Friday, September 28, 2007

Third Congress of Polish Communities Abroad has ended in Warsaw

The Third Congress of Polish Communities Abroad has ended in Warsaw which focused on building a good image of Poland and Poles abroad, the future of education for Polish communities as well as the needs and expectations of the new waves of Polish immigrants leaving Poland after it joined the EU in May 2004.

Krysia Kolosowska reports

Over 300 delegates from 60 countries, representing Polish civic and religious organizations, scientific and cultural institutions as well as Polish media abroad gathered in Warsaw to discuss a wide range of problems concerning Poles resident in various parts of the world – from the UK and the United States, through Mexico and Argentina to Kazakhstan. They were greeted in Poland last Saturday by President Lech Kaczynski. On the last day of the congress, the participants were addressed by Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. This shows the importance attached to this group of Poles, which is especially evident in the course of the present election campaign, with all the leading groupings making a point to address Polish communities abroad.

The “Polish Community” Association for contacts with Poles abroad estimates that a total of 20 million Poles live abroad, a half of them in the United States. Jan Lorys, director of the Polish Museum of America, says it is a force to reckon with.

“As was mentioned in a few speeches, at the time of Solidarity, also when Poland negotiated entry into NATO and the EU, in moments of crisis the Polish community responds”.

Frank Kaptur, owner of the Jackowo Radio in Chicago, expects the Polish authorities to promote Poland abroad more energetically.

“The government has to build a new program of what I call polonization. For example, it should open institutes of Polish culture in the most important cities of the US, Canada, Australia and Europe.”

Jan Lorys too looks forward to closer cooperation.

“What we are looking for is the continuation of cooperation with Polish institutions under the ministry of culture I n helping us in our role which is to preserve and present the history of the Poles in America. We have a very important role in maintaining the fact that the Poles have been a part of America and also western democracy from the beginning.”

The new wave of immigrants in countries such as Britain and Ireland, which opened their borders to workers from Poland after it joined the EU in May 2004, believe there are too few Polish information and culture centers. Adriana Chodakowska-Grzesinska, editor-in-chief of the Polish weekly Cooltura, published in London.

“The newcomers are expecting information, information and once again information about everything, all aspects of life.”

The expectations of Polish communities as regards their homeland differ tremendously, depending on where they live. Antoni Chomczukow, leader of the Polish Scouting Movement in Belarus, says the Polish ethnic minority feels oppressed in many ways by the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko.

“We are denied an opportunity for normal development. Even in churches the Russian language is enforced. The authorities are sparing no effort to prevent Polish children from having classes in Polish. We badly need programs enabling our youths to study in free Europe.”

Youth exchange programs are also mentioned as badly needed by Anna Sokolowski, vice-President of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, member of Polish Congress.

“I am looking for exchange specially for the students, for the youth because I want them to come to Poland, I want them to know who we are, to grow with pride that they are Polish.”

The Polish government has compiled a report on relations between Poland and Poles residing abroad. Legal initiatives to intensify them were undertaken. The most important is the Charter of the Pole, which has just been signed by the President. It gives various privileges to Poles who live in former Soviet republics, including the right to a free visa to come to Poland. Work is under way on legislation to restore Polish citizenship to Poles who were deprived of it under communist rule for political reasons.