Meet Kosma Kolodziej
Kosma Kolodziej is an academic that dedicated his work on documenting the relationship between health and social exclusion. He is passionate about photography and theatre and has opened a cultural centre in Bydgoszcz, Poland, where he carries out campaigns and social activities connecting people from different generations.
The revelatory moment
He felt inspired to act against extremism by the women who stood up against the march of the far-right that is being organized yearly on Poland’s Independence Day. Seeing those women beaten by the extremists and then accused by the authorities for displaying a banner saying that they didn’t want fascism in Poland did it for Kosma.
The first victory
He realized that extremists were very active in his town, so he contacted several organizations and convinced them to support him in organizing anti-discriminations and anti-fascist gatherings in Bydgoszcz. He took advantage of the fact that he was young and energetic to get the support of the older people in the supporting organizations who wanted Kosma to attend their meetings and bring a young man’s perspective to these events. The first of the public gatherings took place in 2017 and had a very grass roots feeling, because only a handful of people came. Still, it echoed and was the beginning of many more gatherings.
The bumps in the road
Unfortunately, Kosma’s activism made him the target of an assault. He did not blame himself for it, but considers the assault his biggest failure, because it demoralized him. He asked himself many times if he should have not exposed himself so clearly, that maybe it would have been better to protect his identity under the image of one of the supporting organizations. Know he says that he wouldn’t change anything, even if he had the chance.
Taking life easily, one step at a time and trying to keep a positive way of thinking is Kosma’s way of dealing with stress. But he realizes that other people might do things as brave as he did without exposing themselves to the same risks. Therefore, he would advise new activists to listen to what more experienced say, look for strong mentors and maybe try to remain anonymous.
Extremism explained to a 5-year-old
If Kosma were to explain extremism to a 5 year old, he would first make sure that the child understands and appreciates diversity. Art would be the key here: he would draw things in different colours explaining to the child that humans are just like the pencils he uses: of different colours but the same. He would then recolour all the drawings black and ask the child which version she or he prefers.
Extremism explained to family and friends
When talking about extremism to his friends and family, Kosma would try to make sure that they understand the effects it has on people and how vulnerable the targets are even when supported by the loved ones. He would talk about all the abuse gay students can be exposed to in school, and how this abuse can get then to commit suicide even when family is supportive of them.
Confessions of a restless activist
The thing that motivates him is the smile on people’s faces when they are happy or when he helped them. He feels glad, but humble when people reach out to him via Facebook and he manages to help them. He remembers how he felt when he had no mentor to support him and tries to act as one for the people who contact him.
Some thoughts for undecided activists
Kosma considers that knowledge is key to fighting extremism and radicalization. Before speaking up, people need to make sure they read enough and that they master the topics they want to speak about. And again, having a mentor, someone to guide you can be extremely helpful, but also in what regards navigating the bureaucracy around organising a public gathering. Another important thing is to make sure that you are not attacking anyone. The power of a positive message is far greater than that of a negative one.
Challenge your inner activist
If you are a high school student or in the beginning of your 20s, Kosma says that the best thing you should do is to get to know people targeted by extremists. Attend living libraries organized by NGOs or simply try to meet these people in real life situations. Next, try to volunteer yourself at an NGO. You’ll get to learn plenty of things that will be of help to you later on when trying to organize your own activities. Finally, don’t be a passive witness to harassment! Act! If someone next to you is attacked, stand up for that person and, even more importantly, try to get other colleagues to stand up to! Aggressors tend to be intimidated when they see they are facing resistance. But even if you have a full-time job, a mortgage and very little time – react! At least on Facebook!