Baltic Transfer* Festival

New Via Baltica

Via Baltica is the only road route connecting Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia with Western Europe. Its polish section, running from the crossing point in Budzisko to Warsaw, is still in construction. The importance of this route for our neighbors was proved during the pandemic. When Poland closed its border crossings to foreigners in March 2020, thousands of Baltic citizens travelling by car were stuck on the Polish-German border with no chance of returning home. The Baltics were only evacuated by ferries sent from Germany to ports in Lithuania and Latvia.

The border crisis passed unnoticed in Poland, but was widely commented in the Baltic countries. It revealed the real state of relations between Warsaw and Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn. Despite close relations resulting from a common history and geopolitical location, at the moment of danger, Poland chose national egoism over supra-national solidarity. Of course, many other countries did the same in defending themselves from the rising tide of the Covid-19 pandemic, but only Poland prevented the residents of neighboring countries from safely returning home.

The image of queues of cars with LT, LV and EST registrations under the Polish border barriers accompanied us when we were preparing the Baltic Transfer* programme together with partners from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The name of the festival, invented even before the pandemic, has taken on new meanings in the context of the last year. In the face of restored borders, sanitary cordons and quarantine, culture has become the only space for international dialogue and meeting. We decided to do our best to transfer theaters and artists from Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn to Warsaw.

The idea of a theatrical exchange between Poland and the Baltic countries dates back to the early 1990’s. Established at that time by Krystyna Meissner, the CONTACT festival in Toruń has become an important platform for a meeting of artists from the East and West, separated until now by border cordons. At the Toruń festival, we discovered theater from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, which after the collapse of the Soviet Union spoke with its own, authentic voice. We learned to pronounce new names, like Oskaras Koršunovas, Eimuntas Nekrošius, Elmo Nüganen, Priit Pedajas, Alvis Hermanis. Their performances allowed us to better understand our new neighbors.

Today it is time to meet a new generation of artists from the Baltic States. They are the generation of transformation: some of them were born under communism, some after the fall of communism. All of them matured in conditions of independence and democracy. What is theater for them today? What problems do they live with? What is their attitude towards the post-Soviet past? How do they look at the contemporary reality of their countries? What do they think about the future? What do they think about themselves?

With this festival we want to build a second Via Baltica – a road of cultural transfer across borders. In contrast to the original, which is still under construction, our route will always be open.

Roman Pawłowski