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Polish citizens of Europe

Published on October 26, 2011 by: in: Society

Please, pay your attention to the fact that in Poland, when we talk about Europe or about the European Union, scarcely do we use the name which should be natural, the name “we”. Instead of that we use the name “they”, is it not true? It means that we feel in the European Union a little bit like a new person in a class. There are still “they” and “I”, and I am not the part of that class.

Liberté!: The poll of the Euro- barometers indicate that we are the country of one of the greatest number of euro- enthusiasts in the whole Union. To what extent is it the effect of our identification with the ideals that are represented by the European Union or which lie at its heart, and to what extent only a consequence of being the beneficiaries of the European financial support, perceptible for instance in the form of roads and the motorways that are being built?

I think there are at least three sources of the euro- enthusiasm, which truly do not die out in the Polish society. Firstly, it is realisation of the aspirations. We belong to the Latin civilization, traditionally identified with the Western civilization. The cradle of this Western civilization was the Western Europe, of which we, Western Slavs, were a part. The second source is what you mentioned in your question, namely: ”what are the benefits?” ; well, there are a lot of them, and that can be seen. The structural funds or cohesion funds – they both strengthen Poland. We are a very strong net beneficiary. All the people see that a peculiar jump of civilization takes place here. Even the farmers, who were the most euro- sceptical before our accession, now are euro- enthusiastic because they are given grants, which are actually quite controversial, conserving our archaic structure. But there is also the third source which should be remembered, which is the remembrance of what had been said by the Pope. He uttered one sentence, which – in my opinion – is basically the whole socially- political doctrine: “from the Union of Lublin to the European Union”. In this sentence the Pope John Paul II included two things. Firstly, the fact that our place is in the European Union, which was extremely important before the referendum. Secondly, it is a reminder that we were the forerunners of uniting Europe under the common reign. Together with doctor Xymena Bukowska we have conducted research on the sense of social identity, which show that about one fourth of the young Poles feels simultaneously two types of identity: the European and Polish.

More and more political scientists point to the fact that the Union experiences crisis. On account of this, our sense of euro- enthusiasm or choking with the European integration can be a threat, when the financial structure changes and when we will be given less support from the Union’s budget. Will the ideals turn out to be strong enough then to hold this enthusiasm for the united Europe? The question is so reasonable that in the recent years the Union – instead of citizens of Europe – treats us more as European consumers, reducing its role to being a product with a blue label with twelve stars, in the form of cheaper roaming, the airlines’ passengers’ protection, better protection of consumers’ rights. The ideological base is dying out, similarly to threat of totalitarianism, war. Is there a threat that when we look at the Union from the consumer’s point of view, we will stop identifying with it?

I entirely agree with the thesis included in your question. Future of the Union depends on whether the European citizens or two types of identity will come into being. However, it does not exclude being the citizen of somebody’s own motherland. Europe’s and European Union’s future depends on whether the citizens will come into being, or whether they will be substituted by consumers and only business will count. When the business in endangered, it will naturally result in the escape to national egoisms. However, if the European citizens come into being, also values would count, including the liberal values. That can be a bond which will enable Europe and the European Union to survive and for example – get by with the economic crises. It should be noticed that the sense of European citizenship is very shallow and weakly rooted in the societies of different membership countries, because when the financial crisis appeared, the first reaction was to escape to national egoisms.

Which means nationalization of the European politics…

Yes. I think that the essential phenomenon for Europe’s future would be whether the sense of European citizenship would develop or not. I do not know whether it happens. No one knows that. But in Poland we are still before that change. Because when we talk about Europe or about the European Union in Poland, scarcely do we use the name which should be natural, the name “we”. Instead of that we use the name “they” is it not true? It means that we feel in the European Union a little bit like a new person in a class. There are still “they” and “I”, and I am not the part of that class.

