“The world does not end only at what we see”: an interview with Prof. Bogusław Marek

Maria Moroniak
Emil Wojtaluk

Winters in Humla (Nepal) tend to be very cold (© Prof. Bogusław Marek)

In our unusual interview we would like to introduce our readers and followers to a very extraordinary person – Professor Bogusław Marek, OBE. Professor Marek is the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (KUL) Rector’s Plenipotentiary for Disabled Students, the founder of Center for Adaptation of Teaching Materials for the Blind and the inventor of  ‘English for the blind’ program.

For Professor his work of more than twenty years is both a mission and a passion. He has invented numerous educational toys which are used by him on daily basis as tools to explain difficult concepts based on visual experience. In 2002 he was honored with The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the Queen Elisabeth II for his devotion to his educational effort.

We hope the following interview is going to encourage you to get yourselves familiar with the Professor Marek’s activity and maybe even support his initiatives.

Emil Wojtaluk: You are the father of ‘English for the blind’ program and the founder of the Center for Adaptation of Teaching Materials for the blind at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. Could you please outline the Center’s activity?

Real objects and models support computer based English language lessons with blind children at KUL (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Professor Bogusław Marek: Due to the fact that the blind are recognized as a group with so called special educational needs, our activity is all about helping them with functioning like they weren’t blind. For instance, when someone sighted needs a book – he goes to the library, borrows a book and reads it. This is impossible for a blind student unless there is a copy of the book in a Braille or digital format. The blind students remain disabled persons but we try to take their disability away. Sometimes, at meetings and conferences, I surprise people saying that here at the University our policy is not to have any disabled students. I can always hear a murmur of outrage: “how come, at KUL”? All I mean is every disabled person is welcome here, but we do our best to make sure that they can function as regular students. If a student in a wheelchair is able to use a lift to get to the classroom – he is not a disabled student anymore. This also applies to blind students – if they have their books and tests adapted for them, they are no longer disabled students. This is what the Center’s activity is about and I have to say we have a lot of work. As of today, there are 15 blind students enrolled at the University. Let’s say each of them attends 8 classes and there are 10 books needed to be read to prepare for them – it makes 80 books for one person. This is a tremendous amount of work. Last year our Center transformed 70K pages of regular text into Braille or digital format. Plus texts written in Braille take approximately 3 – 4 times more space than the regular font. Our students are equipped with personal digital appliances, Braille notebooks with a small screen. Our specialty is also converting graphics: graphs, diagrams, charts or maps. We are ready to prepare boards and plans in a tactile version.

Maria Moroniak: Do you remember the specific moment in the past when the project was born? Was there any milestone, which you remember as a propulsion of the initiative? Or was it all about arduous, day-by-day work?

Bethany Centre for blind children in Meghalaya, India (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Professor Bogusław Marek: I think I need to mention a couple of milestones here. First of all – you two are probably too young to understand that – a middle-age crisis. When you are a guy in your forties, you have made your PhD and your habilitation, thoughts like “can I achieve anything more at this university?” cross your mind. I have always been afraid of a vision that I could end up like someone I met years ago during my studies at the University of Warsaw. The gentleman I am talking about was apparently tired with his life and his students and all he was doing was reading out loud boring lectures from yellowed pages of his notes. I didn’t want this kind of academic death to happen to me. I needed a shot in the arm. I wasn’t frustrated yet. I just could have felt I needed more. Then it happened that I was staying in London with my students and once noticed a poster of a charity working for the blind. There was a girl holding a model of Tower Bridge in her hands and the sentence “Amy will never see the sights of London” written below. It made me think: “hold on… if Amy has been blind since she was born, she’s got to have very good hearing, memory and concentration. And these skills are extremely useful in interpreting or teaching languages. The only thing Amy may be missing is a foreign language”. And then I thought I could offer English to the blind kids in Poland. So said, so done. I visited this foundation the same day and two weeks later I was a tutor on a camp for blind kids. This was supposed to let me know if I could handle this kind of work.After coming back to Poland I went to Laski (a special school for blind children). I would teach English to kids and kids would teach me about being a blind person. After two years of working in Laski I got a scholarship and went to England to do a specialist course in visual impairment. It was before Poland’s accession to the European Union but they already had some preparatory programs for the members-to-be and I was one of the first beneficiaries of the “Tempus” program, which let me complete my visual impairment studies at the University College London. After coming back to Poland I found out that my new British qualifications were not valid in Poland but it didn’t put me off. I started a “pirate” unit here at KUL, thanks to a green light from the authorities of the University. And this was when, in 1995 the Unit of Typhlodidactics of English was established which later included Alternative Comuniation. We started with training teachers, later on first blind students appeared, so did the need of preparing materials for them. In the beginning it was more like outwork – we only had a tiny Braille printer. And then we got invited to participate in a program “Per linguas mundi ad laborem” co-organized by the University of Warsaw and the Maria Grzegorzewska University (Academy of Special Needs Education). The project was planned on a large scale, including creating centers for adaptation of materials at KUL and the University of Warsaw (UW). We split the roles up – Warsaw focused on converting regular text into Braille format and we, due to my personal experience, focused on graphics, obtaining new, very expensive devices for creating high-class, long lasting tactile graphics. That project was my second milestone.

