47. The Russian Community Association
The scale of foreign migrations in Plock is significantly smaller than in Warsaw. The available statistics from the National Census of 2002 only for presents the diversity of Plock inhabitants according to the declared nationality being Polish or other, which probably includes both immigrants and minority representatives8: 309 individuals out of 128,361 in total indicated that their nationality was not Polish. According to the Municipal Office in Plock, in 2010, 131 foreigners were permanent residents of Plock, representing about 0.1 per cent of all permanent residents. In this group, 110 persons were citizens of countries outside the European Union. These were mainly citizens of Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Armenia and Mongolia. Based on interviews, the actual number of immigrants in Plock may be at least three-times higher. Due to the lack of formally registered immigrant organisations in Plock; it seems that local immigrants are doing their best to “remain unnoticed” (see WP3 Report for Plock).
A specific phenomenon in Plock is the wave of female immigrants – women coming from of the former USSR countries, who came to Plock in the 1970s together with their Polish husbands – mostly engineers, sent to the USSR to work as representatives of the Petrochemical Conglomerate. These women have lived in the city for many years; some of them attend the prayers and meetings organised by the Orthodox Church in Plock. However, they do not constitute a compact immigrant community – most of them have been granted citizenship of Poland. Another specific group are the Poles of Russian origin, living in Plock – children of Russians who settled in Plock during the partition period (19th century).
In the light of interviews with two female migrants – a Russian and a Ukrainian – the most significant problems encountered by immigrants in Plock include the language barrier, difficulties in finding jobs and reluctance of the Poles to accept them.
47.1. Short description
The Association was officially registered in 2007 as a branch of the “Russian Community” association established in Warsaw. The members include mainly Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians, as well as some Poles, although only a few. Most of them have registered because their spouse was an immigrant.
The Association was established by one of the Poles of Russian origin, descendant of Russians, who came to the city during the partition period. The initiative, as it turned out, has met the expectations of modern immigrants from the East, in particular, female citizens of the former USSR, who came to Plock in the 1970s:
I had been thinking about an association like this for a very long time. My grandma often told me how difficult the situation for Russians was at the time, how lost they felt. They only met at the Orthodox Church. I remember this from my childhood. This is why I wanted to create a group of people, who could meet, talk in their mother tongue, exchange experiences and remarks, and celebrate together.9
The future of this initiative remains unclear. The leader – a female immigrant from Russia – has moved to another city and there is no candidate to replace her in the position.
47.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
The organisation performs many functions that are of significance for immigrants: it organises cultural events, preserves the cultural traditions, builds the image of the immigrants from the East and communication with the Poles and other immigrants in Plock, as well as helping newcomers find jobs or apartments. Members of the association have also participated in trips to Russia and Belarus, organised by the central office in Warsaw. The cultural events organised include the “Russian Days” and evenings dedicated to Russian writers: “(…) we have organised so many meetings, and the “Russian Days” 2 years ago, and an evening dedicated to Tolstoy. Everyone prepared something, some articles to be read, and we presented a film about the writer, and it all worked beautifully” [interview P.9]. Information on the Association was distributed mainly by the local press – the organisation members have published articles in Tygodnik Plocki and in the local edition of Gazeta Wyborcza.
47.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
The “Community” consists mainly of the elderly, old-age pensioners; the number of young people is very small. In year 2012, there were 25 members, including approximately 10 active members. The Plock branch of the Russian Community Association covers its current expenses mainly via member premiums. These funds are designated for organisation of meetings for the members; buying coffee, tea, cookies; and covering travel costs of guests invited to meetings and trips associated with participation in meetings organised in Warsaw. The Association may not collect funds for its operation (e.g. from the Municipal Office), since, as a Plock branch of an organisation with the central office in Warsaw, it does not have legal standing. Therefore, the funds for organising large undertakings come from Warsaw, they are booked and settled there: “(…) the association in Warsaw, they engaged in some projects, financed by Moscow or the Russian consulate. And we got some little bits out of these. But the money, they got it, they made the settlements” (Interview no.9, Plock, the leader of the Russian Community Association).
Members of the Association used to meet in the private apartment of the president or at local cafes, while the large cultural events, such as the Russian Days, were organised at the Municipal Office of Plock. The members use their own resources to deal with organisational affairs – their own cars, computers and phones.
47.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
The Association has been considered to be innovative as it is the only initiative, so far, aimed at immigrants living in Plock and implemented by them. Activities of the organisation are aimed at a specific group of immigrants – those from the East (Russians and Ukrainians). At the same time, the Association works on behalf of the Russian minority of Plock, that is, the descendants of Russians, who came to the city in the 19th century.
According to the president, cultural and assistance events are particularly needed by immigrants, who, to a certain extent, feel torn between Poland and their country of origin, who have not been able to find a place for themselves in Polish society and who still do not want to return to their homeland as, in their opinion, they have not succeeded as immigrants. Such persons particularly need the support and the space, in which they could feel more comfortable.
The activities of the Association, however, has not attracted substantial interest of immigrants living in Plock. Their reluctance is not overcome even by the fact that it is managed by immigrants from the East themselves and persons of Russian origin, who could provide assistance in their life problems:
The ones who have problems, the ones whom I almost tried to force, they are the ones who refuse to come to us. Even though they have problems, they have no jobs; they prefer to stay at home. I know they’ve been unemployed for years, they have the time. I wanted to get them involved in some tasks for which I have no time, and they could. No, they will not come. And later on, they blame me for calling them and disturbing them.
Interview no.9. Plock, The leader of the Russian Community Association
Immigrants from Russia and Ukraine, living in Plock and the surrounding area, who have attained a higher material status, are not interested in getting involved in the works of the Association either. They do not want to provide financial support for the organisation. Other persons, particularly those, who are in mixed marriages, try to assimilate in the Polish majority as much as possible and they prefer not to transfer their cultural and national traits to their children:
I had this encounter a year ago, this lady, Wiera, said: ‘What do you want from me?’ I said, ‘Perhaps your daughter would like to come to us; we organise trips to Moscow for Russian language courses, for kids from mixed families.’ And she said, ‘Get away from me!’, loudly, so that everyone in the store could hear her, ‘my daughter is not Russian, you better remember this’
Interview no.9. Plock, The leader of the Russian Community Association
At the same time, Poles living in Plock are not interested in the Association either: “(…) we received some phone calls, inquiries, several persons came over, they came here looking for wives, the Poles, and there were some other strange phone calls and that was it” (Interview no.9, Plock, the leader of The Russian Community Association).
Activity on behalf of immigrants in Plock is not easy due to the specific local traits associated with small-scale migration in general, the phenomenon of illegal migration and the diversity of the groups of foreigners that came to the city during various time periods. Due to their unregulated status, illegal immigrants are afraid to get involved in any social initiatives. On the other hand, immigrants – particularly females – coming to Plock from the East in the 1970s and at present believe it to be a good strategy to become part of the Polish majority. This does not mean, however, that initiatives on behalf of immigrants are not needed in Plock. Quite the opposite, a greater number of various initiatives, with more active support of the city authorities, could make the immigrants noticeable as one of the groups of inhabitants having specific needs in terms of social support.