Poland’s attitude towards Britain might be characterised as largely affectionate – but with an edge. Brexit is not helping.
The wartime alliance is remembered in Poland as much in terms of British betrayals as of Polish pilots and the Enigma machine.
Resentment eased during the cold war thanks to Britain’s role as a key adversary of communist Poland’s Soviet overlords, and the emergence – incongruously, for many – of Margaret Thatcher as a heroine of the Polish proletariat.
At first, the large-scale migration of Poles– admired for their work ethic and almost universally accepted – to the UK in the 2000s appeared to herald a golden age in relations between the two nations. Many Britons assume the new arrivals were motivated exclusively by money, but many were also attracted by modern British multiculturalism. “I loved the freedom. I remember thinking: ‘This is it! This is my place on earth,’” a Polish woman who moved to the UK in 1999 tells me.
That love of Britain has only intensified the pain of rejection after the Brexit vote. Complicating matters further, it is increasingly apparent that many other Poles living in the UK never accepted Britain’s multicultural model in the first place. Feeling rejected and economically exploited, the Polish community is increasingly a recruiting ground for the far right in both countries.
There are of course many Poles who still live perfectly happily in the UK, and will continue to do so. But the feeling that they are now being rejected, having once been welcomed, is leading to the return of some old resentments. For many, the love affair with Britain is turning sour.