If you are a foreigner, you may have experienced racism at some point during your time in Wrocław. This is bad news for Polish-Foreign relations and is really sad that it happens at all.
This could be subtle – a look of surprise when hearing your language, or seeing you, but even this could be upsetting. In more extreme, confrontational situations, you may be verbally abused, intimidated or even beaten up. So, why is this happening?
Before World War II, Poland was more multi-cultural than present day Britain. This is geographically the centre of Europe, so it is an obvious meeting place for people from all over the continent and beyond. However, Post War Poland was radically changed: made into a communist state and artificially homogenized making the Polish nation almost 100% inhabited by Poles. Communism ended almost 30-years ago, and the country has made significant progress, but more work is still needed. So, even today, this explains why anyone ‘different’ can become the object of curiosity, gossip and sometimes fear. This is saddening particularly since:
- The vast majority of foreigners living here are skilled and educated people with something of value to offer the city. This is unique in Europe.
- Many foreign students are ‘invited’ to come to Wrocław as paying clients for university degrees by the Polish government (this is particularly prevalent with African medical students).
- Part of the reason for Wrocław’s economic boom was in attracting foreign investors from all over the world which provide jobs for local people.
- Wrocław’s current local government fully supports foreigners living and working in the city and will even provide free legal aid in the event of a racially motivated attack.
In spite of this, racial abuse continues. Racism is a cancer most acute amongst the small-minded, but in fact affects everyone to some extent. We are all a bit racist. I said it. And this is because we are all human. It may seem like a dangerous and provocative statement, but it comes out of this human need to label, categorize and stereotype. We all do it. If we were to stop doing this, racism wouldn’t have a place. We have a tendency to stick together because of sharing a common culture and set of expectations. However, we can learn a lot by sharing our differences; it can enrich our lives and even help us to understand our own culture better.
As a foreigner living in Wrocław, it is our responsibility to know:
- Poland is not a ‘politically correct’ zone and people often speak their minds’ in a direct, honest and unabashed fashion.
- Poles have a short recent history of foreigners, unlike other parts of Europe
- There is a strong sense of nationalism in the country .
- Some current food products, children’s songs and sayings have a (unintentional) racial flavour.
- Poles sometimes have trouble with foreigners because they are confused why more of them are coming here. They are not always aware of the economic, political and business needs of the country and feel uninformed and frustrated.
We have to remember that Wrocław is a city of amazing change, growth and prosperity. Year after year there are less racial incidents and the city has even created a strategical programme for intercultural dialogue. Remember, all nations have a moron content of close-minded, weak, aggressive and easily manipulated people. Avoid them. And these people exist in every country, not just Poland. So, what advice is there for a foreigner, who likes the city and wants to get the most positive experience from living here?
- Be positive. Your outlook and attitude can greatly reduce racially aggravated problems. If you are verbally abused, rise above it, ignore it. Any other reaction will stir up bad feelings and perhaps an ‘excuse’ to allow the situation to escalate. If you are physically attacked, call the police, report the incident and bring the culprit(s) to justice. Many central streets have cameras. Tell the local newspapers, go on the radio, WE fb it and get the message out that it is unacceptable.
- Avoid possible conflict situations. For instance, if you go out drinking, always take a taxi home. Don’t walk the streets at night alone, attract attention to yourself or Pole bash.
- Learn to speak some Polish and get familiar with the basics of the culture, history and land.
- Go to places with a foreigner-friendly vibe – these are on the increase.
Bobby Chopper a freelance British writer based in Wroclaw.