Europe after the fiscal compact, education and health care as common goods and the issues of digital citizenship were among the topics discussed at the congress “Europe from Below”, co-organized by the Polish Green Party, the Polish Teachers' Union, and the National Union of Nurses and Midwives on 7th September. The congress took place in the old building of the Polish Teachers' Union in the Warsaw district of Powiśle.
The opening speeches were delivered by the co-leaders of the Polish Greens, Agnieszka Grzybek and Adam Ostolski, the president of the Polish Teachers' Union, Sławomir Broniarz, the president of the National Union of Nurses and Midwives, Lucyna Dargiewcz, and the director of the Warsaw office of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Wolfgang Templin. “We need to build an open and solidary Europe,” said Agnieszka Grzybek in her opening speech. “We took our Europe away from nationalists and warmongers,” said Adam Ostolski, “and we won't give it back to them. But we allowed this Europe to be taken over by rating agencies and bureaucrats without imagination. We must give Europe back to its societies.”
The discussion “Europe after the fiscal compact” focused on the state of the European Union and Green alternatives. The moderator, Łukasz Moll (Greens) reminded that both parliamentary parties claiming to represent left-wing voters, Democratic Left Alliance and Palikot Movement, supported the fiscal compact without any conditions or hesitation. Francisco Padilla, adviser to the Greens in the European Parliament, present via Skype, explained the flaws in the current system of economic governance, christened by him a “self-defeating cocktail.” Agnieszka Grzybek (Greens) reminded that a genuine European Union needs a genuine budget, according to the Polish Greens it should be 20 per cent of the European GDP. Professor Leokadia Oręziak (Warsaw School of Economics) spoke about the creation of debt in the peripheries of the eurozone due to the “unfinished construction” of the single currency. She also spoke about the role of private pension funds in the creation of public debt in Poland. Her speech was received with a long ovation.
The next panel was devoted to education, it was moderated by Dorota Obidniak (Polish Teachers' Union). The discussion was both broad and deep: from the privatisation of education, through relations between education and labour market, to the role of education in resisting neoliberal arrangements. Jean Lambert (Greens/EFA MEP) said that education should not be reduced to training: education is not about preparing workforce for the labour market, but first of all about openness, curiosity of the world, and self-fulfilment. Professor Elżbieta Gajek (University of Warsaw) explained the challenges of new technologies in school: “What we need is a model of co-learning by students and teachers.“ “There is no crisis of education,” said Sławomir Broniarz (Polish Teachers' Union), “There is a crisis of education policies.” Danuta Kuroń (activist of Solidarity movement in the 1980s, now the founder of the Open University in Teremiski) reminded that there can be no change in the education system without a change in the political system. In the discussion, Łukasz Moll (Greens) said that it is not enough to be in public hand to be a truly public good, the education system needs to teach cooperation and create social bonds, instead of preparing students for a world of ruthless competition.
The discussion on healthcare focused on the relations between the needs of patients, the labour relations, and the system. Dr. Kinga Dunin (Medical University of Warsaw and Krytyka Polityczna) spoke about patients' rights and the unwillingness of the system to realize them. Lilianna Pietrowska (National Union of Nurses and Midwives) presented the results of her sociological research on how nurses in Poland perceive the problems of healthcare system. Ska Keller (Greens/EFA MAP) explained the disastrous impact of austerity policies on health and healthcare across Europe. Adam Ostolski (Greens) reminded that health in as human right, and this includes not only the right to healthcare, but first and foremost the right to healthy conditions of life and work, as inscribed already in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Both Green participants spoke also about alternatives to the present system of pharmaceutical patents; Ostolski reminded that the Polish Greens advocate full nationalization of pharmaceutical research.
The Internet and digital citizenship was the topic of the last panel. Two guests participated via Skype: Eleanor Saitta (OpenITP) and Michel Bauwens (P2P Foundation). Saitta focused on the links between state and corporate opression in the context of growing surveillance, while Bauwens explained the relation between Internet and nature as different sorts of “commons.” Józef Halbersztadt (Internet Society Polska), Radosław Pietroń (Polish Pirate Party) and the moderator Bartłomiej Kozek (Zielone Wiadomości/Green News) discussed issues such as relations between technological change and political change, the right to access to network, and the role of the state in securing digital rights of people. After this last panel some of the participants moved to the protest against PRISM in front of the US Embassy in Warsaw.
The congress attracted over 200 participants from trade unions, social movements, as well as Green and left-wing milieus. A welcome surprise was the presence of the Deputy Speaker of the Sejm (the lower house of the Polish Parliament) Wanda Nowicka (independent). The daily Trybuna prepared a special pull-out devoted to the congress, and there were stalls of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, the Kontakt (magazine of young Catholic left), the Krytyka Polityczna, the Zgrzyt (local newspaper in the town of Zgierz), and the Zielone Wiadomości (Green News). There was a good, amicable atmosphere and, in the air, there was a palpable need of continuation.
More photos: click here.