Members of Strefa WolnoSlowa Foundation took part in creating a performance in Théâtre de Poche in Brussels, in September 2012.

 Footprints of Europe is a march of Congo citizens and European artists, who walked from Reggio Emilia to Brussels. It was combined with workshops, performances, meetings and a final performance in Théâtre de Poche.

On 22nd of September 2012 Théâtre de Poche  in Brussels welcomed John Mpaliza Balagizi, a 40-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who has been living in Italy for the last 18 years.

On 29th July 2012 John stopped his work in Reggio Emilia and began his march. He walked through the Alps, Switzerland, France, Germany, Luxemburg, Holland and Belgium, stopping only to spend the night in a tent.  Walking 40 kilometres a day he continued his march until he reached Brussels.  After covering a thousand and six hundred kilometres John went to the headquarters of the European Parliament, where he appeared as a spokesman for many thousands of Congolese witnesses of violence. This violence killed 6 million people in the war between 1998 and 2003, and is still decimating the people of Congo.

John was accompanied by artists from all over Europe. Among them were artists from Compagnia Teatro dell’Argine, who in ITC headquarters in San Lazzaro di Savena (Bologna) work on the creation of a multicultural theatre , involving in their performances professional and amateur actors, migrants and refugees from over 20 countries. John was also accompanied by the members of Strefa WolnoSlowa from Poland, who are the initiators of the multicultural theater project Exile Warsaw.

“As Europeans, artists, theatre people working with refugees for many years, also with refugees from Congo, we couldn’t turn down John’s offer.  The tragic events in his homeland are close to our history, culture, memory. His gesture is an example, original and metaphorical at the same time”, said the artists from Teatro dell’Argine, who decided to support John’s march and invite artists and intellectuals from all over Europe to accompany him on a chosen section of the road.  Various artistic activities took place on the way to Brussels. One could paint, carve, write, make artistic installations and videos.  ”A thousand- and –six- hundred- kilometres –long theatre was created, where the people who joined us could listen to stories of the Congolese , learn the history of other European countries, listen to conversations held between African and European writers and read texts of Aimé Césaire, Joseph Conrad, Franz Fanon, and  Aeschylus”.

In Milan, Turin, Chambéry , Geneva, Neuchâtel, Basel, Strasburg, Luxemburg and Maastricht, as well as in smaller cities, artists organised performances and drama workshops involving representatives of different institutions (schools, theatres, cultural centres, associations), to whom John presented the reasons for his action.

The big final took place in Brussels. John was seen by the European Parliament, and the artists organised a workshop in Théâtre de Poche from 22nd to 29th of September, open for all local artists – actors, musicians, dancers, video makers – as well as for the youth, refugees and amateurs.

The final performance took place on 29th September in Théâtre de Poche. Various texts, photographs and films inspired by the march were used in it.

Many artists, intellectuals and European institutions participated in the project.  It was broadcast on the Italian Radio  3 RAI and through a blog on “Il Corriere della Sera” website.

John’s initiative was supported i.a. by: Kuumba (Belgium), Centre Bruxellois d’Action Interculturelle (Belgium), Transeuropa Festival, Human Rights Nights Film Festival, Zurich University, Bologna University, authorities of Rome, Bologna and Reggio Emilia provinces, as well as Marco Baliani, Ascanio Celestini, Massimo Marino (journalist), Marianella Sclavi (anthropologist), Fanny & Alexander, Alessandra Belledi (manager of Teatro delle Briciole in Parma), Paolo Jedlowski (sociologist), Ivo Quaranta (anthropologist), Matéi Visniec (dramatist).


I’m Polish. I was born in 1985 in Warsaw. From my childhood in the 1980s I remember never-ending queues for toilet paper and meat, I remember my grandma’s rotten teeth and I remember that it was always dark.  Maybe because the Berlin Wall covered the Sun from one side, and the Soviet Union from the other.  Pope John Paul II was far away in Vatican. And Lech Walesa was close enough, but he was in prison. People were losing hope that something could be changed, that it could be better.  They stopped believing in anything. They didn’t believe in communism, they didn’t believe in God, they didn’t believe in the past or the future.  Everybody would have loved to get away from it all, to leave life in Poland in an instant and to go to some democratic country, but only some people managed to do that.  The borders were becoming tighter. And when all former, present and would-be communist party secretaries of Eastern Europe, when Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, and even the Polish anti-communist opposition leaders did not believe that communism could end in the near future, it actually did.   And it ended almost bloodlessly.  It ended suddenly, by surprise, but what had to happen for it to happen?  What had to happen?  Exactly what?  What really had to happen, and what wasn’t necessary? Huge changes are possible, but what do they depend on? On will?  On a plan? On a coincidence? On external forces? Coups, reforms, revolutions, evolutions – huge political and social changes are obvious.  But how to carry them out?  How to begin?  How? Just how? Which way to choose? Will it work? How long do you have to wait? Is it worth it? Isn’t the risk too big? How the hell do you change a country? Where to begin? From whom to learn? Did those who said they knew really knew?  Did they know what they were doing? Why do all that? Why? Why? Why to leave home? I’m sitting on a sofa in the European Union, and why did you get up? My feet are on the pouf, and why did you put your shoes on? Why did you do a draft, why did you open the door and leave?  Why did you start walking? Why didn’t you stop? I don’t understand. I don’t know. Is this what the beginning looks like? Maybe.   

Tomasz Gromadka, an except from the performance.