I want to break free…

It seems all but a few niche parties are currently outdoing themselves at more or less cleverly demonizing the so-called “uncontrolled, open-door immigration” into the “over-crowded and pushed for resources” United Kingdom.

If only those pesky immigrants would stop coming…. oh how I want to be free, oh how I want to break free.

I don’t want to waste my time on talking about the likes of BNP or UKIP. One openly racist and nasty, another rather mellow with a comically intoxicated, one-man-show soon-to-be-sir Nigel Farage. All I’ve got to say about the Super-Tories is that they seem to have no moral backbone when EU funding is concerned because they’re willing to enter into a coalition with openly women and gay bashing, racist and holocaust denying Congress of New Right from Poland, whose lord and savior one Janusz Korwin-Mikke, while ten times more intelligent and witty than Nige is a crackpot and a crackpot-magnet who was elected by disillusioned polish youth.  During the EU campaign people would say that during Korwin speeches all school buses were parked just around the corner.

Some of Korwin’s quotes include: If a wife misbehaves you might want to rape her, it’s what they want. Nobody has proof of the mass extermination of Jews, they wouldn’t be able to burn them so fast anyway. And many many more. All his female candidates in the EU elections were as he said it himself – “mothers, wives and lovers of the male party members” who did not want to be politicians but had to be there because of the EU Law governing Electoral Equality. The Polish New Right hasn’t got a single woman official, as according to Korwin women are best seen cooking, breast-feeding or on their knees.

Now let’s go back to the Blues and Reds who while pretending to be different sound exactly the same to me on the immigration issues.

Issue 1: Too many Eastern Europeans came to the UK when the borders opened in 2004.

We didn’t open the borders. You did. You could have kept them closed for 8 years like the rest of the EU. It’s a no brainer. Poor country joins, all other countries are not obtainable, where will they go? To the two countries which have told them to come.

I actually remember both British PM and Irish President giving a speech in 2003 actively encouraging people to pack their stuff and come to Blighty and/or EIRE. And oh boy, come they did.

Still, having said that – Britain/Ireland  really needed workers, fruit pickers, builders but also I accountants, bloody bankers, admin staff – especially in the south. And it got it.

I know people who have been here since 2004, have never claimed a single penny in Benefits, hardly used the NHS.  They feel unwelcome by what’s been happening. You can’t tell people to come and then kick them out or nudge them to bugger off.

Anyone who dares to suggest they’re a drain and should consider going back has not only got no business acumen but more importantly is guilty of dehumanization.

Issue 2: Benefits all these Eastern Europeans are claiming.

First of all, no Polish person was able to claim any benefits until May 2012 unless they’ve work for 12 months and have registered with a Worker Registration Scheme, which cost 100 pound you had to pay every time you changed your employers. (This applies to all 2004 EU entrants)

Furthermore, most people did not register with the WR Scheme, which meant even if they had worked for 4 years they were not entitled to any benefits, JSA, Housing Benefits, Tax Credits or Child Benefits.

My friend Kate, who works as an accountant for an Academy in London, came here in 2001, picked strawberries for less than 2 pounds an hour, got a break in 2007 when she started working for a City based business but unfortunately was laid off in 2008 during the crash. Now, she like most of my friends never paid the 100 pounds for the Worker Registration Scheme, but has been paying her taxed for over 7 years, yet she was refused any state help.

Had she been born in the UK and never worked a day in her life she could happily go on a claim  the JSA.

It is true that since 2012 all 2004 entrants can theoretically come to the UK, live here for 3 months and sign-on to claim the whooping 70 something pounds in JSA plus around 40 pounds a week in Housing Benefit (in Northern Ireland) but this conjecture assumes that this country is so special, someone would be willing to leave their family to come here as half starve on 5 pounds a day.  70 + 40 = 110 minus  60 in rent minus 15 in gas and electricity.

