Poland, Racism, and Immigration

Now there’s a title that promises happy thoughts! Never fear, my faith in Polandian readers is great; I know you’re not just here to read about the charms of Polish girls or the spectacular rudeness of the mohair beret brigade. You can handle some searching socio-political comment, right? Hello… hello…

The other day I came across that rare thing, an English-language blog about a Pole living in the UK. It’s called the Happy Fieldhand (great title, great graphic) and it’s written by a very angry man who likes to say f*ck a lot. Living in a foreign country will do that to you anyway, but the thing that seems to really ring his bell is what he perceives as anti-Polish racism. I’m sure he’s got a point, although I think perhaps he’s a little hypersensitive about it. I’m not going to argue for one second that anti-Polish feeling doesn’t exist in the UK, of course it does. Move a million people from any one country to any other in a short space of time and the locals are going to be up in arms; it’s just human nature. Pretty much all the arguments about immigration are bogus. Are they sponging off our welfare system? Are they taking our jobs? Are they eating our swans? All completely irrelevant. Even if one million Poles arrived in the UK each carrying a brick of gold as a gift for their British neighbors people would still be resentful after a week or two. People are just made that way – tribal and suspicious of big groups of strangers.

Wonderful things mobs

What really interests me is the situation in Poland. Here are some statistics I stole from a much less lazy person who could be bothered to work them out:

Non-Polish nationals living in Poland

Government estimate 0.1% or 50,000 people

NGO estimate 5.2% or 2,000,000 people

Quite a gap between the, obviously, ludicrously low government estimate and the NGO International Migration Report estimate. I’d be willing to bet there are at least 50,000 Westerners (European and US) alone. And that doesn’t even begin to address the question of how many Russians, Byelorussians, Ukrainians, and Vietnamese there are. The weird thing is that most Polish people are convinced they live in a homogenous nation with almost no immigrants. I suggest there are two reasons for this. Firstly the Russians, Ukrainians, Latvians etc. who make up the largest group are culturally very close to the Poles anyway, and many of them may have Polish roots or associations. Secondly the Westerners who live here also go largely unnoticed because they don’t cause any significant social problems (ie they’re ‘rich’) and because they are usually assumed to be tourists. I once pointed out that the most common question that a Pole will ask a foreigner is “Why did you come to Poland?” The question that almost always follows is “When are you going home?” The idea that somebody might deliberately come to live here is astonishing enough for the average Pole, the idea that somebody might be intending to stay here is utterly inconceivable.

Why am I banging on about this nonsense you ask? Because I wonder about two things:

1. When will Poles realize that large numbers of Westerners (not just Germans) are moving here for a better life, and what will they do about it when they do?

2. What will be the long-term effect on Poland of this influx?

I will search for answers with the utmost rigor and report back.

Other fun things written by me can be found on Wyspianski Unwinding

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13 thoughts on “Poland, Racism, and Immigration

  1. guest says:

    answer:

    1. They will realize it as soon as their living standard gets better. Poland is not a great country to live in if you have no propper job and not enough money.
    South Africa for example is a great country for white europeans with millions of dollars but if you ask the blacks they will tell you “Cape town is a hell”…

    2. The long term effect will be positive. Poles have nothing against foreigners. It is a myth. Many Poles are reserved towards foreigners because they had no chance to travel when they were young and thats why they live in cliches (foreigner=rich=better than a poor Pole) and feel uneasy if they meet a foreigner…

  2. scatts says:

    First of all. I read Mr Happy Farmer’s blog and I’m afraid his shoulder-chip is twice the size of my under-telly so he can go screw himself, in the nicest possible way. You all know how fond I am of chips! Pity, because I was rather hoping to find an intelligent blog from a Pole in England, in English.

    As for the post. I hold a secret and as yet undisclosed view that Poland is generally very welcoming of foreigners as long as they are kind of white, kind of Christian and kind of spending money rather than taking it.

    People of other colours and persuasions are also welcome, but only in the way a magic act might cheer up an otherwise boring family birthday party.

