Shrinking, Shifting, and Strengthening: The Dynamics and Diversity of Civic Activism in Poland

Patrice C. McMahon, Lukasz W. Niparko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Thirty years after communism’s demise, Polish civil society is, decidedly, self-sustaining, and wide-ranging, with activism focused on various issues, from the natural environment to education reform to reproductive rights. This paper uses data from interviews and a nationally representative survey to explore the evolution of activism in Poland and specifically the claim that Polish citizens are more likely to engage in civic action when these efforts concern everyday social problems, rather than abstract political ideals. We argue that since 2015, the Polish government is, indeed, attempting to direct civil society’s growth and development, thereby shrinking the space for activism, especially for liberal, progressive organizations. Yet, this is only a part of a more complex and interesting picture of activism that is also shifting, with individuals focusing on new issues and mobilization tactics, and strengthening through the creation of networks, and groups that work on different sectors but join forces. Thus, although some citizens are mobilizing around local, social concerns, intangible, political issues remain important, with Poles participating in activities online and in person to defend the rule of law and judicial freedom. Polish citizens are also regularly protesting limitations on reproductive rights and in support of gay rights. Thirty years of change and democracy in Poland have produced a dynamic and diverse civil society that is, simultaneously, shrinking, shifting, and strengthening.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEast European Politics and Societies
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • civil society
  • civil society organization
  • democratic backsliding
  • new forms of activism
  • nongovernmental organization
  • Poland
  • post-communism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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