“Some politicians talk about the EU as a threat to Polish sovereignty”– Joanna Jendrośka, Project Coordinator at the Polish Robert Schuman Foundation
Over the past four years, the governing party in Poland has pushed through significant judicial reforms. Some of these reforms have violated the constitution and catalysed a fight with the European Commission. Civitates, a philanthropic initiative for democracy and solidarity in Europe, is funding a new coalition that promotes European values in Poland.
Joanna Jendrośka is Project Coordinator at the Polish Robert Schuman Foundation, which leads Poland’s ‘European Front’ coalition. The ultimate goal of this coalition is to strengthen and deepen pro-European attitudes among Polish people.
How would you describe the pro-European attitudes of Poles since the governing right-wing populist party won the elections last October?
The European Front coalition is always prepared for a marathon rather than for a sprint. In fact, not much has changed after the elections although after four years of absence we now have a coalition of left-wing parties in the parliament. Regardless, we still need to work on strengthening pro-European attitudes and the European values that are common to us all. Although approximately 80% of Poles support Poland’s membership in the EU, the public media, social media users and some politicians talk about the EU as a threat to Polish sovereignty in that it imposes ‘non-Polish values’. Such claims are often based on manipulated information and fake news.
What do you do to promote a pro-European attitude amongst Polish people?
We have created a series of pro-European social media campaigns that have so far reached approximately six million recipients. We strongly emphasise European values in these campaigns –solidarity, equality, democracy and tolerance – rather than simply the economic benefits that result from EU membership. We also created an online community of volunteers – our ‘Keyboard Warriors’ –who react to and fight disinformation connected to the EU and European values. Our researcher monitors the media for fake news, which is then debunked by members of our coalition. The Keyboard Warriors use the resulting narrative and arguments in online discussions so that they can correct misinformation. We are proud that our community is growing; we currently have almost 1800 online and offline members. We also want to build the coalition in real life, together with local coordinators who are starting the debate in their communities.
What are the challenges for your coalition?
Our biggest challenge at the start was that we did not have a lot of experience in social media campaigns. When we started our first campaign, we received a huge wave of hate speech from supporters of right-wing parties. We stood strong, and told them the truth about fake news regarding the EU. I think that this was a valuable lesson for our whole coalition; we are now able to create better content for our campaigns and are more prepared to respond to hate speech.
How did you get involved in this work?
I started volunteering with the Polish Robert Schuman Foundation in 2015 while I was studying in Warsaw, so it was a natural step for me to start working here. Due to my upbringing and education, European values have always been very important to me and I am glad that I can promote them through my work in the Foundation and with the European Front coalition. I truly believe in the importance of emphasising what connects us rather than what divides us, especially now that Polish society is so polarised. This is a very dear project to me and I am glad to be a part of it.
What is your dream for Poland?
I hope that Poland will be a strong actor in the European Union and that democratic values will become more common and respected. Although I am a Pole I am also European, and I hope that in the future more Poles will feel the same.