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Democracy Bottom-Up: Building a Dialogue between Civil Society and Politicians

Warsaw Summit 1-2 June

Forum Ruchu Europejskiego, European Movement International, Evolution Institute, and Collegium Civitas

Place: Collegium Civitas, Palace of Science and Culture

Evolution Institute Organizers: Nina Witoszek, Vice President, and Jerry Lieberman, co-founder and secretary-treasurer

A native of Poland before becoming a Norwegian citizen and research professor) at the Centre for Development and the Environment at Oslo University, Nina is the recipient of the Norwegian Freedom of Expression Foundation Award for “bringing Eastern European perspectives to the public debate in Scandinavia.” In 2006 she was chosen by the Norwegian daily Dagbladet as “one of the 10 most important intellectuals in Norway.”

Awarded a doctorate in political science in 1973 at New York University, Jerry wrote his dissertation as a case study in Newark regarding “the politics of urban education and the fulfillment of American democracy.” For the last 50 years, he has worked through democratic channels to elevate quality of life in primarily marginalized, urban neighborhoods and to provide education and guidance for community leaders. In addition to participating in the summit, he plans to adapt the summit concept for use in Florida and the US.

Background: The 20th century witnessed the most heinous wars in history, including two world wars. Few predicted such cataclysms. And that the initiating parties would be from cultures that were highly literate, educated, and technologically advanced was even more alarming. Institutions like the United Nations and the European Union were created to provide greater stability and cooperation and to strengthen democracy. Now, well into the 21st  century, we are seeing instability, a war in Europe that is impacting the world, and the weakening of democracy almost everywhere.

Some very keen and profound insights as to the origins of authoritarianism emerged in the writings of Erich Fromm, Hannah Arendt, Gordon Allport, and others in the 1940s and 1950s. Fromm’s 1941 publication of Escape from Freedom provides a credible analysis of how and why authoritarianism emerges in the context of the modern era. According to Fromm, it is the nature of humans to adapt to their environment, and to do so even if it is not in their best interest and results in a loss of freedom and autonomy. Instead of freedom to be a healthy and vital human with strong intellect and a capacity for critical inquiry and independence of thought, freedom to be oneself is arrested and is replaced by social conformity.

According to recent evolutionary social science (Haidt 2013; Franzen 2014), human search for freedom is as strong a disposition as the opposite flight from freedom. It is cultural norms and democratic institutions – as well as the level of existential constraints (reduced by welfare states), that reinforce one or the other. Authoritarian systems disrupt human evolution and prevent human flourishing.

As the Evolution Institution moves vigorously to combat authoritarianism on a planetary scale, it does so with knowledge of, and relationships within, the Norwegian and  Basque cultures. A crucial first step is the upcoming June summit, “Democracy Bottom-Up: Building a Dialogue between Civil Society and Politicians, sponsored by the European Movement International, the Evolution Institute, and Collegium Civitas in Warsaw.

Poland is interesting because it is a “freedom laboratory”: a country where a fight for freedom has part of a cultural DNA, and where, at the same time, 50 years under authoritarian Soviet occupation has taught and promoted a disempowered homo sovieticus. The process of social emancipation and education to  freedom has been sadly neglected by the 1989 founding fathers of independent Poland.

The Present: Many nations in Europe, and places in the US like Florida as the epicenter, have been hit by a democratic backslide. Poland is a battlefield of democratic and authoritarian forces. What political, economic, legal, and cultural innovations can inspire the process of renewing democracy? Is a dialogue between civil society, free media, and pro-democratic politicians the precondition for a democratic rejuvenation? What can we learn from civic initiatives in Europe and the US, especially Florida? And how can transnational institutions like the European Union and the Evolution Institute help in reclaiming and strengthening democratic structures and the rule of law?

These are some of the questions that will be addressed at the Warsaw Summit on 2 June 2023. “Democracy Bottom-up” explores the unfinished work of bridging civic engagement and political decision-making in the struggle for a fair, just, and inclusive society. The summit will gather Polish and international civil society activists, independent media, academics, and politicians who will discuss concrete steps of counteracting the ongoing democratic recession in Europe and the US.

