Today’s challenges, from the flight from war-refugees to the management of the commons, and the environmental crisis, are being tackled at the local level from some City Councils across Europe. Some cities are proving to be spaces with an outstanding capacity to confront and face reality with reachable solutions.
While the European Commission is set soon to examine Poland’s response to its recommendation of December 2016, regarding the rule of law in this Member State, a number of NGOs have submitted an open letter to the European Commission demanding to take action against Poland for its “complete disregard and undermine” for the rule of law. The Polish democratic crisis is only one of the many examples of states where national political institutions are not longer responding nor dealing with the global trends affecting the rule of law in their countries. Today’s challenges, from the flight from war-refugees to the management of the commons, and the environmental crisis, are being tackled at the local level from some City Councils across Europe. Some cities are proving to be spaces with an outstanding capacity to confront and face reality with reachable solutions. It is in the city where dynamic and organic transformations of social struggles are happening thanks to citizens-led measures and new forms of political participation. Barcelona, Madrid or A Coruna, are some of the most cited cases of successful municipalists governments in Europe. But these are not the only existing examples. In the Polish case, in a country accused of systemic threats to the rule of law, the city of Lublin is successfully translating the political struggles at the national level into political participation and re-appropriation of the public space for its citizens. Lublin is the ninth largest city in Poland and the capital of Lublin Voivodeship with a population of 349,103 people. In 2010, Mr Krzysztof Żuk was elected the Mayor of the City of Lublin and he was re-elected for the second term securing a majority of 60.13% in the first round of the local government elections held at the end of 2014. We spoke to Piotr Choroś, political scientist and head of social participation office in Lublin’s Municipal Office. He is specialist in the field of cooperation with local government, intercultural competence and anti-discrimination policies, and in the Lublin municipal office, he is responsible for the use and development of new technologies in communication with the residents.
In the Lublin Municipal Office you have a person responsible for the participatory budgeting and initiative of local residents. Can you explain what this means and what is the process of creating these budgets? How is this a tool for engaging citizens in public participatory life?
Civic budget is part of the city budget, which directly decide residents by voting. In the procedure of the Budget Citizens residents will decide on the disbursement of 15 million polish zloty. We are fortunate that participatory budgeting is a tool very close to people and their affairs. At the city level, each person who wants to change something in your immediate surroundings may propose an amendment and infect your idea to others. And it happens. They form local alliances residents encouraging others to vote for specific projects. From year to year we observe an increasing number of people who engage in civic budget.
The Mayors of Barcelona, Madrid and Paris have argued for greater recognition of the role that cities can play at a transnational level. They explain that at the international level it is increasingly necessary to take cities into account, and that at the European level, “this is an absolute imperative” What is Lublin’s position in this regard?
Lublin many years ago had already understood that networking and trans-nationality is the natural state of the modern city. Cooperation with cities, NGO’s and other entities not national is profitable for everybody. Our city is involved in a number of networks in different thematic areas: culture, economy, environment, education and civil society development. The sharing experiences and mutual support is just one side of the coin. On the other hand there are informal relationships that naturally generate new solutions, and thus create a policy of European cities.
Some European cities have criticised the policy of closing European borders while at the same time calling on the European Union to provide more support for migrants and refugees. What is Lublin’s position towards migration? Would it be possible for Lublin to contribute to a network of cities supporting the inclusion of refugees?
For over twenty years, until 2014, one of the governmental centres for refugees was located in Lublin. During this time many local institutions, such as Municipal Social Services Centre, primary and secondary schools, developed tools and strategies for supporting persons applying for refugee status and those who were granted the status and decided to stay in Lublin for the future. This local system of support was backed by three NGOs which specialised in providing care for the persons living in the Refugees Centre. When, due to logistical reasons, the Refugees Centre in Lublin was closed, the Municipality of Lublin advocated its reopening and declared support for the persons who stayed in Lublin outside of the Refugees centre.
In Lublin, we believe in diversity advantage and want to support and help every resident of our city, regardless of their status and life history. We feel that we grow as a community when people from distant parts of the world choose Lublin to be their place of residence. Openness and friendliness are among the pillars of Lublin’s Strategy of Development 2013-2020! Unfortunately, the amount of refugees accepted in Poland and the location they are directed to is not local government’s decision, so in these matters we depend on the Polish government’s migration policies. But over the past 8 years, since we have become a part of the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities Programme, a number of programmes and initiatives have been put in place to make sure each new Lubliner is properly welcomed and taken care of. We cooperate closely with other Polish and European municipalities in matters of migration and inclusion of refugees and plan on continuing to do so in the future.