Freedom is coming part II – Citizens 2017

We’ve had two vetoes but not a third one. The President has opened a new chapter in the struggle of maintaining Poland in the sphere of democracy.

On July 24th an intense debate started about what President Duda’s veto means. For him and his possible political independence. What is it for the Law and Justice Camp (PIS) which is allegedly starting to disintegrate and divide (or at least we wish it were)? What does it mean for Poland in the international circles? On the one hand, the case of Poland made world headlines and it rarely does. On the other hand, the President’s veto will take it out of the spotlight. It will take it so far away from the spotlights of the global media that it will be possible to carry out the law pertaining to the lower courts i.e. start the great purge which is what PIS is counting on. Thus, the world shall be helpless just as in the case of destroying the Constitutional Court.
Will the veto accompanied by an open discussion on reforming the judiciary system with partners, the voice of the civic society, real experts instead of double-dealers, as a certain “professor” from the USA who was talking complete rubbish about the checks and balances as in a total contrast to the witty Jan Cieński on TVN.

We don’t know because the strong energy of citizens which has been liberated in Poland in the last 10 days has thwarted the plans of Law and Justice. The real face of Kaczyński was shown who instead of being a statesman is a man sick with hate looking for personal revenge. This is not the face of the beloved “savior of the country”. It’s a Shakespearian play about politics but very real. A double address given almost simultaneously on television by the President and the Prime Minister is also a sign of disintegration of integrity in polish politics, not to mention a bad PR move.

Citizens took a stand against the Stalinist and Goebbels style manipulations of language and information on the TV channels controlled by PIS. It was not just the political parties uniting against one political party but citizens of various beliefs, ages and genders from big cities and small towns, from both Eastern and Western parts of the country. Citizens who shared knowledge on Twitter, Facebook and using modern communicators like the WhatsApp. It was not the heroic workers from the shipyards of Gdańsk or miners furious with the transformation after 1989. It was not the peasants blocking roads with their tractors. It was not the students from 1968 or the students of the Independent Students’ Association (NZS). These were not young people furious at ACTA. For the first time in many years it was the CITIZENS.

Freedom is coming with the marching citizens as I wrote on Saturday July 22nd. Freedom is coming with the marching citizens – I write again with an even deeper conviction.

This FREEDOM WANTS TO REJOICE. It is not a kind of stoic freedom, pumped up with the patriotic emblems and the soldier like body postures. It is an expression of sincere patriotism. To love is to rejoice. People are laughing, smiling, chanting and holding the giant Polish flag together. They are full of determination, not hate. This what the writer and the literary master Jacek Dehnel spoke about in front of the President’s Palace at 6 p.m. on Monday. He warned against the destructive capability of words. We must watch what we say and celebrate successes. It was a day of success, although the success was not complete. We were missing one more veto. The joy was there as it was clear that the success was a result of the strength of civic protests, although it was partial considering its political impact. The joy of freedom can build up democracy. Democracy which becomes the key to solving the problems of the community through cooperation and dialog. Both of them are only possible if CITIZENS participate.

This is a FREEDOM TO BE SHARED. It is not a freedom for the chosen ones, which excludes those who are different. Its fundamental aspect is justice. Equal treatment by the courts entails their independence and the possibility of reforms but not the kind of reforms PIS wanted. The law needs to support our understanding of equality. There needs to be punishment for insulting a gay person, laughing at a person with disabilities, beating a person with a darker skin tone. There needs to be punishment for offending a woman with sexist remarks. In order for these punishments to be effective regulations are not sufficient, you need social norms and new role models.

CITIZENS 2017 treat these new cultural models as their own. Civil law partnerships for gay people are common in this world and don’t need to be discussed. Just as soon in Poland gay marriage should be socially accepted. This new world does not offend the religious beliefs of those who are believers. In their minds religion is a way to empower every individual and attribute rights and respect to it. These are the values which citizens want to respect even though they don’t call them religious values. This is what is really practiced: being open to diversity! How different that is from the closed mindset of the Polish conservatives who ramble on about the threats of multiculti. Naturally, many Poles have crossed this mental Rubicon. That is why it is so important to explain world views to one another and to discuss the difficult issues instead of growling at each other.

