Thursday, September 17th 09:00

The crucial questions

As the Forum opens the floor to discussion – the start will be a slightly critical (often self-critical) analysis of the situation of civic society. It will be an attempt to reflect generally on the nature of democracy and the ambivalent role of intermediary institutions. We would like to focus on the issue of “lonely citizens.” The session will be composed of two strongly interlinked parts.

Legends of civil society – tension of democracy
In this part we want to touch on two fundamental versions of the legends of civic society. In the first perspective, intermediaries (organizations, corporations, trade unions, political parties, etc.) are perceived primarily as organized interest groups. Those groups should be largely restricted, if not abolished completely. They generate inequalities. They are not gateways but rather the gatekeepers of peoples’ interests and for that reason they pose a threat to the very nature of democracy. Thus, the role of the state is to ensure its citizens equal "access" to democracy. In the second perspective, various intermediary groups (primarily associations) constitute the very essence of democracy. They represent a vehicle for civic cooperation and self- organization. They can counterbalance the state and they actually protect individuals from the all-too-powerful, omnipotent state. They create the foundations for a system of dispersed power. These two historical and intellectual traditions are still strongly present and what is more, they are competing with each other. This tension has also been a significant presence over the last 20 years of transformation in Central and Eastern Europe.

Aleksander Smolar is a political scientist and commentator, president of the board of the Stefan Batory Foundation, the vice chair of the Academic Advisory Board of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and a member of the International Forum Research Council in Washington. He served as a political advisor to the first post-communist Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki (1989-1990) and a foreign affairs advisor to  Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka (1992-1993).



Who speaks for the citizen in Central and Eastern Europe in 2009?
In this part we want to focus on the issue of “lonely citizens,” the voices and interests of whom are no longer represented properly by various intermediary institutions (social partners, political parties, mass media but also NGOs). We want to invite all to reflect on the functions as well as limitations of these institutions, and thus also on the lack of traditional mechanisms of social dialogue and efficiency of a corporate model. We will also give some thought to the following issues: to what extent are NGOs themselves a part of the solution and a part of the problem? What new possibilities of engagement and civic participation arise in connection with that?

We will invite all to a discussion on traditional channels of representation, to what extent have they been sufficient over the last 20 years and to what extent is they correct these days? How can we make them more open and less distant from individuals? During the discussion we also intend to cope with a question concerning a model of representative democracy and debate whether it has worked well over the last 20 years in Central and Eastern Europe. We also want to reflect on whether democratization will ever be completed and the challenges connected with that. Therefore, we invite all to look together for answers to very big, yet important, questions.

Darina Malová is Professor of Political Science at Komenského University, Bratislava. She has a Ph.D. from the Academy of Social Science in Moscow. Ms Malova has published many articles and contributed to several books, mostly on post-accession Slovakia, Institution building in Central and Eastern Europe and EU enlargement. Her recent publications include Governing New Democracies (with Jean Blondel and Ferdinand Mueller-Rommel, Palgrave 2007).



Milla Mineva has an MA in Cultural Studies and she is working on her PhD in Sociology at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski,” where she is an assistant professor of Sociology of Culture. Her research field includes projects on socialist consumer culture, national identity and cultural patterns of European enlargement. In 2008 she was involved in the project “Microtrends,” the aim of Microtrends was to analyze social processes from a micro perspective, identifying small, counter-intuitive but active groups with a potential to cause social change. The results of the project were published recently under the title “Guide 2020.”  

SÅ‚awomir Sierakowski is a sociologist, political commentator, founder and editor-in-chief of Krytyka Polityczna (The Political Critique) magazine and Publishing House. A strategy for rebuilding a left-wing political formation in Poland is one of his main areas of interest. He is also the president of the Stanislaw Brzozowski Association and one of the founders of REDaction – a place that serves as a forum for discussion, art presentations and social and political projects.



Wawrzyniec Smoczynski is a journalist and deputy foreign editor at the leading Polish news magazine Polityka. He studied Egyptology and General Linguistics in Warsaw and Goettingen. Prior to joining Polityka he managed the foreign desk at Przekroj. He serves on the scientific board of the German think-tank Das Progressive Zentrum. He has been Open Society Fellow in 2008 and Marshall Memorial Fellow in 2009.


Simon Delakorda is a full time e-democracy/e-participation practitioner & researcher and managing director of the Institute for Electronic Participation in Ljubljana. Starting in 2000, he has participated in most of the early internet democracy projects conducted within the university and NGO sectors in Slovenia. He is the author and co-author of a number of articles and case studies and is a conference speaker on democracy, political participation, active citizenship and on-line government. He received his political science B.Sc. degree in e-democracy in 2002 and is about to finish his M.Sc. thesis on e-participation.






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