„Gallery-slaves of sensitivity” know about moral blackmail

They don’t realise that the duties incumbent on the state require from it to use coercive means. Which always entails the risk of mistakes and abuse.

Every era has its “gallery-slaves of sensitivity”. Maria Janion, an expert on Polish Romanticism once used this term to describe people who were particularly sensitive to human injustice.

When we speak of “gallery-slaves of sensitivity”, we are referring to religious iconoclasts who don’t accept the fact that God allows innocent creatures to suffer. A portrait of such a person was presented by Theodor Dostoyevsky in his novel “The Brothers Karamazov”. It’s about Ivan – one of the three title brothers. In a discussion with his brother Alosha, he raises the question of whether the earthly tortures compensate for human sins thus restoring the order established by the Creator. Ivan points out that children up to a certain age cannot be treated as adults. He explains that he doesn’t recognise the original sin in them. He recalls situations he has known, where adults have bullied children. He states that such terrible experiences don’t have a redemptive dimension. In this dialogue there are the famous words expressing Ivan’s indignation at a single tear on a child’s cheek.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE In this attitude of one of the Karamazovs a rebellion against God makes itself felt. But this attitude constitutes an objection to any authority understood as a heartless force that oppresses innocent creatures. The state, for example, is such a force, mercilessly enforcing the law and unconditionally watching over the safety of its citizens. Except that, as Agnieszka Holland’s film “Green Border” demonstrates, such a policy also has its victims.

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This film production about the migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border is very uneven. Although frankly speaking, I was expecting something much worse. I had in mind a politically engaged film by Holland, namely “Pokot” [“Spoor”] which simply turned out to be a dud. Nonetheless, at the 2017 Berlinale festival it was awarded as “the best feature film that opens new perspectives”. In my opinion, the jury came to the conclusion that this production should be honoured for its righteous – from their perspective – leftist New Age message.

Therefore I predicted that it would be very much the same with ”Green Borer”. It has recently won the Special Prize at the Venice International Film Festival. And, as we all know, the world’s cultural elites are manned by various “gallery-slaves of sensitivity” who give their attention to the misery of Asian and African migrants, while remaining blind to the full complexity of the situation.

And indeed, “Green Border” isn’t without its flaws. It’s mainly about the crude journalism that comes through in the dialogues of the Poles – both the “good” and the “bad” ones. Then there are the poor performances by Maja Ostaszewska and Maciej Stuhr – actors for whom the bar should be set high. They practically play themselves. Ostaszewska makes a fool of herself with her raptures while Stuhr comes out embarrassingly as a pathetic frustrated man fulminating against the Polish right-wing authorities. But the dramatic fate that has befallen these exotic strangers, deceived by Alexander Lukashenka’s regime is actually a strong point of “Green Border”. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the pregnant women, and the children who are harassed by uniformed men – on both the Polish and Belarusian sides of the border. At the same time, you are gripped by anger at the politicians who have allowed this state of affairs to happen.

However, these suggestive scenes of violence prove that Agnieszka Holland is not only an eminent artist in her field. She is just very apt at exercising social engineering in the service of a specific political option (in which case not a specific party but an ideological formation).

The problem with works of art like “Green Border” is that they effectively appeal to what’s noble in people, while distorting reality. For they only take a fragment into account, without referring to the rest.

This rest is the brutal prose of life which defends itself much worse than the romantic struggle against all oppression. The “gallery-slaves of sensitivity” don’t realise that the duties incumbent on the state require from it to use coercive means. Which always entails the risk of mistakes and abuse. Only, this reason cannot make the governing bodies responsible for internal security abandon their priority tasks. Their mission is to counter hybrid attacks from the side of hostile countries. This was indeed the case in autumn of 2021. It’s not pregnant woman or children that the Polish Border Guard had to put up resistance against, but a mass of strong men.

The Belarusian regime’s initiative was designed to entrap the Polish Border Guard: if they fulfilled their duties, this would provoke accusations from the side of “human rights” activists that they were mistreating the “refugees”. And so it happened.

And the spectre of Ivan Karamzov still hangs over the Polish public debate. And what it has to say to many a Pole is: “you disgusting, hypocritical Catholic, Poland’s security is not worth a single tear on the cheek of a Syrian child.

After all, the “gallery-slaves of sensitivity” know about moral blackmail.

– Filip Memches

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki
Main photo: The Warsaw première of „Green Border” directed by Agnieszka Holland. Photo by FOTON/PAP
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