Study of Interest representation development of Polish minority in the Czech Republic
Článek byl zpracován v rámci výzkumného záměru Etnika, minority a marginalizované skupiny v ČR, identifikační kód MSM142300001.
This article deals with system of interest representation of Polish minority in the Czech Republic. Author analyses history of the Polish interests associations in the Czech Lands and their structure in the 20th century. Special aim of this article is engaged in important contemporary Polish organizations – the Congress of Poles in the Czech Republic and the Polish Union of Culture and Education.
Polish minority, interest representation, Silesia
The representation and intermediation of national minorities‘ interests in the Czech Republic issue presents rather interesting field, which was not compiled satisfactorily so far. The article brings an outline of the main features characteristic for representatives of Polish national community. Considering limited extent, the article cannot be referred to as a complex analysis (for example methods, used during interests intermediation, are just indicated, they are not thoroughly analyzed). An intention is to present genesis of Polish society’s organized interests and the history, form and interest orientation of particular representatives. The examined period is not limited to “post 1989” era but, because of older origin of many subjects and interesting comparative view of Polish unionized interests development, we will take into consideration the previous decades.
Determinants influencing Polish minority’s interest articulation
The Polish national minority is characterized by several factors, which have formed its considerably peculiar image from the 1920s till now. These factors significantly influence minority’s interest articulation by individual interest groups as well. It is necessary to mention four basic factors at least. Two of them are of socio-demographic character and two of socio-political character. All of them are closely connected. They are:
1) rather high homogeneity (in the intent of numerical concentration) of Polish minority in comparison with other minorities in the Czech Republic. However, the trend is declining. In contrast to rather dispersed Slovak or German minority, the Polish minority is mostly concentrated in Tesin Silesia region, i.e. in the Karviná and Frýdek-Místek districts in particular. According to the last census from 2001 year (Sčítání lidu, domů a bytů 2001), 38 thousand out of 50 thousand members of the Polish minority lived in the region. Besides Tesin Silesia, a big group of Poles lives in Prague only (in this case there is above-average representation of Polish citizens). The concentration in one region is advantageous for Poles from the point of view of their activities organizational realization and it improves their prospect of political, economic and cultural interests implementation, contrary to the other minorities in the Czech Republic. However, the relative homogeneity, primarily the consequence of territorial setting of the Czech-Polish borderline after World War I, erodes continuously. It is caused by dynamic socio-economic development of the whole Tesin Silesia region. Its industrial character attracted repeatedly the waves of immigrants (from the national point of view they were the Czechs first, then – after World War II – the Slovaks and the Romani population). The Polish minority has faced continuous “disintegrating” pressure, which has weakened its homogeneity (Rusková, 1997, 71).
2) slow, however permanent decrease of Polish minority total number. The total and relative decrease of minority members appeared back in the era of Czechoslovakia (unlike the situation before 1918). A big numerical decrease appeared just after 1918. While in 1910, during the last monarchy census, 158 thousand people claimed the Polish nationality (according to language criteria) in the area of contemporary Czech Republic (it is 1.57% of nowadays Czech population), in 1921 there were only 103 thousand (approx. 1%) (according to nationality criteria). It was caused by certain migration to Poland but mostly by strong assimilation (Czechization). National vagueness of considerable part of inhabitants influenced assimilation; they were easily persuaded to change their national preference. A trend of slow but total and relative decrease of number of Poles began in the 1920s and lasted to the end of Czechoslovakia existence. It did not stop during the first decade of the independent Czech Republic (in 2001 the Poles comprised less than 0,5% of Czech inhabitants, in 1991 it was still 0,58%) (Sčítání lidu, domů a bytů 2001; cf. Siwek 1997, 48 – 49). The decrease of Polish inhabitants was related to employment migration, mixed marriages etc. (it was damaging simultaneously the minority homogeneity – see above).
3) problematic social-political development after 1918. A sharped relation of the Polish minority to the Czechoslovak republic was projected into it. It involved cool relations between Czechoslovakia and Poland and it was influenced by different character of regimes in Czechoslovakia after 1918 (from the First Republic, which enabled relative free interests organization, to very repressive the Nazi regime and Communist regime, which deformed national idea). It caused a whole range of problems that influenced not only the Polish minority (from political, across historical, educational, cultural to economic problems), but also the problems of their problems aggregation and articulation.
