In the last few years there have been two monkeys with a lively presence on the Polish Internet. One of them is a proboscis monkey who, because of its posture, has been the hero of an enormous number of memes in which he appears as Janusz – a ‘typical’ Pole. The appearance of the animal fitted perfectly as the representative of a stereotypical Pole, mocking, and yet avuncular in his predictable Polishness. Another monkey, the amazonian bald uakari, because of its blood-red face, has been transformed as a meme into “a typical constantly drunk Ukrainian”.
Interestingly, in Indonesian the proboscis monkey is known as monyet belanda (the Dutch monkey) or orang belanda (Dutchman), as in the times of colonization indigenous Indonesians had noticed that the Dutch colonizers are deceptively similar to this monkeys due to their large bellies and noses. In turn, the word uakari was created by the indigenous people of the Amazon and it meant the exact same thing: a Dutchman, name created to point on the look of European colonizers burnt in the sun. Although both monkeys live in different continents, they represent the history of colonization, transformative for the indigenous peoples of the areas they come from.
The hate speech intensity towards people of Ukrainian origin reached its peak in Poland about three years ago, but this was not a phenomenon that resulted only from historical dependencies or the possibilities offered by the Internet, but it was also the result of the systemic activity of the Polish government that chose the figure of the immigrant to be perceived as ‘the Other’. The internet visibility of those memes can be viewed as an example of results of such policy.
In the Polish context, only the seasonal “Other” changes, but the scheme of operation remains the same – two years ago the figure of the immigrant turned out to be insufficient and so another seasonal “Other” was created from LGBT people.
Liliana Piskorska― Artist
Visual artist, born in 1988, based in Wroclaw/Poland. In 2017 she finished her PhD at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Torun. She has taken part in over 90 individual and group exhibitions in Poland and abroad. She is finalist of Forecast Forum in Haus der Kulturen der Welt/Berlin in 2017 and Audience Award Winner: Views 2019: Deutsche Bank Award. In her artistic work, she analyses social issues from the perspective of radical sensitivity, rooted in the feminist-queer and feminist-posthumanist practice and theory. She focuses on dependencies between the state, the nation, Central European identity and the position of peripheral identities. She undertakes the subject of queer lesbianism and non-heteronormativity, considering their construction and potentiality and examines the place of the Other in constructing state projects. Some important elements of her practice include the questions of group identity, group memory, construction of the law, and the methods of building imagined communities.