Idea of the festival

The Conrad Festival sees literature as an element of a vast collection of human activities aimed at reflecting on the human condition, in every sense of the word – existential, social, historical, and economic.

One of the fundamental human activities is migration – changing one’s place of residence, moving one’s possession and transferring one’s living place. From the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt to the Promised Land led by Moses to the recent waves of refugees, migration continues to define the fate of communities affected by existential, economic, and political dispossession, but also does not cease to inspire the sources of cultural representations, being their regular theme, message and a warning. What is usually referred to as the migration of peoples is in fact a representation of a dual movement – on the one hand, the abandonment of a sense of being settled and at home, familiarity, and being rooted in the past; and on the other, the opening to the unknown, the new and the unfamiliar. This dialectic of doubt and hope, which is apparent in every migration, makes it a perfect metaphor for human existence, in which one has had enough of oppression, but at the same time they are not convinced that a life can be much better elsewhere. The division between emigrants and immigrants is of little importance in this case, as it only shows a different point of view on the same situation. The one who emigrates and leaves their home behind is a person who wants to find a new home in a new space, in a new country. There is no migration without a promised land – loss is inextricably tied to compensation, although this compensation can take many forms, from fitting rather seamlessly into the target culture to a tragic sense of alienation in the new circumstances.


The complex nature of the links between literature and migration is evidenced by the materials collected in the 2016 thematic issue of Teksty Drugie titled Literatura migracyjna (Migration Literature, As demonstrated by the recent exhibitions Migrations. Late Gothic Art in Silesia at the National Museum in Wrocław (2018-2019) (, Political Art at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw ( and Politics in Art at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków (2022-2023;, the phenomenon of migration in art has been one of the most important factors driving the development of art from the late Middle Ages to the present day.

However, migration is not only a phenomenon concerning refugees, even though it is one of the first things that jump to our minds. It refers to any movement and displacement, as well as intercultural translocation, which is a necessity in a networked world. Migration is a necessary condition and an inevitable outcome of globalisation, which puts an end to the duality of one’s home and the world beyond. Just as capital and information circulate around the world across cultural and political divides, so do concepts, images and stories. The migration of ideas and representations as a phenomenon of global culture still remains to be explored – is it something desirable or rather harmful? Should one strive to intensify it, or rather try to curb it? From the national point of view, the migration of ideas results in an excessive loosening of the local repertoire of instruments of self-determination, while from the cosmopolitan point of view, said migration is the only chance to create a global civic republic.

If migration is supposed to mean leaving one’s home and finding a place in a foreign environment, translation – the process of transferring a text from one language to another – becomes the most common migration strategy; however, the situation gets complicated when not only the language is migrating, but also the writer using said language. That is why the Festival invites writers, who experienced not only an existential transfer by changing their country of residence, but also a linguistic transfer by writing in a language that is foreign to them. This was not only the case for Józef Korzeniowski, who became Joseph Conrad, but also Iosif Brodsky, who wrote poems in English as Joseph Brodsky, as well as Emil Cioran, a Romanian philosopher, known primarily for his French aphorisms and Milan Kundera, who – after gaining fame for his Czech novels – built a second life as one of the French classics.

The migration of writers is more than just an issue concerning individual writers. This is also an issue of post-colonial cultural formations that are forced to adopt the language of the coloniser – the imperial centre of power – or abandon the language of the minority in favour of the dominant discourse, with the other possibility being to find a place in between – somewhere between one’s native culture and the adopted discourse.

The Conrad Festival is going to look closer at the significance of migration in contemporary global culture in all of the above-mentioned contexts – the wanted and unwanted change of language, culture, surroundings and tradition.