Anti-elitism or Elite Substitution? The Changing Landscape of Civil Society in Contemporary Poland

Dr. Elzbieta Korolczuk

This presentation examines recent changes in Polish civil society, both institutional and emerging at the grassroots, in the light of elite theory, which is seldom employed in civil society studies. Based on available quantitative data and qualitative analysis of official documents and interviews with civil society actors, I analyze the logic behind these changes focusing on the key aspects defining the elites, which are usually seen as having disproportionate: 1) access to resources, 2) power to influence political decisions and 3) impact on the public debate (Best and Higley 2018). The main question concerns the effects of the reform introduced by the current government: do they meet the aims stated in the Law and Justice electoral program and in key programmatic documents, which were to strengthen Polish civil society and prevent its “eliticization” by promoting public debate, re-directing public funds and opening up possibilities for citizen’s engagement in public consultations and cooperation with state institutions? I would argue that the institutional, financial and discursive changes concerning Polish civil society, which were introduced during the last 4 years are in practice oriented toward completing democratization process by establishing new social hierarchy and creating new elites, and they have limited impact as to preventing “eliticization” of civil society, strengthening direct democracy and opening venues for effective dialogue between citizens and the state.