Why Poland is (still) a transnational civic nation?

Why Poland is (still) a transnational civic nation?

The concept of civic nation is based on the inclusive approach which generally does not segregate people on the ground of ethnicity. Like many other states of Central and Eastern Europe, Poland pays significant attention to its ethnic kin abroad. However, the existing Polish legal framework on compatriot policies contain important elements which make it possible to designate it as a civic model. The case of Poland is discussed by our expert Dr. Kiryl Kascian.

The Polish Constitution in its preamble underlines that the Constitution is established by “the Polish Nation – all citizens of the Republic” (Naród Polski – wszyscy obywatele Rzeczypospolitej).[1] On the one hand, this formulation explicitly underlines the inclusive approach to all ethnic segments of the Poland’s society. On the other hand, the translation of the official documents from one language to might lead to certain semantic peculiarities. It seems that the Polish word naród might be translated into English not only as “nation”, but also as “people”. Hence, neither of the two notions would undermine its civic identity if used in the official version of the Polish Constitution. On the other hand, the usage of the term “nation” for naród might imply more cohesiveness of the Polish society without any distinction on the ground of ethnicity.

The Constitution has references to the First and Second Republics, i.e. the medieval Republic of Two Nations and the interwar Polish state. In both cases and regardless of their contexts, these statehoods have territorial extension to the areas of contemporary Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine. However, references to the First and Second Republics by no means imply any extra-territorial effects of the Polish constitution.

At the same time, the extra-territorial dimension of the Constitution could be observed in its preamble and two articles. The preamble underlines the Polish Nation, as it is understood in the Constitution, is “bound in community with our compatriots [rodacy – KK] dispersed throughout the world”. Poland ensures “conditions for the people’s equal access to the products of culture which are the source of the Nation’s identity, continuity and development” (Art. 6). The same article also prescribes that Poland bounds itself in providing “assistance to Poles living abroad to maintain their links with the national cultural heritage”. Finally, the Constitution contains a provision, according to which the right to permanent settlement in the country may be provided to “anyone whose Polish origin has been confirmed in accordance with statute” (Art. 52.5). With this regard, it is necessary to emphasize that the Constitution makes a clear distinction between the civic Polish Nation (Naród Polski) and the foreign compatriots (or persons of Polish origin) designated on ethnic grounds. Hence, the latter group does not form the part of the Polish Nation, as it is formulated in the Constitution, although its attachment to the Naród Polski is explicitly acknowledged.

The specific legal acts aimed at the support of the Polish communities abroad are predominantly focused on the areas situated “in the East”, i.e. in the territories of the former Soviet Union. However, these laws provide a qualitative difference among these post-Soviet countries. With this regard it is necessary to address the Law on Polish Card (Karta Polaka)[2] and the Law on Repatriation.[3] The territorial scope of the former law is the entire area of the former Soviet Union, including the Baltic States. In other words, the Polish Card can be issued to any who declares their affiliation (przynależność) with the Polish Nation (Art. 3.1) and is either citizen or a stateless person permanently residing in either of the former Soviet countries (Art. 2.2), provided that this person neither possesses Polish citizenship, nor permanent residency in Poland (Art. 2.4). The applicants also have to demonstrate sufficient command of the Polish language, as well as knowledge of Polish traditions and customs.

However, it seems more important to follow the logic of the Polish authorities’ argumentation. Firstly, the Law on the Polish Card has been adopted in compliance the Constitution of Poland which imposes the duty to assist Polish communities abroad to maintain their relations with the national cultural heritage. Secondly, the Law is presented as “a moral obligation towards Poles in the East who have lost their Polish citizenship as a result of our Homeland’s changing fortunes”. Thirdly, it is targeted towards those who declares Polish identity, though never had Polish citizenship. Finally, it is presented as a measure which could maintain linkage “uniting Poles in the East with their Motherland and to support them in their efforts to preserve the Polish language and to promote national tradition”. In case of the Law on Repatriation, its geographical scope does not cover territories of the former First and Second republics and is limited to the residents of the post-Soviet states of Central Asia, Caucasus, as well as to the Asian part of Russia. The argumentation of the legislator is linked to the Poland’s moral obligation towards Poles who became victims of the Communist terror, were forced to leave “ancestral lands” and against their will settled on these territories of the former Soviet Union. Contrary to the Act on the Polish Card, this law establishes the rules for acquiring Polish citizenship by the people who form its target group.

