Leave a Message

Screen Shot 2016-11-28 at 15.59.26.pngYesterday, outside 10 Downing Street, a group of determined people stood in the cold with a mission: to deliver a message to their prime ministers. About to begin was a meeting of two PMs, Polish and British, and some of their cabinet members, with security and xenophobia on the agenda. Poland’s mission was to gain assurances of support in the face of recent mood in Kremlin, Britain’s to find an ally at the Brexit talks table.

Under the logo of A Million, that group of dedicated citizens, representing a number of organisations, living in the UK but still caring about their country of origin, stood patiently to get their chance to tell the national leaders that they are people, not bargaining chips. After Beata Szydlo had offered David Cameron to exchange certain rights of Poles in the UK for favours, the Polish immigrants’ confidence in her is low, and at this nerve wrecking period of uncertainty, it was particularly important for them to have a say.

The BBC News reported on the events of the day, giving a commentary on preparations to the politicians’ arrival and zooming in on the protesters’ banners. Across the road, a smaller group waved Polish flags but were ignored by the journalists and at the crucial moment of the officials’ arrival invisible to the VIPs too, their view blocked by a lorry. As it happened, A Million’s group were the only ones to remind the two governments about the duty to serve their nations.

Hailed as a successful event, a bilateral summit of Polish and British prime ministers and their cabinets, brought about little new. The 150 British troops to help protect Poland-Russia border had been promised before. There was general talk of business and education. Neither side agreed to definitely guarantee migrants’ rights on their respective territories. In spite of the Downing Street talk of “an excellent and historic first summit,” there is still work ahead of us.

For Your Freedom and Ours

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In spite of political turmoil after the US elections, the most important events in the UK this week were the Remembrance celebrations.

On Friday I visited the Westminster Abbey Field of Remembrance. On a cold quiet evening I spent a while listening to a historian who told a story of Poles who fought in both world wars. Europe’s nations’ histories are intertwined, and the Polish-British relationship started well before the fathers of today’s European Union started shaping their dream.

After a series of bad decisions at the end of 18th century, Poland ceased to exist. Over a hundred years later, in 1914, Poles were incorporated into three conflicted WWI armies and tragically often fought against each other. It was only in 1918, when the three occupying powers crumbled, that Poland was reborn as an independent country, celebrating henceforth 11/11 as its Independence Day. Right from then, it had been developing a special bond with Britain.

In 1929, it opened its embassy in London, and a decade later, in May 1939, Britain gave Poland an unprecedented guarantee to support her ally, like it had supported Belgium in WWI, as PM Neville Chamberlain decided that after invading Czechoslovakia, Nazi Germany could not be allowed to threaten another country.

As M. Pruszewicz of BBC News puts it, “Britain hoped that would be enough – it was not. Germany attacked and defeated Poland in a few weeks. Britain declared war, but could not aid Poland.

“Poland’s defeat, followed by that of France, ensured that those Poles still able to fight found their way to Britain. Polish servicemen gained a reputation for bravery and ingenuity. One of the Polish squadrons in the RAF, 303 Squadron, recorded the highest number of kills of any squadron in the Battle of Britain.

“The first cipher crackers to break Germany’s Enigma code were not based in Bletchley Park but Warsaw. The Poles realised that mathematics held the key and made a vital disclosure of their working methods to the Allies at the start of the war.” They were only officially honoured in 2014.

There have been a number of waves of Polish immigration to Britain since the WWII, all of them related to political changes, including the most recent, and perhaps the most controversial one, following the expansion of the EU.

Standing with my Polish flag and a poppy on it, on the corner of Whitehall and King Charles Street, just meters from the Cenotaph, I experienced a wealth of impressions: how proud the veterans were to be there on the day, how many different people came and went, speaking languages I sometimes couldn’t even name, how much respect was shown from the crowds to those parading and how touching the whole ceremony was. I guided some lost Polish women, watched the Queen lay a wreath on a bystander’s smartphone, which she so kindly shared with me. But most poignantly, I saw Polish veterans march in the parade, on par with the British ones – an undeniable proof of how strong the bond between our nations truly is.

British constitution in the making

This week saw us shellshocked by a High Court decision. Three senior judges ruled that no other body than the Parliament has the power to make or unmake the law.

A storm followed, both in the media and among ordinary citizens. The government announced it would appeal from the court ruling, the Leavers question the judges’ abilities and Remainers’ hopes are rising. Commentators suggest that if the government wins its appeal, May’s Brexit timetable could be on track, however if a parliamentary vote is indeed required, the negotiations in the Commons and the Lords could extend for months.

For all the EU citizens this could mean a long time of still not knowing if we would eventually be allowed to stay and on what conditions.

Mission Statement

We are a million.

According to many researches, over one million Poles live on the British Isles and Polish is the most popular foreign language. For years, the Poles have been considered hard working, honest people who are family oriented, look after their neighbours and have an innate need of order.

Since WWII, we have been a permanent element of the British society, respecting the traditions of the Crown, working towards the country’s economic and social growth and sharing our know-how, from the NHS to the London School of Economics, where our top economists, including former prime ministers, are lecturers, to top jobs in the City, the European capital of finance.

The voice of the British people on the country’s future is very important to us. Recent changes in the government, votes in the Parliament and a lack of countrywide consensus seems to reflect the views of not just the four nations, but also other inhabitants of the British Isles. As a significant group living here, we feel obliged to publish our opinions on the fate of what is also our home. We are sure of the need for a single voice expressing what we say in a million of our daily conversations with neighbours, both British and European, all of whom say it is high time to speak up.

This is why we are speaking up now. Not only in the name of a million Poles, but also the confused British and other European citizens. We all want the right to stay in our home, chosen with our hearts and the laws of which we have dutifully observed. We want to teach our children what poppies mean and why the Polish pilots gave their lives for Britain 70 years ago. We want to be heard.

We are a million. You will learn more about us soon.