Project financially supported by the PZU Foundation

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

About is Humanity in Action Poland’s first educational program on national and ethnic minorities, and is open to participants from Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania. It strives to deepen participants’ knowledge with the help of an on-line course and a study trip to Poland. Specifically, the goal of the workshop is to provide the theoretical and practical background necessary for successful implementation of action projects.

The on-line course, which took place from September to November 2010, was divided thematically into six levels. The aim was to explore the impact of ethnicity, religion and language as they pertain to the infringement of minority rights. Furthermore, the course focused on international mechanisms guaranteeing the rights of people belonging to national and ethnic minorities, and international and national actors responsible for defense and protection of human rights. Finally, as individuals can also bring about a change, the course provided participants with the tools they need to implement their individual projects to the highest possible standards.

Another intention of the project was to facilitate contacts between these young leaders, and to allow them share their experiences and learn from the experiences of mentors, experts and activists. On-line forums and face-to-face meetings were both used.

The study trip in Warsaw, „Patchwork: Deconstructing Homogeneity of the Polish Society” which took place from December 5th to 12th 2010 corresponded thematically to the on-line course. The project participants examined the situation of the national and ethnic minorities in Poland and got to know something about the best practices in the field of human rights protection and education. The participants were offered tailor-made training for implementing their projects received individual counseling to enhance practical skills related to project management and fundraising. The project team responsible for creating and conducting the program was: Monika Mazur-Rafał, President of the Foundation HIA PL and Program Director; Magda Szarota, HIA PL Managing Board Member and HIA Program Coordinator and Yulia Gogol, Coordinator.

Throughout the project,’s participants had the chance to learn from and network with representatives of the following organizations: Amnesty International, Association of Ukrainians in Poland, Common Council of Catholics and Muslims, Education for Democracy Foundation, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Human Rights Defender Office, Information Office in Poland/European Parliament, Humanity in Action Poland Senior Fellows’ Network, Open Republic Association Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia, Organization for Security and Co-operation/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Polish Council of Christians and Jews, Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation Foundation PAUCI, Representation of the European Commission in Poland.

Newly inspired, and filled with ideas, the project participants have approximately five months to implement their action projects on national and ethnic minorities in their respective communities. HIA Poland will be assisting them in this process.

Moreover, HIA PL and PZU Foundation have created a joint grant competition for the best action project (to read more about it, click here)

Welcome to Warsaw: Introduction to the Program (Sunday, December 5, 2010)

The study trip to Warsaw, „Patchwork: Deconstructing Homogeneity of the Polish Society,” was attended by participants who successfully finished the on-line course. Young leaders hailing from Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine and Poland were excited to meet in person, start their cooperation on the spot and gain knowledge and new experiences (to read their bios click here).

The first day, like the days that followed, was filled with a variety of activities including discovering the (in)visible multicultural history of Warsaw; getting to know each other, the HIA PL team the goals and aims of the program.

The day ended with a group dinner, which was yet another occasion for networking.

Ethnicity (Monday, December 6, 2010)

The second day of the study trip was devoted to the theme of ethnicity. Three specialists (a lawyer, a journalist, and a minority activist) led three different sessions, which offered three ways of looking at the issue. In the first session Ms. Dorota Pudzianowska (lawyer, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights) discussed the topic of ethnicity and national minorities from a legal point of view. In her presentation, Ms. Pudzianowska gave some concrete examples of what the protection of internal and external minorities looks like in Poland. Moreover, the importance of the definition of the national minority was discussed.

The second session was devoted to mapping diversity in a homogeneous country. Mr. Konstanty Gebert (writer and columnist) offered an insightful overview of the topic throughout the history of Poland. Moreover, he discussed how the process of economic and political transition in Poland influenced the situation of minority groups.

The last session concerned one of Poland’s national minority groups - the Ukrainian community. Mr. Piotr Tyma (President of the Association of Ukrainians in Poland) presented the role of the Ukrainian minority in the Polish history as well as its current significance. The day finished with a fruitful group discussion on the issues tackled throughout the day.

Religion(s) & Minorities (Tuesday, December 7, 2010)

The third day of the program focused on the importance of religion in forming the identities of national and ethnic minorities. We paid special attention to interreligious dialogues between Catholics and Muslims, and Christians and Jews.

Mrs. Agata Skowron-Nalborczyk, PhD (Common Council of Catholics and Muslims, University of Warsaw) gave a presentation on how Polish Muslim Tatars have been searching to carve out a space for their identity in Polish society. In that context, she also highlighted the multicultural heritage of the Podlasie region.

Rev. Wiesław Dawidowski, PhD (President of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews) focused on the complex relationship between Christians and Jews and gave examples of how religion has been on the one hand a gluing, and on the other hand a divisive factor through the years.

Moreover, the participants were exposed to some first hand knowledge about the role of the Orthodox Church during a visit to the Metropolitan Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mary Magdalene in Warsaw. The participants then continued the guided tour of Warsaw discovering the multicultural heritage of Praga district. As usual, the day finished with a lively group discussion, touching upon the role of religion(s) in creating a more open society.