4) community cohesion decrease as a consequence of system transition and environment interference. Individual regimes’ character and their frequent changes during the 20th century have projected negatively into the Polish national community (see details below) and have affected the relations between Poles themselves. From the point of view of after 1989 development the most dramatic projection was that one of communistic regime era.
We have found political-historical perspective, which will support development time line of Polish interests representation, as a good point of departure because it is closely connected with above mentioned four factors. In this context it is necessary to point out – not only for this article’s needs – an important phenomenon of two independent organization institutions differentiation – political parties and interests organizations (cf. Fiala, Strmiska, 1998, 36 - 37). In the 20th century after 1918 the articulation of the Polish national minority interests proceeded on both lines - party line and non-party line. Nevertheless, the original relative balance of both institutional structures began to incline towards interest organizations (the ban of Polish political parties restoration after 1945). Under new democratic conditions after 1989, the attempts to restore Polish political organizations were not very successful due to factors above mentioned (mainly a decrease of the Polish minority number and its concentration). This is the reason why the Polish minority is represented almost entirely by the interests groups at the level of its own organizational institutions (with the problematic exception of municipal level – see below). However, because of the interconnection of the both spheres (which appeared in limited form also after 1989) there are analyzed both, the Polish interests groups and – briefly – the political parties (not only Polish ones but also those in which the Polish minority members have participated).
The History of the Polish minority interests representation up to 1989
The end of World War I and the establishment of an independent Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1918 became the “starting” and breaking point of rather colorful and tortuous fate of the Polish minority in the 20th century. The previous, relatively peaceful coexistence of different ethnics in the Silesia region (in comparison with later period), got into an extreme conflict level at that moment. During the following decades, the Czech-Polish conflict dynamics was confirmed in an international Czech-Polish relations context and it reminded sinusoid in some way.
Almost immediately, the establishment of both new independent states caused the border conflict, which, despite a quick military action end, sharpened the Czech-Polish relations for a long time. After a certain conflict ease in the mid-1920s, there was renewed a chill in relations in 1930s. In 1938 it occurred their escalation in connection with the then international situation (Münich) and in connection with Poland’s annexation of Tesin region. The situation in 1945 definitely did not bring positive change in two neighbors’ relations. Quite the contrary, the conflict was renewed but it was weaker and almost bloodless (cf. Kaplan, 1990, 43 – 67). After 1947 (signing the Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Assistance), the relations were normalized formally, however a certain tension had maintained. This was proved at the government level of both communistic parties during critical moments of both regimes – see the Czechoslovak’s “silence” to the Polish “October” 1956, the Polish criticism of the Prague Spring accompanied with the participation in the Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia, the Czechoslovak’s criticism of “Solidarity” legalization at the beginning of 1980s which led to real “small” iron curtain between the both countries. This iron curtain was not pulled down by the communistic regime decline, but it remained till the beginning of the 1990s, which was justified by not political but economic conditions (rather paradoxical, in retrospect, fear of buying up the goods by Poles). The mutual relations were improving gradually (noticeably with the Visegrad group reactivation at the late 1990s).
How the interest representation of the Polish minority looked like in this context? In the long run, 1918 year meant a radical change for individual national minorities’ situation. The Polish minority in Czechoslovakia, originated as a post-war border setting result, came to the necessity to create institutions, which could advance its interest against Czechoslovakia. At the political parties level it appeared as several formations existence (most of them were rooted in the previous era). The Polish Socialist Working Party (Polska Socjalistyczna Partia Robotnicza - PSPR) gained influence in working-class background. The other parties in the Silesia region were the protestant Polish People’s Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe - PSL), with agricultural orientation and “Silesian”, agriculturally oriented the Silesian Catholics Association (Związek Śląskich Katolików - ZŚK), which defended the Catholics interests. The Silesian People’s Party (SLS), representing wealthy peasants, tradesmen and merchants, had “Silesian” orientation too. Mainly industrial character of the region provided, besides the PSPR, good conditions for the communists influence among the Poles ( approx. 60% of the Polish minority were workers in the 1920s). Of course, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) was not the “Polish” party; nevertheless, it is necessary to mention that the Poles predominated in many local communist organizations in the Tesin region. It was reflected by an existence of autonomous Polish section within KSČ (Gawrecki, 2000, 240 – 241).
