Mar 182014

As an expat living here in Poland, I’m often asked: “Why are you here?” “What do you think of Poland?” and, of course, “What do British people think of all the Poles living in the UK?” The answers to the first two are simple: “I got a job here and ended up staying,” and “I like it very much, thank you.” The answer to the third is also simple: “Britain is, and has been for the past 2,000 years, a nation built by immigrants. It wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for immigrants. Most people don’t bat an eyelid.” I have honestly never met a Briton who has an issue with Polish immigrants. Unfortunately, in recent months it seems British politicians and the British media have conspired against me to make it look like Poles are unwanted, lazy leeches, moving to the UK purely to claim benefits. This could not be further from the truth.

In October last year, David Cameron suggested we should be favouring British workers over Eastern Europeans in factories. The way the media reported it, you could be forgiven for thinking he was completely against immigrants working in the UK; in fact, he was making a very good point about how Eastern Europeans are generally better educated and have a better work ethic than a lot of Britons, and that we should be changing our education system to match theirs. Fast forward to January this year, amid worries we would be inundated with Bulgarians and Romanians (which never happened), Cameron decides it is high time we tightened immigration rules and made sure that immigrants cannot claim benefits, using Poles as an example: “There are other European countries who, like me, think it’s wrong that someone from Poland who comes here, who works hard, and I am absolutely all in favour of that, but I don’t think we should be paying child benefit to their family back home in Poland.” British newspapers played up these quotes, complaining that Britain is no longer British, and that we must do everything in our power to stop immigrants scrounging off the system and taking our jobs. For some reason, Poles seem to feature heavily in these articles, even though they make up less than one percent of the UK population.

The idea that Poles come to the UK purely to claim benefits is preposterous. The UK benefits system is better than in a lot of countries, but it’s not that good. I have been on the dole myself and, let me tell you, you cannot live off it. So why would someone come to the UK to live off less money than they could make in their own country? Most immigrants coming to the UK do so to work. A lot of the time they do menial jobs, which many Brits consider beneath them. Of course, some immigrants do claim benefits, such as child support, but why should they not? They pay taxes, rent or mortgages, buy food and clothes. They work hard and spend money in Britain – so what if they also send money home to Poland for their children’s upkeep? If you pay your taxes, you should be entitled to help from the government; your nationality should be irrelevant.

There was a public outcry at Cameron’s comments here in Poland. Tesco was to be boycotted, Donald Tusk was to auction off a football shirt given to him by Cameron, Lech Wałęsa even got involved. In February, hundreds of Poles protested in London against perceived anti-Polish discrimination, following an attack on a biker whose only crime, it is claimed, was that he was wearing a Polish flag on his helmet.

I can’t say I blame them. It saddens me that Poles are being demonised by the press and politicians. Not only that, but many Brits seem to believe the nonsense they read in the papers. I used to be proud to be British, the fact that we are such a multi-cultural country, and tolerant of all religions, races and creeds. Now I am not so sure. For Brits living in Poland (this may be a good time to point out that there are many British people living and working in other countries around the world; something that Brits seem to forget when they are complaining about immigrants), it is becoming harder and harder to convince Poles that we do not think badly of them living in the UK. Maybe Cameron should think about that, before other countries decide that they should be tightening controls to keep us, the British, out of their countries.

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  10 Responses to “Ali’s Angle: Demonising Poles”

  1. What a classy comment!

  2. Oh the Brits vacillating as suits their purposes. Promised to defend Poland if the Germans invaded; failed that, welcomed the Polish pilots who per pilot average shot down more German planes than the RAF boys saving Britain in the Battle of Britain; did not allow the Poles to march in the Victory parade and ostracized them after the War so not to have “their boys” unemployed when they returned from the front.

    • On the other hand, if you’re going to talk about years gone by, the Brits provided the Anders Army with uniforms, equipment and the basic wherewithal to live; they provided santuary for de-mobbed soldiers who wouldn’t or couldn’t go back to Poland after the war; and the (demonic) Churchill even made sure that Polish veterans were taken care of in retirement homes for old soldiers and their dependants. (Maybe the old boy had pangs of conscience after Yalta?)

      • Possibly.

        My dad was a Polish submarine officer, sunk the German Minesweeper M85 on 1 October 1939 served in Plymouth and eventually commissioned as Captain in the British Army. We lived in Plymouth for four years after the War.

        Am dual Polish American citizen and own an apartment in Krakow where my daughter and granddaughter (also dual citizens) now live and study full time. I have business in London so have good Brit friends who tolerate me.

  3. […] See more here: Ali’s Angle: Demonising Poles – Krakow Post […]

  4. To be honest Ali you are talking a load of rubbish.Been married to a polish women for thirty years and have been going to Krakow and mixing with poles for the same time.Never have i heard a bad word said against either the brits or the poles. You should reed less what the newspapers say.

  5. @ J – I’ve been living in Poland for just 3 years, and almost every time I meet a new person and they realise I’m English, the first question they ask is “Jak się zachowują się Polacy u Was?”. It happened even yesterday! Perhaps they don’t ask you because you’ve been here so long you don’t know the answer? :)

  6. I do not understand all the criticism of Ali’s article… She shares her point of view with all of us, which I find interesting. I think there is a tactful way to response to keep the dialog open rather then to shut it down by negativity. Ali – thank you for taking the time to write this article. I think media is known to sensationalize a “story” often create and contribute to more understanding. Good luck living in Krakow (oh how much I miss it..)

  7. Thank you all for your comments. The article is from my experience and my viewpoint; obviously other people have different experience, so therefore will have different opinions, which in turn makes for interesting debate.

  8. Sounds like the right-wing crap we hear here in America – demonizing immigrant populations (here, it’s the Mexicans) to get votes. Cameron, a conservative, should know better than subsctribing to the same rhetoric of his brethren across the pond

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