While people do make physically less,  6 pounds in UK compared to 3 pounds in Poland, the cost of rent, gas, water and especially good food is incredibly low. Anyone who’s been on a drunken hen or stag do in Cracow will be happy to confirm I’m afraid.

Regarding the Child Benefit. Nobody disputes the fact that someone whose children don’t live in the same country or maybe even home as the parent/s should be entitled to claim it.

What is disgusting is only IMMIGRANTS claiming the CHILD BENEFIT are every discussed. Why not make it universal and apply to everyone? To Alejandro Rivera from Spain but also to Mickey O’Flannigan or Michael Williams from Larne.

I’ve never heard any politician say – we will stop paying child benefits to anyone whose children don’t reside in the UK.

To be continued…

Feel free to give your support or criticize opinions expressed in this post @poleinbelfast.

Welcome to Belfast – Part 1 The Markets

Stones are flung through our windows. I ask a group of 10 years-old hoodies what seems to be the problem. The children express their doubts about us being catholic.
Welcome to Belfast. We’ll brew a nice hot cuppa when the wind finally ceases to blow. We’re slowly getting accustomed to the correlation between electrical supply and the wind.

 

When we first moved onto our street in the The Markets estate, Belfast City Council officials have advised us to contact Gerard, the unofficial leader of our neighborhood. Without his blessing, they explained happily showing they knew more than they were willing to divulge, we would have a very hard life down there. It had nothing to do with the electricity.

The peelers don’t come our way.

Look around and you’ll find rows of cozy redbrick terraced-houses.
The sidewalks are filled with young mothers pushing prams, going up and down the street morning till nightfall. With their tracksuits and cigarettes in the corners of their mouths, but still letting their children have some fresh air. But hidden behind the hedges there used to live top brass Irish Republican Army members. In fact, they still do, but now officially as dissidents. The police don’t really come to the Markets. No burglaries, no violence. All problems get sorted, using local manpower only.

The City Council tells me, Gerard the caretaker used to be a member of the Irish Republican Army, an ex-inmate now member of a group for people who used to be incarcerated, which unfortunately also happens to be a paramilitary organization. No one says it out loud.

When The Troubles were officially over, many freed Catholics and Protestants started to hurtle down a slippery path. They took drugs, burgled. Not all of them, but enough to create many groups all around Northern Ireland, with sole purpose of explaining to children and adults alike that racism was rather naïve and that both Protestants and Catholics were going to have to learn how to live together in Ulster, United Kingdom. Millions were spent on that idea.

This living together hasn’t really worked out as planned. According to newspapers, the biggest number of suicides in Europe can be found among Catholics living in West Belfast. Protestants in the East are doing a bit better. Everyone has lost someone in Northern Ireland, no one is immune to a personal trauma. One’s father was incarcerated or died during riots, the other’s wife is dead. He didn’t watch his son get older or he feels that depending on where he happened to be born, Ireland or the UK are lost or at the very least under threat. So he hangs himself, despite of the hundreds of NGOs offering therapy. One suicide follows another.

We used to know a catholic republican ex-convict in town. He was a tough guy who couldn’t bring himself to telling his mates about his low spirits and suicide thoughts. He was too ashamed to even mention it. So he would drive into Shankill Road, which happens to be the most Protestant part of Belfast. He went from one pub to another hoping for one of his enemies to finally kill him. He only escaped with his life when he was helped by a protestant paramilitary loyalist. He grabbed him by his shirt, drove him into a republican part of town, kicked him out on the street and told him not to come back again.

Others have more luck. Our protestant friend, Alistair, was only 17 when, while following orders, he killed a catholic. Only after being jailed for theft, he started educating himself and later became a therapist. He now spends his days touring schools and telling children about conflicts and how not to be bullied into doing anything by peers. He carries and air of darkness around him and is plagued by constant pangs of guilt. He can never show his face around Shankill Road where he grew up. He’s mates with Gerry, a catholic, who used to plant bombs which killed protestants. They are very close to each other. They defend the fragile peace process in unison when asked by school-children, but also joke that had they met 15 years ago, one of them would have had to die. Alistair wrote a book “Give a Boy a Gun”, a very good read indeed.