Group photo on the last day of a tactile graphics workshop in Apia, Samoa (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

I think I need to mention the third one too. It happened during my studies in England, which were supposed to last two years, though I completed them within one year since I didn’t have other responsibilities. I was asked to give a speech during the inauguration of the academic year. Back in that time KUL was known as the only independent university from Western Berlin to Tokyo, so every embassy sent a high-ranking representative, even ambassadors themselves, in a gesture of support. I was given an opportunity to speak in front of such a noble audience, so I had been working on my twenty-minute speech for three months. I was honored with applause, but the most glamorizing part was talking to all these guests in person. There was a line of ambassadors asking me how they could support my initiative. Thanks to that morning we got equipment sponsored by the Canadian Embassy and I could go on a very important course of tactile graphics organized in Australia and funded by the British Embassy. Thankfully I was quick enough to react by saying “Your Excellency, the course is useless unless I have funds to buy the equipment for producing tactile graphics” – so we got money to buy that too. When it comes to embassies, there was also another interesting situation. Once I was parking my Polish car in a London street and saw two couples with their children walking by. When they saw the number plates they approached me and started a conversation, talking about my work with blind kids. Soon they turned out to be members of the Polish Embassy willing to donate some spare money to charity. The next day I visited the Consulate in London and left it with a cheque for 26K pounds. The money was spent on equipment which was soon sent from England to our Center in Poland. There was also the fourth milestone – thanks to a project “Równy Start” – “Equal Chance” we got enough money to buy more devices for students with various disabilities.

Emil Wojtaluk: You have traveled a lot to work in so many different places. Have you noticed any differences in conceptions of helping the blind? Do you think there is an awareness gap between Poland and other countries?

Reasearchers from India Institute of Technology are getting acquainted with new technologies for producing tactile graphics (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Professor Bogusław Marek: In the beginning of the nineties English parliament enacted very significant regulations – a kind of a manual for every institution interested in helping the blind. Thanks to these guidelines everyone knows what one is supposed to be doing – for example a school headmaster knows what his duties are and what source of funding he can use. They leave no space for latitude of interpretation, there are no situations when people keep saying that would be good to do this or that, but no one knows where and how to start and in the end no one feel responsible. I would say that their system works better. But there are inequalities too. Some parents of blind children decide to sell their house and move to another, richer county, where they can get better support from the government.  When it comes to attitude of a society to a blind person, I have never experienced hostility, even in such exotic countries as Nepal or India where being blind is often associated with being punished for sins. I have also seen exaggeration – in the United Arab Emirates local kids get top world-class support, for instance, once I met a boy who didn’t even know how to use his electronic devices. I suppose that was because his father would buy him every latest appliance available on the market so his son never took time to get familiar with using it in a proper way. So in fact the boy had all this equipment stored without the knowledge of how to use it. On the other hand, the vast majority of blind kids living in the UAE are the kids of immigrants working there and they receive no support from the government, they can only count on international organizations.

Maria Moroniak: Your program dedicated for the blind makes entering the job market much easier for them. Do you know what happens to your students after they graduate, do you often hear from them?

Teachers from the North of India are learning about innovative educational resources for blind learners (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Professor Bogusław Marek: We don’t run any records, but maybe we should. We keep in touch mostly because we are on friendly terms. Almost every graduate gets a job after completing the studies – sometimes they teach English or earn some extra money offering private lessons. Due to their strong interest in electronics, they also work as other blind people’s consultants helping them to learn how to work with devices for the blind. There is an interpreter. And there is also a person who undertook English studies to learn the language so she can start her dream studies – Psychology. She became a clinical psychologist and even has been awarded by the British National Health Service for her work. One of our students, owner of a deep, warm voice unfortunately doesn’t work for any radio station, but works successfully at the telephone customer service. Professional path chosen by our students depends on their determination. There are also passive people for whom enrolling on a course is enough or people who choose to study just to be entitled to get a certain type of help.

Emil Wojtaluk: I’d like to refer to the previous question. As far as you are concerned, how important on the labor market for the blind is their education? How many of them work in their educated profession?

Kick-sled – winter sport accessible to both sighted and blind persons (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Professor Bogusław Marek: Unfortunately, it does not look good. According to the data presented by the Polish Association of the Blind, only 10 – 15 % of the blind work and the situation isn’t any better in other countries. We should encourage employers to employ the blind showing them how they can benefit. Unfortunately there are misuses because of concessions the blind bring to companies, so some entrepreneur give a blind person a job just to make him or her a ghost-worker with a benefit for the company. The blind’s ability to fit in the labor market isn’t just based on their education but also on their attitude and interpersonal skills. Let me give a fantastic example by quoting our current English Studies student. When one day at the class she noticed that someone didn’t want to learn how a tactile map works, she asked her friend: “How do you want to know how to reach your destinations then? Every time you ride a trolleybus  you are just going to count the shakes it gives you and then you’d know that you’re supposed to get off?!”. One day she came to our office asking if she could print something. It turned out she had made stickers to put on a windscreen warning drivers that if they keep parking their cars in wrong places, they will have their cars scratched by a blind person’s white canes. This girl is cheerful, always smiling, sociable. But there are also grumpy students for whom being a blind person seems to be an eternal excuse for anything. These people are going to have issues with finding a job no matter how educated they are. From the start they arose aversion or pity and that leads them nowhere.

Maria Moroniak: Has any of your students ever joined your initiative working along with you?

Professor Bogusław Marek: Of course! We had a wonderful PhD student who has temporarily moved to the US. She used to encourage and motivate our students, organize courses, theme meetings, trips, body language workshops. Each one of our graduates knows how to work with blind kids and if someone chooses to work with them he or she is definitely well prepared for that. Some of our students organize workshops in their communities.

Maria Moroniak: so your idea is being continued.

