Polish Generations wandering abroad
Written by Geert Luteijn
‘I don’t believe in TV’, explains Maciej to us. We have just hitched a ride and are sitting in the back of Maciej’s car on our way from a gas station near Deventer (Netherlands) to Hannover. Maciej is a friendly Polish guy in his late twenties on his way back to Poland for some holidays. He works through an agency in the Netherlands in a plastic factory and has just been offered a contract to stay at the company he works for. Maciej has gone to University in Poland, speaks English and recently started learning Dutch. The new generation of Polish youth is taking full advantage of the new opportunities abroad. One ride later we get in contact with a whole different generation: the generation that grew up in the communist police state on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Both generations cherish their freedom and wandered abroad in a search of a better life.
Mainstream media and TV in particular spread negative stereotypes about Polish migrants in the Netherlands. According to the typical storyline, they drink too much, take away jobs and cause problems. Populist parties in the Netherlands have been using these negative stereotypes to gain public support. During the last election campaign the populist Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders, opened a hotline where people could report disturbances caused by Eastern Europeans. If you were to take the people we met along the way to Berlin, you would get a completely different stereotype of Polish migrants: open, friendly, driven and well educated.
Maciej tells hus he feels more European than Polish. He is adapting to Dutch society, learning the language and making Dutch friends. However, some of the Polish workers in the Netherlands do not share his ability to adapt. They drink and cause disturbances, Maciej says they behave the same as they do in Poland and distances himself from them. Our next ride from Hannover to a gas station 30 kilometers from Berlin is a Polish or should I say Dutch couple. Very energetic, in their fifties and settled in a village south of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. They are both anesthesiologists in a Dutch hospital.
After the usual introductions, the conversation touches upon how they both got to Western Europe in a time that the Iron Curtain was still an insurmountable obstacle for most. He tells us he looked into the reports the police apparatus had gathered on him. With irony he tells us that he was amazed they took so much interest in him. In his early career days he had studied in Oxford. It would take months every time he needed a new passport or visa. The communist regime in Poland did not develop the extreme police state the DDR did, however got close enough and getting permission to leave the country was not easy.
The Polish couple explains us that Freedom is everything for them. Poland has been occupied several times in the past century, and still the nation survived as a separate entity. By no means does freedom mean the same to Maciej’s generation as it does to the couple. Their experiences are too different. However, the new generation is very much aware of the opportunities given to them and due to relatively good education able to take advantage. Our rides to Berlin may not pose a complete picture of Polish migration across Europe, but it is clear to me, there is a lot more to the Polish than the TV wants us to believe.