It surprised me the other day when I passed two gentlemen on the High Street and overheard their objections to the Polish shop opposite the town hall. Not only was I taken aback at their condemnation of a new business opening on our faltering High Street, but I was shocked at the disregard in which they held Polish people – with the rest of their conversation simply not printable. But suffice to say that both men had come to the somewhat misguided conclusion that Poles shouldn’t be here, nor should any other Eastern Europeans for that matter.
For the record, I wasn’t eavesdropping, I had stopped to withdraw cash from the nearby ATM.
People like this infuriate me, not because I’m some sort of political correctness extremist, but because it’s totally unfair to persecute people, simply because they weren’t born in this country.
Indeed, for the most part, Polish settlers in Hawick or immigrants anywhere in Britain have come to this country to improve their standard of living. The majority are hard-working, good-natured people. Contrary to what you read in the newspapers, they aren’t here to steal our jobs or take advantage of our welfare system. I’m keen to know, though: would you not move your family or yourself, if you had the chance of a more prosperous life elsewhere? I know I would, so who is to deny me, you or anybody that human right?
Regarding the Polish and East European community in Hawick, it’s not entirely a new thing. In fact, during the Second World War there were more than 2,000 Polish troops stationed locally, spread over three platoons. Many of these soldiers decided to stay in the country after the war, marrying into local families and integrating into Scottish life. We have a long association with Poland, after all it was the Nazi invasion of Poland which proved to be the catalyst for Britain entering the war. And their troops and navy fought tirelessly and bravely alongside Britain to repel the Nazi advances in Europe.
Did you know that during the Battle of Britain, Poles made up the largest non-British chamber of the RAF? Or that by the end of 1945, more than 150,000 Polish troops were serving under British command?
The Polish people who’ve chosen to settle in Hawick should not be frowned upon. They should be made to feel welcome and helped to intigrate. Polish immigration to Britain didn’t start in 2004 when Poland joined the EU. It began in 1947, with the passing of the Polish Resettlement Act, a law which was brought in to ensure Poles who didn’t want to return to their own communist-run country could stay in Britain.
On a lighter note, why couldn’t footballer Robert Lewandowski’s grandfather have married a Scottish woman, then we might just have had a striker capable of blasting Scotland to the World Cup!
But seriously, a Polish shop doesn’t mean we are being taken over. It’s a fantastic way for them to retain their identity and culture, and also shows that multi-culturalism isn’t just synonymous with cities and larger industrial towns.
I wonder what the two men would have had to talk about had the Polish shop not been there? Probably the amount of empty shops on the High Street. At least this is a new business and in the current climate that takes some bravery.
So powodzenia is what I say, which apparently means good luck.