In late April we met at Personal Democracy Forum CEE in Gdańsk. More about personal democracy forum read here. Already for the 6th time the ePaństwo Foundation organized the largest European edition of the American event initiated by Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry (Civic Hall) in New York. Throughout the two days spent in the European Solidarity Centre we exchanged experiences, ideas and opinions on today’s civil society, technologies and political life. Among activists, journalists, IT specialists and experts from Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, we talked about our common future in the context of today’s innovations and socio-political challenges. We spoke of the future founded on dignity, solidarity and fairness.

Day 1

The conference was opened by the Mayor of the City of Gdańsk, Mr Paweł Adamowicz who, recalling the history of the Solidarity Movement, reminded us that we need to ensure the future for all by facing our fears related with migration and by uniting people of liberal and conservative outlooks. Basil Kerski, Director of the European Solidarity Centre encouraged the listeners to enjoy the spirit of freedom and solidarity and to co-create good future for all people in the world. Andrew Rasiej, the co-founder of Civic Hall and the organizer of American PDF gave his advice for the future – he underlined the importance of fighting bad politicians and bad technologies, collaborating and searching for new systems because technologies cannot fix all our problems. During the opening the TransparenCEE Network was also presented – a community of non-profit, IT and media organizations that use technology for better transparency, accountability, and governance in the Central and Eastern Europe region. The ambassadors of this initiative were representatives of the core organizations: Luna Kalas (Techsoup Europe), Krzysztof Izdebski (ePaństwo Foundation) and Darko Brkan (Zašto Ne?) together with Yurii Khorunzhyi (OPORA Civil Network) and Orsolya Barsi and Sandor Lederer (K-Monitor).

The first session was devoted to the notion of Dignity. Svetlana Zakharova from Russian LGBT Network started the stream asking about Who Will Rescue the Rescuer in the context the activists’ work. During her speech, Svetlana spoke about the professional and emotional burnout, the topic important to all of us these days. The conclusion was: nobody will save us if we don’t do it ourselves; we need to take care of ourselves and set impassable boundaries. 

The second presentation in this stream delivered by Katarzyna Mroczek concerned NVC (Non-Violent Communication). The NVC trainer and activist emphasized that we often mistake connection with communication and we tend to forget that technologies constitute a tool, not a connection. This frequent misconception makes us divided, lonely and easily manipulated. It’s important that we find our own narrative, understand our story and avoid communicating with someone else’s narrative. 

Are Androids in the Government a Dystopia by Design?, enquired Filip Muki Dobranić from Today is a new day, Institute for other studies. Dobranić claimed that we need to observe AI through the prism of human dignity. We heard important recommendations: we should monitor the ways the government uses algorithms, think about how they work and, in this context, take any legal and community related decisions. 

Michał ‘Rysiek” Woźniak (OCCRP) wondered what to do to Make Technology Great Again. He indicated that we could make it but it would be difficult as we need to make some changes. We must stop the closing of the market in the context of software, fight vender lock-in (using open standards, open protocols), modify education and teach children about different operating system just like when we learn to drive a car, not a Ford. 

The problem of migration was the topic of the presentation given by Cathy Mahoro from the European Network of Migrant Women. She summoned to look at migrants through the prism of the economy. Cathy Mahoro made a point that migrants should not be perceived as victims but people who may contribute to the state’s economy. She claimed that we should be fair and show solidarity. To come out of our comfort zone and get to know these people.

After the Dignity stream, we listened to the panel discussion Trust me, it’s the Economy moderated by Maciej Kuziemski (European University Institute). The panelists: Eliza Niewiadomska (EBRD), Ignacy Morawski (SpotData) and Miguel Arana Catania (City Hall of Madrid) discussed the ideal economic model for the future. Miguel claimed that we need to give citizens authority to make decisions and that institutions are not keen to distribute the power they hold. Eliza Niewiadomska elaborated on the ways we want the government to cooperate with us. Transparency is a phenomenon which became more real after the II World War. Now, transparency is the reality.

The second stream of the conference was devoted to the notion of Solidarity. Fran Perrin from Indigo Trust concentrated on the perspective of donors stating that moral responsibility of the wealthy is to share their money for the public good. She commented on the problem of NGOs looking for donors and donors looking for projects and noticed that oftentimes technology is not used to ease these processes. 

In her speech APPsolutely Not, Katarzyna Mikołajczyk (Citizen-Parent Foundation) underlined that before we become activists, we are human beings and we are prone to make mistakes. Mikołajczyk said we often work on inclusiveness but while we design projects for children or elderly, we forget how to interact with other people from diverse groups. 

Zuzana Wienk from Fair-play Alliance and Ondrej Podstupka representing daily SME spoke about Slovakia after the murder of an investigative journalist Jan Kuciak. In their speech Does it Take a Murder for a Country to Wake Up? Wienk and Podstupka claimed that solidarity requires going beyond the safety zone and that we have to go back to the basics and act together, as a society. Activists and media should have mutual trust. They emphasized that today, social trust is underestimated as a universal value. 