THIS FREEDOM WANTS TO LOOK AFTER THOSE IN NEED. I do not want to hear the ramble of the publicists who speak of the threat of the “pinkoes”. Anyone can be in need. Anyone, as we are all CITIZENS. It’s not only about having opportunities but being supported when needed. As citizens we have a right to a wise policy of state and the local governments which reaches those in need. This is how we should be concerned for the poor living in the cities and for those being evicted from their homes. We also need to care for those who are humiliated by labeling their social position. This is the kind of care which will reinforce the feeling of freedom and humanity and not the fact that they need to be helped. The family benefit 500+ is needed but it must be “given” in such a way to protect the dignity of the person and their family. This is how Jacek Kuroń saw the human condition. His school of thought is being revived. His way of looking at people is coming back. In my opinion this comeback is linked to transforming the mechanisms of the liberal democracy and not by questioning it as such.

THIS FREEDOM IS A WOMAN. You can see the strength of women in Poland and their wisdom. The way they are ready to fight not only for their rights but also to be a part of those rights, as human and citizens’ rights. In this world of freedom which is a woman there is no place for the objection on moral grounds. Yet there is a place for the conscience. The state’s role is not to judge individual choices, law is the only conscience for the state and the law must be equal for all. A pharmacist who does not want to sell contraception does not have the right to impose their view on the client, nor the doctor on the patient, nor the teacher on the students. In the world of new sensitivity to what it means to become a CITIZEN the neutrality and impartiality of the state is of key importance. The relations with the CHURCH must be secular.

THIS FREEDOM IS EVERYWHERE. It is not just for the city hipsters. It has started to radiate from Warsaw, Poznań, Wrocław, Gdańsk, Katowice, the great metropolises which Kaczyński attacked brutally when he was running for President in 2010. He mocked the vision of cities as sources of development for all. Today this dream is becoming a reality and such a model is a most effective one. The whole world knows that.

It is only the PIS entourage which is making a face. I can see the faces of some hardening with that anger. For suddenly they saw that it is the CITIZENS from the small towns and villages who are taking part in the protest against taking over the courts. That makes almost 180 names of towns which have been read from the fantastic List of Glory brilliantly presented by the actors from the Polski Teatr in Wrocław who are also the heroes of resistance as their theatre is being destroyed at the moment. What a power of solidarity! It is a much more profound human experience than the 500+ allowance in one’s pocket.

Something has changed. We shall soon return from the democratic vacation but transformed, toughened up, slightly bruised but READY TO GO ON! What a lesson it has been! A true lesson for citizens. We have not had such a lesson since 1989.

THE JULY DAYS have energized various social groups in a different way.

Politicians have understood the sense of fighting for fundamental rights and to stay humble if they want politics to mean something for CITIZENS. There is still a long way ahead to regain credibility of politics.

The fighters such as the Obywatele RP group (Citizens of the Republic of Poland) have understood their power and the strength of Ghandi’s message. The have perfected passive resistance to avoid physical conflict with the police, you need to roll into a ball, to go limp or lie down flat. Looking into the future – we need something more, a form of a flying university as in the times of the communism – perhaps a street university?

The members of the Committee of the Defense of Democracy understood that in addition to the generation of the “Solidarność” they need the young people. You also need a method of intergenerational cooperation. This is a difficult task but when we are together arm in arm on the square it becomes easier.

The Akcja Demokracja (Action Democacy) gave a wonderful drive to form the Chain of Light and knows how to create emotional bonds. It is so important to continue doing that in the long term.

The women from the “Black Protest” and other organizations have contributed with their warmth but also their firmness in getting things done and their unbelievable logistic efficiency. They combine values with skillfulness which broadens their range of impact and holds promise for the future.

Finally, so many of the civic groups, such as the one which was a reaction to the Facebook post of Janek Śpiewak and led to a demonstration on Monday July 24th. All who took part in it felt like CITIZENS 2017.

Michał Boni
On the night of the 24/25 July, 2017