Professor Marek: If someone tries this kind of work once and it turns out well, one definitely gets hooked, there is no turning back. Once some lady teacher told me “Oh, I admire you, I am so soft at heart that I couldn’t be working with blind children.” I responded jokingly “My heart is a stone, so I can work with them with ease.”. It’s not about pity, you need a reasonable attitude. One needs to contain emotions.

This eight-year-old boy (looking four) turned out to be a very bright student (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Maria Moroniak: so is the job mentally overwhelming?

Professor Bogusław Marek: I would say this job is invigorating. It takes creativity to face the challenges and figure things out fast. I say challenges, not problems, because problems bring you down and challenges cheer you up. I constantly feel a need to create something new and I believe that’s the reason I am still in a good shape. It happens that I have to do the homework. One day a blind boy told me that that day he had learned a new English word: transparent. I was wondering how I could explain this word to him… Later on I was working on figuring it out at home. And the best moment was when next time we met he left the class and told his mom “Mom, I already know what this word means”.

Emil Wojtaluk: The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – the supreme honour available for a non-British. Could you tell us the story behind it?

Authors of the interview: Maria Moroniak (left) and Emil Wojtaluk (right) with Professor Bogusław Marek (© EUROpens BLOG).

Professor Bogusław Marek: First I have to mention again that KUL was very important institution on the world stage back in that time. A lot of embassy officers, even ambassadors, were sent here to learn Polish language. And there is a tradition that when an ambassador takes his position in a country he is sent to, he takes a trip around the country to explore it. One of them came to Lublin to recollect his Polish language course at our university which he had attended years before. He also visited our workshop and he liked it. After a while I got a call from some high officer who invited me for a lunch here, in Lublin. During the lunch with the Diplomatic Secretary of the British Embassy I was asked a lot of questions about our program “English for the Blind”: about its beginnings and about its future. And that was it. After a while I got another phone call from the British Embassy. That time I was asked “If the Queen wanted to honor you with a medal, would you accept it?”. I can remember that I was in a rush because I had to go to a lecture, so I responded playfully “How could I say no to Her Royal Highness?” I hung up thinking “Medal? What medal?”.

The Order of the British Empire received by Professor Marek (© EUROpens BLOG).

In a couple of weeks I received another message – that the Queen awarded me with the Order of the British Empire. I was asked to send in a list of guests I wanted to invite for the ceremony of decoration. I could choose between the British Embassy in Warsaw or Lublin City Hall, since there was a British Week scheduled then and all of the Embassy workers were going to come here anyway. I really wanted to invite my blind pupils – after all I was awarded thanks to them and, most of all, for them. The ceremony was held in Lublin City Hall. An officer of the army was holding my medal resting on a cushion. All of then-rectors of our University arrived, there were speeches, a bugle call, congratulations, a grandiose ceremony. I remember someone told me “You got an extremely important medal, use it wisely”. But I can also remember that there was hardly any information in the Polish media. Only a  line and a half in the local newspaper. I am not saying I felt sorry, but later on when David Beckham got the Order I could see a huge difference – everyone was talking and writing about that everywhere! I have O.B.E. written on my business card and people sometimes ask me which Christian monastery’s acronym is this? In Anglo-Saxon countries such as England, New Zealand, Australia or Canada this status is really recognizable. This doesn’t mean they prepare a red carpet every time I arrive, although I have to admit it helped me a lot when it comes to contacts with western organizations. And also every year the British Embassy invites me for the Queen’s birthday party.

Maria Moroniak: What are the Center’s plans for future? Are you going to take up any major initiatives worth exposing?

Lessons a HEAD Nepal are organized in a multi-purpose room (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Professor Bogusław Marek: Of course, some huge ones! I have already mentioned the project “Równy start” within which we are going to arrange a Center for Motivating the Disabled – I called it “KUL CAN”. Our team will be wearing T-shirts with the slogan “KUL CAN = You Can!” printed on them. We want to expand our activity and serve other universities and schools with our skills and well-equipped workshop, which is the best equipped one in Poland, even better that the one at the Maria Grzegorzewska (University Academy of Special Needs Education) in Warsaw . We also have signed a contract with Fund for the Blind of Laski to support their charges in starting studies, not only at KUL, but wherever they wish. We want to help them out with enrolling at their dream studies. I hope one day we could create a typhlodidactics unit at the University. We already have surdopedagogy (pedagogy of the deaf).

Maria Moroniak: You have wide experience in working with the blind, how do you think, what can we learn from the blind?

Humla is known as a hidden gem of Nepal (© Prof. Bogusław Marek).

Prof. Bogusław Marek: I would say they teach us that the world does not end only at what we see. There are a lot of things hidden from our sight. We take shortcuts too often. We take a gaze at something and assume that we already know everything about the case. We firmly rely on our sight and that makes us unable to notice how this world manifests itself in so complex way. Let me give you an example of how a blind person describes rain. Once I met a man who told me that he feels very lonely when the weather is fine. He compared himself to a man drawn in the middle of a plain sheet of paper. And when it starts to rain, the sheet starts to fill up with other objects, because he can finally hear the objects he is surrounded by thanks to raindrops pattering on surface. He can hear a roof, a path, a dog leap stairway, the bushes – notice the tree-dimensionality of the world. I think that a contact with the blind sensitizes us to the world, makes us feel we can live more, absorb impressions we are surrounded by using other senses, not only our sight. The world does not end at what we can see.

