President's annual report 2020

November 26, 2020
Est. Reading: 7 minutes

When I was taking over the role of AIPA President last November, I had a number of plans and strategies for AIPA activities in 2020. We all know how it all turned out – from March 2020 basically we all were focused first and foremost on the Covid-19 situation. The lockdowns and health threat this virus has posed forced us all to withdraw from any public activities – especially meetings and organising AIPA events.

The situation required a new strategy to bring people together and utilise expanded digital tools for communication. Already in June, AIPA created the YouTube channel where we posted several video recordings – the first small step in developing our digital presence. These first recordings were directed to our Polish speaking audience as we wanted to showcase the situation in Australia and how Australia has been dealing with the health, economic and social issues during Covid. Special thanks to Janek Pakulski and Tomasz Wozniak for your presentations. There is a great opportunity in using this youtube chanel to record and post AIPA lectures online. The most recent presentation by Gosia Dunwill on Elite Schools in Poland has now been posted online and the link has been circulated. But we may want to start recording all of our seminars if the guests agree.

But I think our digital presence needs to be strategic and planned and invested into and this in my view should become one of the significant tasks for the AIPA Board in 2021.

But just before Covid hit we were able to organise several activities including a visit of Professor Roman Kuźniar, prominent academic and expert on international affairs from the University of Warsaw. Professor Kuźniar visited Melbourne, Hobart, where he gave lectures as well as Sydney where we frantically worked on rebooking his flights to get back to Poland. All in all it was a successful visit – we were able to make the most out of this visit despite the huge limitations and pressures – the detailed activities from this visit are included in the regional reports.

Another significant event, and an opportunity to showcase AIPA and implement AIPA’s statutory objectives to promote Polish-Australian relations was the planned 40th anniversary of Solidarność, to celebrate the arrival of the Solidarity Migration Wave from Poland to Australia. This event which is envisaged as a function with several Australian official representatives in attendance and supported financially by the Department of Premier and Cabinet through the Multicultural Festivals and Events grant and I am glad to inform that we have supported the extension of the funding to 2021 and are hoping to organise this event in the first half of 2021.

One of the most recent events organised by AIPA on line was the presentation by the Director of Polish Studies at Cambridge University Dr Stan Bill who talked about Counter Elites in Poland and the recent political and social developments in Poland. His knowledge and understanding of Poland’s situation was very impressive and an interesting discussion followed. The online event gathered 25 attendees and some guests commented that it was the most informative event in 2020. It will be worthwhile to invite Dr Bill to Australia one day for a visit possibly co-sponsored by AIPA.

It was our second digital lecture, and followed Janek Pakulski’s presentation on a comparison of approaches on combating Covid-19 pandemic and it was a promising experience which will allow us to plan ambitiously for future online presentations.

In 2020, we marked two important anniversaries. First was, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Prof Jerzy Zubrzycki, with a ‘centenary reminiscence’ written by Janek Pakulski who was also interviewed by the radio SBS. Second was the 75 years of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau so I represented AIPA in the event organised by the Jewish Holocaust Centre. It was especially moving to hear the survivor Eva Slonim speak about her memories of the liberation. AIPA joined a number of initiatives and initiated protest letters related several troubling issues. For example:

  • Together with Bernard Korbman, the former Co-President of the Association of Polish Jews and their Descendants, we signed a letter to the Minister of Culture and National Heritage in Poland, calling for appointment to the position of a director of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Polin.
  • We have also intervened with a letter of protest following the Australian Story program on the Dustyesky choir aired on 25 May 2020 on ABC. The program has been promoted as a warm-hearted story embracing community spirit and the love of music, however there were deeper concerning issues including the use of the Soviet flag with the Soviet Russian Hammer and Sickle.
  • We have recently published a Media Release related to the large demonstrations in Poland regarding anti-abortion law. The ABC the World program picked up the story and followed up with an interview with Barbara Nowacka the Polish MP and the activist leading the protest. What is worth noting, is that this Press Release, has met with a strong reaction from some Polonia circles representing right wing views of how Poland should be represented in Australia. It is more disturbing to learn that such views and actions are actively encouraged by the current government representatives. It gives a strong signal to AIPA that we have a significant role to play right now, to ensure Polish Australians are seen as progressive, tolerant and open.

