Photo: Agata Kubis/APP

Ivan Chernichkin

We are Part of a Larger Puzzle.

The history of the “Archive of Public Protests”, a Polish initiative against discrimination, xenophobia and populism.

November 6, 2020

The Archive of Public Protests (APP) is an open platform which collects photographs illustrating various protests in Poland.

Photo: Grzegorz Welnicki/APP

It is a social initiative that warns against growing populism, xenophobia and discrimination in its broadest sense.

Photo: Chris Niedenthal/APP

The platform was founded in 2019, but has been collecting photos from protests since 2016. At the end of 2015, right-wing and conservative parties won the Polish parliamentary elections, sparking a wave of protests across the country.

"I thought it would be a good idea to collect all these images, which are not made for institutional, commercial or media use in one place. To create a platform which collects not just press photos, but in a sense, civilian photos," says Rafal Milach, one of the initiators of the APP.

Photo: Pawel Starzec/APP

Rafal explains that none of the photos in the archive were commissioned by the media or any other organizations. They are transferred to the archive free of charge.

Photo: Rafal Milach/APP

Currently, 15 photographers from seven cities in Poland are contributing to the APP. These are not only professional photographers, but also activists, teachers, sociologists. The ages of the initiative’s participants range from 28 to 70 years.

Photo: Rafal Milach/APP

This allows the APP to document a protest movement from completely different points of view.

Video: Joanna Musial/APP

Joanna Musial joined the archives about six months ago, although as an LGBT activist, she has been photographing protests in Krakow for at least four years.

"I just wanted to share photos to show people what's going on here. And I just posted a message on the APP's Instagram page," Joanna recalls.

Photos: Adam Lach, Rafal Milach, Agata Kubis, Chris Niedenthal/APP

The main themes documented by photographers are protests related to environmental pollution, the gay community, women's rights and anti-government protests.

Photo: Rafal Milach/APP

But the archive also presents materials related to far-right protests and the revival of radical views in Poland.

"This is quite problematic, as we do not want to be a platform for such an ideology and do not want to create visibility for them in the media. But we still photograph such events to warn that this ideology is present on the streets of Poland," says Milach.

Comparing today's protests in support of women's rights to have an abortion with the protests that took place a few years ago, Joanna and Rafal say that more radical restrictions in Polish law require a more radical response from society.

Photo: Grzegorz Welnicki/APP
Video: Joanna Musial/APP

Not only the scale, number, duration and language of the protests have changed. The main difference is the age of the participants. Young people not only changed the strategy and tactics of the protests, but also became their main driving force.

Photo: Adam Lach/APP

This was previously not the case—not even during the previous nationwide protest against a proposed abortion ban which took place in October 2016 and is remembered in modern Polish history as "Czarny Poniedziałek" ("Black Monday").

The mass and scale of today's protests in Poland is also linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. During quarantine, people have lost control of their own lives, and protests are an opportunity to regain control of what is happening.

Photo: Rafal Milach/APP

APP only receives financial support from the Warsaw City Hall. It gives them a small grant and, like some other city administrations, is in opposition to the government.

Photo: Wojtek Radwanski/APP

It is hard to imagine the Polish Ministry of Culture supporting the project. "City councilman from "Prawo i sprawiedliwość" (Law and Justice) party faced a lot of problems with it. They wanted to cancel funding. But they couldn't do it." said Rafal Milach, the archive's initiator.

Photo: Joanna Musial/APP

Photos collected by the APP team is accessible for educational, artistic and academic research purposes. But now, due to the pandemic and quarantine, it can only exist as an online platform.

Photo: Rafal Milach/APP

But even this presence allows the archive to inform a large number of people about the protests in Poland. And to focus the audience's attention on complex issues related to discrimination, xenophobia and oppression of women's rights.

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