Aleksandra Łoboda reflects on: Allianz Foundation Next Generations Study 2023

Before releasing our Allianz Foundation Next Generations Study: 'The Movers of Tomorrow?' on October 31, we requested Aleksandra Łoboda and other friends of the Foundation to reflect on our findings. Read her blog about the findings in the Polish context here.

Aleksandra Łoboda is sitting on a street, her mouth taped with gaffa and around her and two colleagues there is barbed wire. She is holding a sign that is saying: The border of Decency

Aleksandra Łoboda on demonstration against pushbacks at Polish-Belarus border © Pawel Wroblewski

“Our vision is a world where everyone is empowered to advocate for themselves”
Aleksandra Łoboda

Before releasing the Allianz Foundation Next Generations Study 2023: 'The Movers of Tomorrow?' on October 31, we requested Aleksandra Łoboda to reflect on our findings. Aleksandra Łoboda is co-founder and president of the board of Widzialne Foundation, she works on communication and advocacy in terms of migrants' rights in Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. She is a MA graduate from Human Rights and Humanitarian Action at Sciences Po Paris and fights for equality especially in terms of gender and country of origin. In her work, she prioritises an intersectional approach and supporting the voice of those subjected to discrimination. Here is her blog.

As of the time of writing this piece, Poland is heading towards the end of a very heated election campaign before its parliamentary elections on 15 October 2023. One of the major issues of the campaign was the alarmingly low projected voter turnout among young people, especially young women (4 out of 10 young women were not planning to go to the polls) (1). What seemed to me to be the underlying reason for this phenomenon is that it is difficult to feel represented as a young woman by the Polish politicians. The facts speak for themselves: the average age of the Member of the Polish Sejm (lower house of the Parliament) is 50; women constitute less than 29% (2) of the Sejm, and 24% of the Senate (3). Among the six committees running for the elections, all leaders are male. Even more disconcerting is that the politicians seem to have lost their touch about which issues are crucial for the society in Poland. Growing polarisation and use of politics of fear mean that political campaigns are focusing on portraying other political parties as threats to national security – instead of coming up with concrete solutions. No wonder that - as  indicated in the Allianz Foundation Next Generation Study - 63% of young people do not trust the politicians. Even less surprising is that the study suggests that young people in Poland strive for strong democratic institutions which might hold the politicians accountable. 

As Widzialne (en. “Visible”) Foundation, we are one of the NGOs that decided to respond to this challenge. The name of the foundation is strongly connected to its mission - we strive for young women and other people subjected to discrimination to be visible in the public space. What is more, our vision is a world where everyone is empowered to advocate for themselves, and their human rights are fully realised. Widzialne Foundation undertakes a number of initiatives to execute this vision, including supporting refugees and migrants, fighting against menstruation poverty, educating people about sexual and mental health, tackling other taboo issues, and advocating for their systemic solutions. Since we believe that the first step towards systemic change is the government that truly represents the society, we have also been active in the election campaign. We have collected over 400 issues that young Polish citizens consider invisible in politics. There were issues such as migrants’ rights, climate crisis, education, reproductive rights, minorities’ rights, mental health, and animal rights. Many of those topics are either heavily instrumentalised or completely omitted by the political parties.

Migration seems to be one of the most important challenges: Poland has become home to over 2 million people fleeing the war in Ukraine since 2022, has had a humanitarian crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border since 2021, and has been the EU leader in terms of the highest number of work permits issued for the migrants. In the election campaign, migration has become instrumentalised again, with the Polish ruling party (PiS) organising a extremely politicised referendum that supposedly tackles the issue of migration policy. Organised on the same day as the parliamentary election, it seems to follow the anti-pattern first introduced by Victor Orban in the 2016 referendum in Hungary. In Poland, just like in Hungary, the objective of the referendum seems to be to instil fear of migrants among voters. At the same time, almost no political party mentions migrants’ rights or refers to the ongoing policy of pushbacks at the Polish-Belarusian border, let alone proposes any comprehensive, rights-based migration policy. The Next Generation Study finds that 60% of young Poles consider Poland to be divided. We fear that election campaigns like this will only make it deteriorate.

It seems apparent that the current politics does not represent the young. Responding to this challenge, as the Widzialne Foundation, we have been trying to encourage young people to vote and to confront the politicians so that they truly represent us. The lack of responsiveness and accountability of politicians seems to be a common European challenge - as mentioned in the AF study, young European adults tend to consider politicians as unresponsive and irresponsible. Having collected the 400 invisible issues of the elections, we have created a questionnaire for politicians on policy proposals regarding these very topics. To diminish the distance between the politicians and voters, we have organised informal and open political debates during which civil society representatives, political candidates and young people met and discussed the issues that are invisible in politics. To fight polarisation and create a positive vision of the elections, we also co-organised a huge pre-election party, featuring discussions, concerts and a silent disco. What was truly invigorating to me about the event was that it stayed political while being filled with positive emotions and respectful discussions.

Another question also rings true in the Polish context: According to the Next Generation Study, 86% of young people understand when people hesitate to take children. In the light of the extremely restrictive access to abortion, the lowest access to contraception in Europe (4) , rising costs of living and also insufficient policies regarding the climate crisis, this result seems understandable. It appears that the politicians - instead of instilling fears among voters - should respond to the existing ones and try to ensure financial, health and climate security. This appears particularly pertinent in the light of the young people’s future risks analysed by the AF study where material and climate security are prominent.

The invisibility of many of these pressing issues shows us that we need a change of the narrative and public discourse so that we can discuss the solutions of the most pressing issues despite having different opinions. This is particularly vital in the light of the distrust of the Polish media, as according to the AF study 74% of the young Poles do not believe in media neutrality.

Regardless of the result of the elections, we will have plenty of issues to address after 15 October. What might constitute a real challenge is to encourage people to cooperate despite the rising polarisation and the distrust of public institutions. However, I believe that the growing number of initiatives enabling young voters to empower gives hope that we are effecting changes. For instance, as activists protesting in the streets in 2020, following the near-ban of abortion in Poland, we have already contributed to the change of social perception of abortion. In 2022, 70% of the Polish people were in favour of legalising the termination of pregnancy until 12 weeks, which constituted a major shift (5). Currently, almost all political parties have a stance on abortion, with most of the parties of democratic opposition pledge to liberalise abortion laws in the first 100 days of governing. Such little steps will hopefully contribute to the shift of the Polish political scene and in the end lead to a new generation where young people may feel secure and represented.