Before I moved to Poland, multiculturalism was all the rage in Mexico, where a dear friend of mine invested his time and his life savings to open a Multicultural Center or “Multiculti,” as it is fondly called today. Coming from this background, it was only natural for me to gravitate toward this kind of events in Poland, not just because I am a foreigner of multi-cultural background (my mother is Mexican, my father was Spanish. I went to school in the United States but spent summer vacations in south Mexico with my grandmother). This, I believe, is what has made me a true believer of the multicultural philosophy, which I embrace wholeheartedly. And this is how I came to know Krystyna Shmeruk, a unique woman who grew up in Przemyśl but who now resides in Warsaw. She established a non-profit organization - the Heritage Foundation - in memory of her late husband, Professor Chone Shmeruk. A labor of love, the philosophy behind the foundation is to bring traditions together by raising awareness and dismantling boundaries, but most importantly, to fight stereotypes and prejudice. In Mrs. Shmeruk’s words, “The Galicia Multicultural Festival is a sign of nostalgia for the past, for the people who made everyday culture, for the nations which inhabited this land for centuries. Our idea is to forge cultural links at the same time that Europe is uniting.”
The Festival, which takes place in the summer to take advantage of the gorgeous weather of the region, reaches out to bring participants from Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, the Ukraine, and, for the first time last year, Mexico and the United States of America. Different national minorities also participate, mainly Gypsies, Karaites, Huculls, Łemkos, and Armenians. It is the Festival’s intention to reach the widest possible public and underline the international character of the sub-Carpathian region by showcasing its cultural wealth. A relatively young enterprise, (this year marked the Festival’s seventh anniversary), the Festival is dynamic, all encompassing, and progressive, with a definite feeling of openness and optimism thanks to the patronage of the President of Poland and the Minister of Culture.
Above all, it is Mrs. Shmeruk’s untiring labor and dedication the force that propels this venture forward. Impressed by what started as a private enterprise, she soon began receiving funding from the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, embassies and ministries of culture of the participating countries, other cultural institutions, and private sponsors. Not much, alas! but enough to stay afloat.
Despite the financial setbacks, Mrs. Shmeruk has been consistently able to showcase the music of different countries and several Polish regions, to incorporate theatrical productions, be them classical, street, or children’s theatre. There are also screenings of international feature films and independent films that showcase the national wealth of the different participating countries. For the dance part, she once lured a troupe from Siberia; the dancers traveled for two days on a stretch to get to the Festival before giving a breathtaking performance. In the exhibits section, she includes paintings, lithography, photography, crafts, and presentations and workshops given by the craftspeople and cooks from different regions. The cuisine is original, all encompassing, and delicious.
One of the Festival’s most prestigious features is its Academic Session. Put together by the Polish Academy of Science with the participation of 18 professors from Poland and the Ukraine, it gives a rotating series of seminars on culture, history, and film. Galician Meetings, the Academic Session’s yearly publication, is distributed to museums and libraries across Poland and greatly coveted by the Festival’s fans.
That said, the burning question remains, why aren’t more people aware of this magnificent event? Why are not Poles descending in droves to the Galician region to take part in the Galicia Multicultural Festival? The answer is very simple: Up until now, the Festival was the jealously guarded secret of the ministers, ambassadors, and members of the nobility who have been attending it faithfully for the past seven years. They want to experience the culture and the authenticity without the crowds. Now, the thing is, they cannot keep a wonderful thing like this Festival all to themselves indefinitely, can they? I, too, want to wax poetic about the food, marvel at the works of art or shed tears of joy when Olena Leonenko sings a Russian Romance. I, too, want to rub elbows with Prince Sapieha, one of the Festival’s greatest supporters and Honorary Chair of the event.
That said, it is my plan to take two days off from work next summer to spend a long weekend enjoying the festivities, tasting the food and the wine from the different showcased regions, to delight my eyes with the works of art, and feast my ears with the wonderful music.
America L. Martin