Young people will change Poland? – debate in Radom (reporting activities)

Being concerned with the future of our country and influenced by the Rafał Matyja’s book entitled “Emergency Exit”, we decided to listen how the youth see Poland. Matyja writes on the need of the generational change and improving governance and transparency, as the current political elites are unable to stop harmful destruction of state. While competing between themselves they treat state resources as a support for winning elections and cronyism.

On the invitation of the Change Group, we went to Radom (215,000 inhabitants) to meet the high school students. Before we read the draft results of the research into the young people’s opinions on politics and society run by the Institute of Public Affairs. We have been anxious – are the topics we are dealing with important for the youth? How can we think about the future together?

The group we met in Radom (April 23, 2018) had about 40 people – two first classes; biological-chemical and humanistic. The youth we met were seventeen-year-olds. We used a method of the world café. The role of experts were played by Mateusz Wojcieszak from Change Group and from Watchdog Poland, Grażyna Kopińska from Batory Foundation, Iwona Grześkiewicz from the Radom’s high school named after Jan Kochanowski, Roksana Maślankiewicz and Katarzyna Batko-Tołuć from Watchdog Poland.

Leave or stay?

We asked the question of how they see themselves in the future – whether they want to stay in Poland or leave. Do they want to stay in Radom or move to another place? As it turned out, most of the young people said that they want to stay in Poland. The reasons were very diverse and worth reflection. There were feeling of belonging and fear of alienation among the reasons, but also love for the country and the belief that “I love you” sounds more beautiful in Polish than in other languages. Additionally, everywhere life has some drawbacks and in Poland in the next ten years it is going to be “even better”.

Referring to this emotional sentences, it was interesting that for the questions about how patriotism manifests itself, young people answered that it is everyday care for the environment: cleaning up after the dog or taking care of the image of the city. It was told in the opposition to demonstrating and participating in nationalistic marches.

On the other hand, the youth also have several fears and see weak points of our motherland, e.g. that the economy will collapse, that there will be a war, that human rights are not respected, that the system will change, that there will be no work. They are also irritated by provincialism of thinking in Poland.

The issue of work, as expected, aroused emotions. The young people estimated that wages are too low and that’s why people are leaving.

When asked whether young people love their country they often answered “Yes, but …”. This confirms their need for changing Poland, which was enforced by their opinions expressed at other tables of the world café.

Politics – bad or good?
The positive picture of the future was not fully consistent with the dominant conviction about the bad actions of politicians. The policy was called a “game”, “manipulation”, “deception”, “action for profit” and “for money” or a “source of conflict”. Why we think on inconsistency? If politics is so bad and future is so positive, maybe young people do not see the relationship between what politicians do and their own situation. Deepening this suspicion, we discovered another possibility. In the group of young people with whom we had the opportunity to talk, a relatively large number – perhaps about a quarter – stressed that they can engage in politics to change it, to influence their own situation, to have an impact on reality. They were eager to take responsibility. And even if they were unsuccessful, they were at least proud that they tried. Interestingly, some young people were aware of the limitations caused by the need to form alliances and joint actions, the need to be a leader and a distinctive figure. They looked critically at the Polish divisions. Those who claimed that they would not engage in politics, emphasized their emotional inability or fear of making a mistake.

Finally, we have summarized what is worth changing in politics. Young people know it very well. There should be more space for new movements and new people. The public debate should change. It is necessary to listen to each other. According to the youth, now politicians care only to express their opinions. They do not listen and even they do not answer. Politicians should also be more focused on strengthening the state, instead of taking care of their own and their parties businesses.

Quality of politics
The low quality of politics and the lack of values in public life repel young people. However, it is worth underlining that they do not consider themselves perfect either. They know that they often have double standards in their peer groups. But at least some young people think that it is worth trying to make declared rules and values fulfilled. As regards public life, they have opposite opinion. They think that obeying the rules is ineffective. On the other hand, there were some voices that citizens should oversee the integrity of politicians and as a sovereign we have the right to do so. In a word, drawing young people’s attention to this possibility and giving them tools and examples can be an important step in breaking the feeling that politics must be full of misconducts and abuses.

We and our rights
Remembering that one of the issues that worried young people was a poor quality of debate, in which no one wants to communicate, the more enthusiastically we welcome the need of youth to express their opinions. The willingness to share and speak was the main theme. What are the opportunities to talk? Mainly in social media. However, what frustrates some of them is not taking them into account because of their age – the elders do not want to listen to the young, or – what’s worse – push the young people to speak when the older ones do not want to do it.

However, the question remains how easy it is for young people to have a different opinion than their peers. It is much easier for them to get involved than to stand against everybody. The main barrier is the fear of consequences. What can trigger off their clear stand and demonstration of opinions is connected with their emotion and lives, like hitting their rights or the rights of close relatives, or emotional issues – open social injustice, intolerance and humiliation.

Making media
It is not a surprise that young people value the Internet as a source of information. Television, radio and newspapers are still present in their life, but often as an entertainment, company during everyday activities or as a support for making homework. We talked why the youth rate the content available on the Internet that high. Opinions were consistent with the earlier expressed need to speak out. They can contribute to the content on the Internet, even such with which young people disagree or which is biased. They can closely follow what is happening in a topic through social media hashtags, they can read comments, they can comment themselves, they can express their emotions through likes, and finally they can express their opinion by writing their own text. Traditional media do not usually provide them with such tools, and that is why, they rather use them with their parents, grandparents or in search of content unavailable on the Internet, for example educational materials.

What the youth watch on the Internet? Vlogers on YouTube, tutorials, news sites, source materials for read discussions, for example, statements by politicians, comments. An interesting reflection of the young is that the epithets “biased”, “manipulative” and “sensational” do not only concern traditional media – these elements are also present in their favorite vloggers or influencers messages. But the young in this case can easily comment on the manipulation, quickly check it on the Internet or simply unsubscribe the channel or record material that counteracts the undesirable content.

Will the youth change Poland?
Meeting with the youth gave us some tips on what to do but also made us optimistic. We hope that with the help of adults who will give them a place and allow real influence, they will change Poland. As our conversations showed, the young want to have knowledge. And this is the first step to change. They are critical, willing to argue, but also interested in another opinion. Some of them want to work for change. Some are afraid, but may join existing initiatives.

When it comes to tips for us and for other adults, it was worth to hear that young people need to be heard, support their gathering information and the ability to express their own opinions, and take care not to run out of new thoughts and initiatives in the public debate.

Where did we get the energy? From the fact that the young see that it is worth staying in Poland and are optimists. And that was the best we brought out of this common conversation.


Te debate was organized within the “Common Denominator”. – Traveling Discussion Club. The Club was a part of the project by Political Capital Institute from Hungary and Institute for Public Affairs from Poland entitled “Building Constructive Dialogue in Central Europe”. Citizens Newtork Watchdog Poland was a partner responsible for organizing part of the program concerning local debates. It was financed by National Endowment for Democracy.


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