Polish Londoner

These are the thoughts and moods of a born Londoner who is proud of his Polish roots.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Ewa Brzeska has died

Ewa at the Giles Hart memorial in Ravenscourt Park with Sean Bamford (TUC), Janusz Sniadek (NSZZ Solidarnosc) and Olgierd Lalko, current POSK Chairman

It is such terrible news about Ewa Brzeska.She was the shining star of our post-war second generation UK Poles, destined, in my mind, to be the new leader of the Polish diaspora in the UK, whether as Chairman of the Federation of Poles in GB or as Chairman of POSK.
She showed great promise when she became assistant secretary of the Federation in 1991 and played a great role in bringing in her various contemporaries into the Federation through her UK wide network of former scouts and student activists. We worked very well together and we became very close friends. During the Polish Communities Abroad Congress in Krakow she played a key role and chaired the commission on "Polish Youth Abroad". In a speech I described how Ewa and I "were like two water taps flowing into the same bath, with her being the warm one."
However she had to resign after several years because of the long illness and eventual death of her husband Kazik, followed by her prolonged care in turn for her father and her mother before they too passed away.
However some 5 years ago she was elected as Secretary of POSK, the Polish Centre in Hammersmith, and in 2008, she was elected Chairman.

Everyone greeted her election with great joy. She was like a new broom with a clear self-imposed mandate to humanize the building and open it up to young mothers of the new generation of young Poles, whose arrival had not been universally welcome. She opened up a creche and a mothers and toddlers group and drew new organizations like the Polish Deconstruction Group to hold meeting in the Jazz Cafe and other POSK venues.
However within a year she had to refrain from standing again because of the onset of cancer. Last year to everybody's relief she was pronounced free of cancer but her body had weakened and succumbed to a new cancerous growth in the brain. She was in her 60s and my God I will miss her. So will the Polish community at large.
She was the heroine of two of my stories in my new book "Hello I'm Your Polish Neighbour" (see extract below).

As much as I will miss Aneta Naszynska the 54 year old film editor who had cooperated with Jagna Wright in the film "Hidden Odyssey" where elderly Poles were interviewed about their experiences as deportees to Siberia, and in "The Other Truth" with some superb interviews with Poles and Jews about the thorny issues of Polish-Jewish relations in the Twentieth Century, and especially during the Holocaust. After Jagna's untimely death in 2007, Aneta ploughed her own furrow and followed up a number of projects, including the life of XIXth century Polish patriot and entrepreneur Ignacy Domeyko, which took her this Christmas to Chile. There too she was afflicted by the same calamity as Ewa, cancer of the brain. After 2 months of suffering she died in a Chilean hospital in June.
Like Ewa, Aneta, was warm, affectionate, patriotic, dedicated and imbued with great feminine charm. I shall really miss them both.


From "Hello, I'm Your Polish Neighbour"

Lady in charge of POSK - 16th May 2008

The Polish Social and Cultural Centre in Hammersmith, which we all call “POSK”, has just undergone a sea change. The grim fortress-like building in King Street with its grey balconies but welcoming wide front entrance has allowed a wind of change to sweep through its many corridors. For the first time in its 40 year history it has elected a woman president. Hillary Clinton, don’t give up yet!

Like her avuncular predecessor Olgierd Lalko, the new President, Ewa Brzeska is a child of the old Polish veterans’ generation that had once dominated Polish London society. Certainly a charismatic figure with her magical smile and soft but authoritative voice which had enchanted the children she once taught at Villiers High School, she oozes femininity and warmth through every fibre of her generously proportioned being. She is well prepared for her task both by her upbringing and her experience as a voluntary worker and she had been General Secretary of POSK for three years.

The meeting at which she was elected last Saturday was an exceptionally well attended 7 hour marathon with a 15 minute break. More than 330 people stayed till the end participating in the AGM of this Polish bastion of democracy, alternatively roused by provocative speeches and dozing through the more boring reports. Attempts to skip the democratic formalities through voting “by poll” were firmly brushed aside as Ewa and her newly elected Council obtained a clear mandate to clear out the cobwebs of POSK’s 40 year constitution. The membership fee fixed back in 1967 had been a single lifetime payment of only £10. It needs to be upgraded and changed to an annual payment.

