PERSPECTIVE: No Longer Poles Apart from a United Europe; of the New EU Countries, Poland Is Considered the Leader and Most Significant. Doug Roper Reports on Why, for Poles, National Freedom and EU Membership Are Inextricably Linked
Byline: Doug Roper
I f you've ever struggled to find a dentist in the West Midlands, then this time next year it may be easier to find one. This is the considered view, not of the dental profession, but of Councillor Mike Oborski, of Wyre Forest District Council, reflecting on the implications of Polish membership of the EU this week.
Coun Oborski, aged 57, is the son of Polish immigrants who escaped from the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Poland in 1939, and is now one of the leaders of the Polish community in Kidderminster.
He rubbishes what he sees as tabloid scaremongering that the UK faces an immigration crisis, but does envisage some of the gaps in the UK labour market being filled by welleducated, professional East Europeans, such as Polish dentists who can earn far more filling gaps in British teeth than they ever could in Poland.
Last weekend's European Union enlargement saw ten new states sign up to the European project. Poland, the largest of the newcomers with a population of 38 million, was joined by Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -all former communist states.
In addition, the two islands of Malta and Southern Cyprus completed the largest expansion in European Union history. The 25member EU is now the world's largest free-trade area with 455 million inhabitants.
Of the new EU countries, Poland is considered the leader and most significant, due to its economic potential and population size. But of course, there have been Poles living in the UK for many years, and particularly in the West Midlands. Immediately following World War II, more than 10,000 Poles were resettled around Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, and Kidderminster, as Nazi occupation of Poland was quickly followed by a Soviet domination that was to last for 50 years.
Throughout Poland, and in Polish communities around Europe, Poles have wildly celebrated joining the EU. So why is EU membership of such great significance for Poland?
In 1939 Poland was jointly invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Millions of Poles were forcibly deported to Siberia in a massive effort at what today is known as ethnic cleansing. Vast numbers died of starvation and disease.
By 1945, with Nazi Germany defeated, the Soviet Union was in possession of much of Eastern Europe, and the Cold War began. Many Poles, already uprooted from their homeland settled in the west, throughout Europe, the USA and Britain. Edmund Szymczak, now 81, was one of them.
He is a veteran of the Free Polish Army that fought alongside the Allies during The Second World War.
'When I was a young boy at school in Poland, I always dreamed of a united Europe,' he said. 'I read about wars that led to nowhere, and I could never understand why Europeans were always fighting each other.
We Poles lost so many good men, women and children in the war.'
Mr Szymczak is typical of many Poles. He views his country's current freedom as a source of national pride, but whereas Euro-scepticism flourishes in the UK, for Poles national freedom and EU membership are inextricably linked.
'Poland is a nation famed for its struggle for freedom, and at last we are free,' he explained. 'The big day (May 1) has come.'
Mr Szymczak was taken from Poland in 1939 and interred in Germany, before being sent to work in labour camps in Italy. He was liberated by the Americans following the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943, and promptly joined the Free Polish Army.
After the war, the Free Poles were offered the opportunity to return to Poland. But Poland under communist rule was not the Poland they knew.
Many took the opportunity to make new lives abroad in the USA, Europe and the UK. Edmund Szymczak was resettled in Kidderminster, and has lived here ever since.
He worked hard, like most Poles, to build a new life for himself and his family. …