The Polish parties underwent a huge development during an inter-war period. Starting with the original negativisms against the new state, from the second part of the 1920s some of them begin to gain an activist orientation (mainly PSPR and PSL). The Polish and Czech parties’ convergence paradoxically led into the situation, when the communists became the most radical nationalists around the turn of 1920s and 1930s (Gawrecki, 1992, 91). However, the situation in the 1930s and the economic crisis debilitated noticeably this activism. Besides that, during the inter-war period, there appeared more or less successful attempts on the Polish parties’ electoral cooperation above all. Thanks to this the Polish minority had several representatives in Parliament constantly.
The inter-war era brought also a wide expansion of the Polish interest group, some of which had the 19th century tradition. Formally, they were usually non-political groups, although some of them had close ties with political parties. The union associations and some of the youth groups had ties with the left-wing parties mainly (e.g. PSPR oriented Power – Siła – or communist’s Proletarian Physical Culture Association - Stowarzyszenie Proletariackej Fizycznej Kultury). Then there were the consumer’s associations (again tied with the PSPR the Central Food Association for Silesia in Łazy – Centralne Stowarzyszenie Spożycze dla Śląska w Łazach) or religious associations (oriented to the ZŚK or PSL). Besides them there existed many interest groups, which were not tied with any political party and were completely apolitical. Probably the most significant was the cultural-educational School Fellowship (in 1938 it united almost ten thousand members). Considering an extreme political atmosphere and a significant assimilation pressure, which was apparent in the educational area, the School Fellowship had played a major role in the foundation and financing of the several Polish private schools (Jasiński, 1997, 187 – 189). It was characterized as a nonparty organization, although it cooperated closely with all Polish political parties (except for communists). The similar function in a cooperative area had the Agriculture Fellowship (Towarzystwo Rolnicze - TR). This fellowship had been founded in the monarchy era, and the original aim was an agriculture consultancy. In the course of time it began to initiate the vast expansion of cooperation net (agricultural, consumer and credit cooperative) (Zahradnik, 1998, 106 – 107). The Polish Choir Association (more than a hundred local choires), the Polish Fire Brigade Choir (72 local organizations in the mid 1920s) or the Polish Sports Club Association (several thousands members) belonged to other significant Polish organizations (without direct attachment to the political parties). A scout movement (Harcerstwo) was also one of great importance (Josiek, 1998, 151 - 152).
Outside Tesin Silesia, the Polish organizations from Prague only were of greater importance. Besides the oldest and probably the most significant Polish Club (Klub Polski), founded in 1885, there were the Social Czech-Polish Club and Poland’s Friends Academic Club. Unlike the Tesin’s Polish organizations, they were of cultural-social orientation “only” (it was caused by intellectual character of the bigger part of the Polish Prague community and their connection with the Embassy of the Republic of Poland.
A thick network of the Polish associational organizations was liquidated during World War II. The restoration was problematic under new conditions, which were determined by the context of tense Czech-Polish relations (see above) and consequences of Polish annexation of Tesin region in 1938. In 1945-1946 almost four hundred of Polish organizations applied for the activity restoration. They were unsuccessful, with only minor exceptions (physical education organizations), till 1947 (cf. Siwek, Zahradnik, Szymeczek, 2001, 37 – 46). The same situation was in the Polish political parties sphere, they could not work legally.
The sort of change was caused by above mentioned the Czech-Polish Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Assistance from March 1947. This agreement meant, among others, and on the basis of additional protocol to the agreement, a platform for the restoration of the Polish minority organizations, but in different form than before the war. The Polish minority was entitled to establish two organizations the Polish Union of Culture and Education (Polski Związek Kulturalno-Oświatowy - PZKO) and the Polish Youth Association (Stowarzyszenie Młodzieży Polskiej – SMP). The latter, soon after 1948, became a mere section of the Czechoslovak Youth Association. PZKO, de facto became the only organization with nearly absolute exclusivity to represent the Polish minority interests. In quest of maximum extension of the field of activity, there were founded many sections (educational, editorial, economic, literary-artistic etc.).
