Splintered Society (Part II)

Continued from Part I


Integration and Influx
Integration And then came EU accession. The Poles in England were overjoyed that at last their homeland was truly free – a member of NATO and now the EU. They took in the new Poles with open arms inviting them into their houses, clubs, churches, giving them beds, money and jobs, anything to help their fellow Poles who had had the horrible experience of communism. This is what the Polonia had been fighting for all their lives. This was the actual realisation of a generational dream which had taken on mythical proportions during fifty or more years of forced exile.

Rude Awakening
No Immigrants What happened next can be called many things but I call it a disaster. The so-called ‘imports’ (a term developed by the now native Polish-Brits) hit the Isles like a tempest flooding the communities with fresh blood, new ideas, new language, new values. The old generation found that they had absolutely nothing in common with these fresh-faced fellow Polish youngbloods. Polish churches in the UK are full but the divisions are clear. The old generation tend to sit near the front (or in the pews that they’ve been sitting in for years) and the ‘imports’ sit or stand at the back.

Communication Breakdown
After BabelObserving these two communities who were different in every aspect I got the feeling that something was very wrong. The only thing that brought these two wholly different groups together was some vague notion of Polishness. In fact, the language of the two groups was drastically different. The older generation use a fossilised Polish with a large number of borrowings from English (‘hoover’, ‘sink’, for example), whereas the new ‘imports’ use words like ‘spoko’, ‘luz’ which are alien to the older Polonia group. These divisions have become highlighted by the fact that the new Poles have an awful reputation in the UK which is tarnishing the reputation of the Polonia.

Boiling Point
Melting PotWhat we are witnessing is the forced melding together of two social groups which have absolutely nothing in common (bar the above-mentioned vague notion of Polishness). The Polonia worked to bring freedom back to Poland and their love for the homeland is admirable yet idealised. The younger group chose to leave their country, have not had to work to build up a community and have an ambivalent attitude towards Poland. Watching this dangerously bubbling melting pot one gets the impression that something is about to explode and explode very soon.

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27 Responses to Splintered Society (Part II)

  1. Paweł Ochmański says:

    After reading this post I got mixed feelings and a flow of opinions. Let’s try to put it in logical order. The flow of Polish youngblood to the UK was a normal situation when a job market was opened (considering that 1pound used to be 6PLN). Mostly unemployed people went to work there, majority with no higher education(as you can see on the posted video). These Poles are responsible for ruining the good opinion Polish people used to have. You mentioned the communication breakdown between young Poles and Polonia. That’s a normal generation gap that applies to English as well (see what sort of people young Brits are nowadays). We are facing the arrival of a new generation that doesn’t care about anything but themselves.

  2. Raf Uzar says:

    Paweł, the generation gap which you believe, in this situation, to be ‘normal’ is not. The ‘imports’and the Polonia are regarded by allto be one in the same. The British treat them as one homogenous whole and, to be honest, the ‘peoples’ in question also regard themselves as one common nation. Nothing could be further from the truth…

  3. Paweł Ochmański says:

    That is true, they are still Polish people. The only consolation is that the boom for emigrating to the UK to work is finally coming to an end. Those uneducated compatriots of ours will come back home with their dole and we won’t have to be ashamed of them anymore. I believe that the British will know that this was just a mass of people going there temporarily and they do not comprise the total of the Polish nation (Polonia included). My bro’ who was born in London is still proud to be Polish and ready to explain this recent “disaster” you mentioned.

  4. Raf Uzar says:

    I’mnot so convinced that they’ll be masses of returning Poles…

  5. Pawel says:

    (different Pawel)

    Well I feel I should reply to this, although the attitudes of some of those old immigrants don’t deserve my attention watsoever.
    I have met some of those British Poles with an attitude, and I didn’t like them. They look down on the recent immigration in a desperate attempt to feel better about themselves. For they are of course different. Better different. They speak better Polish, they feel more Polish, and cherish the fatherland more. They never stop in assuring every Brit in sight that they are different then the ‘imports’ as they call them.

    Many of the ‘old expats’ developed a romantic feeling to a country no longer exists. The Poland they long to is gone. Szlag ją trafił. Kaput. Poland and Polish people and Polish language evolved in Poland for 45 years – British Poles were either cut off from that development, or didn’t really know how to approach it. They are themselves a reflexion of what Poland was before the war. They have no idea what shaped those young Poles. They never knew the country in which they were born. They never lived the Polish reality.

