University Day

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Prof. Andrzej Antoszewski, the doyen of political science in Poland, was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Opole during the celebrations of our University Day. He devoted his lecture to the crisis of liberal democracy.

The celebrations of the University Day took place on 10th March in the Auditorium Hall of the University of Opole.

“Today's meeting of the Senate is, in a sense, the eve of the festivities that await us next year, when we are to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the existence of my, our university," said the Rector of the UO, Prof. Marek Masnyk. “I emphasise that it is "my university and our university", because its existence is a collective effort of all citizens, whose taxes contribute, among other things, to the financing of the university science and education.

The Rector pointed out that the university is a unique place where freedom of thought and respect for otherness prevail, where values such as intellectual freedom of teaching and learning, institutional autonomy, academic freedom must be protected from political interventions.

“A university is not just one of many costly institutions financed by the state. It is the heart of the state, the crucible of collective identity, where the good that elevates the whole of society is created,” pointed out Prof. Masnyk. “The University Day, which we are celebrating today in a unique way, is also an excellent opportunity to refer to history in order to answer the question about the kind of university we want to have in Opole.”

The Rector said that "we are not only building the foundations of this temple of knowledge, but we are also adding further storeys to it. It is not, as one of the Opole professors put it, that the creation of a university in Opole could only be achieved through a skilful combination of megalomania and a dash of cunning on the part of a dozen or so city leaders," he said. “It is a university that is an expression of the ambitions of the entire academic community of the city and the region that could be established in Opole, even despite opinions about the lack of academic traditions in the city, which was supposed to condemn the project to failure in advance.”

Referring to the final results of the evaluation, which the UO authorities received a few days earlier, Prof. Masnyk concluded: “The University of Opole was ranked 9th in the latest ranking in the university category and 30th among nearly 100 surveyed HEIs. We seem to be doing a good job of 'building' since, according to the results of the evaluation of scientific disciplines for 2017-2021, we have one A plus category, six disciplines received an A category and ten received a B plus category. Thus, for the next four years, we have full promotion rights and autonomy in academic teaching," he stressed.

“A university is an institution suspended between the past and the future. It is therefore supported by both its conservative past - history, tradition, values - and its innovative future - professionalism, efficiency, knowledge and technology transfer,” he concluded. Then, he referred to the almost 30-year history of the University of Opole, which had its origins in the Higher School of Pedagogy founded in 1954. 

“As an academic institution, the University of Opole is a place where all fields of science develop. I mean the "soft" ones - the humanities and social sciences, as well as the "hard" ones - such as physics, mathematics, chemistry, medicine or biology," he enumerated and then referred to the honorary doctorates awarded in recent years. “We dedicate this year's University Day to our political scientists, who have been building painstakingly but ultimately with great success their academic identity in Opole for nearly six decades.”

Then, Prof. Masnyk briefly discussed the history of the establishment, formation and development of the Opole political science, recalling its founders, the professors who built the local academic community of this discipline, now concentrated in the Faculty of Political Science and Social Communication, within whose structure the Institute of Political Science and Administration operates. 

“Today, we bestow the highest university honour on Prof. Andrzej Antoszewski - an outstanding scholar of immense merit for the institutional development of this discipline and the shaping of its scientific identity. Prof. Antoszewski is an expert on the political systems of Central and Eastern Europe and an author of pioneering works on the systemic transformation of post-communist countries, highly regarded and respected in Poland and abroad," stressed the Rector.

The proceedings of awarding the honoris causa doctorate of the University of Opole to Prof. Andrzej Antoszewski were presented by the Director of the Institute of Political Science and Administration, Lech Rubisz, PhD, DSc, Assoc.Prof., and the eulogy was delivered by Prof. Krzysztof Zuba.

The laudator said that Prof. Antoszewski was ‘a good spirit of Polish political science, a person of uncommon kindness’. “The claim that Professor Antoszewski has always had a certain aura around him may sound a bit far-fetched, but everyone who knows him, or has even come into contact with him, will agree with this opinion,” said Prof. Zuba. “I think it arises from two of his qualities: that of an outstanding scientist, an insightful observer and analyst of social reality, and his exceptional attitude towards other people. It is human nature to be quick-tempered, frustrated, petty or biased at times. However, the nominee has never displayed these very human traits.”

Prof. Zuba noted that Prof. Antoszewski is the doyen of political science in Poland and the founder of a scholarly school of comparative studies on the democratic transformation of states and societies. Throughout his academic career, he was affiliated with the Institute of Political Science at the University of Wrocław, starting from the position of assistant to full professor. He took up the former post in 1972 and the latter in 1999. He is the author (or co-author) of 16 monographs, editor of more than 10 collective works and almost 200 academic papers on the theory and practice of contemporary political systems. He has supervised about 500 master's and bachelor's theses, 22 doctoral dissertations, participated as a reviewer in the promotion of more than 60 doctoral degrees and 40 post-doctoral degrees. Prof. Antoszewski belongs to a group of prominent Polish political scientists who have made an acclaimed contribution to the institutional development of the discipline and the shaping of its scientific identity. Since the 1990s, he has been a member of the Committee for Political Science of the Polish Academy of Sciences, in the years 2006-2020 he was a member of the Central Commission for Academic Degrees and Titles, in the years 1996-1999, he was the director of the Institute of Political Science at the University of Wrocław.

