Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Test of Solidarity in the Making

By Nadiia Bureiko

Our second week in Warsaw began with a real heat. Nevertheless it impeded neither our activities nor brainstorming discussions.

Knowing that every day of the HIA program is full of something new and interesting, we could not help but feeling curious about how our theme of the day “Solidarity in the Making: Defending and Promoting Human Rights in Poland and outside the Country” would play out.

Our curiosity mounted further when we found out we would be hopping around Warsaw and visiting various institutions throughout the days. The first session was conducted by Dr. Adam Bodnar, a member of the Board of Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. We were received at the Law Department of the University of Warsaw, in a modern building with a garden on its roof - a supposed symbol of modern Warsaw. Monika Mazur-Rafal, Director of HIA Poland, started us off with an introduction about the role and activity of non-governmental organizations in human rights protection in Poland. Sharing his experience within the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Dr. Bodnar told us a short history of this foundation, its main goals and achievements, peculiarities and directions of its work. Established in 1989 following the transformation processes in Poland, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights paved the way for other human rights organizations in the country and remains one of the most experienced NGOs in its field. The Foundation conducts different kinds of educational program concerning human rights protection, paying attention to freedom of mass media, strategic litigation, and providing lawyers for a support to victims of human rights violation. Full of examples from Dr. Bodnar’s experience, his speech was bright and interesting. 

To allow us to see the multiple challenges that may arise in systematically addressing a human rights violation and use our analytical thinking to come up for ways to tackle them, Dr. Bodnar divided us into different groups and gave each a hypothetical scenario. Studying each case, we tried to suggest our own vision of solving the problem, defining time frames for necessary activity, short term and long term aims, advocacy and monitoring activities. I found the proposed workshop a very interesting method to let us understand the complexity of the issue and take into consideration some constraints regarding practicality.

Being representatives of different professions and branches of studies, everybody got an opportunity to put himself/herself in the place of a lawyer, analyst, psychologist . –Despite this diversity in our backgrounds, we were united with one common idea: to guarantee and protect human rights.

Then, we moved to a new location, with a new issue to explore. Dr. Andrzej Mirga, ethnographer and chairman of the Project on Ethnic Relations Romani Advisory Council, shared with us the reality of a Roma life in Poland, its culture and traditions as well as problems this minority group faces. Being a Roma himself who had received mainstream education, Dr. Mirga gave us a unique perspective on the issue. 

To me, one of the most interesting moments of the day was a discussion about sharing the Polish experience in promoting democracy in other Eastern European countries. Tomas Pisula, a chairman of the Board of the Freedom and Democracy Foundation, clarified and got us thinking about how promotion of democracy has been conducted in the East and how Polish experience may be used by other countries.

Being one of the first to go through transformation and overcome the communism legacy, Poland became an evident example for other states in the region eager to experience positive transformations towards democracy and freedom. Without a doubt, the Polish experience is worth considering in other states’ attempts to achieve their own goals and avoid possible mistakes. But can democracy be transferred? What about freedom? Do we have the same understanding about what these notions mean? Thanks to everybody we had a fruitful, controversial, and yet stimulating discussion led by our Fellows Daniel Jezierski and Joey Kolker. Although some questions remain unanswered, we felt that we ended the day of “Solidarity in the Making”: Defending and Promoting Human Rights in Poland and outside the Country” with a bit more clarity, and yet with even more curiosity to answer this key question.   

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