Struggling to get united. Contemporary student movements in Poland as a part of international networks.

Piotr Kowzan Małgorzata Zielińska Magdalena Prusinowska (absent) Institute of Education, University of Gdańsk, Poland
ISA, 16.07.2010 RC47.12: United We Stand? Social Movements in Eastern and Western Europe

Goals & methods

Discussing one “student” movement in Poland in the context of global actions and the International Student Movement (ISM) Authors were participants and founders of the movement, have experienced it's crisis

Student movements in the global context

International Student Movement (ISM)- an independent platform uniting groups struggling for free and emancipatory education. Originating in Germany Against neo-liberal reforms “International Day of Action against the Commercialization of Education” (5/11/2008) - a series of coordinated protests in over 25 countries “Reclaim your Education - Global Week of Action” (20-29/4/2009) massive demonstrations and occupations (especially in Spain, Germany, Croatia, Austria and the USA) violent police repressions

Bologna Process

In Europe protests had often “Anti-Bolognian” character, For Poland B.P. meant: mobility, different structure of studies, and in contrary to e.g. Germany, more choice for students But the new reform plans that introduced some elements of commercialisation (more dependency on business) were presented in spring 2009, when student movements in Poland had already been mobilised.

Student movements in Poland

Polish activists hearing about ISM and expecting that something should go on in Poland too Independent movements in Gdańsk and Wrocław with clear alliance to ISM, focusing on local issues Later also actions in Lublin, Poznań, Warsaw Mostly block recruitment of PhD students and former exchange students; multiple membership


Gdansk: lack of scholarships for PhD students, who first (in November 2008) decided to act within the available organizational framework – first-year students “took over” the PhD Student Council. need for an active and open organisation empowering students' voices and articulating their grievance against the security policy at the university (increasing number of cameras inside buildings, fencing of the previously open campus, and security guards controlling everybody who enters the library). first meeting - March, 11, 2009, around 50 people turned up and there was a heated discussion about everything that should be changed at the university. Otwarty Komitet Uwalniania Przestrzeni Edukacyjnych – Open Committee for the Liberation of Educational Spaces

Organizational structure

Based on:
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Consensus decision-making Working groups for particular issues Sign language at the meetings Online discussions between meetings

The fence around UG

Photo: Dominik Krzymiński

Issue Fencing the previously open campus Police-like control in the library Lack of scholarships for PhD students Cameras and over-reactive university police New reforms – more of

Actions an open letter to the rector + discussion panel + in the media research a clandestine direct action + a film + interviews + petition + meetings with

Results = no changes with the fence; but a lot of discussion at the university and in media = some minor changes 2 scholarships + at least 2 more promised in year 2010/11 = no changes, minor repressions to the members of the movement difficult to evaluate

Issues and actions

administration  coordinated international flash mob + T-shirts with slogans + letters from the student council to the dean fake cameras installed demonstrations, banners, discussions, T-shirts with slogans solidarity letters + meetings/conferences together+ coordinated film screenings discussion with the rector letter to the rector, legal research, individual interventions some degree of unity, a new

commercialization public universities Solidarity with other movements

organization on the national level is being established university guards started to deal with the problem more awareness about the autonomy at the university

Cars parked on the grass and sidewalks Autonomy of the university vs. police control

Zombie Flæsh Mob


Some support (petition, protesting against the reform) OKUPE as a collector of complains Lack of interest from most of students Destroying the elite image of the studies Activism in the cradle of “Solidarność”

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The life-cycle of the movement
A lot of energy in the beginning, 50 members

Many left, dissatisfied with aggressive discussions National/Common Education Congress – separate group Latency, communication limited to a minimum

Occurring problems and their possible explanations
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Consensus vs. different goals Membership crisis Incoherent group Different understandings of power (Weber vs. Foucault) Polish authoritarianism Academic culture of criticism (Graeber D., 2009, Twilight of Vanguardism)

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Other conclusions

Small group managed to attract a lot of attention but not to mobilise masses Struggling to unite with other groups in Poland and abroad – some successful, some not Western – (Central) Eastern Divide?

Copying methods and goals from the West or addressing universal needs? Local vs. global/Western know-how

Thank you!
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