Towards a New Europe
Numerous punctuations in turbulent post-EU accession Poland have numbered the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, and the Smoleńsk airplane disaster (2010), where President Kaczyński, his wife, and President Kaczorowski – the last President-in-exile –died.
Society was now more inward-looking. Questions of identity and national purpose, as well as the recognition that society would not just shape itself became paramount.
At the same time, many sought to escape the new reality, however economically vibrant it might appear, in search of a more mature and liberal democracy. In consequence over a million Poles inserted themselves peacefully, resourcefully and conscientiously into British society. This was a migration akin in scale to that at the end of the 19th century to the USA. In the main British society had appeared to accept the new migration perhaps because of memories of post-war debts of gratitude and labour market needs.
Then came Brexit and the Polish question was once again raised. The heroism of the overthrow of communism or national insurrections was soon forgotten. This migration was not, however, just a demographic – an economically driven outflow of labour from Poland, but rather an inflow of cultural capital into Britain on the backs of a young and educated migratory flow. They would arrive and settle at a time when Europe was itself in the throes of new currents that it had not witnessed since WWII, as nationalism and illiberalism confronted a comfortable European taken-for-granted status quo.
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Poland would once again become a bulwark, accepting its own migration inflow, but looking once more with trepidation to the East. The new ‘liminality’, now facing Europe, uncertainly in the face of new challenges, will see an active Poland involved in defining its outcome. Therefore who the Poles are and what they have been should be of interest to us all.
Text by Professor Jerzy Kolankiewicz