Author Archives: Michal Siewniak

Remembering Srebrenica

Imagine, just for a moment, that you don’t eat for a month.

Imagine that for months, if you are lucky, you have one “meal” a day; meal meaning a watery soup.

Imagine that when or if you are lucky enough to board the plane, you have no idea where and when you will land.

Imagine that you have no choice, none whatsoever.

Imagine that you are taken, against your will, to a concentration camp, without knowing whether you will walk free again.

Imagine that you are unable, for months, to contact your loved ones.

Imagine that if you are lucky to survive, your traumatic experience lives with you forever.

Imagine that you have NO choice or freedom.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 7 Comments

Building platform for civic activism with youngest residents

It is wonderful that the “civic tradition” of children from the Polish Saturday School in Welwyn Garden City continues!

Last weekend, a group of children and a few members of staff visited the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council. Children had another opportunity to visit the Council Chamber, meet the Leader of the Council, newly elected Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Welwyn Hatfield.

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United with Belarus

I come originally from the South-East part of Poland. I was 10 when the Berlin Wall collapsed and I must admit that I didn’t grasp the importance of these historical events, for my native country as well as the whole of Europe. I discovered its significance later on.

In the last couple of weeks, I was reflecting on the journey of each one of the countries behind the “Iron Curtain”. Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic – they all did well and it is clear that a massive democratic transformation served them and their residents well.

However, there is one country, also a former Soviet Union republic, which has been struggling since 1990’s and which brought international attention for all the wrong reasons. Plane hijacked, which simply equals an act of terrorism, imprisonment of opposition leaders or ordinary members of the public, often as young as 14-15 year olds, lack of free speech, economical progress and recovery or inability to peaceful demonstrations; the list goes on. While completing my Master’s Degree in History, I had an opportunity to meet many people from Belarus, who were studying in my home town, Lublin. I often wonder in these situations whether there is anything I should be doing to help. But what, and more importantly how could I do that?

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Windrush scandal – a sign of things to come for EU citizens?

For me personally, a huge advantage of living in the UK is the fact that I’ve had so many opportunities to meet so amazing (and inspiring) people, who migrated to Britain from all corners of the world. Many of them I call friends.

Due to the pandemic, I feel that we often miss some important stories. This week, my eye caught a report about the Home Office’s appalling failure to protect and support the victims of the Windrush scandal.

I wonder whether statistics (see below) show the inefficiency of the Home Office or whether they clearly demonstrate an implementation of hostile …

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What next for UK politics?

Oh boy, there is a never dull day in British politics!

It is very true that a week in politics can be actually quite long and eventful. The dust hasn’t settled yet and so much has already happened since last week’s elections. It was incredibly interesting to see how people across the country voted last week and how the election result might impact the future of the UK.

I am not a famous political strategist, however it is true that the political landscape in the UK is changing, that’s for sure. The “Red Wall” collapsed. The by-elections in Hartlepool showed that the Labour Party can’t automatically count on votes from the working class people. Would it be fair to say that it is now the middle-class in bigger cities, which “saved” the Labour Party from a total disaster (London, Liverpool, Manchester). Is it also true that the Labour Party has lost its “political identity”?

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Local elections and the “Festival of Local Democracy”

Embed from Getty Images

Well…I might be a bit weird, however I am really excited about tomorrow! Why? It is an election day, which gives us ALL another wonderful opportunity to shape our local communities by electing District and County Councillors. There are also significant elections in Scotland, to the Scottish Parliament and in Wales, to the Welsh Assembly. Tomorrow will be a busy day for voters and quite a nerve-wracking day for all the candidates!

We often don’t realise but it is very true that even the smallest elections to the parish council affect the way we live our lives.

I often wonder what makes us vote, particularly in the local elections? is it because we want to see a real change in our neighbourhoods? Is it because we want to positively influence the so called “status quo”? Or is it simply because we simply like a particular candidate?

Is our voting based on our political alliances? Would we vote for any candidates of the main political parties in the local elections only because we support their national policies?

Do we vote tactically?

