top of page

Time to Awaken the Sleeping Giant

Author: Waldemar Biniecki

God only knows how much harm and misery comes from the non-recognition of that part of Polish society, which is Emigration. Non-recognition, doing nothing to restore it to the country. As if we no longer needed the country for anything. Cyprian Norwid [According to Kazimierz Braun's drama "Return of Norwid"].

Nurturing Polonia's Growth within Poland.

During late June and early July of 2023, two significant events centered around the Polonia community unfolded in Warsaw. The first event was the VI Congress of the Polish community and Poles residing abroad, while the second was the 1st World Congress on Polish Education and Science Abroad. Unfortunately, the timing of both events was rather inopportune, falling at the end of June and the beginning of July—when airfares tend to be most expensive. Given their close proximity, it's reasonable to deduce that these events might have competed for attention and attendance.

The Polonia Convention meticulously managed the "participant selection" process, and until the very end, qualifying participants remained uncertain. Similarly, the convention's program was not well-publicized. In recent years, there has been a resurgence in the number of organizations, foundations, and associations dedicated to Polonia within the country. However, there is a noticeable absence of genuine Polonia representatives on the supervisory or program boards. Interestingly, Poland stands as one of the few countries where such organizations are established. In contrast, other nations with diverse diasporas engage with them through diplomatic channels, maintain communication, and extend grants for activities. This approach is coupled with the expansion of bureaucracy and procedural complexity, often diverging from those in the diaspora's countries of residence.

As the editor of Kuryer Polski for several years, I've struggled to explain to my American accountant why grant accounting in Poland resembles a circus act involving jumping through numerous bureaucratic hoops. Yet, the ironic reality is that those who have never experienced life abroad often claim to know best, showcasing their exuberant creativity.

The initial steps the Second Republic government took to collaborate with the Polish community are noteworthy. It's worth recalling that the issue of managing Polonia from a top-down perspective and instilling patriotism within it dates back to the era of the Sanation government. This was highlighted during the Second World Congress of Poles from Abroad, which occurred on August 5, 1934, in Warsaw. During this event, a cluster of 40 delegates and organizations from the US declined to join Worldpol, an entity designed to unite Polish organizations. The Congress's intention was to establish such an organization and utilize the Światpol entity as a conduit for the foreign policy of the Sanation government.

The Polish government was steadfastly committed to a consistent foreign policy approach. However, the Polish-American community declined involvement in Światpol because American organizations, including Polish-American entities, could not align themselves with organizations formed by governments that came to power following the coup d'état in Poland in 1926. This aspect was somewhat overlooked amidst the enthusiastic endeavors of Światpol. Consequently, the years following Poland's 1918 independence, during which the Second Republic authorities supported policies advantageous to Polish emigration, were largely squandered. The situation underwent a significant transformation after 1926 when the Sanation government assumed control in Poland.

According to Professor Wojciech Skóra, a Polish historian from the Pomeranian Academy in Slupsk, the attention given to Polonia and Polish citizens in the US declined compared to the 1920s. Back in 1922, there were six consular posts in the US, but by the 1930s, only three remained in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and New York, alongside the embassy in Washington. Considering that the United States was Poland's third-largest trade partner in 1935, following Great Britain and Germany, this seemed insufficient for a major economic power with a population of 126 million individuals, including nearly 4 million Poles. Strikingly, this was the same number of consulates Poland had in Italy during that period.