If you think you can offer any kind of support to Professor Marek’s initiative, feel free to contact with the Center for Adaptation of Teaching Materials:

centrum.niewidomi[at]kul.pl

phone numbers:

+48 81 445 4331 – the Center’s workshop

+48 81 445 4332 – the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (KUL) Rector’s Plenipotentiary for Disabled Students, Professor Bogusław Marek

Reklamy

EU Careers Student Ambassador

Agnieszka Szeszel

logo-en

Photo: EPSO

EU Careers Students Ambassadors from 28 Member States at the training in Brussels (Photo: EPSO).

Do you want to face many challenges in a dynamic environment and make a difference for Europe? The European Union institutions are waiting for people who are ready to start their career at the international level!

For the academic year 2016/2017 I was chosen to represent the European Personnel Selection Office in Lublin as an European Union Careers Student Ambassador in the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin.

During the first few months of carrying this office, I accomplished quite a bit in spreading the knowledge of applying for the posts and traineeships in the EU. I had an amazing opportunity to speak with people of different ages, interests, fields of education and countries.

 

20161130_124151

Taking part in the career fairs

What do I do as an Ambassador? To begin with, I made a presentation for my fellow students on one of the classes at my University, I organized a meeting with the Career Bureau of the other university in Lublin – UMCS, I participated in the career fairs at the Catholic University of Lublin organized by their Career Bureau and also took a part in a special meeting for the people who wanted to know more about working in the EU. But above all and most importantly I answered many questions of people who met with me directly or contacted me by e-mail, about the path that needs to be taken to start working in the European Union institutions.

But it is just the beginning. I have many ideas and plans for the future, so if you are interested in gaining more knowledge about posts and traineeships in the EU contact me and be welcomed at the next EU Careers meetings in Lublin.

Presenting how to apply for a job in the EU

Presenting how to apply for a job in the EU

Read more about student ambassador programme here:

http://europa.eu/epso/ambassadors/students/index_en.htm

Visit EPSO web page to find more about your opportunities of working in the EU:
http://europa.eu/epso/index_en.htm

Contact me for the further information or scheduling a meeting with me:
eucareers.kul@gmail.com

Like our EU Careers Lublin facebook page and be always informed of what’s happening 🙂
https://www.facebook.com/EU-Careers-Lublin-166508530355346/

 

The Rule of Law recommendation addressed to Poland

Kamil Augustyniak

 

It’s been more than six months ever since the European Commission (hereinafter referred to EC) started a dialogue with Poland on its rule of law situation but still the situation seems to be unbalanced and stands out from the European standards. The EC found some gaps and concerns which provide a threat to EU fundamental values and this is why, on 27 July 2016, it issued a new recommendation to clarify the inadequacies and proposed plenty of possible approaches how to change it properly.

Source: paszyk.pl

Source: paszyk.pl

 

Background

The unbalanced situation appeared after change of power following 2015 parliamentary elections in Poland. When the society democratically decided to give power to a new leading party, the situation concerning the Constitutional Tribunal became not only Poland’s internal issue but it escalated problems on European level due to the fact that the Commission noticed that there is a systemic threat to the rule of law in this country. To be fully objective it is worth mentioning that both previously leading party (Civic Platform) and the one currently in authority (Law and Justice) went beyond its competences while appointing new judges to mentioned tribunal. The former party appointed three new judges due to vacancy and two extra judges in advance despite the fact that their cadency will not start immediately but in couple of months (after the elections). Since this party lost a support and, consequently, the elections, the latter party decided to appoint not two judges but five claiming that all previous nominations were unlawful. For that reason not only the composition of tribunal is unclear but also the way how it works… or not.

President of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, Andrzej Rzepliński (Photo: Polska Agencja Prasowa/Paweł Supernak)

President of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, Andrzej Rzepliński (Photo: Polska Agencja Prasowa/Paweł Supernak)

Proposal from the Commission

This is the second time the EC took steps to explain and improve the issue of the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland. After the Commission adopted the opinion on this situation in June this year, the situation stayed rather unchanged. This time the executive body of the EU prepared a recommendation in which clearly states its proposals. First of all to implement the judgments of 3 and 9 December 2015 which confirm the legal status of appointment of three judges by previous legislature and negate the choice of three out of five judges done by a new legislature. Secondly, to publish all Tribunal’s judgments automatically without depending on any decisions of the executive or legislative powers. Thirdly, to assure that any reforms on the law concerning the Tribunal will respect all its judgments and that the court can review the compatibility of law before it enters into force.

Status of recommendations

It is worth mentioning that recommendations are not legally binding. By these means the institutions can present its own scenario or propose proper direction to handle the situation. What is more, there are no legal obligation towards subjects to which the recommendation is addressed.

Full text of the Commission Recommendation of 27.07.2016 regarding the rule of law in Poland is available HERE.


FOR MORE UPDATES

JOIN OUR FACEBOOK COMMUNITY!

 

European Youth Event 2016 #2

Kamil Augustyniak

 

Photo: Vako Karchava

Photo: Vako Karchava

European Youth Event was a great opportunity not only for young generation to meet and share already gained experience, but also for EU authorities to understand better what ideas, concerning European matters, are hidden in students’ and pupils’ heads. Great place, great forum, great discussion with great people – this is the essence of the mentioned event. Since all meetings were held in Strasbourg, everyone could see European Parliament from inside, try to vote, hear simultaneous translations and finally decide whether this place suits them or not. Personally I was absolutely excited about the work of interpreters. When observing how this profession is essential when talking about communication and fighting its barriers, I saw numerous advantages of being one of them in the future.

