Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Between East and West

Polish Shades of GreeenPolish Shades of Green is a collection of articles edited by Przemysław Sadura. It is an attempt to situate the condition of Green politics in Poland in different contexts: historical, sociological, and political ones. It sheds some light on the potentials and barriers for greening the Polish political scene.

The book was originally written in Polish, but now there is also an English translation available on the website of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung. I am not going to summarize it here, since the texts speak best for themselves. But I think it worthwile to write a few words about what it means for me that this book is now being published in English. It is, from my point of view, first and foremost an exercise in cultural translation. Especially the legacy of social movements is different on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and I think it gives way to many misunderstandings.

I wrote for the book a text entitled "Between East and West." My purpose was to understand, how the meaning of 1968 was different on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Although the Eastern and Western protest movements of the 1960s had a lot in common, what emerged from them was rather different. In the 1970s, the communication between "new social movements" in the West and the "democratic opposition" in the East might have been quite intensive, but their ideologies and sensibilities were at the same time more and more distinct.

The true counterparts of Western grassroot movements emerged in Poland only in the mid 1980s. In her text, Ewa Charkiewicz writes about her participation in the environmental movement "Wolę Być" (I Prefer to Be). Her focus is on how the Wolę Być (and other social movements) experienced the fateful year 1989. In her narrative, personal memories combine with sharp analysis. Environmental, pacifist, feminist, and LGBT movements had already existed before 1989, and activists of those movements experienced the fall of ancien régime in their own way, different from apparatchiks, to be sure, but also different from leaders of Solidarność. Since the political scene since 1989 has been divided between Solidarność on the one hand, and the successors of Polish United Workers' Party on the other, a space for Green politics simply did not emerge. Step by step, protest movements became parts of the "civil society." They have become "professional," turned into "non-governmental organizations," and learned how to apply for grants.

The present condition of social movements turned into NGOs is analysed by Agnieszka Graff. Being professional is not only a stage of maturity, but also a political condition with serious implications for grassroot democracy, independence from state (or market) power, and ability to articulate social anger. In all these respects there is a setback. And that explains why the basis for Green politics is so weak.

I focused on the texts by Ewa Charkiewicz, Agnieszka Graff and myself, since I believe there can be no social or political change without thriving grassroot movements. I hope the publication of this book in English will help to understand the differences in the situation of Green movements in both parts of Europe.

Adam Ostolski

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