There were also a number of contributions to the discussions in the media by AIPA membres:

  • Prof Jan Pakulski talked to Jacek Żakowski in Polityka on leadership qualities of current political elites (Issue 27 May). This was followed by a conversation with Prof Martin Krygier on the need to temper the powers of current governments (Issue 9 June)
  • Two radio interviews were also recorded by radio SBS Polish Section with Dr Tomasz Woźniak from the University of Melbourne discussing current economic situation in Australia.
  • I was interviewed on SBS radio as a new AIPA President
  • I have tried to keep our website current with publishing two President reports and the summary of the Prof Kzniar visits and would like to thank Gosia Dunwill for her continuous availability to update the website and Agnieszka Majer and Tomek Wozniak for their brave attempts to reinvent the pages which we hope will take place next year.

So taking into account the limited options in 2020, AIPA has remained very busy.

However, before I mention our plans for 2021, I would like to also share what I have learnt as the President of AIPA and what challenges we as organisation face and need to pay attention to resolving.

As discussed at the last AGM AIPA has been created 30 years ago – different times in Poland, Australia and globally. I thought the role of AIPA needs o evolve with the times. HOWEVR, my experiences as a leader and the deteriorating state of Polish democracy convinced me that now more than ever AIPA’s objectives remain current:

  • To serve as a reliable source of authoritative information
  • To participate in educational activities related to Poland, the Polish Australians and Polish Australian affairs
  • To respond to public distortions on these topics.

But of course our modus operandi – how we operate and how we position ourselves needs to be updated to correspond with modern/postmodern times. I think there are some challenges within our Institute as well as externally to which we need to respond.

Internally there are two issues that I would like to pay more attention to:

  1. The communication gap between the AIPA members and AIPA board. The Board meets regularly, usually monthly, we keep in close email contact and variety of discussions and links are communicated and shared. However, these discussions remain limited to a small group of people and there is a need to be more inclusive and open up to all AIPA members and friends. Robert Czernkowski and I have considered some options going forward and I hope we will find solutions to this issue.
  2. The idea of leadership based historically on a charismatic President who is the main initiator, motivator, driving force behind the AIPA initiatives. I think AIPA needs distributive leadership with initiatives driven not only by one or two people, but by each regional leader in collaboration with AIPA members. The future of AIPA cannot rest within one or two people and we need to figure out how to reinvigorate our leadership options.

Externally:

  1. Un-democratic rule in Poland – a drastically deteriorating political situation in Poland with a growing influence of right wing, catholic nationalists affects the relations AIPA has with official channels in Poland. Our relations with the Embassy and the Consulate need to be carefully managed.
  2. Growth of global communication networks – the role that AIPA used to play as a contact point and authority in relations with the Australian media is changing – media outlets have easy access to the main sources of information via digital channels like facebook and twitter, AIPA is no longer seen as a contact-point to the sources in Poland. We need to re-think our strategy on relations with the media.
  3. Membership base – the membership base of AIPA is changing and often the active members are not able to contribute as much as they used to. We need to rethink the membership of AIPA in terms of the process and the type of members.

I will leave those points for further discussion, and for the AIPA Board to consider for 2021.

And to finish off, our plans for next year – apart what I have just mentioned for the board to work on:

  • Would like to continue the online presentations inviting representatives of broader communities including arts and community leaders. Current situation presents a number of opportunities for online presence and I think we should be aiming high – possibly Anne Applebaum…
  • As mentioned we hope to organise the 40th anniversary function in Melbourne that would happened in the first half of the 2021
  • AIPA 30th anniversary which we will be looking at organising a Dinner with some VIPs…
  • The biggest and most ambitious idea is to invite Olga Tokarczuk to accept AIPA invitation later in 2021. I have applied for two financial support grants – from the Polish Consulate and from the foundation Wolnosc i Demoracja, to co-fund the travel. We will pursue this strongly through searching new funding opportunities and by persuading Olga to come to Australia. This would be a significant event and would firmly emphasise the role if AIPA in Australia. We must pursue this opportunity.

I have been enjoying a lot of your support since taking on this position which has been important to me. I must acknowledge the very active contribution to promoting AIPA and Polish-Australian relations of many wonderful people including Janek Pakulski, Adam Warzel and all AIPA board members: Gosia Dunwill, Halina Zobel Zubrzycka, Stas Hempel, Olek Gancarz and Irenka Zdanowicz.

Dr Gosia Klatt

November 2020

Australian Institute of Polish Affairs
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