Jerzy “George” Byczyński – A citizen of Poland and Great Britain. A Pole who manifests his allegiance to Poland at every opportunity. Founder of British Poles Initiative, a platform that enables Poles contact with British politicians. A co-founder of British Polish Law Association. Organizer of demonstrations promoting Polish matters and the good name of Poles in Great Britain. An outstanding source of inspiration.
Nicole Termin: What three words would you use to describe yourself?
George Byczyński: Pole, activist, idealist.
Why did you choose Great Britain as your second home?
A few years ago this country seemed to me like the centre of the universe. And I wasn’t wrong. A lot is happening here, starting with various cultural events through different social and political happenings. London is an ocean of opportunities.
What is your opinion on the Polish Diaspora in Great Britain?
In general, good; however, it’s a little bit lethargic. There are also two distinctly different attitudes visible. One group wants to live the Polish way and isn’t interested in integrating with other people and nationalities. The other group has disowned their Polishness and tries to blend in with English society so much that they don’t admit that they are of a different nationality. People should remember where they come from and that they have certain obligations towards their ancestors. At the same time, it shouldn’t be an excuse for shutting others out. In addition to that, we often don’t consider things from a time perspective, such as the next twenty years. We are afraid that a war or a different conflict will come and take away our freedom. Our historical background is responsible for that. Nevertheless, we should take a closer look at how democracy was built in Great Britain and slowly step into various institutions, talk with people and act thoughtfully, observing how other minorities who have a strong and favourable image proceed. Work at the grass roots – that should be our motto!
The issue of discrimination is still present. It doesn’t affect all but part of our society experiences it. How can we prevent that?
In the first place, we should be helping those people. As Poles, we shouldn’t turn our back on them. We need to run charity organisations and institutions that will support Polish people when they are being humiliated. There are instances when people contact me because they were called names at their work place or treated unfairly because of their nationality. They don’t know where to go. There aren’t many such instances, but each one should be treated with the utmost attention. We are not doing it at the moment. Other minorities are better at fighting for their rights.
Unity – is it a notion practised by Poles?
It’s a complex issue. There have been lots of factors that are aimed at marginalising the importance of unity for Polish people. Due to historical reasons, lots of Poles were afraid of cooperating in communistic times. Our elites – people who were important, who were trying to develop and improve the country and who were talking about national unity and wisdom – were killed during the occupation and the war. Nowadays, we don’t have many such people in the media. Outstanding individuals who are raising patriotic awareness aren’t promoted. Family ties which also influence our sense of unity are also being neglected. As Poles we are obliged to cooperate with others, even though we may not always agree with them. We should work together on different projects. We don’t have to unite all of the sudden – it is hard to do that – but we need to work together when it comes to key issues. Only then we, as emigrants, will be taken seriously and have a say in society.
What can we be proud of?
Our pride should, first of all, come from being Polish. Qualities such as hospitality, honesty and generosity are cultivated in our country. The fact that during the 123-year-long annexation, constant wars and occupation we haven’t given up is amazing. But, while being proud, we shouldn’t flaunt. Let’s try to learn as much as possible about others.
What does ‘God, Honour, Fatherland’ mean to you?
I think that God and honour function in similar, maybe slightly less intense, forms than they did in the past. In my case, it’s completely different as I try to constantly explore those notions. Fatherland, on the other hand, refers more to our local environment. Nowadays, those three concepts come down to helping other people. If we help someone that person will help another person and so on, and the whole structure that supports social and economic growth is moving forward.
What main character trait have you developed in your family home?
Believing in ideals. People often dismiss them. I believe in justice, goodness, Fatherland and God. For me, they aren’t some abstract ideas; they are worth the effort. Higher values have always been treasured and nurtured in my home. At first, I didn’t always understand some of them, but over time I have started to discern their deeper meaning.
Your greatest success?
Countless events, initiatives, lectures that I organised in cooperation with amazing people. Some participants come back years later to express their gratitude. You can see the difference in them – it’s wonderful! It’s a success for us all. I don’t want to claim the credit for all of those initiatives as they were put together by a group of people. Without them, the events wouldn’t have been so successful. I want to create something that will help people, integrate them and inspire them to grow. British Poles Initiative is my most recent baby, one that is growing really quick at that. Real support.
What was the greatest difficulty you encountered on your path?
There were lots of cases when things weren’t going as planned. The worst, however, were accusations from other people and a lack of faith that our initiatives would be a success. When we started British Poles Initiative, there weren’t many people who believed in the project. We were even discouraged and told that in such a short period of time nothing would come out of it, but our commitment to the idea turned out to be stronger. Lots of British and Polish politicians, who want to act in the interest of Polish community in the UK, have gotten involved in the project. As you see, it’s possible to overcome every obstacle.
The initiatives organised by you are time consuming. What does your leisure time look like?
Sports, especially running. It calms me down. I don’t take any music with me. I just appreciate nature and its tranquility. Another form of rest for me is meeting friends for dinner and lively conversation.
What are your plans for the future?
At the moment I’m doing as many things as I can. I want to choose the right path, one that will make me feel secure and will give me satisfaction. I’m not sure yet what that will be but I have many options. Everyone does. You just can’t give up.
What advice can you give the young people?
Polish people are afraid of being ambitious with regard to their future. Therefore, they should follow the lead of successful people, they should learn, watch documentaries, deepen their knowledge in the fields they are interested in. They also need to make use of a very important innate quality – morality. It stops us from following the first available option or from blindly copying the Western world. It makes us realise that a career-driven life is not enough, that there are more important values. We can achieve a lot, just don’t be ashamed . If we have any talents, we should develop them and take advantage of them. It’s basically our duty. We have to focus on our ideas and can’t be scared of ‘thinking big.’ Let’s do what we believe in, even when the people around us say it’s not going to work. Don’t mind them, just do your job. Maybe classes or workshops on how to appreciate and respect people should be offered during the course of our educations. We need to celebrate other Poles’ successes instead of being jealous – our whole community would gain from that and we would be perceived as a group to be reckoned with. Patriotism just pays off.
Photos: Elwira Niedźwiecka