With online-only Polish Heritage Days, Ambassador of Poland Arkady Rzegocki proves that the pandemic is no obstacle to traditional celebrations for their National Day
For some time now, the coronavirus pandemic has been affecting the lives of us all. Sadly, it has taken away many of our loved ones, impacted the health and financial situation of many more, and forced everyone to alter our normal, sociable behaviour. It has exposed the vulnerabilities of the world to an attack by an invisible enemy.
But while the pandemic has changed our lives considerably, it has not managed to dampen our spirits. We have shown this by uniting together in staying at home and protecting ourselves and others. And, this May, to mark Poland’s 3 May National Day, the Polish Diaspora Day and the Polish Flag Day, Poles living in the UK and their British friends have been celebrating all that is best about Poland in a unique, virtual way.
Polish Heritage Days is a country-wide festival organised during the first weekend of May to promote Polish culture, the heritage of past generations, and the Polish contribution to the cultural, economic and social life of the UK. It has been held since 2017 to emphasise the positive role that thousands of Polish people have played in the UK in the recent years. Last year’s edition saw more than 150 events held in 73 towns and cities across the UK, which attracted more than 80,000 visitors. Every year, local celebrations organised by Polish and British associations, schools and parishes see a variety of intiatives: from fairs, music festivals and school plays to lectures, exhibitions and sport competitions.
This year, while the celebrations have had to change in nature and many events have had to be cancelled, we are keen to demonstrate that once again at the start of May, Poles wanted to show off their roots. And I have the pleasure to say that nearly 30 initiatives are due to take place online throughout the month.
From a performance of actor Remi Rachuba’s crowdfunded play Intruder, a Chopin concert by internationally acclaimed Polish pianist Artur Haftman to a retelling of the story of the heroic Polish 307 Squadron, and competitions related to the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain – Polish Heritage Days 2020 has it all.
In keeping with the online-only spirit of this special edition, I officially inaugurated the events live on Facebook on 2 May. A fascinating experience, it again confirmed that the internet and social media are an extension of a diplomat’s toolkit. This is what twenty-first-century diplomacy looks like – being creative and prepared for every eventuality – and I am glad that the advances in technology have salvaged many of our activities and allowed us to shift them online.
The popularity of Polish Heritage Days is such that every year we are joined by many important figures, including local authorities: mayors attend the events, while the Polish flag flies high in many town and city halls across the UK. This year is no different.
Wendy Morton, Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas at the Foreign Office, sent a message of support on Twitter, saying: Fantastic to see @PolishEmbassyUK & #PolesinUK celebrate Polish heritage & culture online for #PLHeritageDays. I’d like to pay a special tribute to the Polish @NHSuk staff & key workers on the frontline of our fight against #coronavirus. Dziękuję!
The Polish airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain also received special tributes. In a letter to the Polish people, HRH The Duke of Kent, the patron of previous editions of Polish Heritage Days, wrote: “The remarkable story of the Polish pilots who fought and died alongside their RAF brethren in this critical battle has become legendary. Their skill, fortitude and fierce bravery were extraordinary. In today’s world we face unprecedented challenges. Courage will be needed, and in looking to our past we can anticipate with more confidence our future.”
The most popular message was that from Chief of Air Staff of the Royal Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, who in a video message that received over 185,000 views on social media remarked: “We owe our deepest gratitude to those who in a struggle high above the earth did not spare their blood for Poland, the country that would not be overcome.” I am deeply grateful for all the warm messages we have received, also those sent by numerous mayors and members of the British public.
With the Polish Heritage Days celebration taking place once again this year, we have shown that the pandemic is no obstacle to traditional celebrations of all that is best about Poland. It is also proof that the spirit of camaraderie forged between our nations during World War II is very much alive today.
I look forward to continuing our shared tribute to the heroic defenders of Britain, as we mark the 80th anniversary of the battle that turned the tide of the war and changed the course of history.