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May 20, 2004 ...

Polonia - the Sleeping Giant - WNYers to lead panel discussion

Three Western New Yorkers will be speaking at the Consulate General of Poland in New York on Sat., May 22 as part of a program entitled "Polonia - the Sleeping Giant."
The guest speaker is Gen. Edward L. Rowny, special advisor on arms control to Presidents Regan and G.H. Bush. Following the general will be Richard Solecki, president of the Polish American Congress, WNY Division; Joseph Macielag, national director of the Polish American Congress and founding board member of the American Polish Advisory Committee; and Henry Wojtaszek, Esq., Niagara County Republican Committee Chairman.
After a welcome from Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, Consul General of the Republic of Poland, and Piotr B. Kozlowski, MD, president, American Polish Council of New York State, General Rowny will speak on lessons from history that can be applied to Polonia's future. His presentation is titled: Paderewski's Legacy - A Dream Yet to be Fulfilled."
Solecki who is also the WNY Regional Representative for Governor Pataki's Office, will speak on the formation and mission and goals of the American Polish Council of New York State.
Macielag's presentation is "The Path to Polonia's Power - Unity," building a winner requires teamwork at every position.
Wojtaszek, Esq., who was a candidate for U.S. Congress and is the North Tonawanda City Attorney, will give a personal perspective and will discuss the necessity of political involvement by Polish-American youth.
Other panelists include:
Alex Storozynski, editor-in-chief of AM New York. His topic is "How to get noticed in a multitude of ethnic groups."
Marek Tomaszewski, editor of Nowy Dziennik. He will review census data and discuss the strength of Poles and Polonia in New York State.