In connection with a short semi-democratic post war period it is interesting to notice that KSČ was rather responsive to some of the Polish minority’s demands, while the National Socialists propagated an extreme national standpoint. It helped (together with rather strong pre-war support of the communists in the region) to strengthen the already strong KSČ’s position among the Tesin Poles and more Poles entered the Communist Party (Janák, Prokop, Krol, 1992, 120 – 128). This fact was visible in the after-February 1948 situation, when many important measures for the Poles were taken thanks to the great influence of the communists of Polish origin (expanded number of Polish schools, the growth of editorial activity and other cultural activities). The firm positions of the Polish communists and their tendencies to advance the Polish minority’s interests, in large measure perished in connection with so called Cieślar’s platform (which influenced negatively the defense of the Polish minority’s interests). What was the point of the Cieślar’s platform? Undisputedly it represented an interesting attempt to articulate the Polish minority’s interests in the communistic regime conditions. It was linked with high-powered local KSČ’s representative Paweł Cieślar (KSČ party leader in Český Těšín). At the end of 1940s, Cieślar strived to achieve an extension of the Polish minority’s rights and strong polonization of Tesin Silesia, which could reverse the previous assimilation trends. At the same time he wanted to strengthen the importance of the Polish minority’s representation within the party and state authority (Siwek, Zahradnik, Szymeczek, 2001, 58 – 61). Cieślar was accused for nationalistic deviation by the KSČ’s leadership and he was excluded from the party at the beginning of the 1950’s. This brought down the curtain on any attempt to express the “political” articulation of the Polish minority’s interests within the communistic regime.
In other words, during the communistic regime there was only PZKO “left” for the Polish minority, of course it was under full control of KSČ. It was the reason why the potential possibility to defense the Polish minority’s interests was really deformed. Further, PZKO proved to be completely helpless also towards those decisions, taken by Prague center, concerning vital interest of the Polish minority (see e.g. Český Těšín district dissolution during the territorial-administration reform in 1960, in which district there occurred the biggest concentration of the Polish population). The PZKO activities were limited mainly to the cultural and social area. Further, after 1969 the leadership was purged and people, who were involved in the reformist process of the Prague Spring, were expelled. The limitation of the Polish minority interests articulation to the very insufficient scope within PZKO raised growing frustration of some, mainly young, members of PZKO, which was expressed in full extent after 1989.
The Polish minority interests representation after 1989 – the Congress of Poles in the Czech Republic and PZKO
In fact, together with November changes there appeared attempts to start new socio-political life of the Polish minority. There was proved an effort to recover an independent representation of the Polish minority without hereditary taint of 1948-1989 period. In accord with it, there took place an attempt to create a new approach to the questions concerned with the Polish minority (permanent slow process of assimilation and the Polish minority’s “trituration” connected with it, dissatisfactory state of the Polish educational system, unsolved heritage of the conflict moments of Silesian history in the 20th century etc.).
At the political parties level, the Poles were engaged significantly in the Civic Forum (Občanském fórum) (existence of a special Polish section within this movement) and later in other political parties (ODS, ČSSD, KDU-ČSL etc.) (cf. Borák, 1996, 111). The foundation of the political party Coexistence (Wspólnota) was the only successful attempt to create an independent Polish subject. However, at the beginning, this party also operated within the wider political frame, in which were represented interests of the national minorities in general (Wspólnota – Soužití – Egüttéléś). After the federation came to an end, the main (Hungarian) partner disappeared and the Polish Coexistence became independent. At the beginning, the subject entered the political scene as a rather radical representative of the Polish minority’s interests, which emphasized national rhetoric (to the best known actions from the beginning of the 1990’s belonged the official statement, connected with Czechoslovak-Polish international agreement preparation, that the Polish minority’s rights are not adequately guarantied in the Czech Republic). In spite of quite low election results and the fact, that it did not have support of the whole Polish minority, the Coexistence held certain importance on the local level during the whole 1990s.  On the national level it was completely non-important during the whole Czech Republic’s era of independence. The original opinion tensions between Coexistence and other Polish organizations became weaker in the course of time, and nowadays they are de facto marginal.
