The exhibition analyzes the relations between Poland and India, from 1955 when the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, visited Warsaw to sign the agreement defining economic and cultural cooperation between the two countries, till the beginning of the 1990s – the period of the economic liberalization in both countries.
Both the official friendship and the “socialist modernization” discourse reflected the quest for an alternative to the Western modernity model. Nonetheless, they quickly enabled development of “suitcase trade” informal networks that may be perceived as part of prehistory of the free-market capitalism and consumer society in Poland. The economic dimension of the mutual relations was complemented by increasingly strong cultural fascination and consequently, development of various spiritual practices inspired by the East.
Initially, India was an object of the “Comintern colonization” or “socialist orientalism”. Later, it became the “Eastern window on the world” – the place where Polish and Indian citizens learnt “the West” together. The two countries were ruled by the system of state monopoly, price controls and import restrictions. The consumer needs, therefore, in both societies were fulfilled by the black market. Asia served as a liberalist testing ground – first to economists, engineers and artists, and later, in the 1980s, to traders from the USSR satellite states. Crystals or household appliances brought to India were treated by merchants in Delhi and Mumbai as the symbols of Europe.
The relations with India fostered deconstruction of the socialist system. The genealogy of the symbolic order that emerged in Poland after 1989 should, therefore, include the over 50-year-long process of global exchange with the East. In the course of the political transformation, the changes were stimulated not only by Western culture and politics, later officially referred to by the Polish authorities, but it was also Asia that served as the space for searching and testing new life patterns – and this Eastern experience has practically been superseded from the historical narratives. The common tendency to obliterate the long-time Indo-Polish relationship is an example of the everlasting problem of ineffective attempts to build our identity exclusively on European norms. In the era of its yet another revaluation, the crisis of globalization and the fear of the Other, the history of the “Eastern window on the world” is worth recalling.
Szczecin plays a special role in this history as this was the city where Piotr Zaremba, the first Mayor of Szczecin, organized courses educating almost fifty Indian urban planners who then determined the transition occurring in their homeland.