GB No. 2(21)/96


Many aid programmes that are currently running are aimed at local democracy development, the creation of civil society, public participation, and other similar goals. In many of these programs the environmental movement plays an important role and it may be clear that environmental associations and foundations can be, and are, a valuable contribution to democracy; not only on the local level, but the national and regional as well. Nevertheless, as the "post-august" opposition did not develop "internal democracy" by means of achieving national democracy, neither did the environmental movement. This article is aimed at discussing the issue of internal democracy and the experiences the Foundation for the Support of Ecological Initiatives has had with this issue. The problem to be discussed is "internal democracy " or actually the problems with its development in the environmental movement in Poland. The article will discuss the meaning of "internal democracy" - its place in the Polish legislative system - and the experiences with internal democracy (and the obstructions met in trying to achieve it) here in the Foundation for the Support of Ecological Initiatives. It will become clear that the development and support of internal democracy is not easy.


There is a clear difference between external and internal democracy . If we look at society we see democratic processes going on every day. For example, parties in parliament discuss new laws in a representative democratic system and the ministry, unions and employers discuss the state of the economy. I also practice my rights as an adult civilian -practicing civil democracy . All these are forms of "external democracy ": democracy that is not bound to one legal entity and is basically open to anyone willing to participate. Quarrels between the left wing and the right wing in the Freedom Union or between the various camps in SLD are good examples of "internal democracy ". Other examples are: the obligatory governing structures of associations and foundations, all kinds of co-operative bodies which allow the voice of more then one person in one legal entity, and a movement that aims at one common goal. Obligatory governing structures, associations, and foundations exhibit internal democracy in the functioning of their boards, councils and general meetings of members. The basis of internal democracy is that it is democracy between people that have the positive intentions to co-operate in order to achieve one common goal. This common goal can represent liberal, Christian, socialistic or any ideals in parliament or protecting the environment. Internal democracy is democracy within functional groups of people


40 years of communism did not do internal democracy any more good than it did external democracy . The effects of external democracy can be read every day in the newspapers. However, the effects of internal democracy are not as evident. We can see the effetcts of internal democracy problems in the "post-august" opposition when they were not able to consolidate their achievements in later elections, and consequently fell apart into many separate fractions. Later on, these problems became the subject of external democracy. This is not so strange however, as their bonding factor was the common enemy represented by the communist party; the common goal which ceased to exist after their victory. However, there is more than the disappearance of a common goal. 40 years of communism has made society very tolerant to authority and oppression and has made power abuse and corruption common on all levels of the administration. In general, people seem to accept much more from their so called leaders than western societies do. This does not have as much of an effect on external democracy, as this is often limited to the fight between the various leaders. But it has large impacts on internal democracy. Internal democracy develops very slow under circumstances where both group leaders and members are seemingly not interested in its development. In the environmental movement we can see the same tendencies.

In the beginning, the Polish Ecological Club was the only real environmental group with its own internal democracy. When relative freedom began, many new environmental protection groups were formed. And when significant funding for all these groups became more available, even more of them evolved. The basic principal of this development however, was that every leader had their own organisation. Every conflict created a new organisation, as did every new project (I mean here projects as developed for funders). Today when we look at the landscape of the environmental groups we see that it is a largely dispersed environmental movement for which both funders, so called "leaders" and group members are responsible. The relative size of the funds western-funders can provide today is decreasing, and a new challenge occurs for the environmental groups: obtaining internal funding in whatever kind can be found. To cope with this challenge, the groups need much more than only funds or "cryptoleadership". They need to have real political power, which currently they do not have because of their partition. Moreover, cooperative and working internal democracy is essential for the development of external democracy, as foundations and associations are often schools for democratic behaviour. NGO's in western countries often have the same democratic structure as has their own country. American and French NGO's are often organised similar to the Presidential system, with elections of the group president being the most important. Dutch and English NGO's often have a strongly developed parliamentary system, making the general meeting of members the most important event and the group leaders being treated as the government. The German model also has strong parliamentary tendencies, but here the organisation's secretaries have more power, with more of a tendency for federalisation. The lessons individuals learn in any democratic system about internal democracy is often essential for their behaviour in other democratic systems. As a matter of fact, it creates a democratic attitude and a personal culture profitable for the stability of democracy.

It is sad to recognise that 7 years of democracy has (in my opinion) up till now, only been able to develop very small seeds of internal democracy. Whereas anti-democratic behaviour like personal domination, "cryptoleadership", low participation of group members and the unwillingness to make compromises has consolidated, or even become stronger. Funders have also, in a strange way, contributed to this process. For example, the criteria for the amount of money a group can obtain in a year from a single funder does not consider the size and history of the organisation. This fact has largely contributed to the development of many small organisations, while consolidation and co-operation have not been stimulated sufficiently. Additionally, very specific contracts and a project way of working have largely decreased the possibilities for organizations to govern themselves in a way that should create internal democracy. Few environmental groups have had the convenience to receive money for implementing their statutory goals.


The experiences that the Foundation for the Support of Ecological Initiatives has had (and continues to have) with internal democracy, may, for many outsiders seem to have been a series of catastrophes. And for many persons, they have been real personal catastrophes. Nonetheless, there were no real catastrophes; because slowly it has occured that the members of the group have been developing real internal democratic attitudes. Not only did they obtain information and knowledge about democracy, but experienced it as well.

