Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What's Polish and what isn't?

A bit of gardening on the blogroll earlier. All the links should now be live, and hopefully most of the people linked to are actively blogging. If you want a link, please let me know.

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."

He concludes:

"Our cultural heritage is complex. I am proud to be of Polish origin, Lancastrian and British (but curiously not English)."

Interesting that.

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.


Blogger Steve said...

Hello again,

Unsurprisingly (given my political leanings) I missed the G2 edition! I have had a quick scan through the link though, and it does seem to quite fairly represent the current situation.

As you know, my girlfriend (now fiancee...) is Polish. She came here for a change of scnenery and culture, to be with me, and of course, for the opportunity to earn four times her Polish salary. In Poland, she had a respectable job in a large organisation, but was earning a fraction of what she now earns. When she first came to Scotland, she worked in a fast-food restaurant for a while before getting her current job for a travel company (where she has an opportunity to start to use her very high qualifications in the field).

She has come across a great deal of prejudice in her time here, from people assuming that she is a silly little village girl, that she couldn't possibly be doing a "proper" job as, well, she's Polish... she should be cleaning hotel rooms or carrying bricks on a site.

I amuse myself with situations like the one a couple of weeks ago when a young volunteer I worked with mentioned the number of Poles in the UK, and particlarly on building sites (his natural habitat). He came out with the old line that "there's no back stronger than a Polish one". He was surprised to hear that I live with a Polish girlfriend and that she lets me carry the suitcases at the airport!

There are a wide range of Poles in this country (there was a very interesting piece on R4 profiling some of them a couple of weeks ago). Some, like Kasia, are setting down medium-long term roots, and therefore are looking for careers, comfort, and a good life. Others, will take any work that is going if the pay is good, hoping to return to Poland with a pile of Zlotys. There are also the unprepared (sizable) minority who leave the spiraling unemployment of Poland and come to the UK in search of work despite having no savings to 'get settled' nor any language skills. It's unfortunate that in some corners, these are all muddled into one Polish stereotype.

The fact is that Polish (or any) immigrants are not stealing anyone's jobs. Sure, there are some pockets of high unemployment here (such as the "automobile belt" in the midlands), but generally, unemployment is very low in the UK.

In Edinburgh specifically, the Scotsman's recruitment section is bursting at the seams with jobs at all levels, and a walk along any main shopping street will show "staff wanted" cards in many windows. There are jobs out there which need to be filled. People, like me in my current employment, are working to make the Edinburgh unemployed more employable; but a sad fact remains (and it's not Tory hyperbole) that many people do not want to be working. The jobs still need to be filled, and if a migrant worker wants it, well... that's Europe, baby.

The good news is the cultural education rub-off which seems to be happening. In addition to six Polish shops, a bar, restaurant and club night, we now also appear to be getting a Piekarnie (bakery) in Tollcross, just opposite the BP garage.

Erm... sorry about the essay!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006  
Blogger BondWoman said...

Thanks for the comment, Steve. You are very welcome, as always, and I am glad that my bleedin' heart liberalism combined with your open mindedness in being willing to read my blog despite our differences of view means that I've been able to bring this G2 thing to your attention!

Anyway, your comments are much appreciated, and congratulations to you and Kasia. Just one other thought - while there is obviously quite a lot of ignorance and prejudice abroad, I wonder what Polish people make of the official "propaganda" in this field of migration, with the Scottish Executive's "Scotland is the Place" website now appearing, with a completely separate domain, http://www.szkocja.eu/ in Polish.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006  
Blogger Steve said...

Hello... sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I do enjoy getting "stuck in" to your blog from time to time!! I'm going through a bit of a quiet spell in terms of my own blog!!

I'm not sure what effect the propaganda is having in terms of Poles already domiciled here, but it's certainly helping to bring more of them here! The authorities in Poland are actually starting to come up with counter-prop to try to encourage people to stay or even return.

The Polish community in Scotland tend to use Szkocja.net quite a lot - it's a very well subscribed portal with forums. A very good place to find out more about work, housing, and entertainment (if you speak Polish!). From what I can gather a few of the populations with similar-enough-to-be-understood languages (namely Slovak and Czech) use the forum too.

Thanks for the congratulations too - I'm very happy about becoming part of an extended Polish family!

Monday, July 31, 2006  
Blogger Fruning Graplecard said...

There is a reason why there are no English MPs in Scotland. Their is blind hatred and prejudice, so you see, it happens to all sorts.


Grafas Fruning Graplecard

Friday, August 18, 2006  
Blogger BondWoman said...

Sorry, mate, you will have to come up with a bit more reasoned argument than that. I'll let this comment stand for now, but if there is to be assertion of "blind hatred and prejudice" on this blog, then it needs to be backed up by evidence, not mere blandishment.

Friday, August 18, 2006  

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