Which means that we do not really feel the sense of deciding together, rather perceiving ourselves as the recipient …

I would say something contrary, that we decide together on a much higher level than we think. But we could decide in even higher degree, if we had a sense that there already are “we”, that Europe is also “we” and not “they”. As a matter of fact, it can be also seen in the political class, this relationship to the European Union. From defining precisely in the categories ”we” and entering European structures to the extent that we could be really the co- hosts of the project called the European Union, to for example what said and is still saying the vice- Prime Minister Pawlak, that “Brussels should be maximally squeezed”, because Brussels means “they”.

However, this tendency happens frequently among the governments of the other countries, suggesting that “whatever wrong happens, it is not caused by us”, it had been imposed by Brussels.

But in Poland there appeared a peculiar paradoxical phenomenon, which is not probably seen in any other European country. Namely, the Poles trust the European Commission more than the Polish Government.

What  had been also seen and raised by the anti- European right- wing feature writers, when the gas agreement had been signed with Russia, and the European Commission defended our interests stronger than our government.

Yes, that is true.

The last question concerning the European issues. Last year in “The Washington Post” I found the article by Charles Kupchan, a professor of the international relationships on Georgetown University. He wrote quite a terrifying line which opens this text: The European Union is dying – not with a dramatic or sudden death, but so slowly and monotonously that one day we will look through the Atlantic looking at that project of the European integration, which was something self- evident for us during the last 50 years, that has stopped being this ( . . . ) the result of which will be a return to the conception of an individual existence of the united nations for the geo- political marginalization.

It reminds me of Mark Twain’s saying: “ the rumours about my death are very exaggerated”. In this case such ominous prophecies are – in my view – well- established, neither in the activities of the main actors of the European Union, nor in what can be predicted in a rational, short- distance way. Certainly, there will be tensions in the European Union. The Union is a living organism, and if there were no tensions it would mean that the organism was dead. The tensions do not exist solely on the cemeteries. The tensions will be huge at constructing the budget. The beginnings of construction of this budget for the next years fall in the Polish presidency, which gives the presidency an unusually great importance. And there are “we”, is it not that true? This is the category “we” which has been mentioned earlier. If this budget is constructed as a pro-developmental budget, which is to assure the strategic aims included in the Lisbon Treaty, which means competitiveness of the Union towards the USA, China, Japan and the innovative character, then I think it would be a good base to  going a step further in the integration.

But on the other side we observe the increase of nationalisms in Europe, parties like True Finns, Jobbik in the Hungary or tendencies appearing even in Poland…

It should be looked at a little bit like on waves which come and go away. We should remember that in the interwar period Europe was flooded with a wave of an extreme nationalism which went away. Nowadays there appear such – maybe not waves, but at any rate symptoms of certain intensity of one’s own identity, societies in the nationalistic categories. But I do not think it could be anything more than the reaction to a very aggressive political, all- Europe’s correctness. I do not think it could give rise to a new wave of nationalism, which will move Europe’s back from to the national egoisms.

Profession: sociologist

Well, let us leave the European Union a little bit aside. Before we will go to the questions concerning Poland, I would like to ask about the profession of a sociologist in the contemporary Poland. Is it more difficult to be a sociologist of politics nowadays than ten years ago? Have those social- political processes changed and are they more difficult to be seen?

No, it is not harder. It is invariably interesting to be a sociologist of politics, because Polish politics or, more generally, Polish public life is very dynamic, difficult to predict, there is a big margin of risk of making a mistake when the development of events is being predicted.

But it is very interesting intellectually.

Was not the level of a political, intellectual debate higher several years ago? Are not in that moment, even for a sociologist, emotionalism dominating in this discourse, as well as subjects’ sketchiness which are brought up in the media, the mediatisation of politics  itself, are they not something disheartening or tiring?

