The aim of our organisation is to achieve transparency and accountability of the government. We started our entity as a grassroots movement of local people with the aim to make their local authorities accountable. Over the time, we started to advocate for a better law on access to public information. We initiated a number of changes, which happened around this law, in order to assure that our right to know is provided.
Over these years, a lot of things have changed. People started to ask questions, and now we can see that people are really interested in what is going on. Of course it is not the case that every citizen claims his or her right, but for sure there is a kind of movement around it. Apart from that, local and central authorities are also aware that they have to give replies to such requests. The latter does not mean, however, that they always react. A lot depends on the topic. Sometimes, their respond depends on a requester, even though they do not have the right to ask for such information. Sometimes, authorities are reluctant and do not want to share information, as they are afraid of the content of such requests. However, generally we can say that some major positive changes have happened in Poland lately.
Citizens Network Watchdog had started its operations before Poland became a member of the European Union. In your opinion, is there any role of the European Union in the general progress on mentioned issues and where may this be seen?
In my opinion, it is not only the European Union but rather the fact that we passed the significant act on access to public information in 2001. Another point is that we have a lot of NGOs on board working around that law, which was not the case before 2005 or 2006. Different organisations including “Watchdog” started working on raising people’s awareness, asking questions, and promoting this initiative. The issue was widely debated in the media. Therefore, the idea gained popularity. Furthermore, different governmental decisions were aimed at promoting this law because of the broad media coverage on negative and positive examples of relevant practices. Generally, we can say that this is an auspicious moment. The problem is that we still cannot talk about common European standards. It is quite visible, when you compare Polish politicians working in Poland and then moving to one of European institutions. We have at least two examples of such behaviour. One of them is our former Minister of Regional Development, who did not want to make her timetable public, when she was a minister. However, a year later or even less, she put her calendar online, when she became an EU Commissioner. Unfortunately, the same happened, when our former Prime Minister became the President of the EU. Now we are informed about his timetable. However, when he was a Prime minister, this information was not considered as public. There is still a lot to do in that respect, but in general there has been a really huge change.
Your organisation had worked with Ukraine long before the current crisis broke out. What are the main fields of joint activities with Ukrainian organisations you have been pushing forward?
We work a lot in Central and Eastern Europe with organisations, which deal with access to public information or with other advocacy organisations. One of the biggest friendships and exchanges we had is the Ukranian organisation “Opora”, which was established in 2004 after the Orange Revolution. For some time, we had been working together on the same issue – getting people engaged in the civil oversight on the local level. Then we started to develop our own ways, just because we have nothing else to develop together, and now it seems that we will come back and compare, what has changed and what we can exchange. Regarding our cooperation with Russia, we cooperated a few times with the Freedom of Information Foundation, a Russian organisation, which was a very fruitful cooperation. However, since we both were very experienced, it was really difficult to learn something new from each other. Therefore, it was more like an exchange of what is going on in our countries.
Which challenges do you see for the work of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum?
Now it is exactly a challenge, because the situation is completely different. We, in Poland, can be critical on what is going on, and we can freely express everything what we want. We know we won’t be punished for that. It is part of the open society that we can execute this right, which is probably not the case with our counterparts. That is the biggest challenge, and we somehow feel that our situations are not comparable.
What is the Forum’s value for your organisation?
Generally, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is for us rather a platform to express solidarity, to find out, what is going on in other countries, as well as to focus on global problems. The problems we are facing now are not only European ones: Laws, which somehow restrict civic space, have been passed in different countries. In the coming years, we would like to work on being aware of different threats, on supporting those, who need our support.
What would you like to wish to the Forum’s members?
Regarding my vision of the Forum in 10 years, I hope that our Forum will be a fruitful platform to make change for the best. We have thought so far that actually there is no obstacle for the democratic development: Since we have had Internet, it is much easier to organise people. However, it doesn’t happen like this. I would like to see the Forum not only surviving but also being able to manage the situation and prove that these are the citizens, who give power to those temporarily elected to rule and, let’s say, preserve the order. We still have to be prepared to make authorities accountable, and our Forum shall hopefully prove that it is possible.