Richard Lucas is an English businessman who has been based in Krakow since 1991. He runs an Internet community that’s bustling with ideas for promoting the legacy of the beloved bear.
Krakow Post: When did you first hear about Wojtek?
Richard Lucas: In the 1980s. Probably from my brother Edward Lucas, who is now an authority on Eastern Europe and Russia. It was only around Christmas 2008 that I became aware of the idea of building a statue in Edinburgh (where Wojtek ended his days). That let me to thinking “why not Krakow?” The positive reaction from family and friends led me to start talking to people more widely and work out what I wanted to achieve.
KP: What are your main objectives?
RL: On one level, to tell General Anders’ wartime story. It’s particularly important when some are trying to portray the Soviet Union’s wartime history as either good, or no less bad than other countries involved. Above all, I’m interested in using Wojtek’s story of survival, sacrifice, commitment, motivation, patriotism, love, and friendship to make current and future generations aware of these values. Wojtek would be perfect to become a Polish “Panda-like” symbol for values of freedom, international co-operation, peace and friendship. Wojtek can be to Poland as the Panda is for China.
If you try to get teachers and children interested in a forgotten holocaust – which the deportations to the Gulag represent – they are not usually interested. But if you tell them about Wojtek you get immediate interest. I want to use Wojtek’s “pulling power” (Winnie the Pooh, The Jungle Book, Paddington Bear) to inspire children everywhere. It’s very easy to get people – especially children – keen on the bear, and through this open up the whole legacy. I want to support projects all over the world. I am personally involved in Krakow, where I live. Elsewhere I will give support in terms of know-how/ideas, but I want to encourage other people to do things rather than see it as anything I want to control.
KP: Can Krakow be a role model for other cities?
RL: Of course, because I live here and can be more involved its easier for me to support local projects. Having said that, I would be even more excited about a project in Gaza, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel or Syria than in Scotland or Poland because these would be the first of their kind in those countries.
KP: What have you achieved so far?
RL: Not as much as I would have liked. The Primary School 72 in Krakow has done a lot, having their school fair devoted to Wojtek and having a mass of excellent activities. It’s great because it didn’t cost anything other than energy and is therefore replicable anywhere that there is a willing teacher or child ready to take the initiative. Deanburn Primary School in Scotland did something similar. I’ve been to an event in the Scottish National Assembly but that is not an end in itself. There is the concept of bushfire in Poland, which means initial enthusiasm which dies fast. I want to avoid that – a steady stream of projects that don’t require any money is better than a mass of things that don’t work. Famous people like Radek Sikorski and Norman Davies have voiced support.
The Facebook group is growing fast but that only means something if people actually do something. This helps people who want to do things get in touch with each other. I’ve done a a few interviews with websites and radio. Trying to lead volunteers is a bracing and challenging process. There is no end point; I hope schools will be doing “Wojtek” projects long after I am dead and gone.
KP: What can readers do who want to get involved?
RL: It’s easy. Join the Facebook Group (or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org). Send me a message saying what you want to do. I need a lot of help, for example, with PR, translation, but most of all finding people who are willing to lead projects in the place/institution they live/work in. I read Polish as well as English. I will happily send anyone a five slide project management guide about how to get a project going. Most people are connected to some institution somehow. It’s all a question of what situation they are in. If they live in a village, they can talk to the school. If they go to a Dom Kultury, maybe the art teacher can do a competition. If they have kids, they can go to the school their children are at, if they went to school they can go back to the school they were at. Activities can include, but are not restricted to, competitions (art, photography, painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawing), stories/essay writing, historical research, film, theatre, performing arts, music, singing, exhibitions – the list is endless.
Richard Lucas’s Wojtek page can be found on Facebook, or by e-mail: email@example.com
See also: Wojtek the Soldier Bear