Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Civil Dialogue in Poland in Light of EU Experiences

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Civil Dialogue in Poland in Light of EU Experiences

Article excerpt


A permanent feature of a democratic system is the freedom and security of its citizens. In the former communist countries, the atrophy of political freedom and civil society was connected with the objectivization of the public sphere, which in a liberal democratic system is the natural property of a free, independent, and well-organized civil society. This creates the expectation that the weaknesses of contemporary democratic systems will be reinforced by the active participation of citizens in the decision-making processes of public authorities at all levels of governance.

Poland has managed a successful transition to a democratic system of government. As a member of the European Union it had to adopt a new model of civil action, shaped in the course of implementing EU measures in democratic practice. Initially, social dialogue, and later civil dialogue, as a scheme of arrangements aimed at strengthening citizens' sense of their ability to influence government, was a further challenge for Poland's young democracy. The social dialogue conducted in Poland-full of tension and conflict- revealed a range of unresolved and seemingly insoluble problems. Civil dialogue appeared thus to promise the successful resolution of most problems and reinforcement of the idea of democracy.

Participatory democracy, as an answer to the deficiencies of representative democracy, makes social and civil dialogue possible. Social dialogue in the EU, and above all civil dialogue, increasingly influences the state of socio-economic and political relations in Poland. Both the Constitution of the Republic of Poland 1 and Poland's membership in the EU 2 require national and local government authorities to take into account the model of social dialogue established at the community level. In addition to social dialogue, the development of civil dialogue is also promoted at the EU level. 3

In his theory of communicative action, Jürgen Habermas defines democracy and democratization in accord with specifics of the political, economic, and civil spheres (Cohen and Arato 1997: 148). In keeping with this theory I assume that the public sphere is an authentic structure of communication: a structure for the exchange of information, opinions, and views, which, expressed as public opinion, become binding for the authorities. In actuality, the theory does not completely encompass the public sphere developed by citizens in their activities against the communist system. In conditions of developed democracy, it is the work, in its structures and nature, of public associations whose aim is the restoration of public discussion at all levels of the social organization. The public sphere appears as a democratic space for the participation of citizens in shaping common norms of consensus and agreement, shaping public opinion, and influencing the system's institutions (the state and the economy). Although the public sphere is rooted in civil institutions, it exceeds them by seeking agreement on questions and forms of solidarity common to all citizens as part of general morality.

The considerations on the state of social and civil dialogue contained in this work are an attempt to determine how civil dialogue in Poland can be classified as a communicative action within the framework of Habermas's concept. Habermas's theory contains postulates corresponding to the developmental needs and possibilities of western societies. The specific conditions of East Central European countries should be remembered, as these countries are at a considerably lower economic, social, and civilizational level after nearly fifty years of first totalitarian and then authoritarian governments, and are being recreated in new market economy and civil society versions. The reflections here are an attempt to verify Habermas's theory of communicative action in specific application to social phenomena in Poland.

Dialogue between public authorities and institutional civil society organizations (professional associations and NGOs) is treated as a form of communication between the state and the lifeworld (Lebenswelt ). …

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