Polish Londoner

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

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Attack on POSK is attack on all minorities

The Polish presence in this country was first felt before we even settled here. Our airmen participated in the Battle of Britain, our sailors sank U-boats in the North Atlantic, our paratroopers dropped from the skies at Arnhem, our soldiers fought along with British soldiers in Norway and France, and Egypt and Italy. Our parents and grandparents, denied a safe homeland in Communist Poland, settled here after the War while we attended school here, speaking Polish at home and English in the class room, while our classmates tried in vain to pronounce our difficult surnames. We fitted easily into the economic and social landscape of Britain but also kept our separate identity inside our Polish institutions such as the Polish Social and Cultural Centre in King Street which was set up in the 1970s to house our Polish library, Polish theatre, the Polish Education Society and many other Polish institutions, but it has also been a centre for the community at large, including Hammersmith & Fulham Council, which for many years rented out office space in our building. New waves and generations of Poles have moved into the UK since the 1980s, the largest after 2004 when Poland joined the European Union. Poles have been a much more visible presence in the last 10 years with Polish becoming the second most commonly used language at home in the UK, Polish shops and businesses sprouting up everywhere, and mass attendance at more than 100 Polish parish churches throughout the UK. There are some 30,000 Polish-speaking children in London schools alone and 97,000 Polish citizens on the London electoral register. Largely as UK taxpayers, we contribute to the prosperity of Hammersmith and of London and integrate in to the economic and social fabric of this country though we still celebrate our distinctive local culture, our food and our special historic Anglo-Polish relationship from during the War. Our Polish centre in Hammersmith still invites all that is best not only in Polish culture and also in the rich variety of culture and social life of Hammersmith as a whole. Unfortunately, on the morning of June 25,, less than 48 hours after the referendum vote, the building invited something altogether different, an obscene racist message scrawled across its front entrance. This was something our building had never experienced before since it was built in 1976. Though within hours it was washed off by our vigilant staff, it reappeared in every British newspaper, every news channel, not only here, but abroad, including in Poland. Seeing the outrageous slogan reproduced was a painful shock for all Poles here, but also for local residents and schoolchildren in Hammersmith, for our councillors and our MP who raised the matter in Parliament, and even for the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, whose condemnation of this desecration of our centre was repeated in all the media. Of course what happened to us was not an isolated incident. It was mirrored by various incidents, some verbal, some physical, throughout the length and breadth of this country. The Brexit vote seemed to have released in some Leave voters a sense of empowerment to insult and intimidate and to give expression to their feral prejudices and fear of foreigners, which they had suppressed until now. For of course we must recognize the incident at our Polish Centre as not just an attack on Poles in this country, but an attack on all ethnic and religious minorities. The perpetrators of such an outrage, hate all of us. They may cherry-pick this or that minority, today the Poles or Romanians, before it was the Somalis, or the Indians, or Jamaicans, or the Jews, but they hate and fear us all. And the important lesson here is that our minorities should stand together and not join in the baiting of this or that minority, this or that group of immigrants. Don’t we know of members from some minorities make disparaging comments in the past about other minorities and wishing them to be deported, and vice versa? Friends, whatever our nationality, or race or religion, we must not let racists and their slogans dictate our language and seek to divide us. We must show each other solidarity whoever is attacked. Dear friends, I cannot thank enough those many many citizens of Hammersmith and beyond who sent us expressions of support after that incident. We remember those schoolchildren posing with pictures on our front door steps. A big thank you also to the police for responding so quickly. For the next 5 days our staff and volunteers, their eyes welling with tears of gratitude, battled with the mountains of flowers and sympathetic cards and gifts of cakes and toys and sushi sent by English friends and admirers to our building. It was very moving and we are all very very grateful for this show of solidarity. And we are similarly grateful for the vote in the House of Commons urging the government to allow all EU citizens currently here and working legally to be allowed to stay with their families, after the Brexit negotiations are finished. It is both a humanitarian and a practical solution, it will ensure our continuous input into Britain’s prosperity, give our communities back the sense of security undermined by the Brexit vote and the incidents that followed it, and it will be a clear message to all racists that their vile expressions of hate are nothing but empty threats. The new British government must make that policy official now. In our unity lies our strength. Or, as in that wonderful word Poland gave to the world 30 years ago – Solidarność. Wiktor Moszczyński, on behalf of Polish Social and Cultural Centre Speech at Ravenscourt Park for the Hammersmith and Fulham Council Unity March. 17th July 2016

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