She has promised that more cobwebs would be cleared out. “Armed only with a pencil” she has promised to locate savings which will reduce POSK’s current running deficit, maintain the vital modernization programme of POSK’s facilities and assess whether POSK can afford a paid Chief Executive.

Ever mindful of the need to draw in new visitors and members from the recently arrived Polish diaspora she has promised to find the facilities around the POSK site for a crèche, and perhaps eventually a nursery. The pitter-patter of tiny feet around POSK’s nooks and crannies may fill some of the older sedate members with dread, but there is already a popular children’s theatre company, Syrena, which regularly uses the building and the crèche will bring young parents into more contact with the older institution. Those children could guarantee the social and the commercial future of POSK and, with all her respect for the older generation of POSK’s founding fathers, it is on this new generation, as well as on her own, that the new POSK President’s eyes are firmly fixed.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

5th Anniversary of the London July Bombings

Who are these 3 young women?

Anna Brandt

Karolina Gluck - - - - -Monika Suchocka
& boyfriend

All three of these fresh faced young women were on the fateful Piccadilly Line train between Kings Cross and Russell Square during the fateful 7th July bombing in 2005. All 3 died unknown to each other but united by a common fate.

It reminds me of what I wrote about them in my book "Hello I'm Your Polish Neighbour" 3 years ago on the Second Anniversary of this cataclysmic event.

This year the event seems to have had no official recognition, either by the Government or the Mayor of London. I cannot believe that Tessa Jowell or Ken Livingstone would have let it be forgotten like this.

I shall reproduce the text here:-

"July 6th 2007 – Towards A Bitter Second Anniversary

We are approaching the second anniversary of the London bombings on July 7th. It is a time for sad reflection for every Londoner, and unfortunately also for renewed vigilance.
Nothing underlines the close integration of young Poles into the daily fabric of the London scene more starkly than the fact the largest number of victims of foreign nationality who died on that dreadful day were Polish.
Three young Polish women, unknown to each other, all perished on the Piccadilly Line between Kings Cross and Russell Square.
Nearest to her destination at the time of the explosion was 29 year old Karolina Gluck who worked as a college receptionist. She was every inch a Londoner. She had a black fiancé, wore a metal St George Cross in her bully button and her friends called her “Sunshine” because of her sunny disposition.
Younger still was 23 year old pretty Monika Suchocka, an economics graduate and trainee accountant, who lived in a cramped flat with 2 friends in North London. She loved to sing and had found the time during her 2 month stay in London to join a choir.
Anna Brandt was 41 and she was on her way to Hammersmith where she worked as a cleaner. One of her two grown-up daughters had just arrived in London and she was looking forward to meeting her. Anna had ambitions too. She aimed to earn enough money to bring over her husband and start up a restaurant business in West London.
These were not the only losses that the Polish community suffered on July 7th. One of the victims on the bombed No. 30 bus in Tavistock Square was Giles Hart, a former Chairman of the Polish Solidarity Campaign. He was married to a Polish wife who was the head of a Polish Saturday school in East London. He was posthumously awarded a Knights Cross of Merit by the Polish President.
Giles had been no stranger to Hammersmith as many of the campaign meetings he chaired took place in POSK on King Street where he also founded the Polish Refugees Rights Group.
Aspiring young Poles continue to live, work (and die) unseen and unheard amongst us fellow Londoners. "

This text reminds me that my friend Naomi Hyamson, former Secretary of the Polish Solidarity Campaign, was able to lay flowers at the memorial stone we erected for Giles hart in Ravenscourt Park.
Here is a picture of the memorial stone. You can still pay your respects to the memory of Giles hart and other victims today or in the weekend. I shall certainly go.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Polish elections - The pragmatists win - only just

Jaroslaw Kaczynski has graciously conceded defeat in the presidential elections in Poland after the exit polls showed him winning between 47% and 49% of the votes.

While Kaczynski may have been gracious I am not so sure that some of his fanatical supporters will be so kind.

