Charter of Polish Communities Abroad passed

Just before its self-dissolution, the Polish parliament has passed the charter of Polish communities abroad, a declaration of rights and privileges for Poles living abroad who do not hold a formal Polish citizenship. Among other things, the charter will allow them easier access to travel and education in Poland.

Joanna Najfeld reports

According to the Charter of Polish Communities Abroad, every person living abroad, who has a passive command of Polish, at least one Polish parent or grandparent, and who pledges alliance to the Polish nation, can receive all the benefits - free visas, travel ticket discounts within Poland, free entrance to museums and equal education opportunities.

The charter is especially helpful to Poles living in Eastern Europe, who cannot hold double citizenship for formal reasons. Law and Justice party MP Piotr Krzywicki:

'They will be allowed free entrance to museums, and, what is more important, equal access to Polish education. This could create an elite who will come back to Poland to cultivate their national identity.'

Aleksiej Dzikawicki, Radio Svaboda correspondent in Poland, says the Charter has a special meaning to the oppressed Polish minority in Belarus:

'This is very important especially if we take into consideration the situation of the Polish minority in Belarus. The Association of Poles in Belarus is the biggest NGO in Belarus, so last year the Belarussian regime started to press it and wanted to change the leadership of this organization. It was very hard for Poland and the European Union to do something to protect those people there in Belarus. So this new law passed by the Polish parliament is very important so that Polish people leaving in Belarus don't feel lost. They know that somebody from their homeland cares for them.'

Young Polish people living in Belarus are especially happy about a clause that grants them the right to work legally and set up a business in Poland, says Andrzej Poczobut, Polish journalist and member of the Association of Poles in Belarus:

'Considering the fact that the economic situation in Belarus is getting worse and will most probably continue to do so, Poles will have a chance to earn some money this way.'

On the other hand, Robert Wyszynski of the institute for matters connected with Polish prewar eastern borderland region is not fully satisfied with the contents of the charter. In his opinion, the law does not meet all the needs of the Polish communities abroad. For example, basic resettlement rights are lacking in the charter, says Wyszynski:

'You can say that this charter meets the needs of Poles living in just two post-Soviet republics - Ukraine and Belarus. What about Poles in Kazakhstan? Several thousand people have been promised resettlement to Poland by the Polish authorities and nothing happens, they are still waiting.'

Aleksandra Slusarek of the Polish Repatriate Union has confirmed that a large part of Polish minority living to the East of the country names the amendment of the law on resettlement as a priority, now that the Charter of the Polish Communities Abroad has been passed.