Part 5 of the summary of Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2019: In Whom We Trust. Scroll down for the links to other parts of the summary.

We started Day 2 with a slightly unexpected yet honorable guest – Lech Wałęsa. The former President of Poland shared with the PDF CEE community his reflections on the main social trends shaping the current state civic activism around the world, and his ideas how civic activists could form those trends, build social prosperity and avoid unnecessary destruction, eg. by increasing civic involvement, strengthening European community, finding the balance between freedom of speech and populism, restoring trust in democracy and tweaking capitalism with its inequalities and unemployment.

Increasing civic involvement and ensuring the capacity for discussion should happen by means of engaging (to a small extent) each individual citizen in the social and political life. Making sure everyone belongs to a civic / political organisation and has both rights and obligations (around 10 of each). If the EU had something like that in place, such actions as performed by the Hungarian or Polish authorities would not take place. This requires reading composition of the society and putting forward a political system or organization which fits in with this social composition and assigns every citizen to one of the elements of this social system. An illustrative example of such social division: the matrix of left and right and employees vs. owners of the capital. The final construction would be more up to date and comprehensive but directionally, it should give everyone clear identity and adherence. People need to be able to identify themselves with something, and currently they are often lost. In consequence, combining that with increasing/high standards of living in Europe, lots of people prefer to back out from the political life. They might be afraid they would spoil the current situation. And this leftover space is easily plundered by extreme politicians, addressing the needs of the outraged parts of the society which in the current conditions cry out for change in all possible areas. Hence, who are elected into office are people who promise change.

In combination with the previous point, strengthening Europe should be obtained through defining basic, common values of the European community (the 10 laic commandments) via the general social dialogue. The end of the 20th. century brought about the fall of the era of the land, borders and systems and what we can see on the horizon is the era of information and technology. And we are in between – one system has fallen, another hasn’t replaced it yet. This might be the era of the phrase “let’s speak”. Let’s speak about the foundations we are building for this novelty. Every state in Europe used to have its own system and religion, confined within its borders. Now it is gone, we do have a common currency but we reached the wall – what foundations can we see underneath this structure? Again – it is about restoring the sense of belonging and community.

Another important point is rethinking the space of personal freedom of speech to wisely tackle the challenges of populism and disinformation. Yes, personal freedom is a beautiful and extremely important thing but we should also notice the destructive power of distorted information, public lies and suspicions, etc. Looking back, once cars became common on the public roads, we gradually but significantly reduced personal freedom of movement – the most basic thing – with traffic regulations. At the beginning people were protesting that their freedom is taken away, and nowadays we can function well as a society and we accepted those constraints. Something similar is necessary in the sphere of lying politicians, populism, disinformation and freedom of speech – some social “traffic regulations”. We need to keep our liberties and add some responsibility without destroying them.

Restoring trust in democracy. In social protests, 2 postulates frequently appear: we don’t want such democracy and we don’t want such capitalism. Why don’t people want democracy? Firstly, they perceive multi-cadencial politicians as part of the system where corruption, mafia and interest groups arise. In all elected offices and positions we should have no more than 1 cadence in a row. Secondly, people are afraid of financial opacity, they have no idea what money particular parties receive and what they do with it. This seems quite easily implementable and it could have significant impact.

And what do people dislike about capitalism? Nobody questions market economy. But we should preventively adjust current capitalism to ensure more fairness before economic inequalities and tensions could trigger further social unrest and destruction. The current situation, when 10% of the global population have more wealth than the remaining 90%, will not stand the test of time and brings the threat of upheavals similar to the October Revolution. To prevent such destruction we need to sit at table, capitalists on one side and activists on the other side and think how to unleash the power of the capital so that all those divisions are fairer. Communism has not worked in any country but capitalism worked well for the society when it had a self-imposed control due to threat of communism and was rivalring with it (till 1989). Now, when communism is gone, we can see all flaws of capitalism. There should definitely be free market but it needs more fine tuning with its management systems and different rules of private ownership. Why would we need such huge international corporate bodies? We should build more but on a smaller scale. And if ownership was divided 50/50 between employees and the owner, people would not strike against their property. Additionally, we should shift our silosed thinking – we are living in the global economy: if the growth is sustainable, we all benefit. This is, at least in Europe, because we are not in the state of war, every spending and donation in fact means an investment. During communism if Germany had donated 100 EUR to Poland, it could have been used to buy arms to fight Germany.Today, this 100 EUR will come back to Germany as 500 EUR in taxes, purchases, travels, etc. All we need to do is give wisely.

The third popular postulate deals with the problem of unemployment. A powerful idea – people want work, employers say they do not have enough work. Well, there are options. For example, our cities have been designed for a different era, of completely different traffic types and urban needs. We could employ people to start re-building cities towards this new era, collision free, without red light every 10 minutes. Such type of work could occupy the society for the next 100 years.

President Lech Wałęsa points to the fact that he speaks from the perspective of a practitioner, not a theorist and democracy looks slightly different in practice. However, a lot of worries, needs and demands are repeatable around the world. To know what to change, we need to diagnose the reality in a wise manner and build up on the successes of previous generations.

PDF CEE community is interested in democracy and freedoms. But what is democracy? How we can assess that a given state has democracy? It consists of main elements, so if we want to improve it, we should tweak its elements, not its abstract concept in general. The simple formula to measure democracy invented by President Wałęsa:

  • first 30% are law and constitutions
  • second 30% is whether societies exercise them, i.e. do they go to elections, are they active citizens within the legal conditions allowed to them by the law
  • third 30% is the riches of the society; when people are afraid of poverty and worry about their workplaces, they will not exercise their democratic rights
  • 10% for dissipation and operational losses 😉

With that formula one can actually calculate what practical democracy level we might observe in every country. For example: Poland. First 30% of laws are still in place but less than 50% of people vote in the elections which is in line with Western-European trends. President Wałęsa postulated that whenever turnout is lower than 50%, elections should be void. Electoral turnout must be above the 50% threshold.

If we find it useful, we can use the above ideas freely – as a gift from President Wałęsa. He genuinely cares about the success of our generation, our ability to read the challenges of the current times and to offer solutions. If we don’t manage to do it, the coming generations will curse bringing down communism. We have the best of chances for peace, development and prosperity. The world is a beautiful place but we need to read this time well, as well as its challenges and apply some corrections to the systems to put them in line with the current times. They might be not huge, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. And we should remember – there are solutions to the current challenges. We need to sit down at the table, start thinking on the European level, not locally on the national level, and this will bring the desired change. President Wałęsa strongly disagrees when he hears “it is impossible to build the European unity and globalisation”. Thirty five years ago he heard the same: the fall of communism is impossible and the nuclear war is necessary. Yet, they did it without the war and they won. How? The young generations already forgot. So please look at the previous victories and successes, see how you can win not on a battlefield but also in buildings. With that, there will be no obstacle impossible to overcome. Back then there were 200 000 enemy soldiers in Poland and 1 million in neighboring countries plus a nuclear weapon threat. That was an obstacle. And today? It all depends just on us, on our democracy, our activities and on the solutions we came up with. If only you “want to want”, you will have your beautiful world. And the rest will come. And I employ you to deliver on it and then Lech Wałęsa may be thanked for that 😉 Thank you.


Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2019: In Whom We Trust

April 4-5, 2019, Gdańsk, Poland


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*to be continued

Check also:

PDF CEE 2019 – Introduction
Broken Feedback Circle
Citizen Fake-Xperience
Good Collaboration Hurts

Text by: Matylda Szyrle

Editing by: Marta Skotnicka