Photo: Vako Karchava

Photo: Vako Karchava

Two days of participation in discussions made me think about some matters in which my opinion was totally opposite. Before I came to Strasbourg I was convinced that Union should do all its best to guarantee payable apprenticeship at all steppingstones, no matter if someone is at the very beginning of its career or already has some professional experience. The issue concerning payments was raised by one of the participants who claimed that all internships should be paid in order to move to another country to intern and allow young generation to become independent. In response, experts said that such idealistic approach would have catastrophic consequences due to drastic decrease of trainings in Member States as well as in EU institutions. Such practice would scare off enterprises and it is not a point we all want to achieve. The solution was proposed by another clever participant who highlighted the necessity of cooperation among universities or even schools with companies, so that students could start their professional path in befriended firms. However, as long as this matter exceeds EU competences and concerns only MS’s internal management, the Union can only promote and encourage such cooperation. Though there were numerous panels to participate in, it was impossible to take part in every single one.

Photo: Vako Karchava

Photo: Vako Karchava

The last I have picked was about robotics and its purpose in real life. Various experts were talking about how the world is rapidly changing in the sphere of computers, robots and other electronic devices. Since the meeting was interactive, students were willing to ask different questions concerning near future scenarios. Final conclusion was that even if technological progress reduces employment in some occupations, surely it will create brand new professions we cannot currently even imagine.

Being the one who is interested in working in EU structures I appreciate the effort of European Youth Event 2016 organizers. Even if I know many issues concerning creating good CV and cover letter or the idea how Union works, the others’ opinions, points of view or their stories made distant career closer and more tangible.

Click HERE to read the first part of our coverage.

FOR MORE UPDATES

JOIN OUR FACEBOOK COMMUNITY!

 

European Youth Event 2016 #1

Emil Wojtaluk

GROUP_IN_PARLIAMENT_EDITED

On 20-21 of May 2016 representatives of the European Studies Student’s Scientific Association of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, including representatives of EUROpens BLOG visited European Parliament in Strasbourg on the occasion of the European Youth Event 2016. The theme of the second edition was the exchange of experiences and proposals with European decision-makers using the motto „Together we can make a change”. Young people from Europe had an occasion to write their proposals for solving crucial problems of the European Union, or electronically – through an online application. Moreover, during numerous sessions and workshops in the EP building there was a chance to comment and propose our own solutions, which were then discussed by experts and politicians. An official EYE report containing all gathered opinions will be distributed to Members of the European Parliament and discussed in parliamentary committees this autumn. European Youth Event was accompanied by many cultural events (concerts, games etc.). The interest in EYE this year was huge, the number of all registered participants reached over 7,500 people.

All activities concerned five main themes:

  • War and Peace: Perspectives for a Peaceful Planet;
  • Apathy or Participation: Agenda for a Vibrant Democracy;
  • Exclusion or Access: Crackdown on Youth Unemployment;
  • Stagnation or Innovation: Tomorrow’s World of Work;
  • Collapse or Success: New Ways for Sustainable Europe.

IMG_6966Due to the huge interest each participant could participate in chosen activities – our group participated in those activities connected with youth unemployment and innovation. The first panel, in which we took part was entitled „Skills gap: Bridge over troubled water” and concerned a gap which exists between job qualifications of young people and the expectations of today’s labor market. The meeting had an interactive form, during which participants could have their voice on important issues. Asked „Do you think you learned sufficient skills at school or third level to prepare you for the labor market?” –  most answered, that they learned some skills but most of them was acquired in practice, by having internships or regular jobs. Special role of increasing awareness of young people towards internships and volunteering projects was also stressed, even if unpaid, they build our CV and increase our chances on the labor market – not all of us seem to be aware of that. Although, in some EU countries employers still do not understand the value of volunteering experience, but this conviction disappears very quickly and can be barely seen on the Union level. One is clear, we need to provide more information in this area, both for young people and the employers – to make students aware, that studies just for studies are the waste of time, and employers, that being a volunteer is equal the regular job experience. Among other speakers Mrs. Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility was present there.

In the Plenary Chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg (Photo: Vako Karchava)

In the Plenary Chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg (Photo: Vako Karchava)

Another and the most important session for us also concerned youth unemployment. It was the most important not only because of the topic but also the venue, in which all activity took place – we had an unique opportunity to sit in the plenary chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, exactly on the same seats, on which Members of the European Parliament sits! The meeting was titled „Youth Unemployment: Down to zero?” – it was designed to find the solution for youth unemployment, the leading question was „how can we reduce youth unemployment to close to zero within 10 years?”. Young activists were present among experts, EU institutions were represented by Marianne Thyssen (mentioned above) and Andrey Novakov, Member of the European Parliament. We’ve started with the presentations of ideas delivered by all speakers, followed by proposals from the audience, which were later commented by the experts. However,  before the meeting started for good we were trained how the voting mechanism in the European Parliament works, having great occasion to take part in a voting simulation. The question put on voting was very clear: „whether or not European Union should give more support to young people entering the labor market?” – only a few voted “no”, pushing the red button.

IMG_7125

Photo: Vako Karchava

The last activity, in which we took part was named „Science or fiction: Will robots rise to power?” and was about the discussion on the future of robotics and super-computers. One of the most crucial questions raised at the very beginning was: „will robots threaten the future of humanity?”. The experts indicated, that we will always have everything under control, because it is up to people to first program those robots to work. Another interesting discussion arose on the question if robots as super-intelligent computers will take away our jobs. If we talk about workplaces implementing new technologies will certainly have an impact on disappearing of certain professions. However, as speakers indicated, technological change always entails such consequences. It doesn’t mean a catastrophe on the market. Well-known professions will be replaced by new ones, which cannot be described at the moment. The Meeting was attended by representatives of robotics companies, and among others Gianfranco Visentin, Head of Automation and Robotics Section from the European Space Agency.  

