Daniel Kawczyński, a Conservative Member of Parliament, and talks to Kinga Eva Plich about discrimination, the Polish lobby and plumbers.
Kinga Eva Plich: You have been living in Great Britain almost all your life and you get actively involved in the local politics. Have you ever thought about changing your last name?
Daniel Kawczyński: Many have said in the past that people would not vote for me because I have a foreign-sounding name to which I always reply that I am proud of my origins. My grandfather, Roman Kawczyński, was a great patriot, even though he only lived in a free Poland for 20 years because of take-overs, war and communism. I visited him in Warsaw and he taught me patriotism and I am grateful to him for sharing his experience. He believed that communism destroys a country and its citizens.
KP: I am guessing that it is difficult for adults to live in a country that produces such contradictory feelings, let alone for a child.
DK: When I initially came to Great Britain I had only a consular passport, which was issued to Polish people who lived overseas. When I was around 14 years old a Polish border guard said to me ‘You are one of those Poles who abandoned their homeland’. It hurt me deeply; my family were strongly anti-communist and therefore it was difficult to live in a system completely opposite to our way of thinking. We had no opportunities to change anything. But here I am today proud to represent Shrewsbury and Atcham in Parliament and sit on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
KP: And you speak Polish very well. How old were you when you left your country?
DK: When we left Poland I was about 6 years old. I went to school and I was the only Polish person in the classroom, who did not know English. I was very lucky that my first teacher was Polish and spoke to me in two languages. On the other hand, my mother, went on to marry an Englishman, who mostly spoke to me in English. My mother was very insistent that I was not treated like a foreigner so my command of the Polish language has diminished over the years. Today, when I talk with Polish ministers and politicians, I regret that I do not speak Polish perfectly.
KP: I remember that when we entered the European Union, there was a large campaign against the Polish, mainly from the tabloids. How do you think it looks right now?
DK: I found myself in the centre of a big fuss both in parliament and on television. It is known, that people come from all over the world to Great Britain and problems with immigrants affect election moods. I believe that the media focus on the Polish, because it is a less controversial topic. It is easier to focus on them, because they are here legally; have a similar religion; and come from a similar cultural area. This makes it harder to classify this campaign against them as a racism. We must not discriminate against Polish people, because we need to look at the problem of immigration as a whole. Let us not forget that more than 2 million British people left the country and live in Europe. Given that approximately 2.5 million Europeans arrived in Great Britain, this is a mutual phenomenon. The European Union must, in my opinion reform and I count on Polish-British cooperation in this matter.
KP: You are a Polish Member of the British Parliament. How is this reflected in the vision of your mission?
DK: When I was elected for the first time to Parliament, I felt my priorities were to focus on both my constituency and issues of the United Kingdom. After 10 years, my role has evolved – I want to use my Polish roots and my position in order to strengthen the relationships with Poland in the economic and cultural areas.
KP: In the British Parliament there also a Group on Polish affairs?
DK: Yes, we are creating the so called groups of friendship with various countries, whose task is to build positive relationships. In this way, British parliamentarians can visit countries, engage in their politics, and learn the culture. Knowledge of a country gives greater understanding of a region and can help improve relations. For example, during the ten years of being Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Saudi Arabia, attitude to this country has significantly changed. An active membership of a Group on Polish Affairs can only have a positive impact on bilateral relations.
KP: And how does it look now?
DK: Israeli, Chinese and American groups are the largest. I wish that Poland could have a larger membership and that is why we need support. At least 800.000 Polish people live in the United Kingdom. I do not think there is any community more numerous and so united. If we could manage to win more than 200 members of parliament for the Group on Polish affairs, it would be the largest group in parliament. It would be helpful if each member of the Polish community in Britain contact their own Member of Parliament and ask them to joining the Group. A single representative does not have the force to break through, but the representation of hundreds of Members of Parliament has real strength and would be beneficial for good relations between Poles in the UK and their elected representatives. Polish people should not be afraid of British politicians, because the MPs really want to talk with them.
KP: And what can you do, for the Polish community?
DK: I think, that the creation of an effective Group on Polish affairs would be a great success. The media often show Poles just as plumbers, and yet it has nothing to do with reality. We are able; qualified and we work in all professions. I believe that Polish people are the hidden treasure of Great Britain. Pangea Magazine and its readers need to work together to portray real image of Poland within the UK Government.
Photos by Joanna Koralewska & Bokeh*Pictures