The Politics of Youth in Poland

04/06/2015 02:32 pm ET | Updated Jun 06, 2015

A generational shift is slowly taking place in the politics of East-Central Europe as the figures responsible for the changes in 1989 are giving way to a younger group of politicians who were not old enough to be politically active at that time. This younger generation of politicians takes membership in the European Union for granted. They have very little invested in the original disagreements that fragmented the opposition movements. And they don't care so much about some of the defining issues of that generation, such as lustration (the screening of officials for their ties to the Communist-era secret police).

Agnieszka Pomaska is a member of this new generation of politicians. Born in Gdansk in the pivotal year of 1980, she came of political age when Poland had already become a democracy. At the age of 22, after coming up through the ranks of the youth section of what became the Civic Platform party (PO), she was elected to the city council in Gdansk. Since 2009, she has been a member of parliament (the Sejm) with PO, the current ruling party.

In parliament, her focus has been on European affairs. But because of her age, she has also necessarily been drawn into discussions about the state of Polish youth. I asked her what kind of policies Poland could implement to deal with high youth unemployment -- over 27 percent in the summer of 2013 and now down to a little over 23 percent -- and the serious outflow of Polish young people from the country.

"The answer is not easy," she told me in an interview at the Sejm in August 2013. "It's not only a Polish problem, but a European problem, particularly the unemployment problem among young people. It's not as bad here as in Spain here, but it's still a problem. Unemployment is something that we're concentrating on: we know that jobs are the only thing that can help people decide to come back to Poland. It's the same as at the city level. The most important thing is to create new jobs. The other thing the present government is focusing on is family policy. We have longer maternity leave -- we call it maternity leave but it's also for fathers. We've created new places in kindergartens, which is important for me since I have two small children and I know how it important it is to work and at the same time have kids. If we speak about jobs, one option is to have more flexible jobs."

How would the newer generation of politicians govern differently from their elders? "We have quite a young representation in parliament, and there are a lot of people my age," Pomaska told me. "We talk about what will it look like when we, or our young colleagues from other parties, are in power. For instance, we still have this problem with lustration. But one day there will be a time when there aren't people accused of collaboration with secret service. It won't be a revolution. It will just be a continuing process. New people come up, and the older ones are not as active any more. It won't change from one day to the next. When it's a long process, it's more difficult to notice."

Ultimately, she returns to the impact of the EU on Poland and her generation. "Joining the EU really changed our country and our way of thinking," she concluded. "The first thing is infrastructure. I love looking at pictures of the same place from 2000 and 2014. The changes have been huge. I think Poles are different mentally as well. We are more positive and looking for opportunities. We are more open. We travel a lot. It's very positive that we can move to look for jobs, even if we travel to other countries. These people still have strong connections to Poland, and maybe one day they will come back."

The Interview

How did you become involved in politics?

I decided to study political science in Gdansk, my hometown. Then I joined a youth organization of what became Civic Platform, which didn't exist as a party at that time. But it was soon afterwards in 2001, and then I joined the party. So, the story is very short and very fast. That same year I was involved in the parliamentary elections by working on the campaign of one of our current ministers. A year later, I was elected to the city council in Gdansk. That was 2002.

You could have gone on to become a professor after your studies. Why did you decide to go into politics?

Sometimes it's coincidence. Sometimes it's because you meet people you trust. First of all, I liked politics. I liked to be in touch with people, especially when I was a member of city council. I had contact with citizens. You can change people's lives at a very local level, and sometimes at other levels as well. You have a chance to change things.

Can you give me an example?

There was a big project to build a new tramline. It wasn't a new project, but I decided to remind the mayor of the project. I collected the signatures of citizens. The result was that after a few years, thanks to EU money as well, the tramline now exists. I also worked on some other very basic things like helping people with their accommodation problems. Those are very local problems.

When you were elected to city council, I'm guessing, but you were probably the youngest person there.

Yes, I was.

What was that like?

Nowadays, we have many young members. But at that time, I was much younger than the others. I'm also a woman, so it's a bit different because there are fewer women in politics, especially young ones. At the beginning, it was difficult because I didn't have much experience. I was completely new. I had to learn everything step by step. On the other hand, I depended on other people. I was very straight in what I was saying and doing, and I think that was helpful.

Did young people in Gdansk see you as your representative?

Young people are not very much involved in politics in Poland these days. But some of them, yes, saw me that way. I was a member of the youth organization of the party so I worked a lot with young people, especially during the campaigns. But I don't think that only young people supported me.

Did you feel that you represented the concerns of young people? A tramline is for everyone. But were there any projects that addressed the interests of the younger generation?

To read the rest of the interview, click here.