Why France is second home to Poles
"The Polish community here may have a limited influence on French public affairs, but it is considerable enough that no one can afford to ignore it," notes Georges Mond, secretary-general of the prestigious Polish Historical Literary Society (PHLS) of France.Skip to next paragraph
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Sitting donnishly behind his desk at the 142-year-old "Biblioteka Polska" on the Isle St. Louis amidst a wealth of books, paintings, and sculptures, Mr. Mond , a naturalized French citizen of Polish origin, expounds with the flowing tutorial clarity of the university professor that he is.
"We are nothing like the Polish lobby in the United States," he explains in Slavic-accented French. "But as the largest community in Western Europe, we number roughly half a million votes with many Franco-Poles holding important academic and government positions."
Possibly France's best-known political personality of Polish descent is Michel Poniatowski, often referred to as the "Prince" because of his aristocratic forebear. Mr. Poniatowski acts as President Valery Giscard d'Estaing's intimate personal adviser and ambassador at large.
Included among the 580-member PHLS elite are leading university professors, scientists, historians, writers, architects, and artists -- the majority of them , like Poniatowski, second- and third-generation Franco-Poles.
Mr. Mond, a specialist on press and communications in Eastern Europe at Paris University, suggests that the Franco-Polish lobby swayed Charles de Gaulle's decision in 1957 to recognize the controversial Oder-Neisse frontier that divides Poland and East Germany. Mond also says that when Giscard ran for the presidency in 1974, he made the point under Poniatowski's guidance of promising to encourage Polish cultural awareness in an attempt to attract vital electoral support.
The Polish community in France has always nurtured sentimental attachments with the homeland, particularly through family, church, and cultural relations. Analysts believe that these relations play a significant role in maintaining Poland's contact with the West. Even during the cold war, France and Poland managed to retain close human ties with each other.
"Now our sensitivity to events in Poland has heightened considerably and we are looking with anguish toward the dark clouds in the East," observes Henri Adamczewski, a French-born university professor of Polish origin. "It is just too horrible to think what might happen. Poland has no allies except her enemies."
The Polish library overlooking the Seine represents an important and symbolic focal point not only for France's Polish community, but also for visiting students, scientists, artists, musicians, and theater groups from Poland. Unlike other East bloc countries, Poland allows its citizens to travel to the West with relative ease.
Characteristic of poles' defiance to uphold their nation's cultural heritage, the Biblioteka Polska was founded in 1838 by a group of eminent exiles such as Prince Adam Czartoryiski, poet Adam Mickiewicz, and composer Frederic Chopin, who had come to France following the brutal suppression by the Russians of the 1830-31 Polish insurrection. Today in Poland the library is highly respected among intellectual circles because of its historical prestige and influence.
Last May, during the papal visit to France, Pope John Paul II told a gathering of Poles that the library was a cultural institution of great importance in the West. "The Spirit gives life," he said. "This Spirit gives the life of man, the nation, and the fatherland. Many have tried to awaken [ this Spirit] by supporting, developing, and creating major works of Polish culture: prose, poetry, music, and art. . . . Despite numerous difficulties, the Polish library in Paris has tried to follow these traditions."