    I remain extremely interested to see what reactions might surface should this country ever see even 25% the equivalent of the UK’s Caribbean and Indian/Pakistani invasions. Not to mention seeing Arabs taking over central Warsaw.

    I suspect we may have plenty to write about should that ever happen.

  3. wiosanna says:

    1. First what Poles do will be saying that Westerners are stealing our good jobs, they want to buy our companies, our land. Even now you can find some articles. We are afraid of different people, different customs. I mean as a group not as individual. We can be tolerant, when we see some people saying Poland is so beautiful that they move to live here.
    First what Poles will do will think that Westerners want to live at our cost and then Poles will get used to them ;)

    2. I agree that the long term effect will be positive, because when we overcome our first fears we will see good points. I think mixing different people, different culture will be good. You can find some articles about what will change when Poles who immigrate now will come back. I think the same impact will have foreigners who move to live here.

  4. guest says:

    Scatts, visit the Próżna street tomorrow at 4pm. There you will see the multiethnic Poland……

  5. mochafueled says:

    ahh Island… I like the cartoon…. good post.

  6. michael farris says:

    My initial impression of Fieldhand is that he’s very angry at least in part because Life in the UK does not match his preconceptions, a common enough complaint. He may also have been misled by the gushing reporting of the Polish press on the life of Polish migrants (long and short term) in the UK which would leave him unprepared for the more complex reality.

    And angry commentary is a common enough way of releasing stress in a new environment. There was a time where my daily comments on various facets of life in Poland (which I had sense not to publish in any form) would have made me seem like an alltime Polonophobe while I was mostly quite happy here. When I vented I got it out of my system.

    The big reason that former Soviet-republic migrants are invisible is that they assimilate very quickly. The parents may still have an accent but the kids don’t and in a generation they’re indistinguishable from anyone else. Longer term Vietnamese migrants also assimilate to a large degree (it’s normal for Vietnamese kids in Warsaw to speak Polish with each other) and are mostly low key about the things that set them apart from the rest of the population (like religion).

    A large group of immigrants that doesn’t visibly blend in and isn’t interested in adapting to the local culture would be something new in post WWII Poland and would be received far more negatively.

  7. scatts says:

    guest, I was all over Warsaw today but sadly at 4pm we were in Alma supermarket in Promenada and not ul. Próżna. What did I miss?

    We did drive past Polonia FC as they were going into the match. Not a lot of diversity there though!

  8. guest says:

    You can still go there ;)

    There is a jewish concert ,open air cinema ,tasty jewish meals for free and so on…

    Maybe you do not know it but the whole week in Warsaw was about the “jewish ghetto uprising” ;)

    http://www.prezydent.pl/x.node?id=4542760&fotoserviceId=12000178

  9. scatts says:

    Yes yes, I saw that all over the news. Okay, that’s a good idea actually as we’re short of things to do tomorrow beyond taking our daughter to the kino to see a silly movie about an elephant!

    Thanks for the tip!

  10. Pawel says:

    I actually quite liked the Happy Fieldhand’s blog. Entertaining. Way it’s written makes it’s noticed.
    I’m not surprised that Brits see anti-Polish sentiment in Britain as something that is marginal or normal, as it doesn’t affect them.
    Did men see the discrimination of women? Did the white people sympathise with the black-people being discriminated against? Did the heteronormative society believe gay people that they were discriminated against?

    Well, I would rather go for Fieldhands first hand reports.

    As to the questions Island1 raises here, it seems to me you don’t have faith in the Poles;)) The current political situation and conservatism currently in power is not the whole picture. The same people elected post-communist leftist president before, and is capable of doing so in the future. I don’t have the feeling that I own Poland, being Polish – quite to the contratry. Who am I to say where someone should live? Everyone is equal, why should I be more equal?

    Poland is in many places multicultural already. There are many minorities, that are very visible locally, even if not nationwide. Go to North-East and you’ll meet people speaking Lithuanian, road signes in Lithuanian. Go to the coast and you’ll see Kashubian villages with people speaking language you don’t uderstand. Go near Opole and you’ll have it all in German.