The lack of ability to break into the Parliament through the own subject was partly compensated by successful candidacy of some Poles on behalf of the Czech (of Czechoslovak) political parties. In 1990-2000 there were six Poles in the Czech and Federal Assembly (Branna, 2002, 171). (After elections to the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament in 2002 Marian Bielesz became the next Polish Member of Parliament on behalf of Union for Freedom – Democratic Union). If we do not take into the consideration the fact, that because of their participation within the non-Polish subjects they were not sensu stricto the direct Polish minority’s representatives ( which was reflected by the lack of the Czech parties’ election program in Polish version, only in isolated cases there were Polish versions ), we must admit that Polish Parliamentary participation lacked the continuity (e.g. between 1992 – 1996 there was no Pole in the Czech Parliament). Further, considering the minimum number of the Polish deputies (except for the extraordinary situation on the federal level at the beginning of 1990s, there was always only one representative), they could hardly act as the effective defenders of the Polish minority’s interests. It corresponded with their limited importance for the general minorities’ interests advocacy.
Besides the Coexistence there were founded or were recovered the activities of many other Polish subjects after November 1989. They were not concentrated on the political area (only), on the contrary, in the majority of cases, the non-political aims were predominating. They often took a form of different interests groups with a partial aim (the legal status was usually the civic association). After 1989 there were founded or there were restored approx. 25 Polish organizations (Josiek, 1997, 161, Branna, 2002, 171). The number was not nearly as big as the pre-war number of the Polish associations. What is more, the intensity of their activities was different. Only 15 of them made an effort to continue non-interrupted and “visible” activity. A good example of the lack of enthusiasm is the Polish Youth Association (SMP). Its activity (after a short post-war independent existence, fusion with the Czechoslovak Youth Association and a gasping attempt to restore it in 1968) was restored again in 1990. The organization leadership made minimum effort to do any activity. So, the organization existence was rather formal and there were only a low number of members in the 1990s.
The fifty years long period before 1989 sometimes left sort of unusual heritage, which was projected into the interests’ representation area. The foundation of the Katyn Family Association (Rodzina Katyńska) in 1991 was the result of it. This association represents the interests of the people, whose relatives were murdered by the Soviet NKVD in spring 1940 or disappeared in the former USSR territory. The other association with the similar “war” origin is the Polish Resistance Movement’s Members Club (Koło Polskich Kombatantów).
Besides it there were restored many pre-war organizations (sometimes with the modified name, nevertheless, with the reference to a certain organizational predecessor) mainly of cultural, educational and sports character – The School Fellowship, The Polish Teachers’ Association (Towarzystwo Nauczycieli Polskich), The Polish Doctors’ Association (Polskie Towarzystwo Medyczne), the Polish scouts etc. In Prague there was restored the Polish Club (Polský klub). On the contrary, the organizations of the economic or cooperation character, in spite of an effort to reactivate some former similar organizations (the Polish cooperatives) or to found completely new subjects (the business Poldemica-Praga association) were not very successful.
Undisputedly, two Polish organizations were of the greatest importance after 1989 – The Pole’s Council in the Czech Republic (Rada Polaków w RC), later transformed into the Congress of Poles in the Czech Republic (Kongres Polaków w RC) and “traditional” PZKO. Today, both of them exist in rather strange competitive-cooperational symbiosis and they are the main representatives of the minority towards the Czech Republic and the majority. The history of the Congress origin and its relation’s development towards the PZKO in the 1990s is a good example of the basic problems in the Poles interests representation in the Czech Republic and the problematic heritage of the communistic (not only) regime.
