Joanna Rajkowska in Conversation with Łukasz Zalesiński.

The most banal question – where did the idea come from? It came from my wanderings around Poznań, where mayor Ryszard Grobelny had invited me for a two-month residence, from my observations of the Warta River area, investigations of the viewing axes, conversations with people, and from the memories of my stay at the Freedom Theatre at the Jenin refuge camp on the northern tip of the West Bank. Rather than a result of intellectual speculation, the project was a result of an inability to cope with memories, with a flood of images and the trauma they were filled with. I decided to go forward with the project following my meeting with the city’s Moslem minority in January this year, organised by Krytyka Polityczna. What really matters in this project? That the Minaret is actually built or just that the idea itself provokes a debate? My projects work in a wholly different fashion once they’ve been realised, the debate move to a different level then. They operate with their sensuality, their colour, scale, materials. Sometimes they simply please the eye. So it would be better for our conversations if they were taking place in the context of an actually implemented project. It’s a bit like talking about someone who isn’t there. If they were there, their very physical presence would change the course of the conversation. How can you respond to your critics? The Saint Benedict Foundation says you’re trying to play a prank on Catholics using Catholic taxpayers’ money. Journalist Eli Barbur, in turn, criticised you in his blog by saying that the project alludes to a mosque in Jenin from which suicide bombers were being sent to Israel. Finally, the Union of Polish Architects (SARP) says that the project doesn’t harmonise with its surroundings and presents no artistic value. Let me start with the latter charge. Speaking precisely, the SARP, or rather the Competition Jury, believes that the project is ‘culturally alien,’ which is a heavyweight argument, and only in the last item of its verdict writes that it ‘possesses no important artistic value connected with cultural events in the city of Poznań.’ The protestations of the SARP milieu stem from a fear of the ‘culturally alien,’ reflecting an attempt to create a monopoly for Polishness construed as a phenomenon culturally, religiously and ethnically homogeneous. To me, however, it seems obvious that Poland is also homosexual, Jewish, Moslem, Ukrainian, and German. Poland is in all hues and all varieties. And thank God for that. All those who consider themselves Poles and yet are culturally different, however difficult our coexistence with them would be, are the wealth of this country. This is what I think, having Turk-hating Buddhists and Jews who are some of the most agreeable people in the house, as neighbours. The SARP’s last argument is rather obscure since the Malta theatre festival is actually a breeding ground for all kinds of culturally alien elements and yet it is Poznań’s most recognisable cultural trademark. Eli Barbur is an ardent advocate of Israeli military operations, which I’m not an enthusiast of. Let me add that precisely today Amnesty International published a report according to which the Israeli army committed war crimes during its January operation in the Gaza Strip. I don’t think, however, that this should be a reason for protesting against the construction of a synagogue, a prayer house, or a mikvah. To the contrary, the more functioning synagogues there are in Poland, the better. All violent attacks against civilians, including the suicide bombings carried out by Palestinians in Israel, are unacceptable. I’m not for any crime or violence, whether by this side or the other. Jenin is not inhabited exclusively by terrorists, but mostly by victims of Israeli violence. Let me stress that there’s a refugee camp there, set up five years after the state of Israel was proclaimed and after 750,000 people were left without homes, property, or anything to live on. Let me also add that Eli Barbur makes the same mistake that deputies Halina Nowina-Konopka and Witold Tomczak made at the Zachęta. They lifted a meteorite off a John Paul II figure in the mistaken belief that that figure was actually the pope. The Minaret in Poznań is not a minaret, but an architectural sign of one. ‘This is not a pipe,’ as Michel Foucault wrote. Eli Barbur’s outrage is probably a reflection of his inner fear of Moslems. I also want to assure the Saint Benedict Foundation that it isn’t my intention to play a prank on anyone and that taxpayers don’t divide into Catholics and non-Catholics. The symbolic minaret in Poznań lacks any religious function, is not confrontational towards either Catholicism or Judaism, and Islam doesn’t necessarily have to be antagonistic towards Catholicism. The Minaret project is for us, so that, recognising and trying to re-assimilate a fragment of the city of Poznań, we could understand where we stand towards all aliens and strangers.