Profesor Mirosław Matyja: Utopia or Chance? Part 4

3. Democracy, But What Kind of Democracy?

Democracy, as some people believe, is not superior to other political systems, nor is it eternal or immune to any destabilising factors. The evidence for that lies in the fact that there are several fundamental forms of democratic governance. Therefore, it is difficult to define which of them is the most functional and effective. According to many political scientists, the best one is the Swiss direct democracy. However, it also has disadvantages. Moreover, the political or economic success of a given country does not always correspond to the level of functionality or dysfunctionality of its form of governance.

Nevertheless, everyone agrees that the most effective form of democracy is the one that brings the process of governance as closely to the people as it is possible and engages them in decision-making both on the local and the national level.

 There is no perfect democracy – all of its forms require constant corrections and adjustments. As a system, it is characterised by uncertainty; it has to constantly face the challenges of the postmodern world. Certainly, it is not “the best of all political systems.” Suffice it to say that the presidential system of the United States, semi-presidential one in France, as well as the German system, or even the Swiss one, leave a lot to be desired.

 It is crucial to implement the principles of a given form of democracy in a proper and efficient manner, which is often indirectly determined by a country’s historical experience, geopolitical situation, and the level of development.

The level of active participation of citizens in the political process on the one hand, and the operational efficiency of the state – including its local agencies – on the other, are certainly the two most important criteria for assessing the functionality (or dysfunctionality) of a given form of democracy.

Since democracy and conflicts, as phenomena, are closely connected, every democratic system should provide instruments that would contribute to their resolution. Such tools are worked out within the frameworks of a broadly defined political culture. What is a political culture? It is inextricably linked with the development of civil society, which is further determined by the functionality of a given democracy.

The concept of civil society, in its optimal meaning, refers to the activities in the social, economic, and political spheres, which constitute the elements of the political decision-making process. In this context, a political culture is the sum total of attitudes, values, and patterns of behaviour that determine all interactions between those in power and the rest of citizens.

When it comes to Poland, the values I am referring to are derived from Christian ethics and the Polish political traditions. The functioning of the triangle “society – state – economy” in the Polish democratic system should be based on the Constitution which is the fundamental and supreme law.

The current Constitution of Poland was adopted in 1997 at the end of the term of social democratic faction. Socialists found the moment very convenient since the president of Poland was at the time Aleksander Kwaśniewski, a post-communist and a leader of the Democratic Left Alliance, who assumed the office in December of 1995.

In the constitutional referendum, citizens were asked only about the bill that was accepted by the then left-wing parliamentary majority. Voter turnout was only 43 percent, of which 53 percent voted in favour. It means that only 6.4 millions of citizens eligible to vote took part in the referendum. Thus, it cannot be assumed that the current Constitution reflects the political views of the majority of Poles. Unfortunately, when it comes to the quality of the Constitution of Poland, an average cookbook is written in a more logical and intelligible fashion.

From the very beginning, the Constitution was impotent in regard to numerous difficulties that the country had been struggling with. It introduced many legal and legislative ambiguities. It does not regulate the problem of Poland’s political dependency during the communist era, the apparatus of coercion of the previous system, or the collaboration of many state agencies with the USSR. It lacks any reference to the problem of Polish expatriates, expropriations, stripping of citizenship, and many others.

The Constitution invokes the system of “direct democracy,” but in reality the whole governance is carried out top-down, and all “democratic” decisions are made by the undemocratic Sejm or by cabinets whose members follow their parties’ leaders.

It is interesting that we do not know the actual authors of the document…

Apart from being designed in a very wily way, it is also hedged around by so many laws that people in power can interpret it as they like – and they do so since they are incapable of taking a real responsibility for the country.

The history of our country shows that while designing a constitution we should consider the spirit of the times. If we want our Constitution to be up to the modern standards, it needs some serious amendments. It should provide legal instruments that would allow us to carry out our own, sovereign policies, keep the country safe, and to directly influence the nation’s fate.

It is important that we define citizens’ participation in the country’s decision-making process in terms of specific laws. By doing this we can propose certain amendments that would introduce a proper form of referendum – a binding tool of expressing citizens’ will and social supervision – and people’s initiative that would allow us to initiate a referendum whenever we deem it necessary. In short, in order to open the possibility for citizens to actively participate in shaping the country’s future, we need a new constitution.

The way in which our current political elites consolidate their power – by exploiting their dominant position – is at odds with true moral principles. As it was already mentioned, politicians invent their own codes of ethics and conduct. However, crookedness, financial chicanery, constant lying, and corruption cannot provide a foundation of any ethics. direct democracy is the only way to fill our political life with integrity and conduct anchored in Christian and humane ethics. The new constitution should fully protect citizens’ rights to decide on matters that concern them directly.

To be continued…

© Mirosław Matyja

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