What's Polish and what isn't?
I was surprised that nobody (at least not the poeple I read) has apparently blogged about the G2 Polish Special last Friday (21July) (for a sample, see here). With an excellent mix of cultural, political and economic pieces, I found it an excellent read. It not only covered some of the huge variety of issues raised around the recent post enlargement mass migration to the UK from Poland, but also referred back to earlier waves of Polish immigration, and the issues of cross cultural encounter engaged there. However, I was particularly interested to see in today's Guardian a letter from yet another type of Pole, who were not referred to in the G2, even though they exist here in quite large numbers: those who were born in this country of Polish immigrants in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. As the letterwriter says:
"[we were born] during the communist regime in Poland, when even telephoning, let alone travelling there, was difficult. We grew up hearing about the mother country, but without grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. The English treat us as Poles, but when we visit Poland, we are treated as English."
"Our cultural heritage is complex. I am proud to be of Polish origin, Lancastrian and British (but curiously not English)."
Because there are others who feel the need to pick out the Poles amongst us and make a point about it. I refer here to that venomous and increasingly unfunny Guardian sketchwriter Simon Hoggart, who wrote - in a recent sketch about the absence of "English" MPs in Scotland when there are lots of "Scottish" MPs in England - that
"It is almost impossible for any English person to become a Scottish MP (I can find only the MP for Edinburgh North, and his name is Lazarowicz), but at least 22 Scots sit for English seats. They run the place."
Mark (or Marek) Lazarowicz is my MP, and it seems to me that it matters not whether he is of Polish origin (clearly he is), 'English' (born in Romford), or of very substantial Scottish connection (30 years, since University, in Scotland). What matters to me is his competence, and his effectiveness as an MP. But that little vignette, combined with the sensitivities of the Guardian's correspondent, highlights how quickly prejudices and assumptions about origins and who belongs where and why (and what they should and should not be allowed to do) slip into the language of commentary.
PS There are certainly 'English' MSPs. Mark Ballard is one. Went to school literally half a mile from where we lived in Leeds, and where Junior Bond was going to do his sixth form studies had we stayed in England. And he was elected to be Rector of the University of Edinburgh earlier this year.