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Dr. Marcin Chmielowski speaks on Civil Society and Poland

Dr. Marcin Chmielowski, Vice President of the Poland-based Freedom and Entrepreneurship Foundation (Fundacja Wolnosci i Przedsiebiorczosci) spoke at The Institute of World Politics on Wednesday, March 29 in a lecture entitled “Civil Society at the Crossroads:  Three Models and the Case of Poland.” This event was part of a series on the Intermarium sponsored by the Kosciuszko Chair of Polish Studies.

Dr. Chmielowski highlighted three major philosophical models in Poland:  Classical Liberalism, Social Contract Theory, and the Central Europe Dissonance Model.  Classical liberalism argues that the relationship between civil society and the government is one of competition. Social contract theory contends that civil society exists somewhere between the state and private citizens as a means to communicate private interests with the state.

The last model Dr. Chmielowski touched on was what he defined as the Central Europe Dissonance Model. This model was developed during the Soviet occupation, when a change in the government seemed impossible, the state was occupied by people interested purely in power, and the entire system was seen as a lie. Supporters of this model were socialists, but desired a voice. This model, unlike the other two discussed, argued that civil society must live freely apart from the state.

Dr. Chmielowski went on to argue that the current political climate in Poland is not conducive to a classical liberalist notion of civil society for a number of reasons. Poland is unlike American society, where there is a “revolving door” between the private sector, NGOs and the government.  Polish political parties see the NGOs either as a recruitment center for potential politicians or competitors for power. A lack of private funding for associations and foundations in Poland has forced the public sector to fund the majority of these groups. Consequently, these groups’ agenda is commonly manipulated by the public sector and by external governmental organizations such as the European Union. Dr. Chmielowski argued that this overwhelming public sector involvement does not foster a vibrant civil society.

Dr. Chmielowski’s discussion of the three models and Poland’s current political environment shed light on the challenges facing the development of civil society. His organization, The Freedom and Entrepreneurship Foundation, is privately funded and supports educational projects and new leaders in academia, politics, and media in order to foster civil society in Poland. Although Dr. Chmielowski believes drastic change is not possible currently, he believes that in the near future Poland will be able to have a vibrant civil society.