President of the World Association of Poles Abroad, Marshal of the Senate Władysław Raczkiewicz (first from the left) gives a speech to the participants of the convention gathered in the arcaded courtyard of the Wawel Royal Castle. The people visible include: the vice-president of the World Union of Poles from Abroad Bronisław Hełczyński (second from the right), censor of the Polish National Association Franciszek Świetlik (first from the right, in striped trousers), Colonel Marian Bolesławicz (third from the right, in a uniform). (Source: National Digital Archives)

The inception of the Second World Congress of Poles from Abroad and the establishment of Worldpol marked significant events. The convention commenced in Warsaw on August 5, 1934, and concluded on August 12, 1934, in Gdynia. The assembly hosted 171 attendees, including 128 delegates from 20 nations, with 40 representing the United States. Additionally, there were 25 representatives of national institutions and 18 members from the Council of the Organizing Council of Poles from Abroad. The gathering attracted a total of 11,000 individuals to Poland. Notably, the convention featured the 1st Rally of Polish Youth from Abroad, with 3,000 participants, and the 1st Sports Games of Poles from Abroad, including 381 athletes and their families who partook in countrywide tours.

During the Wawel ceremony, the World Union of Poles from Abroad (Światpol) was established, with Władysław Raczkiewicz as its president. Władysław Raczkiewicz would later serve as the Marshal of the Polish Senate and subsequently become the President of the Polish Republic in exile. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was instrumental in orchestrating the proceedings. Viktor Tomir Drymmer, who headed the restructured Department of Personnel at the MFA from September 1933, played a central role. He was closely aligned with Józef Piłsudski, wielding influence over both the government's emigration policy and the MFA's personnel strategy. This facilitated the rapid conception of a plan in Warsaw to execute Polish foreign policy based on engagement with Polonia.

The meticulously orchestrated plans in the Foreign Ministry appeared poised for smooth execution. All delegations were set to join Swiatpol and collectively form a global Polonia organization aimed at enacting the foreign policy of the Sanation government. However, the dean of the law faculty at Marquette University in Milwaukee interjected a perspective that would resonate significantly in Polish-American history. This viewpoint was articulated by Francis Swietlik, a prominent lawyer born in Milwaukee and renowned in the United States. His words at that time still echo today:

Franciszek Świetlik, portrait photo (Source: National Digital Archives)

"We take pride in our ancestors and hold dear the preservation of Polish heritage within the hearts of the younger generation. Simultaneously, we can serve Poland effectively by actively and creatively participating in American life and culture. The higher our standing as Americans in America, the greater honor and advantage we can bestow upon the Polish nation from which our roots emanate."

This definition of Polish Americans by Swietlik remains relevant to this day. We are individuals of Polish descent who are American citizens, and even if some of us hold both Polish and American passports, we can continue to serve Poland much like our ancestors did in the US.

Among the 40 delegates, not a single person or organization from the US chose to join Światpol. This faction of the Polish community was the most populous and wealthiest, featuring a multifaceted socio-professional structure. It stood as the sole Polonia group with a well-formed, robust elite. Within it resided a substantial and influential stratum of professional intellectuals and relatively prosperous traders. The community also housed numerous clergy members, both laity and religious individuals. According to Dr. Wacław Gawronski, the Polish Consul General in Chicago, the Polish community in the US numbered about 4 million in 1935 and exhibited a well-defined elite. The community hosted 250 journalists, published 90 magazines in the United States, and held substantial sway over local affairs. The clergy consisted of over 2,000 priests and 6,000 teaching nuns within 832 parishes, along with approximately 1,500 individuals in religious congregations and roughly 120 clergy members of the National Church—amounting to about 10,000 individuals. The remaining intellectual segment, accounting for less than 1% of the total diaspora, comprised around 30,000 individuals, which included doctors, dentists, pharmacists, attorneys, engineers, teachers, musicians, clerks, industrialists, and some merchants. Additionally, prominent organizations like ZNP (with 300,000 members), ZPRK (with 170,000 members), and the Union of Polish Women (with 60,000 members) collectively represented around 500,000 people.

Participants of the convention from the United States and Canada on the roof of the Press Palace. (Source: National Digital Archives)

The objectives laid out by the Foreign Ministry have not materialized as envisioned. The approach of orchestrating Polonia policy from a distant desk in Warsaw has not yielded the expected outcomes. The attempts to impart to Polonia the significance of the "Polish right as the highest value" through Sanacja diplomacy foundered due to Polonia's limited comprehension.

