Friday, July 13, 2012

Poles Organizing??? A Guest Post and a Response




A guest blog entry by Mietek de Woldan

For sure, the Bieganski stereotype surfaces from time to time outside North America. Examples: recently in Argentina a minister speaking about ‘stupid Polish farmers’; in Germany the media from time to time reporting on the ‘thieving nature of Poles’; in the UK some of the media seeing Poles (among others) as the ‘source of social problems’ through their drinking and rowdy behaviour; some of the Israeli press seizing every opportunity to imply to the world the ‘anti-Semitism inherent in all Poles’; the assertions by the UK’s BBC before the Euro 2012 football about ‘extreme racism’ in Poland. But, since there is no consistency of perception that applies across all of these countries, each 'incident' has to be addressed 'on its merits' as it arises.

Add to that the existence of specific local problems. Examples: Lithuania and Belarus - where the very identity of Polish minorities, their culture and organisations are under threat; Holland - where there is a powerful anti-Polish (anti-immigrant generally) ‘hate’ campaign instigated by a political party; Germany - where Polish children are being ‘germanised’ if taken into the care of the state. These are vital issues that need action ‘today’ - and local Polonian organisations are fully engaged in addressing them. Within resource constraints it is difficult to expect these same organisations to also address the more general matter of ‘defending Poland’s good name’ as their top priority.

The UK situation is different. When the 1944/46 uproar against recent allies - now called ‘Polish fascists’ - subsided, the British establishment on the surface ignored these embarrassing reminders of betrayal - yet discrimination was real but covert. Organisations that once reminded the world about Poland’s right to freedom, now offer support to the influx of Poles seeking work in the UK. ‘Defending Poland’s good name’ is perhaps lower priority against these urgent practical demands.

And then, some might contend, there are anti-Polish elements in Poland itself. Is the German Historical Institute simply a tool of German policy to enmesh Poles in 'joint responsibility' for the holocaust? Paradoxically, why do some people see the activities of the Jewish Historical Institute as having a similar effect? Why are some publications of the IPN (Institute of National Remembrance) thought to be motivated more by political expediency and less by the search for impartially verifiable facts? If this is the reality who, other than the authorities in Poland, can possibly deal with it?

Against this background, Bieganski the blog recommends that we must become activists. But, who are 'we' precisely? Outside North America, apart from well-known exceptions, the Polish diaspora consists of several waves of migration from 1939 onwards. For each new wave, the 'patriotic' basis has been weaker and the 'material incentive' greater, such that latest arrivals have little appetite for 'political activity'. In any case, even those with more 'patriotic' leanings found that securing basic needs took most of their time and energy - few had the means to be 'politically active'. In my view 'we' - who now have the means - are now aged 50 to 60+ (possibly 40 to 50). This is a narrow and thinly spread group.

The vision of Bieganski the blog then recommends that activists must 'organise'. Indeed, we have the example of 'organiczna praca' of the 19th century positivist movement as our inspiration. But are we really suffering from a lack of 'organisation'? It is sufficient to access the website of Wspolnota Polska to see there is no shortage - every major country has at least one, and the list does not include more 'informal' or 'specialist' networks or internet communities. For interest, the "Rada Polonii Świata" (World Polish Council, domiciled in Chicago) appears to be defunct; the "Europejska Unia Wspólnot Polonijnych" (Union of Polish Communities in Europe, domiciled in London – has anyone ever heard of them?) has a 'Commission to Defend Poland's Standing' (it also has Commissions for Education, Media etc). So, perhaps the issue is that some need waking up from their slumbers or others need to convert from being a 'talking shop' into a spearhead for action? Bieganski the blog has the answer - an umbrella organisation of paid specialists to make 'the case for Poland' on the world stage. But excuse me for my presumption in suggesting it exists already - it is the Polish government with its worldwide network of embassies and consulates, whose staff might tackle anti-Polish issues … but then they do that already, albeit in a more limited manner than some of us may prefer.

Then here I am, faced with: a multiplicity of disconnected anti-Polish phenomena across the world; nationally based Polonian organisations that have vital matters needing their attention, including their Polonia's continued existence; some Polonian umbrella organisations that need to be strengthened by more dynamic leadership from the Polish government. I do what any activist should do - along with like minded people, select and 'freeze' an issue and work on it until it 'disappears'. So please don't berate or lecture me on seeking correction of 'Polish concentration camps' - it is one of the issues that requires focus. And, as an aside, it is not a 'chauvinistic' activity but a straightforward defence of the truth against a creeping tide of disinformation.