Identified aims for Poland include: 1) a need to forge strategies of building a dialogue — and alliances — between prodemocratic politicians and civil society in Poland. Such an alliance does not exist. This has been a fundament of Scandinavian social democracy; hence the system works, and the fair society prevails.  Without it, countries like Poland and the US will disintegrate or give in to fascism. 2) an openness to other influences, models, and inspirations . There is no such opening now; the politicians and civic initiatives are provincial and “cooking in their own sauce.”  3) a program of action before the October 23 election. Hence on day 2, we are having a working breakfast with Lex Paulson, both an expert on governance and a practitioner (he was one of the leaders both in Obama and Macron’s successful campaigns). 4) finding out what the EU can do to help.

The outcome will be a book on democratic innovations, but  what is important is starting a process of imagining democracy 2.0 and signing a Declaration of Interdependence between civic groups and politicians.

The Summit Programme:

Democracy Bottom-Up

Building a Dialogue between Civil Society and Politicians


Thursday 1 June 

19.00 -22.00 Evening reception for the Summit guests

Friday 2 June

9.30  Welcome

9.35 Panel 1. The role of CSOs and citizens in strengthening and protecting democratic processes: experiences from Europe and the US

9.35- 10.00  David Van Reybrouck

David Van Reybrouck is a pioneering advocate of participatory democracy. He founded the G1000 Citizens’ Summit, and his work has led to trials in participatory democracy throughout the Netherlands. He is also one of the most highly regarded literary and political writers of his generation and the author of Congo: The Epic History of a People, which won 19 prizes and has been translated into a dozen languages.

10.00 – 10.25 Orla O’Connor

Orla O’Connor is Director of the Irish National Women’s Council (NWC), the leading national women’s membership organisation, with over 190-member groups. She was Co-Director of Together For Yes, the successful national Civil society right to abortion campaign.

10.25 – 10. 35 Coffee break

10.35 – 11.00 Jerry Lieberman, Evolution Institute, US

Jerry Lieberman is the co-founder and secretary/treasurer of the international Evolution Institute in the US. He is the initiator of the ‘quality of life’ project and organizer of numerous educational and research initiatives to strengthen democratization processes in the US and Europe

11.00 -11.25 Thorbjørn Jagland

Thorbjørn Jagland is the former Norwegian prime minister (the Labour Party). He is the Norwegian pro-European politician who served as the Secretary General of the Council of Europe from 2009 to 2019.

11.25-13.00 Conversation with panelists, questions and comments from the audience

Chair: Nina Witoszek

 13.00. – 14.00 Lunch

Panel 2.  Democratic innovations in Poland: Creating a codex of good practices

14.00-14.20. Kuba Wygnański

 Kuba Wygnański is a former Solidarity activist, World Fellow of Yale, President of  Shipyard Foundation – Centre for Social Innovation and Research

 14.20 – 14.40 Radoslaw Markowski

Radoslaw Markowski is the Head of Electoral Studies Division at the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Chair at the Department of Political Science, Warsaw School of Social Psychology, Poland.

14.40- 15.00 Bartłomiej Nowotarski  

Prof. Bartłomiej Nowotarski is a constitutional lawyer and political scientist at the Wroclaw University of Economics.

15.15 – 15.35 representative of EDYN: European Democracy Youth Network

15.35 – 15.45 Coffee break

15.45 – 16.45.  Panel discussion, questions, and comments from the audience

Chair: Agnieszka Lichnerowicz (TBC)

Panel 3. Ways forward: How to forge a pro-democracy coalition between political parties and CSOs ? What is the EU’s role in reclaiming social dialogue and the rule of law in Poland?

16.45 – 18.00 Round table discussion between politicians and representatives of civil society

 Proposed participants:

 P Jakub Karys (Leader of KOD), Karolina Dreszer-Smalec (the vice-president of the National Federation of Polish NGOs (OFOP, Paulina Kieszkowska (The Free Courts Initiative TBC),

Donald Tusk (Civic Platform), Szymon Hołownia (Poland 2050), Włodzimierz Carzasty (Left coalition) Władysław Kosiniak – Kamysz (The Polish People’s Party) [1]

18.00.– 18.10  Coffee break

18.10 – 18.40 Questions and comments from the audience 

18.40 – 19.00 Concluding remarks, Representative of the European Movement International

Chair: Jacek Żakowski

 19.30 Reception for guests of the Summit

Saturday 3 June

9.30- 11.30 Working breakfast with Lex Paulson and selected summit participants summing up the conference  

Lex Paulson – of Sciences Po – is an attorney, professor, writer, and consultant in international governance, most recently for UNICEF, the National Democratic Institute, and the Corporation for International Private Enterprise.

[1] The participation of all politicians needs final confirmation and will be announced before the Summit.