What ordinary Poles think about their country's EU membership

Robert Strybel,
Warsaw Correspondent
WARSAW - In October of 2003, nearly two-thirds of all Poles (exactly 65%) said they favored their country's membership in the European Union. But by the time Poland entered the EU on May 1st of this year, the support had dropped to 56%. What started in the early 1950s as the Union of Coal and Steel, picked up new members over the years and evolved first into the European Economic Community (popularly known as the Common market), the European Community and finally the European Union. From a purely economic bloc, designed to successfully compete with the U.S.-led North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) and the Far East, it has gradually taken on a political role that attempts to tell countries how to run their internal affairs.
What do ordinary Poles feel about their country giving up part of its national sovereignty in favor of the decision-making Eurocrats based at EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium? To find out, this reporter recently conducted a man-in-the-street survey. Commonly mentioned advantages included opportunities to freely travel, study and work in the EU which often went hand in hand with the conviction that future generations would benefit the most. The downside included fears of price increases and the loss of control over their own country's destiny.
- Maciej Stankiewicz, a 20-year-old barman, saw both the plus and minus sides of Poland's EU accession: "There will be better opportunities to travel, study and work abroad than we have at present. On the other hand, food prices will go up, and there will be 22 percent VAT [a kind of sales tax] on Internet use and home-construction services, up from the present 7 percent."
- Maria Kucharczyk, a 55-year-old cookbook translator, also was happy that her countrymen could now travel freely, but added: "I'm afraid that everything Polish will gradually become diluted and disappear. This includes Polish culture, tradition and national uniqueness. We will even be forced to buy food products that are culturally alien to our tradition."
- Freedom to travel was also stressed by Ewa Gruszecka, aged 56, a teacher of Polish. "For the time being job opportunities are limited to a few countries, but things will eventually open up. The elimination of customs tariffs should make foreign goods cheaper, but many Polish firms may go out of business because they don't meet EU norms. When we change over to the euro several years from now, our earnings will remain disproportionately low compared to the prices."
- "In general I support Poland's EU membership, but I doubt whether things will get better all at once," Piotr Lorynski, a 38-year-old mail carrier making his rounds in Warsaw's leafy suburb Zoliborz section. "We'll have to wait and see, but we have to move forward and not regress. Since everybody is joining we must also. I think being in Europe will eventually improve things."
- Andrzej Michalski, 32, a secondary school history teacher expressed fears that EU legislation violating the Polish value system might be imposed. "Did you know that Holland has legalized pedophilia? They brought the age of sexual consent down to 12. What if Brussels some day decides that should be the norm for all EU members? And then light drugs and euthanasia? We may have opened Pandora's box and don't know it."
- A mainly positive view of EU membership was expressed by Adam Majchrzak, a 22-year-old hairdresser. "I want to be a European. I am one already, but an unfulfilled one," he explained. "In my field this will provide easier access to new cosmetics, and French beauty experts will come to Poland to introduce the latest methods and styles. Some prices may go up, but not hairdressing services. I think more women will start frequenting hairdressing salons, because they will want to keep up with European trends."
- By contrast, retired veterinarian Iwona Szpunar said she saw more negative than positive aspects of accession. "We were deceitfully manipulated by the politicians because many things were kept from us before the referendum. The main thing was an article in the European Treaty stating that EU law takes precedence over Polish law. Out sovereignty is being restricted and our agriculture will collapse. Farmers are being promised direct payments, but increased taxes will all but offset any Union aid. As a Catholic I resent attempts to remove God from the preamble. Without God every empire, be it the Roman or Soviet or EU has to collapse. Without God we are being told everyone can do what he wants, but look at the scams and abuses that has produced."
- Andrzej Turlejski, a 46-year-old owner of a car-repair garage, was skeptical of Poland's chances far into the future. "You don't get anything for nothing. If the EU wants us in, they have their reasons like unloading their unsold supplies. Even before EU entry Polish goods had been largely displaced by Western ones, and now things will get even worse. Despite all the propaganda, we could work in European companies even without membership. Big Western companies have always had ways of employing the people they needed. But, whether in or out of the EU, the director will always be a German, and the Pole will do the menial go-fetch-it jobs that no German wants. I don't even think my 18-year-old daughter will benefit. Maybe my grandchildren will, after the differences get ironed out."
- Katarzyna Nowak, 60, a retired textile worker walking her baby granddaughter in Warsaw, said EU entry would not improve things, but only make things worse. "All the warnings of Sacred Scripture are coming true. The Kingdom of God is our only hope, because all governments have failed. In Poland, things can get only worse because the Western cult of selfishness will make even more headway. In economic terms, the poor will be worse off and suffer the most."
- Stanis?aw Siniarski, 74, a retired construction engineer, stressed that the benefits of EU membership would be felt mainly by the next generation. "Significant changes should not be expected over the next 2-3 years and I myself don't really expect to benefit, but our children and grandchildren will. There was no alternative to joining. No country has lost out on Union membership. It would be hard to live on the peripheries. We will eventually become advanced in every field. The EU's opponents are trying to scare us with price rises, but they have been going up even without the EU. My rent is now double what it was a few years ago."
- Marcin Puk, a 32-year-old disk-jockey with a Polish jazz radio station, expressed fears prices would go up once Poland entered the euro zone. "I've got relatives in Italy who told me prices went up when the euro was introduced. But for us that is still several years away. I don't expect significant price rises at present. I'm glad we can now freely travel throughout Europe, but too bad that doesn't extend to the U.S. A couple of years ago I wanted to go with my girlfriend to America, buy a secondhand car and see the country, but the U.S. consul in Warsaw turned us down. He said we planned to work in America.?
- "My generation is still tainted and distorted by communism, but perhaps our children will be better off," Grzegorz Bobrowski, the owner of a small neighborhood food shop in Warsaw, said. "They are the ones who'll profit from the open borders, travel and study abroad. I think medical care will also improve when Germans start coming here in droves for cheaper treatment. That will force the level of medical services to improve. What I don't like is the feeling of anti-American hostility some of the main EU countries project. America helped us during martial law much more than Europe did, so it's only natural that we're helping America in Iraq."
In Poland's western regions which had been part of Germany before World War II, many people fear former owners, backed by influential groups such as the Union of Expellees and the Prussian Trust, will take legal action to recover their former property: homes, commercial properties and land. At the same time, many Polish businessmen and professionals living along the German border hope to cash in on German customers and patients flocking to Poland. Food prices, restaurants and gasoline as well as dental, hair-dressing, car-repair and other services are still far more affordable on the Polish side of the now largely symbolic border.
All in all, it is still far too early to tell what the net outcome of Poland's membership will be. As is often the case, things will probably not be as rosy as the Euro-enthusiasts would like, nor as tragic as the Euro-skeptics fear.

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