Or do we vote because we passionately believe in democracy and we want to be part of the civic process?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 24 Comments

The Cost of Local Democracy

I often wonder what could be done to reduce the cost of democracy, particularly now when the public finances are stretched to absolute limits and when the national debt is rapidly rising. When I was a serving Councillor, someone who originally comes from Poland, where the political system is different, I often questioned the election cycle in the UK and I never really understood why it is that we need to have elections every year; either to the Local or County Council.

My “election cycle scepticism” was magnified when I was told that it cost annually on average £100,000 to set up and run the local elections in Welwyn Hatfield. I thought that if, for example, the elections were to take place every other year, the taxpayer would save £500,000 in one decade only. It is potentially a lot of additional resources for one Local Authority. This significant amount of money could support a number of projects in our neighbourhoods.

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A simplified, open source guide to UK democracy

I am sure that most readers would agree with me if I said that, often, in order for us all to make a tangible difference in our communities or influence change at a local or national level, we need to be politically educated. As a European national, it seems to me that this has never been more important.

Today, I am delighted to be able to share with you a fantastic Open Source Election Guide, which was produced by the New Europeans UK and POMOC (Polish Migrants Organise for Change) amongst other great partners working in the field.

Why is it so important? It is important because this open source provides a very informative democratic tool, which, in a simple language, explains the way in which the UK’s democratic system works. However, crucially and most importantly, it tells us why voting is so important! Although the democratic system in the UK is quite complex, this open source election guide simplifies the whole political process. It is a must read!

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Why so many Poles have already left Britain?

I was delighted to receive an email this week from a good friend of mine, Roger Casale, founder of the New Europeans and also a former Member of the UK Parliament.

Roger emailed to say that one of his colleagues, Peter Conradi, who is Sunday Times Europe’s Editor, was running a story this weekend about the reasons why so many Poles have already left the UK. I was really pleased that I had an opportunity to speak to Peter and that the article itself was published in yesterday’s paper. It was a fascinating conversation, which, probably for the first time, helped me to pause and reflect on the causes of the Polish nationals’ departure from the UK. This trend has already directly affected many of my fellow countrymen and countrywomen.

It is estimated that almost a million Poles lived in the UK before the Brexit vote. Some, mainly anecdotal evidence, suggests that around 200,000 members of the Polish community have now left the UK. It is a significant exodus of Poles, which, in my view, might continue in the future. So what are the reasons why people have left or are leaving?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 6 Comments

VIDEO – European nationals and the importance of the local elections 2021

Local elections 2021, Thursday, 6th May

The UK has now left the EU, however did you know that:

  • You can still vote in the local elections as a European citizen?
  • Your vote hugely matters?
  • You can continue shaping the future of the local communities?
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The Home Office and EU Settled Status Scheme

I am sure that most of us, who know, work with or have friends and family members from Europe, heard of so called EU pre-settled or settled status scheme. The scheme is crucial and it ensures that all Europeans living in the UK can continue to receive the same entitlements they had until the transition period ended at the end of December 2020.

The Home Office has published this week (week ending 14th February) the latest data in relation to the EU Settled Status Scheme. It is encouraging to see that such a significant number of EU nationals have already submitted their applications. It is fair to say that overall, the process is relatively simple and straightforward.

The figures show that, up to the end of January 2021: 5.06 million applications were received, 4.68 million applications were processed. Across the UK, 4.57 million applications were received from England, 252,400 applications from Scotland, 83,800 applications from Wales and 81,800 received from Northern Ireland. 2,497,600 (53%) were granted settled status and 2,039,800 (44%) were granted pre-settled status, thus showing more than 4.5 million grants of status.

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What is the future of the farming industry in the UK?

Although I come originally from a city called Lublin, in the South-East part of Poland, as a child, I spent a lot time visiting my cousins and grandparents’ in relatively large village close to a city called Rzeszow. I remember Polish harvest, I remember watching my uncle, my grandmothers’ brother, who used to leave the house very early in the morning and who was coming back home very late; often tired but also happy, as the job enabled him to feel closely connected with nature. 

Looking back, I think that farming has been always strongly rooted in the “working culture” of the Polish nation. Today, the situation has changed as young people move to cities to seek and enhance their life opportunities. I remember how hard everyone had to work to feed their families and earn a decent (?) living. My mum tells me that when she was a child, before going to school, she also had to support her parents with e.g. feeding the cows or cleaning the stable. I also remember visiting my auntie in Italy, who was working on the farm. It really was a hard job. I have it easy these days, don’t I? 

