Vol. 9, Issue No. 27/2002
Poland and Polonia -- still Poles apart?
by Robert Strybel
WARSAW--Poland celebrated Polonia Day for the first time with a special session of the Senate, the traditional guardian of Polish-Polonia ties. The holiday, whose establishment had been demanded at the World Polonia Congress held in Poland in 2001, was officially adopted by the Senate in January of this year. It will henceforth be celebrated each year on May 2nd.
The upper chamber of the Polish parliament has been in charge of liaison with the world-wide Polish Diaspora since the independent Poland's first 20th-century re-emergence after World War I. Poland's Soviet-imposed communist regime dissolved the Senate after World War II as an unwanted relic of free Poland, but the chamber was revived after communism collapsed in 1989. It soon resumed its traditional Polish-Polonian role.
The avowed purpose of the special Polonian session was to assess the state of Polish-Polonian relations and seek ways to better coordinate the joint efforts of Poland and Polonian communities around the globe. But the key-note addresses of leading representatives of Polish communities in Australia, Canada, the post-Soviet republics, Latin America, the United States and Western Europe clearly showed that the problems of individual Polonian groups were (no pun intended!) 'Poles apart.' Some of the issues raised during the session included the following:
-- Maciej Wierzynski, editor-in-chief of New York's Polish-language daily 'Nowy Dziennik' told the Polish daily 'Rzeczpospolita': 'When the president of Mexico comes to Washington, one of the main topics of his talks with President Bush are illegal Mexican immigrants. I do not even know whether the authorities of the Republic of Poland have any idea how many Poles are working illegally in America,' he told the Polish daily 'Rzeczpospolita'.
-- Many of the estimated 80 to 100 thousand Poles in Kazakhstan, one of the penal zones, to which Stalin started deporting Poles in the 1930, want to return to Poland, but are barred by numerous obstacles -- both financial and bureaucratic. Jan Zinkiewicz, the president of the Union of Poles in Kazakhstan, complained that after completing studies in Poland, graduates from that country are required to return to Kazakhstan and apply for Polish visas to get back into Poland.
-- Quite the opposite complaint was voiced by the Polish representative leader of another post-Soviet Republic. Jan Sienkiewicz, an independent journalist, said that many students from Lithuania want to stay in Poland after they graduate, thereby depriving Lithuania's 300,000-strong Polish community of the intelligentsia input it so sorely needs.
-- Germany's one-million-strong Polish community complains it is not treated as well as the German minority in Poland, largely centered in the Opole region. Under a binding Polish-German Treaty, Poland's ethnic Germans receive numerous privileges, subsidies and overall support, while Poles in Germany are treated like migrants. The German authorities counter that the German is so splintered into tiny, often mutually hostile groups that they do not know whom they should deal with.
-- According to Aleksandra Sliwowska-Bartsch, councilor of the Polonia Charitable Society of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it is difficult to interest young people in cultivating their Polish heritage without links to the ancestral homeland, but the price of airline tickets to Poland is prohibitive, considering Brazil's financial crisis.
-- The views of Polonians from many countries was expressed by Elzbieta Rogacka, president of the Polish Canadian Congress, who complained that Polish consulates treated Polonians without the necessary respect. 'Thousands of Polish citizens (now living abroad) who had contributed to Polish social security for years, are now unable to receive even modest payments to supplement their foreign old-age pensions,' she told Senate's Polonian Session. "We are ready to cooperate but not to submit to pressure. (...) We can cooperate as a partner, not as a humble applicant."
The concerns of the Polish-American community, some of which are shared by Polonians in other countries, were articulated by Polish-American Congress President Edward Moskal who began by assessing the recent history of Polish-Polonian relations. 'Governments have changed, the Parliament has changed but the matter of contacts between Poland and its Polonia, especially the basic policies of the Polish nation towards Polonia and Poles abroad, have not gone beyond mere courtesies. (...) Polish Americans, as well as the Diaspora in the rest of the world, represent almost a third of the population of Poland, and have the right to express their own opinion and to voice their views as to current developments in Poland,' he told fellow-Polonians and Polish Senators.
The 77-year-old leader, who also heads the Polish National Alliance, America's biggest Polish insurance fraternal, recalled the goals of the PAC, saying: 'The Polish American Congress was founded in 1944 for the express purpose of fulfilling its duties, which were and remain today:
-- to support the vital interests of Poland and those of the Polish Nation on American soil and all initiatives serving that purpose;
-- to defend the good name of Poland and that of the Polish People, to counteract any attempts to slander the Polish Nation, and to combat those, who would violate that image and our common good.'