Identity & Language (Wednesday, December 8, 2010)

The fourth day of the program was devoted partially to gaining knowledge and partially to gaining concrete skills. As for knowledge, the focus was on gaining information about the role the Human Rights Defender Office (HRDO) and its importance in assisting minorities. The representatives from the HRDO drew a very broad picture of how the institution works, provided a description of its role in the Polish system of human rights protection, and gave many examples of how it can help minorities in difficult situations. In their examples they pointed out that knowledge of the majority language (or lack theirof) can be an enabling or disabling factor when it comes to participation in mainstream social life.

In connection with the day’s key topic, Mrs. Elżbieta Petrajtis O'Neill (Open Republic Association Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia, Board Member) shared her experience on how best to address instances of hate speech and how to fight Anti-Semitism and promote tolerance, sometimes against all odds. The day finished with a heated group discussion on how to draw a line between hate speech and freedom of speech.

In regards to practical skills, Mr. Łukasz Mielnik (trainer of Amnesty International) led an activity on the mission and activities of Amnesty International as a way of teaching the participants about the organizational aspects of implementing training. Project participants created teams and decided on the training topics, which they were asked to develop. During the group discussion the participants pondered the importance of language in forming national and ethnic identity.

Minority Rights: an International Concern and Its Actors (Thursday, December 9, 2010)

The fifth day of the program focused on uncovering some institutional aspects of minority rights. The first session took place in the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, in the Organization for Security and Cooperation, where the group was hosted by Mr. Andrzej Mirga, PhD (Contact Point for Roma and Sinti). He spoke about the difficult inclusion process for Roma in Polish society. In his speech he stressed the roles of culture and education as preconditions for successful integration, and shared some good examples of practices and initiatives in keeping with these goals.

Later on, the group moved to another important international institution – the Representation of the European Commission in Poland. Representatives from the European Commission and the European Parliament participated in a panel addressing the role of both institutions in the protection of minority rights. They also discussed the role of the European Union in this respect, all the challenges it faces and its institutional shortcomings.

The last session of the day was called “Action! Bazaar”. It was meant to provide participants an opportunity to meet up with representatives of two organizations: Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation Foundation PAUCI and Education for Democracy Foundation, both of which carry out projects devoted (among other things) to broadening knowledge about democracy, strengthening civil society and energizing young people to become active in Poland and neighboring countries in the East. During the meeting, experts shared some very concrete experiences about working on the ground and gave examples of successfully implemented grass-root activism. The day ended with a group discussion, mostly touching upon the role of NGOs in bringing societal change about.

Education on Minority Rights (Friday, December 10, 2010)

The sixth day of the project was focused on gaining practical skills on how to best take actions in order to raise awareness about national and ethnic minority rights.

Our first guest was Ms. Kinga Brudzińska, HIA Senior Fellow, who shared her experience of creating and conducting an HIA action project devoted to minority issues (to read more about Kinga’s project click here).

Later on, Mr. Łukasz Mielnik (trainer for Amnesty International) led a session in which participants conducted their workshops on specific aspects of human and minority rights. Their ideas and techniques were discussed by an “expert panel” composed of Mr. Mielnik and the rest of the group. Thanks to this system, each and every person had the chance to develop his or her own training skills and received some feedback on possible ways to make their project more professional. The whole process was not only fruitful but also fun!

In the late afternoon, the participants took part in the celebration of International Human Rights Day organized by HIA PL at the University of Warsaw Library. It was a public event devoted to people with disabilities in Poland entitled “Looking for the Cure. People with Disabilities in Poland: from Patients to Citizens“. (To read more about the event click here).

How to Instigate Change?: Fundraising and Project Management (Saturday, December 11, 2010) & Project Evaluation (Sunday, December 12, 2010)

The last two days of this intensive study trip were devoted to sharpening skills related to fundraising and project management, by way of individual consultations.

The participants also had an opportunity to discuss how they could best use the knowledge they accrued, and apply it to their respective projects. Most already had ideas about how to best use their new contacts gained during the project for the benefit of their own work/activism in their own communities.

Although, the project had to come to an end, there was a sense that filled the participants with new ideas and inspired them to continue their important work, devoted to addressing problems associated with national and ethnic minorities.


HIA Poland and PZU Foundation have organized a grant competition for the best ideas for projects related to the issues of national and ethnic minorities. The competition winners are:

primary grantee: Kostiantyn Iakovliev
& co grantees: Yaroslav Minkin and Anastasiia Zababurina

for the project entitled „Know Your Rights Debate Tournament”
1st prize of 3 000 PLN

primary grantee: Kateryna Seryohina

for the project entitled „Publication: Know Your Rights and Be Able to Defend Them”
2nd prize of 2 000 PLN

primary grantees: Anastasiya Moskvychova and Kateryna Kundelska

for the project entitled „The Neighbors” (journalistic workshops & creation of a newspaper)
3rd prize of 1 000 PLN

Thank you & good luck!

HIA PL team