Although there was (and still is) lots of good will among the members of the foundation to develop internal democracy, this development met with many barriers which caused development to be rather slow. The first important obstacle we have seen was that persons are very authority sensitive. Due to a to strong confirmation of leadership, team members stimulate their leader to become an autocratic leader who ends up losing contact with the team, and eventully becomes set aside. Secondly, the general attitude of group members is not to directly express their demands and complains to the group or the leadership, but to spread rumours about them. This makes it very difficult for any leadership to function. Thirdly, people often lack loyalty to the group, making the group into a battlefield of individuals obstructing each others activities, which makes it even more difficult to develop this fundamental attitude for the creation of internal democracy. A fourth obstacle encountered was that it can be extremely difficult to achieve compromises, even in rather homogeneous groups. Consequently, many of the compromises we thought we achieved were not compromises at all. It often seems that persons lack loyalty to the compromises they reach by themselves, and consequentially these compromises soon fall apart. More technical obstructions are the lack of procedures, examples and the way funds come into the organisation. Lack of procedures for administrating meetings, preparing proposals for decisions, board regulations and execution of democratically made decisions make the development process very difficult. As long as teams are relatively small these procedures seem to be unnecessary, but when the teams starts becoming larger than five persons, they become essential. The way national and local democratic systems are working also does not always set a good example. Conflicts, corruption, non-technical discussions and back-room politics set a bad tone and do not create trust in the possibilities of democracy. Funders make choices between various sets of criteria for selecting projects, making the quality and costs of projects the most important, while the size and democratic development of the organisation are often of no importance. Due to this, sometimes democratic development gets set aside in order to fulfil demands of the funders. Often this is practically impossible, as democratisation is a continuous process demanding participation.

Since the end of 1995 the Foundation for the Support of Ecological Initiatives has had a so called matrix-structure. In this structure there is a place for co-ordinators and campaigners, or field and issue tasks and products (see figure 1).

In this structure from project-oriented western firms, both field and issue staff obtain the same (or almost the same) democratic rights in order to maximise the output while maintaining high quality. Co-ordinators and campaigners all have their own seat on the board of the foundation, and together make the most important decisions and co-ordinate the work of the foundation. The real effects of the work the foundation does in environmental protection are created by the campaigners, while the quality of their work is improved by the co-ordinators. Due to this structure, and the decision to make the team self-governing, all participants all given a place on the board. The board consists of 7 persons. (The size should, in fact, be 18, but the procedure for entering new people on the board is rather time consuming, and there is the problem that some campaigns are too short or too small to obtain a full seat in the board.) The advantage of this system is that it forces people to become democratic, as they are forced to participate. It enhances co-operation between co-ordinators and campaigners and provides them with basically the same rights.

Today, the development of internal democracy in the Foundation for the Support of Ecological Initiatives has many achievements. Decisions are almost always made democratically and people have a clearly defined field of their own responsibility. There are procedures and regulations that avoid a confusing decision making process in which the influence of emotions and inconcise arguments is minimised. More and more people in the organisation are starting to see the team and become loyal to it. Work for the team, instead of for the funder, has become more valuable. Internal communication has largely improved and less and less conflicts occur due to rumours. This strategy, consequently, slowly develops a more externally oriented environmental organisation with its own internal democracy which reports on itself as a whole - not only on parts of itself called projects. In this way, the organisation has been able to implement not only projects, but has also allowed it to function accordingly to its statutory goals and mission as it develops its own policy.


The development of internal democracy is not an easy process, especially in a society that has, for such a long time, had no practice with democracy. Legislation and the fundaments have been established, but problems with attitudes and procedures obstruct the process. The most important obstructions are of an emotional source, which demand a change in mentality. The lack of a democratic attitude among "leaders" and group members also creates many problems. Leaders have to learn how to account to their group for their functioning and achieve compromises, while group members have to learn how to participate and have a mentality where they are able to make their leaders account for their behaviour. Project funding has destructive effects on the development of internal democracy as it does not develop organisations, but project units, which have no identity or continuity beside their own projects. Project funding can only achieve positive effects for the organisations themselves if they are implemented by organisations which have already developed an identity and internal democracy. In this perspective, reconsideration of funding criteria could be useful in helping to develop real organisations. Moreover, as we have seen from the activities of the Foundation for the Support of Ecological Initiatives, organisations, by means of their structures, can help their members to become more democratic - after which technical and emotional barriers can be overcome. It is clear that the development of internal democracy is difficult and very time consuming. Nevertheless, it is necessary to give it attention: internal democracy shapes people's democratic behaviour in later stages of their life, and, in this way, is one of the most important means for consolidating democracy. Moreover, the development of internal democracy will create more conscious and emancipated environmental groups which will be able to achieve positive results in cooperation with local and national authorities. This, in the long term, will establish real local democracy, civil society and strengthen public participation.

Figure 1: Work structure of FWIE

Ernst Jan Stroes
Fundacja Wspierania Inicjatyw Ekologicznych
Foundation for the Support of Ecological Initiatives
Sławkowska 12/24
31-014 Kraków
tel./fax: 48/12/222147, 48/12/222264

GB No. 2(21)/96 | Contents