B4: Identity and Culture in Times of Populism


In this session Joanna Orlik (ENO Poland) and Ernst Wagner (ENO Germany) showed a movie as an example of how populism and nationalism are changing the situation in Europe. They explored with the participants how arts and cultural education can deal with these new tendencies and challenges, mainly in respect to identity, heritage and culture. 

The shown movie 

The computer animation movie they showed, The Unconquered (, was commissioned in 2017 by a Polish public body, the Institute of National Remembrance – Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (IPN), established by the Polish Parliament in 1998. Its goal was an international educational campaign aimed at presenting the Polish perspective of the period 1939-1989. ‘The voice of a sovereign state that issued the fourth largest army in the second world war, suffered the largest victims and was the only one fighting in this conflict from the first to the last day…. Their war was not over in 1945. We wanted to remind how unfavorably Poland was treated.’

The animation was produced by a creative studio in the language of pop culture, ‘because it is a contemporary lingua franca spoken by the whole world’. The movie seems factually correct, but lacks important details, which would change the narrative and make it more balanced, less black and white. It is an expression of the feeling of not being respected or treated fairly, which has a long history in the Polish self-narrative, and has historical causes which were never resolved. So this movie is not only a product of the present Polish government strategy. It was received with great enthusiasm and appreciation by a lot of Polish people. On YouTube the movie got 55000 likes and positive comments from all over the world.

Lessons learned

Orlik stated that two human emotional needs are essential when talking about identity and culture: recognition (significance) and self-esteem (contribution).  She sees culture as a series of narratives, about the self and about others. What kind of cultural policy should be proposed in Europe to support more balanced narratives?

  • One could use this movie - or movies like these - as material for media literacy and heritage literacy, analyze and ‘decode’ it.
  • We should try to leave our cultural and political ‘bubbles’ and connect with other subjects, especially from other ‘bubbles’, to develop multiperspectivity. Face-to-face meetings can help to overcome fears. 
  • We should address and question national narratives and collective identities, including the suppressing of emotions like (national) pride in countries like the Netherlands and Germany, where it seems not ‘allowed’ to be proud of national heritage. We should be more explicit  about dominant normative values.
  • We should address the feeling of deprivation amongst parts of the population.