IT UNITES POLES ALL OVER THE WORLD
Artur Stelmasiak talks with Longin Komołowski – the chair of the Association ‘Community-Poland’
ARTUR STELMASIAK: – Is John Paul II still somebody who unites Polish Diaspora spread all over the world?
LONGIN KOMOŁOWSKI: – Definitely, yes. And regardless of the age and opinions. John Paul II is the most recognizable symbol of a Pole. It is such a symbol which is proudly signed by everybody. It must be reminded that it was reciprocal love because during apostolic pilgrims Pope always had time for Polish Diaspora. He gave a lot of encouragement and comfort to Poles and emphasized that their national heritage is obligation to be ambassadors of their Homeland.
– Pope was also a symbol of free Poles at the times of captivity. They could not appeal to the authorities in Warsaw, so they addressed their requests and hopes to the Pole in the Holy See. Did Rome become somehow the second capital city of Poland for Polish Diaspora at that time?
– It can be proven by the fact that just after the election of cardinal Wojtyła as a pope, Polish Diaspora started building a Polish House in Eternal City. Rome left its strong mark in the history of Polish Diaspora organizations. It was there where in 1990 there was the most important meeting in the post-war history, when the cooperation between Polish Diaspora and Poles living in Poland was started. Before that the Coordinative Council established by the western organizations of Polish Diaspora had a nickname of ‘Polish Diaspora of the Free World’ and after that meeting the word ‘free’ was removed. It was just the spiritual leadership of John Paul II under which everyone recognized the fact that Poland had already been free.
– Was it the time when the Association ‘Community Poland’ was established?
– ‘The Community Poland’ was established a few months before as an association independent from the authority. Thanks to farsightedness of prof. Andrzej Stelmachowski it was possible for the Church to get engaged, who authorized the actions of the newly established association among organizations of Polish Diaspora in the West. A few months later, under the auspices of John Paul II in Rome there was the first conference of Poles from the West and the East. The engagement of the Pope united Poles living abroad with the organization functioning in Poland. If it had not been for help of John Paul II, this process would have been much more difficult.
– How does Polish Diaspora remember the year 1978 and the election of cardinal Wojtyła for the Holy See? Did the pontificate of John Paul II give them courage and sense of pride on being Poles?
– The election of the Holy Father and establishment of ‘Solidarity’ were two events which radically changed the image of Poland in the free world. Poles had a good reputation, so our compatriots living abroad were willingly saying about their roots. We owe the revival and the great development of the Polish Diaspora movement to the Pope.
– John Paul II also lived away from his Homeland. Can we say that Polish Diaspora treated him as one of them?
– Somehow yes. For he understood nostalgia of Polish emigrants for Homeland, but he was also one of them, because he represented the free world. However, it is difficult to include the Pope to the group of emigrants, who ran away from repressions in the country or for economic reasons.
– Pope always found time for Poles during his apostolic journeys.
– It was visible already during his first pilgrimage to Mexico. The tradition of meetings with Poles was continued by him throughout his whole pontificate. The effect of his pilgrimage was the flourish of organizations of Polish Diaspora. Thanks to him compatriots uncovered their Polish roots anew. Therefore on the occasion of canonization we edited an album ‘Polonia Semper Fidelis’ in which we publish photos of the papal author and photographer Grzegorz Gałązka and fragments of speeches of the Holy Father addressed to Polish Diaspora.
– The expression of thanksgiving for the Polish Pope was the World Meeting of Polish Diaspora in Rome on the days of canonization of blessed popes.
– The culminating point of the thanksgiving of Polish Diaspora for canonization was the concert ‘Te Deum laudamus’ on 28 April, with the participation of over 200 artists. Also Poles could see him in the country thanks to transmission of TVP.
