I hate politics! On people’s cynicism and the dissolution of trust

At 18:00 CET on the 18th September 2014, Kultura Liberalna looked at the nature of trust in liberal democracies.

The debate was live streamed here on Time to Talk and took place in Polish at Warsaw’s Peoples’ Palace’s barStudio. You can find video highlights and information on the background to the debate and its speakers below.

A transcript of the debate can also be reached by clicking here.

As we approach a seventh year of economic difficulties, the people of Europe are witnessing not only growing unemployment, but also economic stagnation and a rise in the sections of society experiencing serious economic hardship. The fallout from the economic crisis has also spilt over into politics and is gradually affecting the very texture of our societies. Mistrust is now spreading out its roots and re-establishing itself throughout our communities. People have started to mistrust the capacity of traditional institutions to deliver public good, democratic institutions and procedures are becoming increasingly discredited and the media is now often seen as representing particular political or economic interests. Trust in our societal elites is also rapidly fading and yet no real alternatives are emerging. Meanwhile, mistrust of “the other” seems to be becoming pervasive, rearing its ugly head in displays of xenophobia and racism, and even our traditional civil society organisations, such as NGOs, established Churches and the unions, are coming to be viewed with suspicion.

As French political theorist Pierre Rosanvallon has aptly observed “increasingly, popular sovereignty is manifesting itself as a power to refuse, both in periodic elections and in repeated reactions to government decisions. A new “democracy of rejection” has thus superimposed itself on the original “democracy of propositions”. However, what we are seeing today goes further: in everyday life people are starting to fear “the unknown other” and collective action for the common good is becoming difficult to inspire”.

A recent study of contemporary protest action – from Spain and the Indignados to Bulgaria and the recent mass protests – shows that people go out onto the streets, not in order to protest concrete policies, but both to express their convictions that hidden interests have appropriated their democratic institutions and to make it clear that they do not trust their institutions anymore and want change.

The debate took place at a location associated with a distrusted regime whose memory still lingers in Eastern Europe.

Regular scandals revealing corruption, ignorance or the lack of respect of political elites for their citizenry serve only to feed the fire. In Hungary, prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány caused a political earthquake after it was revealed that he had lied to his constituents and, in France, the former president Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of accepting illegal financial donations from wealthy sponsors and of peddling influence. The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has found himself accused of the diversion and misapporopriation of public funds, while, in Poland, recently published recordings of the private conversations of top politicians have also seriously undermined trust in the political elite. And, this is by no means an exhaustive list, similar examples can be found in relation to many other European countries – Italy, the United Kingdom, Greece and Ireland have all seen their own retellings of the same tawdry tales.

How then can we in liberal democracies regain this lost trust and rebuild our societies, so as to provide a solid basis for believing in one another, both within and without our various social strata? What indeed, if anything concrete, should be classified as the basis for societies as diverse and individualistic as ours? Should we be striving for more top-down or bottom-up societies and how can we ensure that the changes we contemplate are reconcilable with the concept of liberal respect for individual freedoms? Similarly, what consequences can we expect to have to face, if we allow this erosion of trust to continue?



Łukasz Pawłowski is an editorial secretary and columnist for Kultura Liberalna, writing Friday’s column dedicated to American and Polish political life. As the deputy-head of Kultura Liberalna‘s political department, he is also responsible for interviewing authors – including Aleksander Smolar, Paweł Śpiewak, Anne Applebaum and Saskia Sassen – on a broad range of political issues. Outside of Kultura Liberalna, Łukasz is a PhD student at the University of Warsaw’s Institute of Sociology.


Lidia Kołucka-Żuk is an independent business advisor, who previously served as the executive director of the Warsaw-based Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe. A trained lawyer, she has also worked as a strategic advisor to the Polish Prime Minister on issues of state efficiency, reforms in the judicial and legal sectors and the creation of digital society in Poland.

Radosław Markowski is a political scientist, specialising in comparative politics and electoral studies. He heads the Comparative Politics Department at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Political Studies and chairs the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities. He has also been the director of the Polish National Election Study since 1995 and a member of the Planning Committee of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems since 1997. Markowski has written Post-Communist Party Systems: Competition, Representation and Inter-party Cooperation (Cambridge University Press, 1999), edited The Party Political System and Electoral Behaviour: a Decade of Polish Experience (Instytut Studiów Politycznych PAN, Warsaw, 2002) and Populism and Democracy (Instytut Studiów Politycznych PAN, Warsaw, 2004) and co-authored Transformative paths in Central and Eastern Europe (Instytut Studiów Politycznych PAN, Warsaw, 2001). He is also on the editorial board of several journals in the field of European politics.

Katarzyna Szymielewicz is a lawyer and activist and a co-founder and the president of the Panoptykon Foundation, which deals with human rights issues in the context of new technological developments. She’s also the vice-president of European Digital Rights and advises both the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative and the Polish Minister for Administration and Digitalisation. Additionally, she is a member of the International Commission of Jurists (Polish section) and the Internet Society. Academically speaking, she is a graduate of the University of Warsaw’s Law and Administration Department and has also undertaken a course in development studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

Jan Zielonka is a professor of European Politics at the University of Oxford and a Ralf Dahrendorf fellow at St Antony’s College. He has published numerous works in the field of international relations, comparative politics and the history of political ideas. His current work analyses Europe’s efforts to project power and spread norms in its external relations. He also looks to compare four contemporary empires: America, China, Europe and Russia. His books include Europe as Empire. The Nature of the Enlarged European Union (Oxford University Press, 2006), Europe Unbound: Enlarging and Reshaping the Boundaries of the European Union (Routledge 2002), Democratic Consolidation in Eastern Europe, vol. 1 & 2 (Oxford University Press, 2001), Explaining Euro-paralysis. Why Europe is Unable to Act in International Politics (Macmillan, 1998) and Political Ideas in Contemporary Poland (Avebury 1989).


Nienawidzę polityki! O rozpadzie zaufania i cynizmie obywateli

18 września, czwartek, godz. 18.00, barStudio, Plac Defilad 1, Śródmieście, Warszawa

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Podsłuchane rozmowy socjalistycznych polityków na Węgrzech doprowadziły do władzy Viktora Orbana i na długo pozbawiły socjalistów szans na wygraną. W 2012 r. nagrana ukradkiem rozmowa pozbawiła szans na prezydenturę kandydata Republikanów, Mitta Romneya. We Francji podsłuchiwano Nicholasa Sarkozy’ego, niedawno ujawniono prywatne poglądy Francois Hollande’a. W Polsce tzw. afera podsłuchowa może jeszcze kosztować PO porażkę w wyborach samorządowych.

Ale czy któraś z tych afer poprawiła jakość polityki w danym kraju, czy jedynie zmieniła ludzi u władzy? Jako obywatele domagamy się od polityków poszanowania naszej prywatności, ale czy oni mogą wymagać od nas tego samego? Czy powinniśmy wiedzieć o naszych politykach wszystko i czy pełna jawność uzdrowi demokrację? A może, zamiast poprawić nasze życie polityczne, doprowadzi do rozbicia resztek zaufania pomiędzy obywatelem a politycznymi elitami? Jak na tle innych, zachodnich demokracji wygląda kondycja “władzy ludu” w Polsce?

Prowadzenie: Łukasz Pawłowski

Goście: Lidia Kołucka-Żuk, Radosław Markowski,  Katarzyna Szymielewicz i Jan Zielonka

Informacja o Kulturze Liberalnej.