A Democratic Opportunity Not To Be

I believe we should be welcoming the hard-working young Polish people who are coming to live and work in this country if only because of the nightmare which that country suffered during the twentieth century. But in welcoming them I hope they will show respect for our democratic traditions and become enthusiastic about being part of our local communities and voting in next year’s local elections where they have set up home just as many of them have voted in their own national elections recently.

We have been allies to the Polish people for centuries and the thought that thousands of them will now be able to take part in next year’s local council elections, including the one for London’s Mayor, fills me with much pleasure.

One of the most important aspects of the ending of the Cold War with Russia and the knocking down of the Berlin Wall was the fact that Poland achieved its freedom again. In February 1945 at the infamous Yalta conference Churchill had watched an ailing US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, let Russia’s leader, Stalin, have his way over Poland so that Roosevelt’s great dream of the United Nations had the backing of the three leaders in its final communiqué.

At Yalta Churchill knew that Poland was doomed to Russian domination. He remembered that Stalin and Hitler had signed a treaty in August 1939 specifically designed to carve up Poland and he knew that Stalin’s imperial enthusiasm both east and west knew no bounds. Churchill’s lone fight at Yalta was designed in the end to hold communism at least at the German border. There was little energy and enthusiasm in the West to continue the Second World War after Germany was defeated and Stalin knew that. So the Russian dictator added to his empire all the lands where his troops were in control in May 1945. It meant the creation of a divided Germany and many central European countries including Poland becoming Russian satellites.

Only since the momentous events of 1989 have these countries achieved democratic freedom – some for the first time in their history. For the Polish people, who suffered horrendously under both the Nazis and the Red Army during the war, it has been a time of major realignment of thinking and an enthusiasm for religious freedom (which never really died even under Communism), capitalism and self-reliance.

Many Polish people who escaped from their homeland as the Second World War began came here to the UK and helped in the fight against the Nazis. Few went back after the war so there has always been a sizeable Polish population in different parts of the UK. In London much of the community is centred around Ealing, whose main Catholic Church is to this day packed to the rafters throughout Sunday. I have also always been aware of a substantial Polish community in my own home town of Reading.

It has therefore been natural for Polish people to come here to work and they have been embraced by all parts of British society. Now they are being exhorted to vote in our council elections.

I hope; I dearly hope that every single one of them, who is eligible, will take the opportunity to partake in the democratic process. Nothing would be sadder than if our new young residents from Poland forget their recent history and shun the possibility of expressing their preference here in our local elections as well as their national elections at home.

There have always been many Polish people who understandably have condemned the West for leaving them to their fate both during and after the Second World War. Now that wrong had been righted and I like to think that if Mr Churchill were to rise up out of his grave his voice would resound with one of his most magnificent speeches encouraging all our young immigrants from Poland to vote. Exercising that democratic right is something they owe to their brave and hardy forefathers.