– There is still a ‘gap’ between Poles from the West and the East…
– This is decided mainly by economic situation. As much as Poles in the West are successful, the initiatives connected with the East require our support. However, Poles in the West and the East are divided not only by the economic gap, but also the social gap. Our compatriots living in the East do not usually do an excellent career. The exception to the rule is Lithuania, where in many places Poles even managed to win elections. Unfortunately, in the West Poles are not active enough. They often reach a high economic and social status, but their success does not mean engagement of Polish Diaspora. Poles in the West should create much bigger power.
– In the recent time money for Polish Diaspora was taken from the Senate and shifted to Foreign Ministry. Is it a change for better?
– I think that we are still in a transition period. So, some mechanisms of cooperation must ‘reach’. Although amount of money is the same as before, gaining it is much more difficult. Settlement of projects from the Foreign Ministry is similar to grants from the European Union. So, granting money and settlement of it is very complicated.
– And what does the interest in a Pole’s Charter in the East look like?
– There are not any problems. It is only necessary to prove one’s Polish origin and pass an exam. Unfortunately, we have much reservations to exam questions. Could you, for example, tell me who the patron of Cracow is? After all, most compatriots living outside Cracow would intuitively say that it is St. Stanisław, the bishop and martyr. However, it is not a good answer. There are much more such tricky questions. The problem for a separate talk is, for example, the situation in Belarus where people are scared of submit requests for a Pole’s Charter.
– Your predecessor – the marshal Maciej Płażyński was striving for a repatriation act. What will there be its further fates?
– The ‘Community Poland’ supports this project. We were collecting signatures under the act, which is being piloted by the marshal’s son Jakub Płażyński. However, we hear from politicians that Poland cannot afford a project in this form. Estimated costs of introducing the repatriation act are about 700 million zlotys.
– But 700 million zlotys are only one third of costs of building the National Stadium. What should there be more important for us?
– From the moral point of view, the matter is out of a discussion. Poles have the right to return to homeland and Poland should make it possible for them. However, I hear about the project of repatriation addressed only to the young generation of Poles, that is, to those who were born in Polish families outside the eastern border.
– How is Poland perceive in Ukraine?
– The Pole’s Charter is very popular there. Also institutions teaching Polish language are popular. What is more, even people of the Ukrainian origin learn Polish language in order to take the secondary school leaving exam in this language. Very few people are aware of the fact that at present in Ukraine learning our language is more popular than learning English.
– When the situation in Ukraine is very tensed, aren’t Poles a little between Putin’s hard place and a hard place which are the reviving nationalism of the Ukrainians?
– The Polish minority significantly opts against Putin’s aggression. Although it is necessary to observe the nationalist movement carefully especially the Right Sector, I think that it is overvalued. The overwhelming majority of Ukrainians perceive Poles as the only brothers in whole Europe. We do not receive any signals that Poles, living in Ukraine, would be afraid of nationalists. Whereas they are very afraid of Russian tanks.
– However, Polish Diaspora is developing in Great Britain the most. Does the emigration of the recent years joins the old Polish Diaspora from the times of the Second World War?
– Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Instead of joining the functioning organizations, new emigrants are trying to build their structures. Its results are not good, because these organizations function for one or two years and stop existing. Therefore an ideal situation would be if new emigrants grew into leaders of old and reliable organizations of Polish Diaspora.
– Is there a plan to change it?
– I think that the first generation of the new emigration will try to build up their material situation and the next one will start functioning in organizations of Polish Diaspora. Therefore, our main task is to maintain their relation with the country and Polish culture. Recently a big project of teaching children Polish language has been started, aimed for children born in England. Their education is a priority task now.
– Maintaining the national identity among emigrants is also a task for the Church.
– These are just Catholic Polish Missions which unite the old Polish Diaspora with new emigrants. After all, during Polish Holy Masses, our all compatriots meet together. Pastoral Ministry of the Polish Diaspora is also a challenge for the Church in order to send charismatic priests to Poles, able to attract people. Therefore the best of the best should be sent to work with Polish Diaspora.