30 thousand Poles leave for Ulster.

The move to Ulster was a godsend after three years in London where my my marriage didn’t stand the test of 3 years abroad.

We met at the university in Cracow. I was a lecturer at the Jagellonian University, teaching about the ideology od Ji-Had, Islam art and the Islam civilization.
When my three-months scholarship at the University College London stopped coming we fell onto the very bottom of the social ladder.

We were poor as church mice. Because of our financial situation we suddenly found ourselves renting a flat along with five other people. We slept on a mattress. I got lucky, because I was offered another scholarship. I worked for a polish newspaper for a while. I would even occasionally fly to Cracow to give lectures at the UJ.

When I lost my newspaper gig, I carried on fighting as a freelancer. My husband however couldn’t wrap his head around it all. We started fighting. He started drinking. Finally he left for Afghanistan after a job and that was the end of us to be honest.

That’s when I met a woman from Belfast, who told me I could work for a polish newspaper there. The paper went bust and I was lucky enough to find this organization. I was supposed to look after people who were victims of hate crimes and work towards lessening cultural tensions. I was to provide information to Polish migrants about the British social services once they were faced with homelessness. I was also to send alcoholics to therapy or back home. I would also sometimes fill in benefit papers for those in need.

I created a support group for Women at Cross-roads, mainly for domestic abuse victims. I organised their time, workshops with different organization and therapy sessions with psychologist.

We’ll burn your house down.

So I went to Gerard’s place, knocked with a broad grin and explained that I was given his address by the Council and would kindly like to ask if I was going to have any problems living in here. I also added that I heard he was a renowned freedom-fighter. I obviously failed to mention other things I happened to hear, like the fact he was accused of taking part in a politically motivated murder.

Gerard was a towering 6’7 inches tall man. He remarked calmly that all the things I’ve heard about him were a load of rubbish. He used to be a member of the IRA but that’s about it. I happily told him that I understood and was very glad to have met him, while at the same time laughing inside as having red the IRA code I knew that one can never cease to be the member of this organization.

Gerard brewed a tea, he recognized me being from Poland, mentioned that he used to have some communist sentiments when he was younger and that he even has some till this day. He assured me that I’d have no problems fitting in with the neighborhood.

Me and the fiancé lived in peace for about three weeks. What followed were stones and rotten fruit thrown through our windows. We saw 10 years-old hoodies outside. The children expressed their doubts about us being catholic.
 They had us, I thought,  as we consider ourselves of no religion. I wasn’t however about to offer a group of 10 year-olds with stones in the hands a deep discussion regarding atheism. We swore that we came from catholic Poland. The gang leader replied that they were going to burn our house down. When I asked him why he looked like he had no idea what to answer to that.

My organization helps Polish people get accustomed to living in Northern Ireland, but I also double as a voluntary negotiator when any attacks on Poles take place. I used to tell my countrymen and women to always phone the police. And now what? Should I call? They’re just stupid boys, but in this country they could end up in jail. Putting a gang of 10 year-old into a juvie won’t help me or them.

That evening I phoned Gerald. I told him that the children may have been misinformed about our intentions. He invited me to his office. He was very official. He didn’t offer me a cup of tea. He only said that it shouldn’t happen again and said goodbye to me. He must have found out that my organization which is working towards integrating Polish population into the local community has contacts with the police, and that my salary – as a person responsible for hate crimes, was paid by the PSNI. I’m quite sure that was it as, talking to the peelers in The Markets is considered a mortal sin.

Since then, no one recognises me, even though neighborhoods are very close-knit around here and people are very friendly. When I approach, all people put their heads down. We’ve become invisible.

 

Translation of an article from Gazeta Wyborcza, a polish daily newspaper.

Translated by @poleinbelfast

Polish version by:  Ewa Winnicka 2014-07-10 http://www.wyborcza.pl