The extensive history of Polish exile attests that the "capacity to prioritize the Polish raison d'etat" had existed years before the independent Polish state was established. The call for an "independent state" emerged during the inaugural Congress of the Polish National Congress in 1910. Entities like the National Department, the Committee of National Defense, the Polish Falcon, the Polish National Council, the American magazine "Free Poland," and General Haller's "Blue Army" — primarily composed of volunteers from the US — exemplified this sentiment. However, the most pivotal accomplishment of Polish independence sentiment in America was epitomized by the words and actions of American President Thomas Woodrow Wilson. In the 13th point of his program for the Versailles Conference, he asserted:

"An independent Polish state should be established, encompassing territories inhabited by an unquestionably Polish population, with free and secure access to the sea, and safeguarded in its political and economic independence and territorial integrity by an international treaty."

This stood as the paramount achievement of Polish lobbying in the United States, ultimately leading to our attainment of independence. Such a triumph was made possible through the evolution of the 13th point thesis, fostered within numerous conferences and assemblies of the Polish American community held across various American cities during the period of 1910 to 1918. These events became the crucible where Polish aspirations for independence flourished and where the 13th point of President Wilson's program was conceived. Ignacy Paderewski's direct interactions with President Wilson carried immense significance in this journey.

Concepts of "concessionary Polonia."

Both the 6th Congress of the Polish Community and Poles residing abroad and the 1st World Congress on Polish Education and Science Abroad were significant and essential events. However, their planning and announcement should ideally occur at least six months in advance. The selection of delegates cannot be biased, and the inclusion of voices with potentially controversial ideas is imperative. The crux of the Polonia convention, serving as a type of Polish parliament, lies in open and unrestrained discourse. Nevertheless, the organizers have encountered difficulties in facilitating this for several years. I leave the analysis of this situation to the Government of Poland, which bears the responsibility of financing these crucial events for the country. It's worth noting that the Polish Congress has predominantly featured familiar faces over the years—individuals I've referred to as "all-knowing, immortal, and unsinkable."

The sole notion deserving consideration is the proposal to enshrine one-third of the Polish nation within the constitution and reinstate full voting rights for Polonia. This entails implementing remote voting and establishing a dedicated electoral district within Poland for Polonia and Poles residing abroad. They could elect representatives to the Sejm and the Senate through this district. If the Polish state is earnest about fostering a substantial partnership with Polonia, this approach represents a promising avenue for Polonia's involvement in Poland's political and societal landscape. Exemplary models from other countries illustrate the benefits that proper relations with their Diaspora can yield.

Regarding the resolution put forth by the Congress on Polish Education and Science Abroad, it's essential to recognize that the proposed programs primarily cater to the Polish-speaking segment of Polonia. In the United States, where there exists a Polish ethnic group of around 10 million individuals, approximately 9 million members within this group do not speak Polish. Hence, it becomes crucial to target this particular segment with specific initiatives. These involve placing Polish-speaking educators and scholars in American universities and presenting a comprehensive educational curriculum for this group. This could be achieved through the promotion of Polish culture, films, theater productions, concerts, and exhibitions in collaboration with American institutions.

Unspoken Subjects

Foremost among the unspoken subjects is the matter of political cooperation and activities encompassed within citizen diplomacy. This encompasses the creation of pro-Polish lobbying, which is vital for safeguarding Polish interests, reforming the Polish armed forces, fostering political, military, and economic collaboration, and promoting the notion of the Inter-Mediterranean region as well as the strategic presence of the United States on NATO's eastern flank. Achieving these goals necessitates an active state policy, robust Polish diplomacy, and the coordinated influence of the Polish ethnic group on various administrations in Washington. Regrettably, such resolutions have not materialized.

Another topic that remained in silence was repatriation, referring to the return of individuals of Polish origin from countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia to their homeland. Additionally, the resolution concerning the Volyn genocide, although read during the closing of the Convention, did not progress beyond that stage. Lastly, the attention from Polish media towards the VI Congress of the Polish community and Poles living abroad remained, as usual, minimal.

