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A permanent fixture in the Polish community's December calendar is opłatek in POSK's Malinova room. Among the first of these meetings is opłatek poskowy.Although those present have known each other for years, during the solemn moments that accompany the wafer-breaking and Christmas wishes, there is a lot of kindness and warmth between them all.
And the appearance of POSK chair Joanna Młudzińska, who in a short speech summed up the past twelve months, was equally warmly received.
“A year has passed - a year that was difficult for me personally,” she said. “Sitting in this room a year ago during wigilia, I hoped the next twelve months would be better and calmer. But then in June bestowed upon me was a great honour and my life changed; I was elected to be the chair of POSK.
“Today, from this place, I say that there is still much we have before us – a lot of things to do; many difficult, complex tasks. I was a member of the board, but even with that experience I never thought there would be so much. In the foreground [of these tasks] are the changes that we will introduce following in the footsteps of my predecessor, Dr Olgierd Lalko.
POSK's chair was referring to plans to move Joseph Conrad Hall, the Pilsudski Institute and the POSK offices.
Młudzińska (right) continued: “We're doing this so that a part of the centre is turned into flats - thanks to which we will generate income that will help us alleviate our difficult financial situation. Thanks to this we will be able to focus on what we should be doing here in POSK, and that is social and cultural activities.
“That is why POSK was created, that is why it exists. We're striving to focus on that and not worry about lack of funds. In the past year we've been bequeathed a large sum of money, so have have finances for these investments. The changes I'm talking about are maybe difficult for some to accept. But I think, together, we made the right decision. And we can do it.”
It was difficult to react in any other way to the chair's optimism other than with great sympathy.
“The incredible spirit of kindness that I've encountered keeps me going,” said Młudzińska. “I'm still pleasantly surprised when I see [this spirit]from both the staff and my colleagues on the board and in the council of POSK. Over the six months from June I've met so many people! Many I knew previously, but now we've had the opportunity to get know each other better. I feel good about that.
“Maybe this kindness is fleeting. As the new chair, I have a honeymoon period – maybe that's why things are working out. But I hope that's how we can continue working: together, in an atmosphere of kindness and understanding.
“Currently, we have a completely different situation than in the past, when my parents' generation - one in which many of you belong – built POSK. This centre is as needed as it used to. Maybe even more so. And we have to be open to all who want to come here. We need to embrace them, encourage them to come.
"I would like to extend the Christmas wishes here today, among our POSK family, to all who come to POSK – to those who visit often, sometimes, or rarely – and even those who are yet to come. I hope one day you will join us.”
Following the blessing by the Father Rector (left, speaking to POSK secretary, Andrzej Zakrzewski) it was time for the Christmas wishes. They were exchanged by people representing all communities and all generations.
Being in such an esteemed group leads to a moment of reflection. The presence of the oldest makes one think, after every time, about that Polish generation's multitude of accomplishments.
It makes the younger generation aware that Polish emigration to Britain for decades was primarily a military emigration; that for decades the life of Polish community organisations were based on Polish Armed Forces veterans. It is from them where the the wide range of social activities for the Polish community in Britain came: from culture, through education, to sport.
It comes with great satisfaction concluding that, among the Polish community, there is no lack of people willing to model their actions on those who built these Polish foundations in the UK.
And there are people for whom to work: According to the recently published results of the 2011 census, Poles are the second largest ethnic group in England and Wales among those born outside the UK. Official figures show 579,000 British residents were born in Poland.
This multitude of "new Poles" is supported by the Church - the Polish Catholic Mission runs pastoral services in over 200 locations scattered throughout England and Wales.
Less apparent are other centres of Polish culture. For decades, they included SPK homes for veterans. Until recently, there were thirteen - but in the last two years, seven ceased operations (Bradford, Chorley, Falkirk, Kidderminster, Leicester, Sheffield and Wellingborugh).
All the more pleasing, then, is assessing the activity of the second generation of Poles in Britain. In the case of POSK, these are people in their middle age, still working professionals, who know how to keep-up relationships in the community and believe in maintaining a Polish identity with their compatriots living in the UK. This is (the seemingly obvious) challenge for each of us – young or old.
But the subject of Poles in the UK is a particularly complex issue today. Successive waves of immigration in the UK brought us here, but it's hard to say that we grew from strength to strength as a whole. Maybe our potential grew – but there was none of the power cohesion brings.
Our actions are determined by the conditions in which we live. British Poles for decades were evidence of war. Everything changed in 1989. And the Polish accession to the European community has gone down in history.
Today, you need to look for partnerships at every level - from local government in Britain to European programmes. This wish will come true in 2013.
But distant is the day when Poles in the UK are seen as an active part of British society, and when the English view the Polish community, for example, as an important part of the electorate. It would be good if our emigrant elite knew that was the task facing them.
Jarosław Koźmiński - Dziennik Polski
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Translation by Robert Szmigielski.