    And what scatts wrote suggesting Poles aren’t accepting foreigners who aren’t rich, or white…. that’s a disturbing generalisation, and it’s a bit offensive.
    I don’t remember Poland having any kind of official policies for seeing othere people’s as Untermensch – like Britain did. There isn’t any sense of wrongdoing in the past (colonialism?), that we should make up for. Individual racists and idiots are kind of everywhere, no? Education education education – that’ll teach ’em:)

    In Britain I sense another thing. Political correctness and power that Asian, African and Jamaican communities hold now doesn’t let the media or individuals to flush their frustrations on them. The “white Poles” are then an easy target for British chauvinism.

  11. island1 says:

    Pawel: Of course you’re right. Whenever people complain about prejudice it sounds silly and trivial to the people who haven’t experienced it. That’s why I tried not to be negative about Fieldhand, although the temptation was there. I think Scatts also has a point though. You personally may be an enlightened liberal type, but can you imagine what would really happen if tens of thousands of Asians suddenly moved to Torun? As Scatts said, a small number of foreigners can be entertaining and interesting, but a big group of them inevitably brings out the worst in people. By the way, I can tell you what would happen – exactly the same thing that happened in the UK; I’m not claiming any kind of British immunity to this effect.

    What I really wanted to do was point out that there are probably a LOT more Western Europeans and North Americans living in Poland than most Poles realize. It’s not that I lack faith in Poles as such, I just recognize that large groups of foreigners tend to provoke animosity from the locals, whatever nationality they happen to be. Maybe it never will. After all there is a huge group of Americans living in the UK (I believe they are the fourth largest immigrant group) and nobody ever has a go at them.

    I was trying to find a way into a conversation about the influence that the influx of ‘Westerners’ will have on Poland now that we’re all free to come and live and work here with minimum hassle.

  12. michael farris says:

    At the risk of disturbing the peace. I think another factor is that Fieldhand is using English words but a very Polish style of confrontational writing which doesn’t translate very well, culturally.

    When I read some of his more … bold assertions by pseudo-translating them into Polish they don’t seem as angry or offensive as they do in English. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve been conditioned to not react as strongly to that kind of rhetoric in Polish or if I just don’t react as strongly because it’s not my native language and so some kinds of provocation just don’t provoke me.

    He is absolutely right that the Birtish media and public tend to confuse legal migrants from the EU with illegal migrants and ‘asylum’ seekers (interesting to speculate on why). Also, I agree with the idea that it’s politically safter to attack Poles as they’re white. Even the most justified criticism of individuals who aren’t white can get the criticiser labelled as racist (even if unfairly and only temporarily as cooler heads prevail). But having a go at East Europeans (even Poles do it, IIRC Borat was a big hit in Poland even though the whole movie is an update of the Polish Joke).

  13. Mike says:

    I live in Toronto and know what “real” diversity is. It’s crap. Indians, Pakistani’s, Arabs, Chinese and blacks mostly hang with their own kind. It doesn’t feel like a Canadian city anymore and the crime is getting worse. Every time there’s a shooting in public or on public transit, it’s a black person doing it. Usually a black male. Why import backwards people with a tendency for violence? The way these people act is the way people judge them.
    I want to move back to Poland one day but right now this is not realistic.
    Poland and Warsaw in particular are lucky that they don’t have western style diversity. Think about it- the world doesn’t get along. Indians and Pakistanis fight. The Asians don’t exactly welcome blacks or Arabs with open arms. Why the hell would you mix these people in Toronto? It doesn’t work! I live here. I know.
    Liberal hippies are full of crap. The best immigrants for Poland would be the Polish ones coming back from the west with some great ideas. Then white westerners or Christians at the very least. Poland should learn from France and England in what NOT to do. Those countries will have a war of civilizations if they don’t watch it.
    With Poland’s bloody and oppressive history, I don’t see Arabs chanting “Death to Poland” in the middle of Warsaw like they are allowed to in London. Brits are pussies. Sorry.

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