by Maciej Kmita

Young leaders. Start in politics can be difficult, because all too often young people instead of hard work choose a shortcut – persistent media happenings or excessive focus on social media. On the other hand, political parties offer them a very poor resource for development opportunities. This usually results in poorly qualified political staff. In fact, the youth is a generation of the future, and they will sooner or later be at the controls of our cities, governments and Europe.

How do young people start their political activities? The natural environment is party youth organisations. What is the problem of such groups in Poland? First of all, a misunderstanding of their function. They should be a kind of academy, competence training before entering into politics. The parties should invest in their youth, equip them with a thorough knowledge of the functioning of the state, legislation, the principles of law, economics and social policy. By the way, of course, their best features have to be developed – such as charisma, teamwork skills, leadership skills. What is the image of youth party organisations in Poland? Unfortunately, their reputation is not the best.

To a large extent, this is explained by financial problems. Political parties have spared expenditures in their younger ranks, so they cannot organize large-scale educational projects. Young politicians focus on easy and mundane issues such as organising media events that have become their symbol. Just like the famous actions of Polish youths who enclosed themselves in cages in Warsaw to protest against the statements of the politics of the opposite faction, who wished to see his opponent in similar captivity. This caused a lot of laughter and pity and public questions about the sense of the existence of youth groups in Polish political parties. Members of another youth in the comments for national television showed their stress and were not able to answer why they support their party.

What else is the reason for this perception of political youth? The fact that topics proposed by them in the public discussion are unreal and in no small extent deviate from everyday problems of Polish youth. Of course, the issues of defending the rule of law and preaching elaborates on the Constitutional Tribunal are the utmost importance, but this is what “adult politicians” discuss during day and night. Meanwhile, ordinary young people see everyday problems elsewhere. In the ubiquitous smog, in difficulties with investing in your own business, in living problems related to starting a family. Unfortunately, happenings of young politicians do not focus on these issues. That is why young Poles do not feel that party youths represent their interests. Young people may be lacking in creativity and strength in the relations with the management of big parties. And perhaps the parties neglect the young and focus on the current political struggle, without thinking about investments in the young generation. Probably the truth lies in the middle.

There is one more aspect of moving away from reality. Social media. If some trainings are organised in youth groups, these are lectures on new media. Indeed, it is vital that young people respond to the challenges of modern times. In time, however, they move so much into the virtual world that they think that reality only exists on Twitter or Facebook. This is a prevalent phenomenon among young representatives of all sides of the political scene. They devote all their energy to conducting Facebook discussions and selecting the best photos on Instagram, while neglecting work among voters, real people in real local environments.

And here we come to the bottom: work in the community. We, young people, often forget that voters need to get to know us at work. That is why the activity is so important. Where? Above all, in non-governmental organisations. It is there that we acquire experience, learn diligence and, most importantly, humility. Humility towards other people and to real problems, as well as listening and drawing skills. There we can take small successes that later pay off and allow us to gain people’s trust.

The author of this article is a councilman in a small town in the south of Poland. In the past, he was an activist of several public benefit organisations, and he decided to run in elections. He could do it only thanks to the single-mandate electoral districts. In the majority or mixed law, he would probably get such a distant place on the list that he would not have much chance for election. He decided to visit all the apartments in his district, although it was risky because in small towns the “door to door” campaign is associated with intrusive solicitors or members of religious sects. It paid off. He won with three voices with a respected director of the town laboratory, and as a twenty-year-old youth, he became the second youngest councillor in Poland. What problems did he have to face? Above all, with a lack of respect. At every step, his political adversaries used the argument that he was too young to know anything and speak honestly about various matters. “When I dealt with this matter, you were not born yet” – this sentence he heard hundreds of times. At every step, he had to prove that he had specific and informed views. But it was worth it. Today, after three years in the Town Council, he can think about more cadences and a slow way to expand his competences at the next levels of political career. One of his political mentors, a professor of economics and a very deserving Polish MEP, once told him that the political path is like a ladder. If this has been built rung by the level, from gaining the trust of your neighbours to an important role in creating a comprehensive debate, then if at some level your leg will falter, you will always be able to go lower. If you have not built your position step by step, with the slightest mistake, you fall right away.

In the age of finesse of youth organisations and the lack of ideas for their functioning in the spirit of development of knowledge and competencies of young leaders, we should appreciate EDS all the more. This organisation puts forward a debate, a clever discussion on important issues and, above all, it is a training platform for leaders. Only when we have these competencies can we talk about important matters for Europe and propose bold and wise solutions, and then we can return to our local communities and work hard for the success of the village, town and city, and only then – on our own.

26 February 2018
This text was published in Bullseye issue 71