People from Poland ‘will be heard’

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Immigrants and guest workers from Poland make up the largest group of foreign residents in Norway, and now they’re expected to start making their voices heard. With tens of thousands of people from Poland now living permanently in Norway, they can form an important political lobbying group.

People from Poland often make up a major portion of the crowd at ski jumping competitions at Holmenkollen in Oslo, like this one a few years ago. Now they're emerging as a political force as well. PHOTO: Views and News

Jakub M Godzimirski, a senior researcher at the foreign policy institute NUPI in Oslo, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) this week that Poles living abroad have a tradition for becoming politically active in their newly adopted countries. He’s written a report for Norway’s foreign ministry on the dynamics of foreign communities (called Diaspora) that become a force in the foreign policy of the countries where they live.

“In Norway, this is a relatively new phenomenon,” Godzimirski, who emigrated to Norway from Poland himself 25 years ago, told DN. “In 1960, 1.7 percent of the (Norwegian) population was born overseas. Today the number is 12 percent, and makes up a major portion of the population.”

The Polish group in Norway is the most interesting, Godzimirski said, and not just for personal reasons. It’s because it’s the largest, and will want its concerns and issues placed on the political agenda.

Among them, for example, is upcoming discussions around the so-called EØS-avtale, the agreement on economic cooperation that regulates Norway’s relations with the European Union. Poland is a member of the EU while Norway is not, but given all the labour and trade ties between Poland and Norway, the local Polish population has strong interests in making its views known on everything from immigration to hiring practices and work rules.

There already are signs of Polish political activism in Norway, with several political parties actively courting their vote in recent elections. Polish groups in Oslo have joined efforts to take over state-owned churches for Catholic services, when capacity at the capital’s existing Catholic churches was severely challenged.

Asked what causes are the most important, Godzimirski replied “the debate over social dumping” (where workers from Poland and other countries have been exploited in the market). Workplace issues remain high on the agenda, after so many skilled and unskilled workers from Poland have arrived in Norway over the years seeking jobs.

“Poles living overseas have traditionally cooperated to promote Polish interests,” he said, claiming that the expansion of the EU was at least partially a result of cooperation between Polish authorities and Poles already living in other EU countries.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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