The life in war-engulfed former Yugoslavia was the subject of Kemal Pervanić who entitled his personal story To Live is To (For)give. Pervanić shared his experience from the Omarska concentration camp and his road to Great Britain where he became “the man with the form”, being a temporary refugee. The MOST-MIRA Trustee stated that “refugee” is one of the most difficult words that exist. His story is – eventually – the story about forgiveness. 

The Solidarity stream was concluded by Olena Boytsun (Omidyar Network) who spoke about investments in the future. She maintained that impact investors can provide flexible capital for both for-profit and non-profit sectors and that CEE is still to develop the presence on the impact investing map but it already has all necessary systems. Boytsun wrapped up her presentation with a statement that future comes with hard work and this future is close to the CEE region.

Day 2

The main sessions of the second day of PDF saw the focus first on journalism and media, then justice, to finish on the note of citizens’ happiness with politics. As on the first day, workshops followed.

The issue of journalism was center-stage for two discussion panels. The first concerned whether today’s media can remain objective, or if the only chance to survive is to strongly side with one view in a debate and sacrifice truth to some degree. All the panelists, hailing from both sides of the Polish political division as well as from abroad, agreed that the questions of survival and bias are strongly linked. As Ondrej Podstupka from Slovakian daily SME put it, it’s much easier and cheaper to have strong opinions than find hard facts, the latter requiring to burn a lot of resources. Interesting opinions were also voiced by Jacek Karnowski from Polish conservative magazine “Sieci Prawdy”. In his view, a heated debate in which newspapers take strong sides is good for a country, giving people a real choice. He claimed that objectivity can be measured by looking at the entire media landscape – it is enough if there are outlets supporting both sides, even if each outlet is in itself unbalanced.

The second panel session Future for Digital: Big Media, Big Changes  shed light on journalism from a technological angle. The panelists, Nick Shchetko from Czechia-based Current Time TV and Olga Malchevska from BBC, shared tips on how to work in the press in the digital age. One interesting comment included verifying the authenticity of user-submitted photos or videos with shadow-analyzing or geolocation software. The panelists also discussed the issue of whether the media should bring about change, and not just describe the world. Both agreed that, according to a saying in their field, “we don’t change the world, we check the facts”. Methods of combating fake news were also mentioned.

The third section of the day was a stream of five 15-minute presentations under the theme of Fairness. Inna Shevchenko, the foundress of the controversial FEMEN women’s collective, spoke about how her life experiences brought her to activism.

Then, Jarosław Gwizdak, a Polish judge, described emerging ways of conflict resolution outside of court, including… theater! He also mentioned new types of cases to be faced by courts in the near future.

Following that, Fanny Hidvégi, a human rights lawyer in Brussels, shared tips on how to make democratic institutions more resilient, allowing an easier return to normal operation after a shock. She also warned against burnout in activists and confessed how she herself keeps it at bay.

After Fanny, Constantin Malik, a management cybernetician, gave the audience a taste of novel methods of organizing meetings for experts to discuss an issue, so that everyone’s ideas are heard, and chaos is avoided.

Finally, Julia Kloiber from Code for Germany, presented Speculative Design, a framework for brainstorming possible future developments with the view of guiding our actions now.

To close off events on the main stage, another discussion panel followed after lunch. Its subject was how politics affects citizens’ happiness, though ironically a lot of what was said concerned how to make people less unhappy about politics. Jacopo Leone from OSCE succinctly explained the reasons for the recent distrust people have in traditional parties, resulting in the rise of new movements, often undemocratic: one, growing sense of inequality; two, corruption; third, migration. Another panelist, Magdalena Kuenkel (Centre for Public Impact) explained how important she thought the human relationships between politicians or administration and citizens are. An example is the treatment people receive when they visit any government office. Ms. Kuenkel recalled empathy training that civil servants receive in Bangladesh as an innovative step in the right direction. In a similar vein, the moderator, Marcin Gerwin, described how Bhutan has Gross National Happiness as a measure to go by.  One other interesting comment, from the audience, claimed that a problem with unelected public officials are their incentives: if they do well, a politician claims credit, and if they fail, blame falls on them – thus their best strategy is to be passive.



It’s already for the sixth time that we all gathered in Poland to witness professional keynote speeches and thought-provoking discussions. Yet again we offered space where our guests could make international acquaintances and strengthen the already maintained friendships. After 6 years we can observe the community of amazing people who are able to formulate new positive scenarios for the future.

Check out the galleries from the event HERE!

The event’s success is owed to: City of Gdańsk, European Solidarity Centre, International Visegrad Fund, Omidyar Network. Partners: Fair-play Alliance, K-Monitor,, Teplitsa of Social Technologies, Open Contracting Partnership, Transparency International Ukraine, Personal Democracy Media, Digital Communication Network. Media patrons: Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, Gazeta Wyborcza, TOK FM,,

Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2018: Future for All
April 26-27, 2018, Gdańsk, Poland
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Text: Magdalena Siwanowicz, Jan Żankowski, ed. Marta Skotnicka