Poland: Artists boycott festival over alleged blacklist

14 June 2017
National Festival of Polish Song was cancelled after controversy over an alleged blacklist by one of the organisers that led to a boycott of over 20 artists.
Photo: Amphitheatre in Opole during the 2009 festival/Wikicommons


The National Festival of Polish Song, traditionally held annually since its establishment in 1963 in the south western city of Opole, was cancelled after controversy ensued over an alleged artist blacklist by organiser and sponsor Polish Television (TVP) that led to a boycott of more than 20 artists, reported Radio Poland and Financial Times in May 2017.

The controversy began when popular singer Kayah was allegedly banned from appearing at the festival due to her political activism in anti-government demonstrations and opposition to a proposed law banning abortion in the country.

After the alleged ban, more than 20 artists, a director and a host boycotted the event.

TVP head Jacek Kurski has denied the existence of a blacklist calling reports on the alleged ban “a brutal attack on the public good, on Polish Television and Polish culture”.

Culture in the crosshairs
Since the rise of the nationalist-Catholic right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) in the autumn of 2015, culture and artistic freedom have been viewed through a different scope, seeing culture as a tool to bind people and build identity, restoring national pride.

Since the party’s rise to power it has taken strong control over the country’s public media beginning with PiS taking direct control of public channels, then swiftly passing a new media law in late 2015 that saw the immediate firing of directors and supervisory councils of public television and radio.

After that, new directors were appointed without the oversight of the National Broadcasting Council, which included the appointment of Kurski, a former PiS member and close ally of the party leader, as head of TVP.

Minster of Culture and Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Gliński called the recent blacklist reports “fake news” and “an organised opposition action to destroy Polish democracy”.

Despite the denial of the blacklist, organisers had banned the performance of a song by band Dr Misio due to their video, deemed “unbroadcastable” by the organisers, featuring band members dressed as Catholic priests asking for money from the congregation.

Festival fate unknown
The 2017 festival was scheduled to take place in Opole on 9 June 2017, but city authorities blocked TVP from setting up the festival and cancelled its contract with the company after artists began boycotting the event, including famous singer Maryla Rodowicz who was due to hold her 50-year anniversary concert at the event.

The TVP head and mayor of Opole have said they will launch counter lawsuits over the financial losses of not hosting the event in the city.

The event was then moved to Kielce and re-scheduled for 10 June 2017 after another city refused to host the event. However, city officials announced in late May they would not host the event.

There are still plans to hold the festival in the autumn of 2017.

The festival, considered to be one of the most important music festivals in the country that celebrates local pop music, has never been held in a city other than Opole and has only been cancelled once before, in 1982, due to martial law instituted by communist authorities at the time.

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