It has been a strange kind of election as the tectonic plates of public opinon rumbled dangerously beneath a seemingly calm surface. As a candidate Kaczynski was calm and presidential appealing for a clean unemotional electoral debate but the poisonous bile spilling from the patriotic and religious fervour and frustration of his many supporters spilled from every pore on the internet, in the right wing press and radio stations and in the private utterances of his voters whenever they felt that their auduence shared their prejudices.
This lava of hatred against Komorowski, Tusk and the whole liberal establishment has not yet dried up. Komorowski is often vilified as a liberal stooge of Russia and Communism, but it is not Communism these people hate so much as Liberalism. To them the economic liberalism of Finance Minister Rostowski and Balcerowicz is as vile and materialistic as the social liberalism that tolerates gays, womens' rights and the other symbols of the liberal European zeitgist.

This hatred is matched all too evenly by the contempt and scorn of the liberal and intellectual elements in Poland against Kaczynski and his troops. They have been compared to Tolkien-created auks and the atmosphere around Radio Maryja as the darkening skies emanating from Mordor. They had shown a similar contempt in the past to the late President Lech Kaczynski, often mocking him for his size and his ignorance of any foreign language, and it was this mockery that may have partly driven the stubborn President to his terrible and tragic death as well as the death of his 95 fellow passengers. We know that the pilot had his orders, and when we can guess from who and under what motivation.

Neither of these attitudes, hatred on the one hand and contempt on the other, is healthy and Komorowski will have to tread gingerly on egg shells in order to heal this national rift. I am not sure if he has the temperament for this as too often he too has shown a flippant contempt for Kaczynski's followers, as when he dismissed the model phallus presented to him at a public meeting in London as something he won't require.
Komorowski is a brave and patriotic man, a former competent defence minister, a former arrested internee in the days of KOR and Solidarity, but he too should be aware that the PO is far too trusting in its persistence to support the euro during the current crisis, far too trusting to the Russians over the Smolensk tragedy and far too glib over the impact of high unemployment in the countryside and provincial towns.
Kaczynski was appealing to his electorate not only because of his social conservatism but also his distrust of Europe, globalism and capitalism in general. In his economic policy Kaczynski's PiS party is far to the left of the Labour Party and for that reason alone, if for no other, an extraordinary ally for David Cameron to choose as a partner in the European Parliament.

However perhaps at last this election result will release the traumatic puss that gathered beneath the recent exalted national psyche following the Smolensk disaster. Not a moment too soon.

Inauguration - Hello folks

Today I have started a blog after months of hesitating.
As I am now the author of a new book - "Hello I'm Your Polish Neighbour" so I shall need to promote it. I hope to have this with your help. I am already grateful for the publicity I have had for this book from the Polish Embassy in London which generously played host to a book launch on June 29th attended by the Mayors of Ealing and Hammersmith & Fulham, as well as by Andy Slaughter MP and prominent members of the Polish community such as Mrs Karolina Kaczorowska, widow of the last president of the Polish government in exile.
It is a book intended for Poles in London to buy for their British friends. It is a sweet and sour introduction into the life of the Polish community in West London, both the well established older post-war community and their offspring and those newly arrived since 2004. It is written with a sense of irony and a wry British humour but I feel it evinces all my deep affection for Polish people, my excitement at their presence on he streets of London and my respect for their contribution to the British economy and to their own families in Poland.
The book is also a vocal contribution by the Polish community to the current debate in the UK on immigration, multiculturalism and social cohesion. Poles are often discussed in this context as a form of barren statistics manipulated to serve the agenda of whichever media group or institution wishes to make a point. However they have their own tale to tell. As EU citizens the newly arrived Poles in the UK have a right to their own voice and as much right to settle and work and raise a family in this country as have British citizens to live and work in Poland, or even in France or Spain.
The Polish community has long been an example to other ethnic minorities because of its ability to integrate with the British economy and social fabric, while remaining culturally distinct. Social integration - yes; cultural assimilation - no. That is how Poles view multiculturalism.
Let this be the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with my potential readers and any comments from you will be most welcome.
In the meantime let us batten down the hatches and get ready for the resultstoday of the second and final stage of the watershed presidential elections in Poland - the culmination of the titanic struggle between romantic patriotism and pragmatic patriotism.