    They have this reputation paranoia, and certain ideas of how they are perceived and how the new ‘imports’ are perceived.

    They might seem similar to those elderly conservative Brits, who still think the pre-postmodernist way – according to various metanarratives (let it be religion, patriotism or anything else).

    I happen to know many of the ‘imports’ and I really hate the crap the old Polonia are giving. Most of the imports have really had a shit life in Poland, and going away was pretty much their only option.

    I couldn’t care less what old Polonia think.

  6. Raf Uzar says:

    Pawel, thanks for the comments but I beg to differ. Why? Well, we have to take things as they acually are and not how they might appear to be. The sad fact is that a large proportion of the new wave of immigration is bad blood. Hopefully, not the majority but a large enough chunk to give Polish people and Poland a #really# bad name and I mean #really# bad. I am one of the #old# Polonia who has noticed the change in attitudes. The pride many once felt at being Polish (and I mean real pride), is gone. Many immigrants and children of immigrants no longer own up to being Polish – they’re embarrased. Surely that’s not right? The one thing that the new immigrants have to remember is that each and everyone of them is an ambassador and is representing their country. Even though you don’t think too much about the Polonia it’s worth bearing in mind that they spend years giving Poland a voice when there was no voice coming out of communist Poland. We can’t just strike off a large chunk of Poland and the diaspora. At least that’s my view of things…

  7. Pawel says:

    Are you? Don’t take this personally then:)

    Sorry the real Poles disappoint the Polonia:)

    This is how people are whether you like it or not. They are not from Mars, they are from Poland. Maybe, as you see, being Polish is nothing to proud of? Maybe it’s just like having blue eyes? Nothing special. Nationality-centred thinking is not something dominating today’s world.
    What many of Polonia seem not to understand is that Poland is a normal country, and there are chavs too. Some of these chavs moved to Britain. I’m quite pleased – to be frank – as it seems the chavs have moved from the streets of Torun to the streets Britain:D

    And in some respects Poles are different. Not worse maybe, but different. Look at the way Poles queue at airports. I don’t like it personally, but most people tend to elbow their way in the same moment to the clerk as soon as they appear behind their desk. Is it WORSE, less cultured, then British order? Who’s to decide. It’s different.
    Many times I witnessed other Poles applauding an airplane landing. Uncool? For me yes, but who decides? Different.

    I think ,however, are HEAVILY exagerating. Chavs are a small chunk. There is a large group of peasant youth that had absolutely no future in Poland, who might be a bit more visible in Britain. There are chunks of metropolitan cosmopolitan kids, who probably don’t stand out at all. There are many gay people. Etc. What you are doing is labelling.
    I spend every summer holiday in Britain (well, Jersey mostly, but still) and have an opportunity to see things first hand – and I am not making my point just for the sake of it.

    What would you actually want the new immigration to do/be?

  8. Raf Uzar says:

    “Sorry the real Poles disappoint the Polonia” – How very true! 🙂
    Yes, you’re definitely right – not one social behaviour is better than the other. but certain behaviours are more annoying than others. Chavs are always a problem wherever you are. What would I want to do? Nothing. I think the only way forward for Poland is to make use of the fact that it has such a huge diaspora – somehow dip into it. But I don’t think that’s gonna happen.
    Seriously, though, I think there has to be more focus on education and cross-cultural education in all our schools, including (and especially) England. 🙂

  9. Pawel says:

    Who is to find a use for the diaspora if not the diaspora themselves? You want to do something, do it.

    I am 24, I don’t remember communism. I live now. I work for an ngo. Do we get any support from the diaspora? No.
    We have the Dutch, German and Swedish coming over, sharing know-how, doing workshops, working with us grass roots democracy, collecting money for us in their homelands. For nothing. For a thank you. Giving us mental support in difficult work.

    I never saw anyone from diaspora interested in doing something here. Apart maybe from the Rydzyk televangelist empire.

  10. Raf Uzar says:

    Basically what you’resaying is that, to you and for you,the diaspora have nothing to do with your immediate life and therefore you want absolutely nothing to do with them.
    Fair enough.

  11. Pawel says:

    I asked you, what should Polish immigration be/do.

    You said: I think the only way forward for Poland is to make use of the fact that it has such a huge diaspora.

    I basically said, diaspora should find a use for itself.