The stance of Polish elites toward Polish emigration was succinctly captured by Polish journalist Eliza Sarnacka-Mahoney from Colorado, who penned in the pages of the New York Daily the following depiction of these relations:

"For its convenience, Poland insists on viewing the Polish community primarily as a convenient source of financial support that donates when extended a hand, acquiesces when told to, and otherwise assumes the demeanor of a reprimanded schoolboy who knows his place in line."

With the calculated intention that beckons for retribution, a policy of stereotyping its own citizens living abroad is practiced across the Vistula as well. Despite this reality, they are consistently depicted as an assembly of undereducated individuals hailing from Podhale or Podlasie. This portrayal results in a distorted and mutually detrimental lack of understanding within Polish society regarding Polonia's genuine essence and potential. Such an approach stifles public discourse about the forms of collaboration with the Polish community and casts a negative light on those who attempt to approach the subject of the Polish community from a different angle.


As a Polish journalist residing in the United States, I believe that organizing events such as the Conventions of the Polish community and Poles living abroad, along with Congresses on Polish Education and Science Abroad, is both vital and essential. However, a comprehensive reevaluation is in order, focusing on a slightly different selection of participants. Cultural figures from Polish communities should be invited to these events, as they are the individuals who can provide genuine vectors of development. The disparity between driving from neighboring cities to Warsaw and embarking on a transcontinental journey for thousands of dollars must be acknowledged. Inviting individuals who have contributed little to the discourse about Polonia over the years only adds to the gradual decline of Polonia.

At present, the endeavor to uphold Polish identity in the US and cultivate a pro-Polish lobby requires more than weekend volunteering efforts. The Polish community must undergo professionalization and attract an intellectual foundation. The most glaring deficiency within American Polonia is the absence of national-level leadership, given the geographical dispersal of the Polish diaspora across four time zones.

Above all, the Polish diaspora should establish a substantive political agenda that empowers it to exert influence over American domestic and foreign policies. The time has arrived to cultivate leadership and nurture future American politicians of Polish descent on both sides of the political spectrum. The Polish American community must once again send its representatives to the United States Congress and place individuals in gubernatorial roles, state legislatures, mayoral positions, and other significant posts within US government agencies. For substantial transformations within the realm of Polonia to transpire, a profound generational shift is imperative. The politics of persistence must evolve to counteract the gradual assimilation of the Polish Diaspora.

To "safeguard Poland's interests, construct pro-Polish lobbying, and transmit Polish heritage to the next generation," particularly in countries of strategic importance to Poland, the Polish diaspora must be equipped with appropriate tools. Foremost among these is the establishment of a Polish English-language television station dedicated to promoting the Polish raison d'etat around the clock. Investing in Polish media and intertwining them within a strategic network is crucial. This coordination could be undertaken by an entity such as the Paderewski Institute, which could serve as the driving force behind pro-Polish lobbying efforts in North America. The Paderewski Institute, functioning as a think tank, should conduct training in English, craft insightful articles, and establish or modernize existing organizations. As Adam Bąk of New York aptly put it, the institute should "awaken the sleeping giant."

This story was first published in Kuryer Polski. Republished with permission.

About the Author:

Waldemar Biniecki: The Editor-in-Chief at "Kuryer Polski" in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a Journalist and Columnist for "Tygodnik Solidarność" ("Solidarity Weekly") in Poland, and a correspondent representing Polish media in the United States. A proud member of the Polish Journalists Association in Warsaw, the individual holds a degree from the University of Kazimierz Wielki in Bydgoszcz, Poland. As a dedicated Polonia activist, the focus lies on Pax Polonica. The recipient of the prestigious Maciej Płażyński Award, a prominent honor recognizing exceptional contributions of journalists and media in service of the Polish community.


bottom of page