To sum up, taking part in European Youth Event 2016 was an unusual experience for us. We could observe how the European Parliament works from within, but among other things meet people from all over Europe and listen to their point of view. Surely, we learnt many new things. Coming to Strasburg made us even more aware, that working in EU institutions is not a fantasy, as some of you may imagine. It is certainly worth studying European Studies for acquiring such precious experiences!

We would like to thank Vice Rectors of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin: Professor Urszula Paprocka-Piotrowska and Professor Krzysztof Narecki, without whom it wouldn’t be possible to achieve.

This coverage is also available in Polish on the website of our Scientific Association: http://www.kul.pl/european-youth-event-2016-relacja,art_68086.html

See the full photo gallery HERE – photos by Vako Karchava.

FOR MORE UPDATES

JOIN OUR FACEBOOK COMMUNITY!

Substance of the Venice Commission

Paulina Matwiej

Significant changes were brought into the Polish Parliament and government after elections from October 2015. The Law and Justice party obtained majority of the seats in the Parliament. In this situation their opponents can only disagree with the leader party, but their voice could not be taken into consideration. The most controversial change concerns Polish Constitutional Court. The intention of the leading party was to change voting system in the court. The amendments would change the chronology of given opinions. Complaints would be investigated according to the date of lodging and the President would be able to initiate disciplinary proceedings against any of the judges of Constitutional Court. Those changes brought discussion not only on Polish ground. But what is more important the changes caused worldwide concern about the status of democracy in Poland. The amendment  of a statue of Constitutional Court had disunited experts and society. Then it was decided that any disagreements could be resolved by the opinion of the Venice Commission. Witold Waszczykowski, Minister of Foreign Affairs as first applied to the Commission for its opinion. We can ask: would he consider such situation if the opinion was unfavorable for Polish government? What kind of economic damages may appear if the government does not accept the decision?

Andrzej Hrechorowicz/KPRP

Polish President Andrzej Duda with Gianni Buquicchio, President of the Venice Commission (photo: Andrzej Hrechorowicz/KPRP)

What it is the Venice Commission?

The news does not explain people what the Venice Commission is, it just give them narrow explanation of a commotion around it. The Commission is composed of independent specialists in the area of constitutional law and contains 60 member states, not only from EU, but also from Asia, America and Africa. Fall of Berlin wall increased the need for constitutional assistance in Central Europe and post- Soviet countries, due to this, the main role of the Commission is to assist individual states in strengthening and protecting their democracy. There is no possibility for the Commission to impose sanction on the state concerned, its work is focused on dialogue and discussion.

Members of the Venice Commission ( Source: Alinor at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Members of the Venice Commission ( Source: Alinor at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Belarus and Hungary in front of the Venice Commission

Belarus as a state for which democracy is a foreign matter could not be obeyed in the works of the Venice Commission. Previous opinions available on the official website of the Commission referred for example to the mass events in the Republic of Belarus, warnings addressed to the Belarusian association of journalists, Electoral Code of Belarus and Referendum from 2004. The main problem in the last quoted example was the fact that president Lukashenko wanted to stand as a candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections although he was ending his second term of office and Constitution of Belarus prohibits from serving more than two cadencies. Opinion in this case was undisputed. The second candidacy contradicts the electoral law; there was a serious doubt as well whether fair voting would be possible. Forthcoming referendum would reassure prohibited privilege for one person[1].

In 2015 Hungarians had possibility to make themselves acquainted with an opinion of the Venice Commission. The most recent opinion on Hungary is based on analyses of Media Services and Mass Media situation. Commission’s investigation covered subjects of  distribution of budget for advertisement, limitations on political advertisement and their taxation. The Commission evaluated that the Hungarian Media Act was created to underline that serious sanctions should be used as a last resort, otherwise it may undermine effective functioning of a media. Elections of the members of the Media Council are to assure fair representation and distribution of budget should follow defined rules.[2]

The official website of the Venice Commission gives us a hint on what is the approach to opinions from 26 states. Each of the documents has got few subsections. It might be easy to conclude that only countries having struggles with democratic principles are the subject of debates, nothing could be further from the truth. The official website provides cases even from states having strong democracy as mentioned Hungary, France or Belgium.

Few days ago Poland has become subject of the Commission’s opinion, which is not favorable for Polish government. Now the question emerges, how the government will react for it, and if they do not change its standpoint is there any possibility that Poland will be moved to the margin of European Union? Probably the European Commission will start second level of procedure checking legal order in Poland. The Commission can also make some recommendations which will be in accordance with an opinion of the Venice Commission.

 

[1] The opinion of the Venice Commission on Belarus (2006): DIRECT LINK

[2] The opinion of the Venice Commission on Hungary (2015): DIRECT LINK

 

FOR MORE UPDATES

JOIN OUR FACEBOOK COMMUNITY!

Commission starts rule of law debate

Agnieszka S.

It seems that Poland’s actions are perceived as negative in the eyes of the Western European Member States. This time however, the case is much more serious than a missing flag. In the face of the recent developmental changes that the government of Poland had introduced, the European Commission has expressed its concerns regarding whether those changes operate in accordance with the Rule of Law or not. Since the Commission’s task is to ensure the respect of the European Union law along with safeguarding the fundamental values of the Union, some steps had to be taken in order to clarify this situation.