  12. Raf Uzar says:

    I don’t think it’s a question of doing anything, just getting on with life and respecting themselves. The same applies to the diaspora,

  13. Ewa says:

    Great post – thanks! This is a subject close to my heart as ) and my family has been involved in Polonia in the UK from the beginning. I think the two groups are poles apart (sorry) – the ‘old’ Polonia is, well, old and they’re not going to start saying ‘spoko’ or give up the ideals they fought for, The new Polonia are there in much bigger numbers and have no need to create a community and don’t seem to respect what the old Polonia achieved. Sometimes I get the impression that they believe the first places they go for help (Polish churches, parafie, POSK etc) appeared by magic… The second generation Polonia, like me, are pretty much ignored. Strangely enough, before I moved here I thought of myself as Polish first and then a Londoner (never British). Now, having lived in Poland for over 3 years, I realise I’m more British than I thought. I guess that’s the same as your point of pride in being Polish diminishing.

    Pawel (the 24 year old NGO worker) – just so you know, I’m part of the diaspora (born to Polish parents who emigrated to the UK after WW2, brought up and educated in the UK) and I’ve come back to Poland to live, work and make a difference. I’ve met more people like me here. Some even work for NGOs here. You need to get out more and remove those blinkers.

  14. Pawel says:

    Poles don’t create communities in Poland, why would they suddenly start creating communities abroad? The percent of people actually engaged in civil society is desperately low.

    Besides those who speak English and are atheist have nothing to look for in the diaspora community. Especially when they are young and up for a nigh out rather than a tea. Who NEEDS a parish, or a boring old POSK? Most likely the biggest losers;)

    The thing with Poland is really complicated. Poles love Poland as a concept, as an ideal, but they hate the Poland they have, the Poland they live in. It doesn’t reflect our nature. It wasn’t us who made our institutions, law, cities evolve.

    Those who are abroad and spit on this Poland, and there are some, don’t really betray what our grandfathers fought for. They long to that Poland of dreams. What they have they can’t handle. I rather feel for them, I know them, I often feel the same – then for the Polonia.

    And sorry Ewa, my rant was partly injust, but it was an answer to Raf. I think a needed answer. A different perspective. Unless of course you just want to hear people agree with you rather then discuss.

    Just to clear things up: I don’t have expectations for Polonia. Nor an answer what they should be doing. Everyone do what pleases you. I’m happy you’re here making a change, of course. I was answering Raf’s idea that Poles in Poland should find a use for Polonia.

  15. Pawel says:

    Raf:) Let’s get along then:)

    PS. With a group of people were launching a new collective blog on Poland, check it out http://polandian.wordpress.com

    Będzie bardzo miejski i gruby:)

    PS. Spoko jest już ponoć niehalo:)

  16. Raf Uzar says:

    Pawel, we DO get along. But it’s great to argue/discuss, isn’t it?

    Ewa, thanks for your great comments – I most heartily agree. I am the sonof immigrants and so I also get annoyed with the ‘this all appeared by magic’ fromthe new immigrants. Like I said, my parents built up the community where I was brought up with their own bare hands. How can you not respect that?

    Pawel, interesting idea about Polish people NOT building communities in Poland. Oddreally because when you remove them and put them in another country they DO build communities. How can that be explained?

  17. Ewa says:

    Thanks 🙂 I too was really struck by the idea of Poles not building communities, as to me it’s really clear that they are more than capable of it. I see the parafie, POSK (boring to you maybe, but nowhere else in London is there such a well equipped, cheap, small theatre available for hire) Cooltura, Goniec, the elderly Polonia lady who goes around prisons visiting the Poles in jail, the business centre in Ealing, the rash of Polish shops selling cheap Polish food etc etc as examples of the continuing evolution of the Polish community in the UK.

    I think it’s the same for many other nations. For example, there’s no discernable sense of community in British cities, but somehow they gravitate towards each other when they move abroad, particularly in large numbers (of course, nothing;s the same since the end of the Empire ;)). Then there are Armenian, Russian, Lithuanian, Latvian communities throughout London – all are more closely knit than they would perhaps be back home and I’d bet many are facing the same issues as the Poles. Actually, I’d be interested to find out. Does anyone know?