I’ve recently come across a very interesting article published in Emerging Europe about the impact of Brexit on UK farming industry. I often wondered what will happen to some sections of the economy when the transition period ends? It is good news that the UK government has increased to 30,000 the number of visas to seasonal workers, who will be able to come to Britain for up to 6 months. Unfortunately, this is where the good news end. This new ‘visa arrangement’ comes with a heavy price. Each work permit will cost £244, which for many interested individuals might be simply too expensive. What is even more interesting is that citizens from some countries e.g. Turkey or Macedonia will pay less (£55) than seasonal workers from other countries e.g. Romania, Bulgaria or Slovenia. Reason? Some countries are not members of the Council of Europe’s Social Chapter. 

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Time to predict the political future of the UK post-Brexit?

I love sport, football in particular. Although I had an opportunity to serve as a local councillor in Welwyn Hatfield, I occasionally feel that I am a “spectator”, not a “player”, when it comes to my voting rights in the UK. In a way, it is a shame that although I have been living here for almost 16 years, I have always paid taxes, I have always worked and I have not been a “burden”, I have never had a chance to cast my vote in GE or, more importantly, in the EU referendum. When I first visited the Houses of Parliament, I was told that “taxation equals representation”. Really? I don’t think so.
I don’t have any predictable abilities or a magic wand. I am also aware that we have only a few days ago ended the transition period and therefore the “dust has truly settled yet”, however if someone asked me to guess what will happen in the UK in the next 5-10 years, I would say that:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 15 Comments

What did the freedom of movement mean to me?

A couple of years ago, my daughter had a non-uniform day at school. She wasn’t sure what to wear, however at the end, she picked a Polish football top, with my nickname on it (ksiadz, which means in English priest), and a Croatian scarf (see the photo).

My kids were born into a truly European family. I am Polish and my wife comes originally from Croatia. Yes, I know; their European identity and sense of belonging to different cultures and traditions won’t be taken away, however it might affect our and their lives in the future. When I asked my daughter about the choice of her non-uniform day clothes, she simply said: “I like to call myself a foreigner”. I was pleasantly surprised.

I remember my life, as a student in Croatia, before Poland joined the EU. I remember that every once a month, I had to visit a local police station to prove that I was a genuine student. When we were living in Italy, my wife had to wait quite a long time for the study and a work permit.

The freedom of movement has been part of our lives for many years now. We have always cherished and appreciated the opportunity to live in different parts of Europe. Each experience opened up our horizons and made us more “rounded individuals” (at least, that’s what we both think!). The freedom of movement has played such a vital part in our lives. In actual fact, it was the WAY OF OUR LIFE. it enabled us to:

  • Travel freely without any restrictions
  • Work
  • Study and participate in a number of scholarship programmes
  • Gain additional qualifications
  • Enhance our live chances
Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 11 Comments

The life after Brexit – what next for the EU migrants?

The British people have voted. It was close however the message was clear – ‘we want our country back, we want to control our borders, we will be better off outside the EU’.
I found out about the result on sunny morning in Rome where I was attending an interesting meeting of people who are involved in public and civic life. As you can imagine, I was inundated with questions from people from Italy, Spain, Argentina, Slovenia or even South Korea.

As an EU migrant, someone who doesn’t hold the British citizenship, I have been part of the referendum debate …

Posted in Op-eds | 17 Comments
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Recent Comments

  • Michael 1
    People should have total autonomy over their bodies and what is done to them and medical treatments should be a personal question on advice from their doctors. ...
  • Jane Ann Liston
    Well said, Wendy - good advice....
  • Michael 1
    I don't think people should be members of legislative bodies ex officio such as mayors. But there is an argument to have a body like the US senate of around 100...
  • David Raw
    @ Jeff, "The abhorrent treatment of those Windrush arrivals is another argument against ID Cards. Once you require a licence to live from the state, you are no ...
  • Jeff
    Matt Wardman 30th Jul '21 - 1:42pm: There’s also the separate question about whether ID cards may in fact be sensible. Would the Windrush Generatio...