Poland: Facebook Initiative Puts Pressure on Politicians

“One cannot ignore tens of thousands of votes”

For the past two months, a Facebook initiative called “Appeal to parliamentarians” [pl], with more than 60,000 fans, has been crowdsourcing ideas to improve Polish legislation. Ahead of the upcoming October 9, 2011, parliamentary elections, the organizers presented ideas to political parties and promised to endorse those who would support the most popular of the netizens’ proposals.

The initiative arose from a campaign that the same group of people had started in order to change one of the most restrictive drug laws in the European Union; this has a proper videospot [pl], a celebrity as the campaign face and in the end over 60,000 Facebook fans who do not agree with the perspective of going to jail for three years for smoking one joint.

Eventually, the Polish Parliament adopted the new drug law [pl] and the Facebook initiative celebrated this as its victory, although many netizens described the amendment as irrelevant.

More than 63,000 netizens gathered on Facebook to express their ideas on how to improve the Polish legislation. Image courtesy of the "Appeal to Parliamentarians" organizers.

More than 63,000 netizens gathered on Facebook to express their ideas on how to improve the Polish legislation. Image courtesy of the "Appeal to Parliamentarians" organizers.

On the group's Facebook wall, one the the followers, Alex Raczynski, criticized the achievement but noted the relevance of the change as such on May 26:

Born in pain, incomplete, lousy, not changing much. But anyway the content of the articles doesn’t really matter here. What is important is the fact that old parliamentarian geezers bended under the pressure of society. Bravo my dears. Very slowly but consequently we head towards a civil society.

Encouraged by the success of the campaign, the organizers decided to widen their horizons and transform the campaign into a tool for young people to put pressure on politicians. Especially in the context of the upcoming parliamentary election.

They wrote on their Facebook wall:

Just think: which party would ignore at least tens of thousands of potential votes? Let’s invite friends, let’s get media attention and let’s put pressure on the politicias. Maybe they will finally start to listen to us?

“To the blackboard!”

A new campaign and videospot, posted on Sep. 15 by Apelujemy on Vimeo, encouraged Polish netizens to post their ideas in the Facebook group:

In the press release, the organizers stress their political neutrality and describe the action as the voice of young people who feel ignored or betrayed by political parties.

Michal Juda, one of the organizers, says [pl]:

The election is approaching and we don’t have anybody to vote for. We are reading the parties’ agendas and we can’t find anything that really interests us. That’s why we have created this initiative, “To the blackboard!”. With the help of Facebook, we want to engage young people and create our own list of postulates. Then we'll show them to the politicians [running in the upcoming election] and ask for their positions on each one of them.

The new project elicited different responses among the fans of the group. On July 15, Pan Kapica encouraged [pl] the organizers to continue with the citizen initiative:

I will support every, even the smallest change of the Polish “anti-drug” law. Appeal to the parliamentarians has become a very strong, concrete citizen initiative – and Poland needs this. If we have achieved something like this, why not go further?

Damazy Podsiadło stressed the importance [pl] of the initiative but was sceptical about its actual impact:

The idea is good, it’s good to remind our deputies that they are representatives chosen by citizens in order to act in the people’s best interest. The mandate to govern comes from us (theoretically, but, more importantly, also legally), so we have the right to do such actions and we should organize them. I personally think that the parliamentarians are so cynical by now that they forgot it. So – it’s good that we have such initiatives but I still have doubts if we are really going to manage to achieve anything in the long term with their help only.

Kamil Fikou expressed [pl] the same concern in a more pointed way on the group's Facebook wall on August 8:

Cool that this initiative is taking place, but the truth is that the government doesn’t give a shit about it.

Iza Forys supported [pl] the initiative on July 17:

I’m for many changes in the Polish law because this country is impossible to live in. And it’s enough to take a short look at other countries to see a diametric difference (and to be perfectly clear, I’m not talking only about the marijuana case). Everyday probably each one of us faces lots of absurdities and we all just shut our eyes to it, one has to function somehow in these conditions. But the question is – do we really have to or is it just because we are lazy? I will support every initiative that unifies people and tries to change something.

El Ogurro doesn’t believe [pl] in the power of Internet activism and pleads for real actions:

Or maybe it’s time to realize that the world isn’t changing on Facebook but on the streets with a Molotov in the hand.

And Sebastian Chmura complained about slacktivism:

It’s easy to click on “like” – but then nobody wants to go to vote

Despite scepticism, once the Facebook “blackboard” opened, thousands of people have answered questions and posted ideas about changes in the Polish legislation. The postulates touched upon such topics as employment, family politics and relations with church, and caused many discussions. One of the biggest concerns of the young people remained the drug law – thousands of netizens postulated decriminalisation of marijuana.

The action has received some media coverage [pl], but – more importantly – also some actual reactions from politicians who answered netizens’ questions in short video recordings [pl], available on YouTube (here, here, here and here). The peak of the campaign was the debate [pl] at the University of Warsaw with representatives of most political parties. Among these major parties the only party missing was the national-conservative party Law and Justice, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

On Sunday, October 9, the Polish election day, young netizens can decide who has passed the test and answered the “blackboard” questions correctly – and who has failed their expectations. Is this online debate a beginning of a new quality in the political culture in Poland? Alex Raczynski is optimistic in his September 20 post:

I’m full of hope for a genuine bottom-up citizen debate about real things. Just look at what we’ve achieved starting with the drugs politics. […]


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