The origin of the Congress is linked with a group of young activists in PZKO, who were involved in the foundation of the Polish section of the Civic Forum. Around the turn of 1989/1990 they got an idea to call a round-table discussion of the Polish minority, which could be an impulse to found a really representative authority and which could be a new main defender of the Polish minority’s interests (as the PZKO was discredited). On this basis on 3rd March 1990 there was hold so called: Gathering meeting of the Poles in Český Těšín. A way of the delegates’ selection for this event was very interesting. The delegates were chosen by the participants of the nine Seyms, which are open meetings of the Polish minority, called on the basis of existing territorial division of PZKO. Next, the delegates became the representatives of individual (newly emerging) Polish organizations (Branna, 2002, 170). The result of this action was the Council of Poles in the Czech Republic foundation, which covers the other Polish organizations and represents the minority in front of the state. (It was the way of the Council representatives’ selection that later became a main reason, why, mainly the PZKO’s leadership, raised doubts considering the mandates of the new organization as a representative of the whole Polish community).
At the meeting there were created two totally different views’ movements in relation to the main Poles’ representative – PZKO. The one movement, which enforced the Poles’ Council foundation as a new umbrella organization for the Polish institutes, brought the idea that PZKO, as a result of its past, lost the right to be an agent of the Polish minority. The second movement, associated with (the future, changed) leadership of PZKO claimed, that PZKO’s connection with the old regime was only symbolic and it was necessary way how to defend the Poles’ interests (Borák, 1998, 230). The second movement was not successful within the Poles’ Council, nevertheless, it was successful within the PZKO. At the end of March 1990, The PZKO congress through the leadership modification (the last pre-November chairman Roman Suchanek was replaced by Władyslaw Młynek) and the rehabilitation of the expelled members during the 1970s’ purges was left in not much modified form on the contrary to the situation before November 1989. PZKO became the main rival against the Pole’s Council.
The dispute was partly caused by a generation gap. The young activists of the Polish minority focused on the Council, the older ones focused on PZKO. The whole affair was influenced by the screening problematics, when many of the leading officials appeared at StB cooperator’s list. Generally, it may be said that the main division sign inside the Polish community, which was expressed by the parallel (and partly overlapping) activity of the Congress of Poles in the Czech Republic and PZKO proved to be the relation to the past.
During the 1990’s there appeared a sort of organizational advantage of PZKO because of previous communistic regime. PZKO could find support in the diversified territorial structure, a great financial and material support and rather large (however a little bit passive) membership (almost 25 thousand members at the end of 1990s). On the contrary, the Council found itself in the sort of vacuum, at the beginning. In spite of some success (taking over the most significant Polish periodical the Głos Ludu), there was a lack of material and membership support. A certain (only a partly successful) solution was the “broadening” of the Council into the Congress (1992). The Council remained the official executive body of the Congress. The double bind, when neither organization was able to gain the crucial importance as the representative of the Poles, has persisted.
The main conflict line between both participants - arguments about the past - was supplemented with other factors during the 1990’s. Probably the main problem was a low flexibility of PZKO, which had problems with “went off the rails” under the new conditions. (For example, its attitude to young people has proved to be rather anachronic and discouraging - cf. Josiek, 1997, 163). Similarly, in the financing area, PZKO was not able to limit the dependence on the government subsidy (a heritage of the pre-1989 era). The organization was trying to solve the financial problems, which were caused by gradual reduction of the subsidies, in many ways (from almost 7 million in 1990 to only 2 million in 1995, during the following years there was stagnancy a little above this level ). Probably the great hope was pinned on recovery of the properties of the Polish pre-war organizations, which remained in the state’s possession after World War II. In this respect it was not too successful and became the cause of criticism for its not always appropriate methods. To be precise, the scandal connected with the Piast Hotel in Český Těšín in the mid 1990’s. This respectable building and one of the Polish minority’s main social centers in Silesia was one of a few pre-war assets given to PZKO to take care of in 1948 (of course it remained as a state possession). After 1989 the group of organizations made an attempt to get back this building. However, as a consequence of certain PZKO’s measures the hotel ended up in PZKO’s “hands” only (for its repurchase were obtained money from Poland). However, due to not very transparent transactions, PZKO lost the building, and its new Vietnamese owner reconstruct it into the market. The situation provoked storms of protest among the Polish population.