I am aware that my analysis is incomplete - it is impossible to comment on every country where Poles reside, even if I knew their situation. In particular I have avoided saying anything about North America. Why? Because it is a context in a category of its own due to its history and ethnic mix. I especially do not wish to challenge Danusha's Bieganski analysis, since there is no reason to doubt it. But I do suggest that the analysis and solutions put forward in the blog are more relevant to North America than elsewhere.

One of the many points where Bieganski the blog and I meet is on the need for a dynamic 'worldwide' organisation. I suggest that Danusha and colleagues should summarise the "Bieganski concept" in a booklet on four sides of A4 in Polish, for every member of the Polish Sejm and Senate to get a copy, and then to be lobbied incessantly until they take full responsibility for the mission to inject leadership and funds to tackle the particular issue(s) pertinent to different countries.

Mietek de Woldan

***

I'm very grateful for the above guest blog post.

I will politely and briefly disagree with a few points.

My own work, such as it is, is focused on the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype. Many readers won't know what that is, because many blog readers have yet to purchase and read "Bieganski."

Again and again, I see posts on internet sites devoted to negative stereotyping of Poles. These posts all say the same thing. "Golly, gee, where did this stereotype of Poles come from? Why does it exist? Why do people engage in it? What can we do about it?"

In the absence of answers, posters are encouraged -- and yes I see these posts repeatedly -- to blame the Jews. I even recently saw a post in which a poster said she was reading The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in an effort to better understand stereotyping.

Polonians frequently write to me to complain about the cost of "Bieganski." The most recent Polonian to do so was a journalist with a Polish publication. What does it say about our priorities that even a Polish journalist for a Polish publication resists the purchase of a book on a Polish topic?

I ask you -- how much MORE expensive is it to fill one's mind with the poison of a book like the Protocols?

After blaming the Jews, posters are encouraged to feel powerless. "That lobby is so powerful. We can't do anything. We can just write our little emails to this or that publication that says something we don't like."

Yes. I see these posts repeatedly. It is only my own discretion that prevents me from giving names, dates, and websites where Polonians repeat these canards over and over.

It is not to Polonia's benefit to continue re-asking the same questions over and over, and never to avail itself of the one scholarly book that addresses those questions.

It is not to Polonia's benefit to, in its own self-imposed ignorance, blame an ethnic group that is not responsible for the problem.

It is not to Polonia's benefit to tell itself it is powerless.

It is not to Polonia's benefit to stumble in the dark.

Our guest poster inadvertently trivializes the work of this blog in the phrase, "Defending Poland’s good name." Such a narcissistic, chauvinist, and trivial enterprise has ever been what this blog is about. One would have only to read it to discover that.

Our guest poster writes, "Bieganski the blog recommends that we must become activists. But, who are 'we' precisely? Outside North America, apart from well-known exceptions, the Polish diaspora consists of several waves of migration from 1939 [sic] onwards."

EVERY group faces the exact same diversity. There is no monolithic group of Blacks or Jews or Italians or Women or Homosexuals. And yet Blacks and Jews and Italians and Women and Homosexuals manage to organize effectively across generations, borders, and incomes. I know because I've been involved in groups focused around all these identities and more.

It's time for Polonia to stop making excuses like this, to stop blaming others (primarily Jews, but, lately, as in a couple of recent books, Jews and Leftists). It's time for Polonia to overcome its own resistance to organization and effective action.

But all of this has been said before. The best response to the above guest blog entry is the three-part blog post, "The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision."

11 comments:

  1. Dear Danusha,

    As a regular reader many thanks for the expanded material in the blog. I especially appreciated your comments and responses, particularly one sentence: "There is no monolithic group of Blacks or Jews or Italians or Women or Homosexuals." Your broad based background experience stands out in this astute but rather unique perspective on the Polonia situation. The guest blogger's noting arbitrary years like 1939 for diaspora eras is a case in point for the compartmentalized view. I believe you have crystallized a great point regarding the need for a monolithic face to Polonia responses and actions.

    On a light note and for what it is worth, the globally popular American sports entertainment company, WWE, known for its market targeting savvy has, albeit without fanfare, started to allow the Polish-American female wrestler "Beth Phoenix" to sport a Polish Eagle on her attire. If WWE is doing this the market must have been tested for a positive response. A good question then is, how big is the Polonia market? The respected UK weekly "The Economist" made its Big Mac Index famous as a way to measure currency purchasing parity using global McDonald's prices, so it may not be so far fetched either to look into what WWE sees today for other uses.
    MB

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    Replies
    1. MB THANK YOU for your post. Really. Your "amen" meant a lot.

