Michael Shafir (born 1944) is a Romanian political scientist and journalist of Jewish origin. During the periods 1965–1967 and 1985–2005 he held various positions at Radio Free Europe and gradually asserted himself as an emblematic figure of the Romanian section of RFE. Born in Bucharest in a middle class Jewish family, Shafir emigrated legally to Israel in September 1961. Although his family was not politically persecuted, his father held strong beliefs that conflicted with the values promoted by the communist regime in Romania and thus distanced himself from the official propaganda from the early days of the new regime. Shafir confesses that his perception of the communist regime was definitely influenced by his early “anti-communist socialisation through jokes.” In this vein, he claims that his father mocked the official significance of such an event as Stalin’s death and even applied a lasting lesson to his son, who arrived home in tears because “our beloved father” had died. After dragging him to the bathroom and running the water tap, so that no-one would hear, he slapped the nine-year-old Michael and told him: “This is to remind you that your old man is still alive.” He also recalls that his family used to talk after the communist takeover about “how it was before [the Second World War],” and that “this before was idealised.”
In Israel, Shafir studied English philology, but chose political science as a second field of study. This decision marked his career, as well as his personal collection. While a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he worked for two years as analyst for the Audience and Public Opinion Research Department at Radio Free Europe (1965–1967). His activity consisted of analyzing letters received from Romania. Subsequently, he worked for the Israeli press and was employed as a junior lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where in 1981 he defended his doctoral dissertation on intellectuals under the Ceaușescu regime. Shafir returned to RFE in 1985, to occupy the position of deputy director of the Audience and Public Opinion Research Department, which he held until 1988. Most of his activity consisted of evaluating the audience of RFE in Eastern Europe on the basis of questionnaires answered by individuals coming from communist countries. Between 1988 and 1991, Shafir was head of the Romanian Research Unit of RFE. While working for RFE, he also published studies and books about Eastern Europe. After the fall of communism, he moved from Munich to Prague in 1997 and continued to work for RFE until 2005. Between October 2003 and November 2004 he was also a member of the International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, headed by the Romanian-born American Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Between 2006 and 2012, Shafir was professor at the Faculty of European Studies of Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
According to his own assessment, Shafir would place himself in the category of an opponent to the communist regime in Romania, albeit one who manifested his opposition from exile through his activity at RFE. In fact, the most significant part of the Michael Shafir Collection originates from the period 1988–1991, when Shafir was head of the Romanian Research Unit of RFE. In this position, he was responsible for collecting, selecting, and analysing the information on Romania on which RFE programmes were based. This broadcasting agency played at that time an instrumental role in disseminating the messages of Romanian dissidents, and such messages reached it in various ways. Shafir thus had the chance to monitor an enormous amount of materials relating to Romania at a time when one of the most important topics of RFE broadcasts was the opposition to the Ceaușescu regime, however weak that might have been. This makes his collection an invaluable assembly of documents about Romanian dissent.
As for the concept of “cultural opposition,” Michael Shafir argued: “Here we have to make a distinction between dissidence and opposition. Things became confused because opposition in the Soviet Union started gradually to be called dissidence. Both dissidence and opposition are pre-conditioned by the willingness to make one’s voice heard. I have no idea how dissidence and, even more so, opposition can speak against the regime in a whisper. This is not opposition. Opposition must be [publicly] expressed.” In this respect, Shafir’s opinion mirrors that of the most notable dissidents in the Soviet bloc. On the other hand, Shafir has expressed his discontent with the term cultural opposition, “because in the Romanian case there is much talk about ‘opposition through culture,’” as he put it. This type of opposition, actually labelled “resistance through culture” by its practitioners in Romania, was no opposition at all according to Shafir. “Although among these cultural opponents I also found very respectable people, cultural opposition was a type of opposition […] which never assumed the risk of outspoken opposition. For me, Doina Cornea and few others like her, they were the opposition. Not a cultural opposition, but a perilous opposition, which took chances, courageous and, at the same time, modest […]. This is opposition,” concludes Shafir.
- Cluj-Napoca, Romania
- Tbilisi, Georgia
Yuriy Shukhevych is a Ukrainian politician, member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, repeatedly convicted for long terms in prison during the Soviet period.
Yuriy Shukhevych was born in 1933 in the family of the commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, Roman Shukhevych. In 1944, Yuriy Shukhevych with his mother was deported to Siberia as a family of a Ukrainian nationalist. Later, in 1946, as a child of “the enemy of the people” he was taken away from his mother and spent his childhood in orphanage. At the age of 15, Yuriy Shukhevych was sentenced for 10 years in prison for his connections with the Ukrainian nationalist underground as he tried to get in touch with his father. In 1958, before the end of his first sentence, he was sentenced for another 10 years of labour camps for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”. After his release from prison, he joined shestidesiatniki movement. In 1972 he was imprisoned again for 10 years with subsequent 5 years of exile in Siberia for his active participation in the Ukrainian liberation movement as well as for his memoirs “Rozdumy vholos”, in which he gave an account of Stalinist labour camps. He was released from his third imprisonment as a disabled person with the complete loss of eyesight. In the 1980s and the 1990s he continued his political activities and was head of the Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian National Self-Defence.