    Wouldn’t it be great to see a more creative and less confrontational dialogue about how the two groups (old and new Polonia) could cooperate? My mum has had a young Polish couple living with her (first 3 years rent free, now they rent upstairs) and it’s refreshed the Polishness in our lives (sledz w oleju in organic olive oil, Mum now talks about her ‘travelka’?!?!). It’s helped them in finding their way around and given a sense of stability. Both sides have had to compromise but it’s definitely enriched our lives. I don’t think Mum is that unusual in wanting to do her bit.

    sorry for the long post!

  18. Raf Uzar says:

    Enlightening for me. Brilliant post. Ewa, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. The Polonia is just like any other minority community and it’s something I think Polish people should really be proud of. Diversity and variety are the spice of life. Assimilation is simply boring.

    The fact is, and you mention this yourself, that the Polonia community HAS found a job for itself (I’m giving Pawel the nod here) because they are helping the new immigrants with their new life. Yes, there are animosities but that doesn’t stop them helping and genuinely wanting to help. I’ve seen it lots of times whenever I go back to England.

    It’s actually very amusing. The grannies share a coffee and chit-chat about the new demoralised ‘Polacy’ on the one hand but then put them up for the night, fill out their employment forms and give them money on the other. It’s very refreshing to see people help (and want nothing back) even though they don’t agree (or particularly like) the people they are helping.

  19. Pawel says:

    omg, don’t tell me that people who can’t speak English good enough to fill forms (or at least have friends who can) come to Britain!

  20. Pawel says:

    I was so shocked with this idea I had to have a time out to recover;))

    I mean it’s really good that the Polonia is there for the lost and the needy, but these people, in my opinion, should have really their trip to England better thought through. It made me wonder why Poles would rather relocate abroad than to another part of Poland… There are places where unemployment is very low. And no one needs to speak English, or deal with different culture, etc.

    The thing with communities is that maybe it’s not something people feel they need in Poland (or they think it won’t change anything – or are just preoccupied with other things).

    Although probably people start to see that it’s easier to achieve something working with others than individually. Very often people complain let’s say about lack of bike lanes. Only when a group of bikers in my town founded an association, city council felt that really have to deal them and their needs. Now there is a comprehensive plan for developing the bike lane system.

    I never really thought of Polonia as a minority community. I thought of them as simply Polish. I didn’t see many differences between older British Polonia ladies and my grandmother – besides the difference of perspective. She’s equally critical and judgemental;) Yet that’s what we love:)

    Do you guys speak Polish?

  21. Raf Uzar says:

    Pawel, there are MASSES of new Polish people in Britain who can’t string a sentence of English together not to mention the aforesaid forms…

    The Polonia is a British minority group, I think that’s important to get across. I think that there may be similarities between babcias in Poland and Brit-Polish babcias in the UK but there are also huge differences in mindset.

    Yes, I do speak Polish. 🙂

  22. Ewa says:

    Pawel – it’s interesting that you call it a ‘trip’ rather than a ‘move’ (sorry to keep picking on what you are writing 🙂 Are you living in the UK (or outside of Poland? Do you think that most people see their time as expats as a temporary thing?

    Also, it’s interesting that you never thought of Polonia as a minority community. Maybe we (British born) have been indoctrinated with British PC-ness and find it necessary to place everyone in the relevant pigeonhole?

    You know, I don’t have a problem with people coming over with no English (after all, that was my parents and grandparents 60 years ago). In fact, I find it pretty amazing what they can achieve.

    To give you an example – we have a clan of male carpenters from near Krakow renting my brother’s flat in south east London. There are about 7 of them we think, but we can’t be sure because they keep coming and going and multiplying (it’s a big family). They’re in London for the money – nothing else. No visits to the Tate Modern, cappuccinos or hanging out in Hoxton for them. They speak pretty much no English, never go out and are completely helpless if they are asked to go on the tube to somewhere they haven’t first been led to. But they pay their rent on time, redecorate the flat every 6 months and grow carrots in the garden. I think that being isolated like that in London, with only other men from their family for support, gives them the drive that they need to do what they need to do. However, the lack of language means that they can only work for other Polish people and as a result, they have been completely ripped off by the Polish woman they work for (a 1980’s vintage) – she owes them 9 weeks wages. Slowly they’ve been finding new jobs but essentially they are helpless but they keep going. I have so much respect for them as they’re really clear what they want out of life, and it has nothing to do with building a life for themselves in the UK but everything to do with building a life for themselves and their families back in Poland. I don’t know if it’s my character or a result of my upbringing (we must do what we can to help our countrymen) but it’s not a difficult decision to help these people out when necessary.