The arguments between the PZKO’s leadership and the Congress of the Poles in the Czech Republic had some paradox aspects, which reflected their knowledge of the numerical weakness of the Polish minority, the small number of the Polish activists and necessity to maintain the unity during the negotiations with the Czech authorities. People involved in the Congress were almost 100% active members of the PZKO and on the other hand, some of the PZKO’s leaders were members of the Congress for several sessions! Similarly, the individual interests groups roofed by the Congress, which were almost all newly founded or recovered Polish organizations, used, as needed, (Branna, 2002, 170) the material support of the PZKO. The original antagonism, strong at the beginning of the 1990s, became less intense and mutual relations became friendlier. The fact of implementation of a certain, but never clearly articulated “division of labor” helped to improve the relations. The Congress is more active in negotiations with other institutions, while the PZKO is sticked to the socio-cultural sphere, with some exceptions. The relations of the PZKO and the Congress have not been ideal yet, and it is probable, that the 1990s’ trend (repeated chilling and strengthening of relations - cf. Borák, 1998, 232) will be maintained.
A study of some general problems articulated by the Polish interests representation
It is interesting, that meanwhile the international Czech-Polish relations experienced the process of significant improvement; the relations between the Polish minority and the Czech majority in the regional context did not keep the pace with this process. We can mention several socio-political conflict areas in which the Polish organizations were involved. The Congress (and its individual affiliated organizations according the nature of activity) was more initiative, as it had greater “political” representation than the PZKO (see above). Some of the “trouble spots” were already mentioned - an effort to solve the drastic reduction of subsidies for the Polish organizations (which was not restricted to the PZKO only - see above) and the Polish organizations tried to stop it by not very successful negotiations with different institutions; the property restitutions of the pre-war Polish organizations were not successful as well etc. Let us have a look on the other three very important spheres of articulation and enforcement of the minority’s interests. These are the historic-symbolical, language and educational sphere.
The question of the perspective on the controversial moments in the Silesia history, from the Czech and Polish point of view, became a storm center. The Congress of Poles organized a whole range of events and negotiations, which were to help the individual and rather delicate themes solving. The typical and symbolical event was the plaques location. In May 1994 the Katyn’s victims’ plaques and the Fallen soldiers’ plaques were put up in Český Těšín. The local authorities decided to remove the plaques and they justified it by the fact, that text on the plaques in only in Polish language and there is mentioned a „controversial“ Polish term „Zaolzie“. The Congress helped the plaques’ donators ( The Polish Resistance Movement’s Member Club and the Katyn Family) to negotiate with the authorities about their putting back on the memorial (and at the same time it exposured it in media) Even though the situation was solved after several months (the plaques were put back on the memorial), the similar situations occurred in the following years. At the end of 1990s, the Congress was involved in the affair connected with different authorities’ attitude to the Polish victims of Nazi occupation in the matter of financial compensation and the Congress established a special body (board) that dealt with the problems. (In the first wave of the Nazi occupation victims’ compensation there were not involved victims from Tesin Silesia and only in 1999 this attitude was changed.)
In the language area the usage of Polish signs and names became a “phenomenon”. They were used not only at the buildings but also at the shops, post offices etc. besides the Czech signs. In the mid 1990s’ probably the biggest media interest attracted the usage of the bilingual signs at the local authority building in Těrlicko but, of course, the similar problems appeared in other places. In is interesting, that like in the case of historic-symbolic questions, this matter was a subject of local controversy and at the national level it became not so important. The Home Office usually responded with the link to the absent detailed legal arrangement. The arrangements solved the problem, so, de facto everything stayed in the form of agreement at the local level, which does not work in many other cases. Similarly, till the end of 1990s, the great dissatisfaction of the Poles was caused by the official records form, especially the form of surname and the family name and their register version, the problematic was a women’s ending – ová – it was impossible to drop it (in this matter it was solved by the change of the statutory legal modifications in 2001, which made it possible). Once again the Polish representation played an important part in negotiating with the Czech governmental institutions.
