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The making of Polish London through everyday life, 1956-1976

Chojnacki, P.; (2009) The making of Polish London through everyday life, 1956-1976. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

The wartime and postwar Polish emigration allows us to study a ‘parallel’ history of the Polish nation. Poles in Great Britain were free from the restrictions imposed on Poles in the homeland by the communist dictatorship; they were thus better able to continue in the intellectual and cultural paths of interwar Poland. But by the later 1950s it was clear that there would be no early return to a free Poland. Poles in exile had to adapt to their condition, and interact with a rapidly changing British society. As a result, their characteristics diverged from those of Poles in the homeland and – despite their best efforts – from those of their ancestors as well. This dissertation examines the distinctive ‘parallel Polish world’ at the level of everyday life, rather than the central institutions of ‘Polish London’. It focuses on three Gminy (Communities) founded in the 1950s: the Polish Community of West London, the Polish Community of South London, and the Polish Centre in Lewisham. The diverse and enjoyable social activities undertaken or supported by the Communities – dances, Saturday schools, sport, scouting and guiding, charity, religious and national commemorations – were subordinated to the aim of maintaining Polish national identity in exile, and transmitting it to subsequent generations. This kind of ‘Polishness’ was heroic, martyrological, and Roman Catholic. The organizational and fundraising skills developed in the Communities’ pursuit of their own houses proved invaluable in the building of the Polish Social and Cultural Centre in London (POSK). However, among the casualties of POSK were the Polish Communities of West and South London, which effectively came to an end in 1976. Only the more peripheral Lewisham Centre survived. POSK’s benefit to everyday Polish life in London has been questionable. The Gminy may yet offer an organizational model for a new, more numerous wave of Polish emigrants to the UK.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:The making of Polish London through everyday life, 1956-1976
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > SSEES (School of Slavonic and East European Studies)

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