The Polish minority in Kazakhstan

With a population of 40 million, Poland is a pretty big country by European standards. But the number of people with Polish roots abroad is estimated at another 10 million. There are different reasons as to why they left and where they settled. For example those who live in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan in central Asia were forcibly sent there by Stalin.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many from this strong Polish minority in Kazakhstan have been asking for the right to come back to Poland. But could the country cope with such an influx?

Estimates say that between 47 to 60 thousand people of Polish origin live in this Asian country, located thousands of kilometers away from Poland. Their immigration, as opposed to the current waves of job seekers living, for instance in Great Britain, was a forced one. Michal Graczylo, first secretary of the Polish embassy in Kazakhstan's former capital Almaty:

"When we talk about the Poles in Kazakhstan we are talking about the people of Polish origin. But most of the Poles who live here are grand-grand children of the persons who were sent here in the Soviet times, especially in 1936, from the western territory of the former Soviet Union -Ukraine and Byelorussia. In this territory lived the Poles in the old Polish Commonwealth back in the 18th century, and then when the Soviet government came Stalin's policy was to make this territory free near the border from all the elements who could not support the Soviet government. In this same period Koreans were sent to Kazakhstan the, and Poles were sent from the territories bordering on Poland."

In 1936 the family of Jan Zinkiewicz, law professor of Almaty University, who had lived in eastern Poland, arrived in northern Kazakhstan in the Kokchetav region.

"I was born in Kazakhstan in 1939 and my parents had been deported there three years earlier. They came with 200 other families and settled in an area where they had to build a village with their own hands. For years we lived in a clay house in hunger and in fear."

Even though, away from their motherland, those citizens of Kazakhstan, who have Polish roots, do cultivate their culture. They form national associations. Teachers of Polish and Polish priests have been sent to Kazakhstan. If a person wants to return to Poland they need to comply with three conditions. Michal Graczylo of the Polish embassy in Almaty:

"First, they must be of Polish origin. We prove it by the documents and during a talk with this person. We want to prove what they are interested in. They try to do anything to learn Polish, they know something about Polish culture because the information about Poland in some families could be given from one generation to another. In another case, you have to prove that you've got work or have the money to pay for your expenses in Poland in many ways: you could have an account in a bank or you could have a work permit, for example. The third condition is that you have a place to live."

But since Polish local authorities are constantly short of funds and cannot provide accommodation here in Poland, such a person can wait for years to receive an invitation to move back to Poland.