Sunday, October 28, 2012 | 11:56 PM
Three decades ago in Gdansk, Poles rose up and created a marvel - an independent trade union Solidarity that, after a decade of non-violent struggle, threw off the shackles of communism. Today, the country is part of the European Union and has created a vibrant free market democracy - making it a potential leader in pushing Internet freedom. I travelled to Solidarity's birthplace, to give the keynote speech at the largest conference of Polish bloggers, Blog Forum Gdansk.
More than 200 young, energetic bloggers (and 120,000 online viewers) assembled in the conference room of the sparkling new Gdansk Stadium, constructed for the Euro 2012 tournament. In a keynote speech, we outlined the promise and perils of Internet freedom. For me, it was a moving moment - I remember covering the Solidarity revolution in the 1980s as a journalist and I compared how I took notes almost in secret and only could publish my stories after I left the country. Now Tweets and blogs were published direct from the conference room, in real time.
In many ways, Poland should be ripe for Internet freedom to flourish. More than any other Central European country under Soviet rule, Poland resisted and kept the spirit of free discourse alive with a vibrant samizdat press. Estonia recently captured first place in Freedom House's rankings and has become the poster-child for post-communist freedom fighters. Despite some initiatives supporting an open internet, Poland remains ranked at a distant 17th place.
Why? Our meetings with bloggers and NGOs in both Warsaw and Gdansk illustrated how the power of the Internet to revolutionise free expression is not yet full understood. Many complain about a worrying rise of hate speech. Many politicians are angry about comments posted on the free Internet, and libel and defamation suits proliferate. Some Polish court rulings seem to interpret liability laws in a restrictive way detrimental to Internet platforms, threatening to limit freedom of expression for users.
Our appearance at the Blog Forum Gdansk is just a first step in an effort to encourage change. Over the coming months, we will continue our activities to demonstrate how the Internet provides positive new possibilities for Poles to express themselves.