It is tiring. It is disheartening. But from the academic point of view it does not stop being interesting. Nonetheless, the statement that some time ago a debate was on a higher level is hard to prove. It is because of the fact that in my opinion a debate on the most important Poland’s issues finished with the first presidential campaign, when Tymiński managed to gather, arousing pure negative emotions, support of the one fourth of the adult Poles, which was a shock for me. I did not expect that. All the most important decisions have been taken during the reformative government of Prime Minister Mazowiecki. Everything else is as if its continuation, and it has fortunately happened for Poland that those decisions have been accurately taken. Nowadays we either finish or enclose, either on the basis of those decisions, or we build on the basis of those decisions, which have built institutions and the rules of a game, treating them as a bank and a solid condition, from which we take next developmental steps. A current public debate is on a dramatically low level. In fact, it does not contribute anything new to our thinking of Poland’s future, since it is a debate resembling – to a certain extent – the debate of Kargul and Pawlak, the characters of “Sami Swoi”, which means a debate that does not bring about anything new but gets our emotions off our chest.

Does it not mean that nowadays a student of sociology, with whom a professor meets every day, needs more extended classes on political marketing and PR than classes like “political doctrines”?

No. I think that we demonize a little bit, absolutise the political marketing and PR. It is truth that in nowadays’ politics the media are present, but still, decisions which people take as citizens or do not take them at all  – shall be considered as independent decisions. People are resistant to PR. It does not mean that everyone gullibly follows a certain PR trick like a flock of sheep. The attempt to seek the second bottom behind the reality which appears at first glance lies vey often in the Polish mentality. Which, as a matter of fact, is paradoxical, since this scepticism is also food for various conspiracy theories, which even resist empirical facts, because they can be also a product of conspiracy. PR and marketing tricks do have importance, but mainly for this non-reflective part of our society, so rather not for students whom we teach doctrines, mechanisms ruling the public life. On the penultimate class, while still on the recent subject, I  asked my students to define “the real Pole”. There have appeared different definitions, which could have been very easily questioned on the basis of logically built definition. I asked them to think of and define  “the real Pole” in a way that could not be easily disputed. It turned out that such a definition cannot be formulated.

Is it important for a sociologist to be overbearing?

Yes. However, it does not mean that a sociologist does not have his/her own system of values. Certainly, s/he has. Moreover, every sociologist is also a citizen, a human being, a member of community and has got their own axiological sphere. It is not a problem. The problem appears  when they are so un- self-reflective and unable to become aware of the fact how their own values influence the object of researchers. If such a situation happens, then we are dealing with using one role to enhance the persuading function of the utterances propagated in another role. For example using the role of a sociology professor in order to raise or support, or  increase the power of political theses delivered in the role of a citizen. It is not fair.

Is then true the claim that the profession of a sociologist, evaluating Polish political debate or politics is in some sense in crisis? More and more often media are putting the sociologists in the position of the jury in the  TV show, who have to – with a short, vivid, cutting riposte – not necessary explain reality, but rather be in favour of one of the sides.

Yes, it is true that the sociologists are exposed to a temptation to act in the role of “Dance with the Stars” ’s jurors, where this dance is politics. It is really unfortunate when they restrict their professional function exclusively to that role. One of the parts of a sociologist’s mission as a scientist is also dissemination the scientific results. However, the problem lies in the fact that a certain part of sociologists  – I will not enlist their names there, but each reader, on the basis of their observation, is able to form the opinion whom I am talking about – is signing up in  the politics in a certainly biased way and becomes a court expert on a particular political option. If s/he acts in the role of a sociologist, then s/he betrays the mission.

Is not the very altering into politics by sociologists such a big problem?

No, it is not. But in that case certain two roles have to be clearly distinguished. The academic and the political ones. When politics enters to the academic workshop, then science leaves.

Translation: Anna Brzezińska (

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About Edmund Wnuk Lipinski

Sociologist, professor, president of the Scientific Council of the Institute of Political Studies of Polish Academy of Sciences, editor of the Collegium Civitas. Author of numerous books.

Fredrich Naumann Foundation For The Freedom
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