Educational field is a very important area for the Polish minority to survive as an independent national society. The schools (kindergartens, grammar schools and secondary schools) are an important center of education and culture but also the center of social life of Polish community. Again, as in the case of historic-symbolic and language matters, the Congress and individual associated educational organizations were trying to do something with this in the mid of the 1990s, when, because of the school legislation amendment there was specified the minimum number of pupils in the class. (The school had to ask for an exceptions and they were usually granted by the Department of Education). Yet, other school enactments, like extension of municipal powers in relation to schools incl. e.g. power to choose a headmaster without consultation with the Polish organizations. Considering the extreme relations between authorities of some municipalities (with Czech majority) and the Polish organizations, a lot of conflict situations took place when the Polish organizations protest against the new headmasters without knowledge of Polish language had no effect. The specific problem in the educational area is the Polish diploma's recognition in some fields of study (e.g. medicine) under Czech conditions, and the Congress has been trying to solve it (up to now not very successfully) together with the Czech institutions. Every year a group of secondary school graduates leave the country to study at different types of universities in Poland. This fact is very important for creation of university-educated Polish intelligentsia. However, after their return to the country they had to face difficulties with their diploma recognition, which are not approbated by some institutions (e.g. Ministry of Health – see above mentioned medicine students) and the institutions require differential exams which is rather discriminating at the moment.
The Polish minority interests representation underwent the extensive and complicated development in the course of the 20th century. It significantly influenced the character of the Polish organizations after November 1989. Contemporary representation of the Polish minority is rather fragmented. The natural idea plurality inside the community was projected into the individual activity of two main subjects – The Congress of Poles and PZKO - with very different profile, history and attitude to defend the interests of Polish minority. Their disputes, to a great extend, were gradually depressed (yet never removed completely) by necessity to proceed together against the Czech state, its authorities and majority population.
Success of their activity in defending and representation of the Polish community's interests we may evaluate from the various points of view. First, if take into account a general criteria of the Polish minority's assimilation process and its numerous and national consolidation, we can state that the Polish organizations were not successful (see above mentioned demographic trends). We cannot expect that there will be any significant changes in the nearest future. However, we should realize in connection with this, that socio-demographic trends had been already started in decades before 1989 and it was quite difficult to reverse them in the 1990s. The question is, if a different method (including eventual different character of the interests’ representation – see e.g. possible existence of the only one hegemonous Polish organization) could bring a different result. Second, if we considered the success criteria in enforcing partial aims (property’s restitution, Polish war victims’ compensation, “objectivization” of some historic events, preservation and development of Polish education etc.) we could state, that in individual areas the success was very varying. From the more general point of view we can evaluate it as a partly successful. Finally, the third, we can state, from the point of view of other national representations and ethnic minorities’ comparison in the Czech Republic, that the Polish interests organizations were quite successful. They were able to ensure a socio-cultural life of the Polish community at the acceptable level without big financial support from abroad (see the case of the German minority). Further, they were able permanently act as a partner towards the Czech state, with whom it is possible to discuss matters connected with the Polish society (this differed them from e.g. non-integral and non-representative activities of the Romani organizations).
Poznámky / Notes
1. And next an attempt to establish a specific Silesian identity (the “Silesians” -„Šlonzáci“), what was a goal of a part of 19th century local elite. This was another reason of the Polish minority weakening in the long term.
2. In 1930, according to official census results, the Poles represented 0,89% (approx. 92 thousand) of population of future Czech Republic territory, in 1950 0,8% (approx. 70 thousand), in 1961 0,7% (approx. 66,5 thousand), and in 1980 0,64% (approx. 66 thousand).
3. See election results on the local level: in 1990 it gained 19 mandates (0,06% of votes), in 1994 16 mandates and in1998 44 mandates (0,1% of votes).
4. See exceptionally e.g. KDU-ČSL program for the Parliament elections in 1988.
5. The History of SMP – http://www.smp.wz.cz/historia.htm
6. In Katyn massacre were murdered approx. 300 Poles from Tesin region (Borák, 1997, 109).
7. An interview with the Chairman of the Congress of Poles in the Czech Rep. Józef Szymeczek 6th September 2002 Těrlicko.
8. See http://www.pzko.cz
9. After several years long trial it was returned back to the PZKO.
10. See also Information on principle fulfillment constituted by Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities according to Article 25, Paragraph 1 of this Convention – http://www.vlada.cz/1250/vrk/rady/rady.htm
11. Comp. the Congress of Poles in the Czech Rep – Polish Education – http://www.polonica.czpol_szkolnictwo.htm
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