“Professor Antoszewski belongs to a group - and it is a rather narrow group - of creators of contemporary Polish political science,” emphasised Prof. Zuba. “He not only contributed to the creation of one of Poland's most vibrant political science research centres at his Alma Mater, but also significantly influenced the direction of development of the entire discipline. This may sound a bit partial, but the testimony we can give from the perspective of the academic community of the University of Opole is an excellent illustration of this. The nominee played an important role in forging our milieu, developing its identity and marking its position on the map of political science. It is worth noting that the case of our milieu is not an isolated one. Personally, I consider this very role - that of a co-creator and animator of the scientific community - to be fundamental - for the milieu, for science and for understanding the format of the figure we have the honour to promote today.”

“Dear nominee, it is an honour for our community and our university to accept you among the distinguished persons who have been bestowed with the title of doctor honoris causa of our university. In saying this, I know that I am expressing the opinion of our entire community," concluded Prof. Zuba.

Subsequently, the doctoral diploma by the Director of the Institute of Political Science and Administration was read by Prof. Rubisz, and it was presented to Prof. Antoszewski by the Rector of the OU in the presence of Prof. Tadeusz Wallas of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, one of the reviewers of the achievements.

Doctor h.c., Prof. Andrzej Antoszewski began his lecture with thanking the authorities of the University of Opole, Rector of the UO, Prof. Marek Masnyk, the Senate, and the Council of the Institute of Political Science and Administration headed by its chair, Prof. Lech Rubisz.

“I would like to thank my colleagues representing the Opole political sciences for considering and supporting my candidacy for an honorary doctorate, as well as the collegial bodies of the university for taking the decision, which is for me an unexpected but honourable distinction,” said Prof. Antoszewski. “I do so in the firm conviction that it is not only a recognition of my academic achievements, but also an appreciation of the discipline I have represented for almost half a century of my professional work. And for that I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

He went on to speak about the difficult path that the Polish political science had undergone in the past decades. However, he devoted the main part of his speech to the crisis of the idea of liberal democracy.

“Democracy is experiencing a profound crisis before our eyes, and its basic assumptions are colliding with increasingly widespread doubt," said Prof. Antoszewski. “The very concept of liberal democracy, binding together elections as a method of creating power and enforcing its accountability, the protection of citizens' rights and the rule of law, which was almost universally accepted yesterday, is now subject to growing criticism. What is at issue here is not objections to its apparent inadequacies, to which everyone is entitled to have and, in fact, a political scientist is even obliged to have, but a denial of the underlying hope that a political order ensuring the freedom of individuals, who have an equal right to pursue happiness, are effectively protected from abuses of power and live in a community that respects their diversity and individuality, both nationally and globally is desirable and possible.

He stressed that those who adhere to such a view "are no longer critics of liberal democracy, but become its fierce enemies". “This turns political discourse into political struggle, with all its consequences,” he said. “What they are attacking is, firstly, individual freedom, which is a potential threat to the community and its order; secondly, the emancipatory aspirations of groups that see themselves as underprivileged, including especially minorities of various kinds, and their claims to equality. And thirdly, the institutions that impose any constraints on those in power. In this way, hostility towards liberal democracy manifests itself in discrediting its assumptions that can be linked to liberalism as an ideology having had the greatest impact on the contemporary understanding of democracy, gaining as many enthusiasts as declared opponents.

Prof. Antoszewski went on to say that an attack on liberal democracy "is not in itself a prelude to either purges, or a violent coup d'état, or the establishment of a more or less oppressive dictatorship. It does, however, change the conditions of political discourse and the conditions within which the political process takes place". He explained that politicians "cease to seek the best solutions to social problems through dialogue but they appeal to the power of the majority. They give a different meaning to the basic principles of democracy". 

“The sovereignty of the people is to be reduced to lack of control over those who represent them. Representation is to become the ability to impose the will of politicians on the governed. A free mandate means blind obedience to political parties. The distribution of power is to be treated in technical terms, as a division of competences between discrete institutions implementing the uniform will of the majority. Political freedoms are to be used first and foremost to show support for the rulers, not discontent. Winning such a number of seats in parliament as to be able to govern unfettered and without social control becomes the basic principle of democratic politics,” he said.

“I do not agree with those who claim that liberal democracy is in itself a “good thing” and that its merits are not debatable. Instead, I claim that its blocking or annihilation is undeniably a bad thing!” - he stressed. “Rather than considering the extent to which it does or does not have the desired effect, it is necessary to consider the negative consequences of departing from its principles or preventing their entry into force. Whether the fight against liberal democracy is waged in the name of overcoming its obvious weaknesses, raising the level of efficiency of governance, returning to time-tested traditions or consolidating the national community, it ends up with the same thing: a diminution of the individual's freedom and an increase in social inequalities leading to the creation of a community based on domination ancascad submission, and a deepening of stratification in the modern world. In other words, it ends up in collective suffering, as humanity experienced in the past and is experiencing now,” the scholar concluded, referring to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“I belong to the generation which was formed under the influence of authoritarian experiences, and whose heads were instilled with the conviction that liberal democracy, then called bourgeois democracy, is something bad, something harmful, something that almost threatens our very existence," Prof. Antoszewski said at the end of his speech. “It seems to me that what comes out of these experiences leads to an unequivocal conclusion: the rejection of tolerance for diversity, otherness, distinctiveness, no matter on what grounds, leads to tragic results. If the older generation can say this from their experience, I would like to dedicate it to the younger generation to at least take these reflections into account.”

The musical setting was provided by the University Choir Dramma per musica conducted by Dr Elżbieta Trylnik.

The celebrations began the day before, i.e. on 9 March 2023, with a Holy Mass in the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows and St Adalbert in Opole. The Mass was presided by Bishop Prof. Jan Kopec.