    As for Babcie- well, mine was hopelessly Polish to the very end. I think she only ever spoke in English when shopping. On the other hand, my brother did teach her how to appreciate heavy metal and how to distinguish a joint from a cigarette. I’m not sure I can see a home grown () Babcia doing that.

    And yes, I speak Polish. I never thought I’d be grateful for those endless Saturdays spent in bloody Polska Szkola…

  23. Raf Uzar says:

    Polska szkola. God that brings back memories…
    After looking on t’internet I even found that my old Polska szkola has gone and got itself a website. Shock horror!
    http://www.tchr.org/derby/

  24. Pawel says:

    I used the word ‘trip’ without noticing its temporary connotation in English. Like “wyprawa”. I was more thinking about physical state of moving from one place to another then about the length of stay.

    I live and study in Poland (Toruń), and if I were moving – it would rather be in the direction of Warsaw or Gdynia, then London. At lest that’s what I have now in my mind.

    I happen to pop to Britain every summer holiday, doing a pilgrimage to my friends who live there (and because it’s fun thing to do on a summer holiday).
    Most of them live in Jersey, and that’s where I eventually end up for two or so months after wondering a bit about London, and going out in Soho.
    Jersey jest fantastyczną małą wyspą, skrzyżowaniem wioski z City. Po ‘centrum’ St. Helier krążą tabuny białych kołnieżyków a kawałek dalej na polu pasą się krowy. Pracuę tam jako kelner na te wakacyjne wydatki, wdycham świeże powietrze, rozsmakowywuję się w kuchniach świata, leżę bykiem na plaży, to co się zwykle robi na wakacjach:)

    What you say about the carpenters, they have some aims of their and this lifestyle suits them probably. And I’m sure it wouldn’t be easy for them, even if they wanted to learn English. They would have to pay for classes, find the time etc., which could collide with work, they would be probably exhausted etc.
    I couldn’t see myself in their place however.

    As to babcias, they come in all varieties:) I can’t see mine appreciating heavy metal, but she did smoke joints:)

  25. Ewa says:

    A website for a Polska szkola!? Wow. Who said the Polonia can’t move with the times… 😉

    Pawel – Jersey sounds lovely, as does your Babcia!

  26. Andy C says:

    Hi Raf,

    A thought provoking pair of blogs, thanks. Sorry for the late comment, but I’ve not been reading your blog for a bit. Have caught up now though.

    Just to be clear, I am born and bred British, and have emigrated to Norway, where there are also a lot of Poles. Many of them work in practical occupations, where they are desperately needed, partly due to the very strict Norwegian legislation on how household improvements (e.g. electrics) are to be done, which makes it very hard to get hold of a tradesman. I have met very pleasant and impressive Polish immigrants, whom I know to be fairly recent immigrants (but would have no way of knowing, of course – hence the British attitude lumping Polonia and the new wave together). My main point though is that perhaps the decline in the reputation of Polish immigrants in the UK is not entirely their fault. Yes, Polish immigrants had an excellent reputation as I was growing up – part of this was due to the older generation remembering their superb contribution to the RAF during the Second World War, as well as their behaviour within society – we are quite a nostalgic nation. However, Polonia was relatively small compared to today’s numbers of Polish immigrants, and in the past, whenever a wave of immigration has taken place into the UK, which has put pressure on the job market – or at least has been perceived to do so, racism and discrimination against the immigrants has begun. I feel that to some extent this is true now with the Poles in the UK. Yes, I’m sure there are some bad apples in the migrants, but in my experience, a lot of people who move countries are the more enterprising people, and I think that a significant part of the new immigrants’ bad reputation is due to the fact that they are seen by some as taking job opportunties away from British young people (many of whom, don’t in fact really want the jobs anyway!). I don’t think the whole blame should be on the new immigrants for this.

  27. Raf Uzar says:

    Andy, many thanks for your comments. As ever, I enjoy reading them. Certainly, this is NOT entirely the fault of the immigrants nor is it entirely the fault of xenophobic Brits (and/or Europeans). The problem often lies somewhere in between. Now that we’ve ascertained that no one group is to blame what do we do about it? How can we rectify the problem of intolerance, racism and downright bigotry – a problem that seems to be ever-so-increasingly common in our pan-European community?

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