EC

Polish Constitutional Tribunal and the media case

The first issue is related to the composition of the Polish Constitutional Court. The European Union has started to work on that matter on the 23rd of December 2015, when Mr Timmermans wrote a request to have further information about the different Constitutional Tribunal judgements of the Polish Government. On the same day the Polish Government had requested a legal assessment from the Venice Commission (a body of the Council of Europe through which independent experts of constitutional law give advisory opinions that are not binding) as it was proposed in the letter of Mr Timmermans. However without waiting for the answer, the Polish Government began to finish the legislative process. The statement of the Polish Government concerning this matter is very simple – they are trying to clean up the mess that the previous governing party has made. Changes that were made in the Polish Constitutional Court are a fight of gaining power in this area, but what is worth considering is the fact that when the previous government in Poland was acting in the same way, nobody was interested in that and no one wanted to take a closer look on the case. However, it does not justify the actions taken by PiS because as a new governing party, they should try to rule the country in a better way than the previous one. (read more here)

The second topic of this significant attention of the EU is related to the legal changes on the Public Service Broadcasters. In another letter received by the Polish Government on the 30th of December 2015 in which, along with asking for more details on the situation, Vice-President Timmermans asked if the EU law and the need to promote media pluralism were taken into account while preparing those changes. Poland answered by denying the possible disadvantageous impact on the media pluralism claiming and that in other Member States the situation is very similar and no one is judging them for it. (read more)

Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission (EPA/PATRICK SEEGER)

Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission (EPA/PATRICK SEEGER)

The EU has a strong interest in safeguarding and strengthening the rule of law across the Union. However, in order to take some actions, there must be some suspicions about the defect on a system that prevents the country from a well-functioning legal system. Then it has to collect some data – evidences of breaching the law, it was done in a debate that took place on the 13th of January 2016, the main officials responsible for the presentation of the EU’s point of view were: responsible for the framework of the rule of law – First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and two Commissioners – Věra Jourová responsible for justice and Günther Oettinger responsible for media policy. The debate ended with the decision of the Commission to initiate the monitoring procedure of the rule of law in Poland. Next step was the dialogue with the Member State that took place on the 19th of January 2016 in the European Parliament, where the actual Prime Minister of Poland Beata Szydło had to defend the arguments of the Polish Government concerning two mentioned cases. PM Szydło put a lot of effort to convince everyone that Poland is a democratic country and indicated that:

“our history has taught us that our Polish issues should be settle in our Polish home. Because whenever they were fixed for us by others, we ended up very badly”.

The forthcoming steps that European Commission can take are giving recommendations to Poland. In the case of ignoring Commission’s recommendations for changes by the EU member, the very last step would be to put specific sanctions on Poland. Though, voting by unanimity would have to be used in such a case.

Polish PM Beata Szydło (AP/EPA)

Polish PM Beata Szydło (AP/EPA)

Some may think that the EU should not interfere with Poland’s matters. While the whole Europe is shaken and full of fears in regard of what is happening in one of its countries, the EU should always keep the Rule of Law as a main principle. Everyone can agree that Poland has some obligations to fulfil not only as a Member State of European Union but most of all as a civilized democratic country in Europe. They should always put the Rule of Law as a main principle. Although what strikes me the most in this situation is not actually the question of a breach of law but the media influence and their actual input in the whole situation. For the past few months, in Polish newspapers, news on the television or radio we could hear more and more negative statements and criticism about the governing party, even though they have just started their cadence. It seems that the other party is mad following its loss. Unfortunately for them democracy assumes in itself that the majority has welcome PiS as the winning party. Reputation is something that each of us is building up for years and it is a real shame that Poland is losing its standing in the international arena. Thanks to the media, now everyone is scared away from Poland.

References:

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-62_en.htm

http://www.tvn24.pl/wiadomosci-z-kraju,3/beata-szydlo-w-trakcie-debaty-w-parlamencie-europejskim,612106.html

EU Careers Student Ambassador – December

Natalia Wysocka

logo

 

Hi! My name is Natalia Wysocka and I have been chosen to take up the role of European Union Careers Student Ambassador, the very first one in the whole history of Catholic University of Lublin, Poland. At the beginning of academic year 2015/2016, along with students from European Studies Students’ Scientific Association. I embarked on promotion of EU institutions, internships and job opportunities. This column will be dedicated to my Ambassador’s activity. Once in a moth I will present my „diary” so you can see closer how is it to work for the EU. I am extremely enthusiastic about our further cooperation, and you?

So, in December…

9th of December

 chełmAnother great meeting with students of high school in Chełm, Poland. I ran double classes with extremely intelligent and curious youth. Some of the students even took part in national competition dedicated to the matters of European Union! I really liked what one boy said at the end: working for European Union must be a dream job. Well, indeed 😉

16th of December

16.12.2015That day I had the very last presentation in this year (2015). The meeting was provided for students of European Studies at The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. I found this session to be especially important as I had an opportunity to talk to people who, most probably, will be taking jobs connected with various aspects of European Union.

We had some technical issues but managed to discuss the most important topics anyway. It couldn’t be better!

 

Gentle reminder: You can apply for 5-months INTERNSHIP in European Commission.

Deadline: 29.01.2016

Face a bigger challenge!