- Kyiv City, Kiev, Ukraine 02000
- Bratislava, Slovakia
Tomasz Sikorski was born in 1953 in Warsaw. He is a versatile artist: he photographs, paints, draws, creates objects, buildings, installations, the art of environment, films and sound works, and also creates performances. He is the organizer and curator of around twenty exhibitions, author of books and articles on art; also he deals with documenting events and artistic works. He works as an academic teacher at the Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce.
From the early 1970s, Sikorski took part in the life of the Warsaw neo-avantgarde community, primarily in the "Gallery" of Paweł Freisler, where in 1972 he made his debut, as well as in Sigma, a neighboring Student Cultural Center at the University of Warsaw. The word "Gallery", deliberately is taken in quotes as a conceptual form, constituted spaces of contestation of the old fashion, in fact, a modernist faction of avant-garde by younger artists, critical of essentialism and "cleansing" art from external interference. Similar moods prevailed at the Biennale of Spatial Forms in Elbląg, led by Gerard Blum-Kwiatkowski; Sikorski participated in the last Biennale, also known as Kinolaboratorium, in 1973.
A young artist studied two faculties of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts: Sculpture and Interior Design, in the years 1974-1979. Already at that time, from 1976 to 1978, thanks to Freisler, Sikorski ran the Mospan Gallery (at the Mospan Club SZSP Warsaw University of Technology); from January 1977 he did this together with Tomasz Konart, with whom until November 1979, he continued to hold a gallery P.O. Box 17, without permanent address.
From 1979 to 1987, Sikorski co-directed (with Jerzy Onuch and Joanna Kiliszek) Workshop Dziekanka - an interdisciplinary artistic and educational center of the Academy of Fine Arts and the Academy of Music in Warsaw. “Dziekanka” was at that time one of the most important places of alternative culture in Warsaw, hosting both new expression painters like “Gruppa”, as well as punk bands Dezerter and TZN Xenna. In the years 1984-1988, Sikorski lectured as a guest at universities in the USA. The most important exhibitions organized by Sikorski in the seventies and eighties are Form and Sound in the Mospan Gallery in 1978, Documentation and Self-documentation in Dziekanka in 1979, Photography - current status in Dziekanka in 1979 and Now and Beyond Time in Dziekanka in 1986. In addition, after returning from New York at the end of 1985, Sikorski began to popularize street art in Poland - shows of his photography caused sensation in young artistic circles.
As an artist, Sikorski started with ironic games with conceptualism, as in the case of Gypsum music from 1978 - “plank” made of plaster. In the 1980s, his work gained a new character, at the same time in existential and political aspects. In the performance Not from 1980, Sikorski shouted the keywords to the camera, literally shouting his head off. The Europe, Art and Fear performance, performed one year later, consisted of the artist's crumbling in the embryonic position on Polish territory on the map of Europe painted on the Cres Studio floor in Groningen in the Netherlands. The map is a recurring motif in the artist's work: the work The Dream Map of Europe from 1981 presented a slightly altered map of Europe: the place of Poland was taken by the sea while the country became an island west of Great Britain and Ireland. From 1985, inspired by American street art, he painted his own templates on the streets of Warsaw - his graffiti was pioneering in Poland. Socio-political threads appeared in Sikorski's works also later, such as the Paintings for Homeless from 1993 - the artist's reaction to the appearance of homeless people in Poland soon after the introduction of capitalism - as well as New Flags of 2004, from 2004, eclectically combining elements of various flags, and national and religious symbols.
In the 1990s, Sikorski also built architectural objects in gallery spaces or in the open air. Sikorski's subsequent art has a more philosophical, meditative character, although the artist constantly weaves in his works threads from current politics, as in the case of the installation TV Buddha - Polish Version from 2016, in which, in reference to the famous work of Nam June Paik, the figure of Buddha watches his own image on the TV screen, at times, however, figures of Jarosław Kaczyński and Tadeusz Rydzyk appear in his place. More examples were provided by the Koans exhibition at the power plant in the Mazovian Center for Contemporary Art Elektrownia in Radom in 2009 along with the publication Artworks as a Koan. From 1992 to 2003, Sikorski ran the Intermedia Laboratory at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Zielona Góra. After, he was conducting Multimedia classes at Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce; he remains it professor till today. In 2011-2012 he worked in Interior Architecture Department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.
Sikorski is an author of about 150 exhibitions and individual shows. He took part in more than one hundred and twenty collective exhibitions and presentations. He published books Pracownia Dziekanka 1976-1987, Artwork as a Koan, Graffiti in Poland 1940-2010 (together with Marcin Rutkiewicz) and Free Energy.
Despite the political character of many works, especially from the 1980s, he was never prosecuted by the regime. He did not engage in political activities openly.
Tomasz Sikorski, Dzieło sztuki jako koan, Mazowieckie Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Elektrownia, Radom 2009;
Tomasz Sikorski, Free Energy, Mazowieckie Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Elektrownia, Radom 2017;
Dziekanka artystyczna. Fenomen kultury niezależnej na Krakowskim Przedmieściu w Warszawie 1972-1998, red. Joanna Kiliszek, Akademia Sztuk Pięknych w Warszawie, Fundacja Akademii Sztuk Pięknych w Warszawie, Warszawa 2017;
Dzika grafika. Pół wieku ulicznej dywersji wizualnej w Polsce 1967-2017, red. Michał Warda, Muzeum Plakatu w Wilanowie, Warszawa 2017.
- Warszawa, Warsaw, Poland