Moskal then addressed a number of specific issues of vital concern to Polonia. He noted the problems encountered by some naturalized Americans of Polish birth who were not admitted into Poland on the basis of their valid American passports, since Polish officials demanded their Polish ones instead. He also noted that the Polish government was not supporting its citizens who were living and working illegally in the US and whose American-born children have American citizenship and urged Poland's authorities to suggest an amnesty for illegal aliens in its dealing with Washington as Mexico has been doing.
He also proposed lifting the visa requirement for Poles wanting to visit the US. "Although Poland eliminated its visa requirement, America has retained this requirement. Poland is, after all, as Washington has trumpeted it, 'America's most faithful partner on the European Continent, our new partner in NATO.'"
Moskal also raised the issue of older Polish Americans hoping to return and spend their retirement in Poland. The PAC believes they should be able to choose to which country -- the US of Poland -- they pay their taxes and that they should be exempted from paying Polish taxes on their American Social Security checks.
The PAC/PNA leader also urged Poland not to turn its back on American business opportunities under pressure from the European Union, which Poland hopes to join in 2004. "Today's Poland, buckling under to European pressure groups, is not accepting offers of American businesses, and is ready to sacrifice long-established relationships by entering into new economic structures, regardless of the obvious harm to America and Poland. As Americans of Polish heritage, we cannot approve of such tendencies. (...) We believe that Poland's place is in the sphere of the well-roundedly developed American economy. (...) The American economy is the most powerful in the world and has no real competitor. Currently it is coming out of a mild recession with its next period of prosperity looming on the horizon."
It is, therefore, very important that Polish politicians should not lose sight of this possibility and do not make decisions that would close the doors on Poland's further, intensive cooperation with America. So that once again we do not have to hear the proverb: "Polak madry dopiero po szkodzie! ("A Pole gets wise only after the damage is done!")
The PAC president concluded his address on a personal note: "I am a third-generation American and like thousands of Americans of Polish heritage from my family home I carried away a love of Poland, Polish traditions and culture, for which I intend to work faithfully to the end of my days. Niech zyje Polska! God Bless America!"
Many representatives of Poland's media were interested in the Senate's Polonian Debate only with a view of some sensation sparked by the controversial Moskal. 'They were disappointed,' Marshal (speaker) of the Senate Longin Pastusiak, the host of the event, told a Polish TV reporter. 'His address was moderate and balanced and won him a good round of applause.' when the woman reporter tried to press the issue: 'But isn't he very controversial? Why have you invited him?'-- Pastusiak retorted: 'He may be controversial, in fact I don't necessarily agree with everything he says. But he does have the mandate of the Polish-American Congress. It was impossible not to invite him.'
Polish journalists were hoping fireworks would go off when Moskal encountered Radio Free Europe's former Polish Section head, Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, his traditional adversary. Last year, Moskal took exception to his call for Poles to apologize to Jews for the 1941 Jedwabne massacre and accused him of collaborating with the Nazis in World War II.
Nowak-Jezioranski admitted he had worked with the Nazis but claimed he had been ordered to do so by the Polish Underground to gain credibility and facilitate his clandestine missions. He was one of wartime Poland's leading couriers who smuggled news out of the Nazi-occupied country to the West. But there was no sensation, because Nowak-Jezioranski pulled a no-show. He told reporters that he had been invited to the Senate debate only two days in advance and had a previous engagement. But Marshal Pastusiak debunked that claim saying: 'The invitation was sent out 10 days earlier. During that time Mr. Nowak-Jezioranski surely could have found his way to the Senate.'
Was this just another festive session full of high-sounding slogans, demands, proposals and promises, which will soon be forgotten? That has been largely the norm in the past, and many speakers complained that the Polish side rarely follows through with anything. The Pole's Charter, a document that would give visitors of Polish extraction privileges not available to other foreign tourists, has remained in the realm of wishful thinking. Unlike other foreigners, a Polonian could come and go as he or she pleased, stay in Poland as long as he liked without requiring a visa and would be entitled to the same educational opportunities and health benefits Polish citizens enjoy. But it is not true that Poland has not kept any of its promises.
Last year, it enacted a repatriation law that will enable mainly Poles from Kazakhstan to settle in Poland, although the number of such repatriates is limited by the high costs of bringing families over, giving them housing and jobs at a time of 18% unemployment. Another fulfilled promise is Polonia Day, which was celebrated this year for the first time. Whether and to what extent it catches on remains to be seen. The Polish Senate is also setting up a Polonian Consultative Council to help formulate Polonian-related policy and tackle issues of common concern. It will include Polish parliamentarians, non-government organizations and representatives of Polonia themselves.
According to Marshal Pastusiak, this marks the fulfillment of a demand raised at last year's World Polonia Congress, whose delegates demanded; 'Nic o nas bez nas' (Nothing about us without is). Whether this new body gets off the ground and what it actually accomplishes also remains to be seen.
Vol. 9, Issue No. 27/2002
© Copyright 2002 by Andrzej M. Salski