If you wish to be even more up-to-date with current Lublin issues, please follow this Facebook profile:

http://on.fb.me/1lJrSqU

In case of any questions, feel free to contact me:

Natalia Wysocka

John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin

eucareers.kul@gmail.com

EU Careers Student Ambassador – November

Natalia Wysocka

logo

Hi! My name is Natalia Wysocka and I have been chosen to take up the role of European Union Careers Student Ambassador, the very first one in the whole history of Catholic University of Lublin, Poland. At the begining of academic year 2015/2016, along with students from European Studies Students’ Scientific Association. I embarked on promotion of EU institutions, internships and job opportunities. This column will be dedicated to my Ambassador’s activity. Once in a moth I will present my „diary” so you can see closer how is it to work for the EU. I am extremely enthusiastic about our further cooperation, and you?

So, in November…

5th of November

My radio interview in Polskie Radio Lublin where I presented EU Careers Student Ambassador program and EPSO as well. If you wish to listen to it, here is the link.

I hope you will enjoy it! 🙂

17th of November

kołątaj2Along with representative of Regional Centre of International Debate, we had a great meeting with students of Hugo Kolataj’s high school in Lublin, Poland. I was amazed by the knowledge of so young people! I had a chance to inform them about internships and job opportunities in the EU. They were especially interested in the subject of Erasmus+ students’ internships.

Meanwhile, I had a meeting with students from European Studies Students’ Scientific Association. We decided to work together on several projects. First of them, is my conference at the Catholic University of Lublin. It will be dedicated to students of European Studies. You can find details on our Facebook profiles:

EU Careers Lublin

Koło Naukowe Studentów Europeistyki EURO-KUL

Another great news: contact point has finally started! You can meet me for individual consultation on every Wednesday at Catholic University of Lublin. If you decide to come and discuss your career, please, let me know by sending an email eucareers.kul@gmail.com

If you wish to be even more up-to-date with current Lublin issues, please follow this Facebook profile:

http://on.fb.me/1lJrSqU

In case of any questions, feel free to contact me:

Natalia Wysocka

John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin

eucareers.kul@gmail.com

Blue or White-Red?

Agnieszka S.

Source: interia360.pl/swiat/europa/artykul/dzien-unii-europejskiej-obchody-1-majowe,45430

Source: interia360.pl/swiat/europa/artykul/dzien-unii-europejskiej-obchody-1-majowe,45430

Almost one month ago, in Poland we could observe an enormous conflict concerning the European Union flag. The information about its disappearance during weekly news conference on November 24, between Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło, and the journalists after the first Polish government sitting when the changing of the Cabinet just happened, has spread all around Europe with the question: „What does this action actually mean?”

The European Union flag is not only a symbol of the organization itself but also of the unity, solidarity and harmony between the member states and people living in there. Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background takes its existence in the year 1955, when it was designed for use of the Council of Europe. But just 16 out of 28 member states had declared the flag „as symbol to express the sense of community of the people in the European Union and their allegiance to it”(1). This would mean, that in countries other than Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Hungary, Malta, Austria, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic usage of the European Union flag is not necessary.

2 Dec. 2015 Cabinet of Ministers' session in Ukraine – not yet in EU, but already using the flag (©Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine )

2 Dec. 2015 Cabinet of Ministers’ session in Ukraine – not yet in EU, but already using the flag (©Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine )

It means, that from the legal point of view, Polish PM did nothing wrong – she just broke the practice of her predecessor and removed the EU flag from the press conference. Mass media, however, are putting to it some different meaning by quoting words of PM Beata Szydło that „we will realize, from now on those conferences on the most beautiful in my opinion white-red flag”(2). Boooomm! And now everyone is gossips that EU flag is not beautiful enough for the Polish PM and that it will be just the first action out of many carried out by Polish national-conservative political party which will turn away Poland from the European Union. Is that really the case? Well, I guess we will see what the future will bring. Now I can just say it is a huge shame that most of the articles concerning this issue are not quoting first few lines of what PM Szydło has said when asked why the flags are not in the meeting – „We are active member of the European Union. I hope that we will be even more active member of the EU […] I am very happy that today in this difficult times we are members of the EU and NATO because as you can see and hear, the situation is not so good „(2). It sounds so against the EU…

For now, I think that we don’t have to worry too much about the place of European Union flag in Poland, as it is still visible in some significant places like the Polish Parliament and the entrance to the Polish Prime Minister Chancellery hanging nicely and proudly. Instead of choosing between blue or white-red, we should focus our attention on the matters concerning future plans of the European Union in the ongoing difficult situations, because in some time in the future, maybe we will have nothing to chose from.

13 Feb. 2014 in Hungary Tamás Gaudi-Nagy throws out from the window "symbol of colonialism" - never mind signed declaration... (Source: pi-news.net)

13 Feb. 2014 in Hungary Tamás Gaudi-Nagy throws out from the window „symbol of colonialism” – never mind signed declaration… (Source: pi-news.net)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: pi-news.net

Source: pi-news.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1) https://www.ecb.europa.eu/ecb/legal/pdf/c_32620121026en_symbols_of_the_eu.pdf

(2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GDDJSKb_7A

http://europa.eu/about-eu/basic-information/symbols/flag/index_en.htm

http://www.tvn24.pl/wiadomosci-z-kraju,3/szydlo-wystapila-bez-flag-unii-europejskiej-zagraniczne-media,597320.html

http://m.dailyjournal.net/view/story/3d5351b469e74087b10fcc94f7ab4468/EU–Poland-EU

http://polska.newsweek.pl/beata-szydlo-pozbywa-sie-flagi-unii-europejskiej-czy-pozwala-na-to-prawo-,artykuly,374672,1.html