      I welcome our guest poster's comments. At the same time, I reserve the right to disagree.

      Our guest blogger, for example, didn't even post under a real name. How can we do this work if we are not willing to be ourselves?

      And our guest poster says things that just aren't true. That 1939 was a significant year of Polish immigration?

      I'm sorry but that is just not true. We've got to educate ourselves and speak facts, not stuff it felt good to make up at the time.

      The guest post reads to me like just more excuses. Poles and Polonians saying, "Oh, we can't, it's just too haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaard"

      While some folks are making excuses as to why Polonians can't accomplish anything, other people are actually accomplishing something. Those are the people I want to associate with.

      Delete
  2. Thank you Mietek de Woldan for contributing different perspective to discussion here. A very good post. Thank you.
    M.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I read "Bieganski". Speaking from my own experience, I would find it much easier to convince my friends to read \ buy "Bieganski: the Polish stereotype" than "Bieganski: the Brute Polak Stereotype in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture". Many Poles from "polite society" - exactly the sort of people that might have and should read Bieganski - would go to great lengths to avoid being spotted reading a book with, well, Jews counting money and a hard-working Pole on the cover. Those images are, of course, analysed and deconstructed in Dr Goska's book... but the only way to know is to actually read it. I had somewhat more success in promoting "Bieganski" after I had removed the cover... Positive statement - just saying.

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  4. Dear Danusha,

    Thanks for the background information regarding the guest blogger. Come to think of it too, 1939 as a significant diaspora year is not just arbitrary its absurd. That said "MieteK" noted a few accurate points. Europe's Bieganski problem is different from the US. In the contemporary EU Bieganski negativity is most often related to economics: Poles are portrayed as (effective I must say) "job stealers" who "work too hard" and are "favored by bosses". Jealously and animosity then arise to manifest as criticisms of Poles as "hard working but"...drunks; economic parasites sending too much money back to Poland rather than spending where they work; violent louts (coming often from Brits who must know a violent lout when they see one!) and so forth...The US is different and should be this blog's focus I suppose.

    Something interesting popped up in the US news lately that shows when a group, in this case American Jewish organizations and spokespeople, come to blows over politics. As noted by Danusha above whereby Leftists are sometimes unfairly targeted within Polonia, we can now see a case where the, majority Left leaning, American Jewish organizations have taken to some pretty vicious attacks on Las Vegas mogul and fellow Jew, Sheldon Adelson over politics: Adelson has become one of the single largest contributors to the Romney presidential campaign in the US. Here is one of the many news pieces on the subject:
    http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/07/08/Dershowitz-to-Fellow-Democrats-Stop-Attacking-Sheldon-Adleson

    In this case the Liberal icon and US Democratic Party supporter Alan Derschowitz stands up for free speech, telling Jewish orgs to back off on attacks on Adelson's totally legal activities. As with Polonia the global Jewish diaspora is politically diverse but of course much better organized than Polonia. This is a good case in point to show internal and external trouble caused by group-fighting over political views that can arise even in well organized groups that normally present monolithic fronts.

    MB

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    Replies
    1. "Europe's Bieganski problem is different from the US. In the contemporary EU Bieganski negativity is most often related to economics"

      You will think differently after you read the book.

      Delete
    2. MB about your other point. Agreed: Jews are not monolithic.

      Delete
  5. Books about "Jakub Wędrowycz" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakub_Wędrowycz) were extremely popular in the 2000s. The Bieganski stereotype internalized and turned into a comedy - a sign of empowerment of self-hate? One way or another, reading "Bieganski" has changed my perspective on these books.. They are only available in Polish, though.

    When I mention Wędrowycz, people think I have a sense of humour and irony. When I try to talk about Bieganski, they want to change the topic - as if talking about the Polish stereotype was a faux pax. And somewhat boorish.

    "Can't we talk about something different?"

    Well, we can, but we'll be going around in circles.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very intriguing post! Maybe you'd like to write a guest blog entry on this series of books?

      Delete
    2. I read the first three Wędrowycz books some ten years ago and found them hilarious. They are far smarter than they appear on the surface - just like the Wędrowycz character himself. Reading Wędrowycz again - this time critically and 'post-Bieganski' - may be even more fun.

      Delete
  6. "a sign of empowerment OR self-hate" - that is...

    A few chapters from the first Jakub Wędrowycz book (Kroniki Jakuba Wędrowycza) are available on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/user/DwarfLeo/videos) as a Polish audiobook.

    ReplyDelete

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