Policy concerning Polish communities abroad

Czeslaw Ryszka

Apparently Poland, besides China, Italy and Germany, has the biggest diaspora (the so-called Polonia). It is estimated that several million Polish people live abroad. Apart from the United States, the biggest number of immigrants has found their place in the West although it can change soon as there are about 650,000 Poles living only in London. John Paul II understood Poles living in their homeland and Polish immigrants as one national community, having common one thousand year old history and culture, and what is more, in the case of Poland the culture has been Christian. Leaving the homeland does not destroy this community. Therefore, John Paul II regarded the Polish diaspora as a part of the Polish nation. During his audience with the Polish immigrants in Rome (16 October 1980) the Holy Father spoke about the nation that was living ‘in the Homeland and outside its borders’, and to the Polish immigrants living in Spain (1982) that they lived ‘in their historic roots over the Vistula and in various parts of the world.’ He used to repeat those words at various places. The Polish communities abroad will always treasure the words of John Paul II. I think that the meetings with the Pope gathered the biggest numbers of Polish immigrants. But there has not been such a strong phenomenon that united people in the emotional, religious and national way as the person of the Polish Pope. What did John Paul II tell the Polish communities abroad? He was most often trying to convince his fellow countrymen to preserve the Christian cultural heritage, which they carried from Poland, and to transmit it to next generations. He justified his request by the necessity to save human dignity, self-respect, to earn other people’s respect and to offer a fruitful contribution to the culture of their settlement. Among other things he said to Poles in Australia, ‘Those who remember where they come from; those who value their traditions, can contribute a lot to the life of every country.’ The Pope spoke those words being aware of the Polish jokes that undermine the Polish culture and nation (although something has changed since nowadays a joking symbol of our immigration has been a plumber – a very resourceful man). I write about this on the day preceding the Polonia Day and Polish Flag Day, which we celebrate on 2 May. On that day I participated in the 12th Polonia Forum in Torun. The motto of the Forum was ‘For the good name of Poland and Poles’ (25-27 April). The Forum was organised by the Higher School of Social and Media Culture and the Polish Association for Marine Economy named after Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski. There were over 100 delegates from Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Germany, France, Switzerland, Great Britain, Sweden, Norway, Australia, the USA, Canada, Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico. They discussed three themes: the role of immigrants’ pastoral ministry, culture and teaching Polish as well as the good name of Poland and Poles. One cannot discuss all the themes in such a short article and I will focus on the subject that evoked the biggest emotions, namely the policy of the present government concerning the Polish communities abroad. I can write that the meeting was an outpouring of pain and sorrow that Polish communities felt towards the government. For example, being proud of our good relationships with Lithuania we cannot do anything for the Polish minority there: the spelling of Polish surnames, the matura examination in Polish, the restitution of the lost Polish land and other nationalized properties in Vilnius and the Region of Vilnius as well as the right to double citizenship (the right is reserved for Lithuanians; those who want to obtain other citizenships must renounce their Lithuanian citizenship). The Poles living in Ukraine complained that the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not allow the chairman of the Association of Polish Culture of the Lviv Region to give his opinions on the Polish Charter. The Ministry also withdrew the donation for the Polish newspaper ‘Gazeta Lwowska.’ The worst situation is in Germany: the German states give little money for Polish language courses whereas we run German schools and develop their culture. The Poles living in France complained about the lack of basic respect for Poles in this country (recently a cartoon presenting Poles as ...pigs has been published). Walter Kobylanski, the son of Jan Kobylanski, represented the Union of Polish Associations and Organisation in Latin America (USOPAL) at the Forum. He will certainly continue the activities of his father’s foundation. The foundation supports patriotic and Catholic values of the Polish communities in South America. In his message to the participants of the Forum Jan Kobylanski wrote, ‘Polonia is waiting for changes in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the embassies and consulates, to see the elimination of various ways of influence exerted by the special services that have done so much harm serving other interests.’ Some may not believe that there is still ‘a black list of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ in independent Poland. It is a list of Poles living abroad that you must not contact. Unfortunately, I had to hear many things about the destructive role of the Polish consular services. No wonder when over sixty diplomats working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs admitted to have collaborated with the communist special services in the previous term. In the 1980s, 95% of the diplomats were thought to have collaborated with the services and they mainly kept the Polish immigrants and the oppositionists under surveillance. After the year 1989 the decisive majority of the secret agents remained in the ministry. What are the conclusions? In independent Poland we should care for the fate of the present multimillion Polish community abroad. What should be done? John Paul II gives a simple answer: we should promote the Christian vision of man, which means preserving your own spiritual identity based on the Christian Polish culture. The people who have been formed in this way will also decide about the value of their contribution to the good of the country of their origin and the country of their settlement.

"Niedziela" 19/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Ireneusz Skubis • Translation: Aneta Amrozik • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl