Performance artists living in exile in the UK might be forced to return to Poland

The pair say a nearly decade-old legal dispute against them in Poland is politically motivated


Two Polish performance artists, Władysław Kaźmierczak and his partner Ewa Rybska, who have been living in exile in the UK for nearly a decade, might be forced to return to Poland to settle a legal dispute that the pair say is politically motivated. “We want to stay here,” Kaźmierczak said. “The UK is a fair country for all residents, even in the face of Brexit. We can’t go back to Poland. It would be a huge injustice for us.”

Kaźmierczak is the former director of Baltic Gallery for Contemporary Art in Słupsk, in northern Poland, and Rybska was his employee. According to documents issued by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, a regional court in Słupsk issued a European Arrest Warrant in 2008 against Rybska “for 25 offences against the property and activity of state institutions”. The charges mostly relate to travel expenses for trips that totalled several hundred pounds each. The agency said the warrant was a potential precursor to extradition and Rybska could face a maximum of 15 years in prison in Poland if convicted.

In 2009, Rybska was arrested at Heathrow Airport and escorted from a plane by police. A hearing at the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court in December that year found insufficient grounds to pursue the extradition against her. A second failed extradition attempt was heard at the court the following year.

The couple has been living in Northamptonshire since then without British citizenship, as they risk arrest if they venture abroad, they say. Although the pair received correspondence from the District Prosecutor’s Office in Słupsk last year saying their case had been dropped, an email sent this January from the Polish embassy informed them the Prosecutor’s Office objected to the renewal of their ten-year passports. They were instead offered seven-day passports to visit Słupsk to discuss the original accusations against them.

“We are afraid to return to Poland, because we could be arrested without trial for many years, we could be deprived of passports indefinitely,” said Kaźmierczak.

Kaźmierczak said the funds had been repaid, and related to trips for performances at fairs, galleries and meetings with other artists, which were also used to promote the gallery. He said he suspects the accusations are politically motivated. The pair has targeted the right-wing nationalist Law and Justice party in their performances. “Eva was arrested for presenting progressive art that interfered with right-wing ideologues,” Kaźmierczak said.

Last September, the Polish government fired Paweł Potoroczyn, the former director of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, which promotes Polish culture abroad, after accusations emerged of excessive expenses.

A spokeswoman for the Serious Organised Crime Agency said: “We neither confirm or deny the existence of EAWs”. Neither the Polish Ministry of Justice nor Szczypinska responded to requests for comment.