Bursting the Bubble of Fiction: What Do Polish Youth Want?

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I don’t think that the youth want revolution. In these unstable times they rather want stability that no longer favours the mainstream populism, not taking responsibility for the future of the state, unkept promises and embarassing U-turns (career-like as well). Stability in which the political class is not moving further away from the reformatory attitude in the state of constant self-contempt.

In line with the first interpretations of the recent electoral decisions of the youngest group of voters (18-29 years old), which caused political tsunami in Polish politics, I believe that we should take a closer look at the socio-cultural and political experiences of the new generation of Polish youth. The lesson of the protest against ACTA agreement from 2012 hasn’t been fully learned. The country-wide movement was analyzed by the ZARS Foundation (Social Movements Research Team Foundation) in cooperation with the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk – a group of sociologists interviewed several young leaders (based in both, large cities and small towns) of the second greatest social protest movement after 1989 (it gathered around 100.000 protesters).

STOP ACTA was a great and somewhat unexpected success. As a result of the protests that originated in Poland and later took place simultaneously all around Europe, the agreement aimed at introducing regulations (deemed by the society as too intrusive) was rejected by the European Parliament. The fact that the youth is no longer socially and politically passive and that is actually capable of identifying and defining its objectives, both individually, and collectively, was completely ignored. At that point, the only goal of the protesters was to dismiss the ACTA agreement – what eventually was reached, mainly thanks to adopting the NO LOGO strategy.

The strategy was based on the idea that the protesters acted together despite their differences, putting on a shelf ideological and political affiliations of this vast and diverse group of young people (non-associated youth, entrepreneurs, civic activists, members of political parties, anarchists, nationalists, football fans, among others). Frankly speaking, the youth have already been feeling neglected and so they simply took the matters in their own hands (Internet regulations, interests, the need for autonomy, resistance to the lack of transparency in the democratic system – lack of social consultations as regards the agreement), what as a result blocked the plans of the politics-business elites. This, in turn, made the youth bold.

The case of ACTA was the first warning – the first sign of moving away from the Civic Platform by the youngest voters. This is exactly why the analyses from 10 or even 5 years ago come in handy, if we no longer want to be surprised and fully understand what is going on with the Polish youth. The rapid and profound social and cultural changes that affected both, Poland and other EU states have already taken place. Analyzing the latest electoral decisions or the dynamics of party or political system of modern Poland, although helpful, will not be enough. We should first conduct a thorough socio-demographic bottom-up research (qualitative and quantitative) that should also take into consideration a careful analysis of how geography influenced the recent choices of voters. If we want to better understand contemporary youth (its attitude, beliefs, interests, ambitions, political preferences and the sources of social resistance), we should adopt analysis characteristic to conflicts and social movements that emerge before our very eyes, evolve and are renewed in many different parts of the world. One may easily claim that we live in the age of an increasing significance of social movements – those which may bring a real hope of a change for improving democracy (eg. urban movements). Nevertheless, at the same time there are also those social movements that pose a real threat to the very existence of the European democratic system (as the far, populist, right).

The analysis of the conflicts and urban movements in Poland shows two key processes. First of all, the political order established after 1989 (the effect of the actions by the Solidarity generation) is over. Secondly, we are currently – as professor Andrzej Rychard claimed – at the finish-line of the socio-economic transformational model. Although initially it was all about the transformation, the quantitative change (bringing to Poland more foreign capital hence investment, increasing GDP, developing business, infrastructure, increasing the number of universities and students, among others), currently, we may observe a shift to a greater importance of the quality of those changes on our individual and collective well-being, such as: the quality and effectiveness of work, the quality of living, consumption capacity, the quality of services, health, local environment or the innovative quality of our economy (that offers job places in new technologies). It is the youth (from both, urban and rural areas) that is the leaders of this change of quality (good job!) – they want to contribute to this change and they want to benefit from it. In their lives they have already came across (and still do) a series of disappointing constraints to their self-development – as young entrepreneurs (who must deal with the absurdities of the bureaucracy every day), as employees with an unstable economic situation (the infamous junk contracts), as parents (often with no place to live). All of them have been dealing with uncertainty for far too long.

Thanks to a thorough analysis of the socio-demographic profile of the youngest supporters of Paweł Kukiz (they haven’t formed an actual movement yet!) and the President-elect Andrzej Duda, we may avoid useless, trite, faulty or even offensive diagnoses of the youth that spring up in the public sphere, labelling young people as “the frustrated”, “the rebellious revolutionists”, “the losers” or (last but not least) “the radical fundamentalists that should better leave the country” (and here, my personal request: please, don’t leave! I myself have spent 10 years abroad so I perfectly understand how crucial it is for us to stop the youth from emigrating). Instead, we are offered the real reasons for a huge distrust of Polish institutions and political system. It doesn’t look good, but I believe that the situation can and shall be be quickly improved – according to a survey conducted by the Public Opinion Research Center (CBOS) in February 2014, only 17% of respondents stated that they trust political parties.

I am well aware of the fact that the youth that I am discussing here is an extremely diverse group. Nonetheless, I’m convinced that (despite the common belief) the youth want revolution. In these unstable times they rather want stability that no longer favours the mainstream populism, not taking responsibility for the future of the state, unkept promises and embarassing U-turns (career-like as well). Stability in which the political class is not moving further away from the reformatory attitude in the state of constant self-contempt. The bubble of fiction has just burst.

From the point of view of the youth, it may seem that this voice of protest proved that this constant self-contempt of the political elites resulting form the success of Polish modernization (self-evident but still not yet experienced by the vast part of the society – there’s still some room for improvement) can no longer be. In my opinion, Polish youth, above all, hanker after simple and real things: to be heard; to be treated with respect instead of being constantly showered with empty words or PR tricks by the same bunch of people; to see a realistic direction of change and a set of applicable recovery proceedings that need to be employed in order to improve the quality of their lives. On the other hand, the youth should participate in forming those objectives so we should include them in the decision-making process. The need to “dust off” the already existing structure of the decision makers has manifested itself in the spectacular success of urban movements in the recent municipal election.

The article was originally published in Polish: http://liberte.pl/pekniecie-balonika-fikcji/

Translation: Olga Łabendowicz

Lukasz Jurczyszyn