The analysis of the Polish Constitution and these two laws leads to several conclusions. Poland has not introduced a repatriation option from the areas which once were parts of the First and Second republics, as the Poles residing in the territories of today’s Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine live in their “ancestral lands”. Nevertheless, the Polish Card does not confirm the Polish origin as it is understood in the Constitution and specific legal acts.[4] Therefore, it is not fully correct to call this document a “Polish Ethnicity Card”,[5] as it could potentially be issued to the activists of Polish organizations, provided they demonstrate their cultural linkage to Poland.[6] Moreover, until recent changes in December 2017, the Polish Card was issued to the former citizens of the Second republic of non-Polish ethnicity and their descendants; consequently, a substantial number of the Polish Card holders could have civic, and not ethnic connections to Poland.

Still, the Polish Card offers several advantages to its holders, including those pertinent to visa, residency, employment, education and health-care issues. The ratio between personal ethno-cultural identity and economic benefits from the possession of the Polish Card in every individual case could hardly be measurable. However, either of these motivations means a person’s interest in maintenance of personal ties with Poland.

Nevertheless, these advantages have somewhat different attractiveness among its target groups “in the East”. For instance, they have little impact in the Baltic States due to the EU membership of these countries. Hence, it either a moral aspect for Poles from Latvia and Lithuania to have a document with the authentic writing of their personal names, or an additional benefit for those who belong to the category of non-citizens in Latvia.[7] In other countries of “the East” (like Belarus and Ukraine), the aforementioned economic advantages constitute a significant factor in opting to obtain the Polish Card.[8] The available statistics confirm this discrepancy: as of early 2016, Polish authorities received approximately 170,000 applications and issued 160,00 Polish Cards, mainly to the citizens of Belarus (75,000), Ukraine (70,000) and Lithuania (6,000).[9] Still, the statistics determine another trend. The Association “Polish Community” (Wspólnota Polska) which operates under the auspices of the Polish Senate claims that the number of people with Polish heritage in the post-Soviet space is as high as 2.6 million.[10]

The relatively small percentage of those who apply for the Polish Card might be seen as a combination of three factors – utilitarian approach of the target groups, their partial assimilation especially in the areas which lay beyond the territories of the former First and Second republics, as well as half-way opportunities offered by Poland within this framework. Moreover, though the support of compatriots abroad is quite efficient rhetorical tool among Polish politicians and public figures, it seems that both the society and elites in Poland are more focused on the country’s history than on the fates of the Poles in the East. To put it succinctly, for example, the massacre of Poles in Volhynia during the Second World War seems to be a more emotionally grounded argument in Poland’s domestic and foreign policies than the fates of Ukrainian Poles after this war and today.


[1] The Constitution of the Republic of Poland is quoted according to its Polish and English versions, available at the website of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland, http://www.sejm.gov.pl/prawo/konst/polski/kon1.htm and http://www.sejm.gov.pl/prawo/konst/angielski/kon1.htm.
[2] Internetowy System Aktów Prawnych. Ustawa z dnia 7 września 2007 r. o Karcie Polaka (Act of 7 September 2007 on Polish Card), Dz.U. 2007 nr 180 poz. 1280, http://isap.sejm.gov.pl/DetailsServlet?id=WDU20071801280.
[3] Internetowy System Aktów Prawnych. Ustawa z dnia 9 listopada 2000 r. o repatriacji (Act of 9 November 2000 on Repatriation), Dz.U. 2000 nr 106 poz. 1118, http://isap.sejm.gov.pl/DetailsServlet?id=WDU20001061118.
[4] For details, see: I. Wronska. ‘Specyfika pojęcia „przynależność do Narodu Polskiego” w stosunkach międzynarodowych – uwagi na tle realizacji ustawy o Karcie Polaka przez polskie służby konsularne’, in: P. Czubik and W. Burek (eds.), Wybrane zagadnienia współczesnego prawa konsularnego (z perspektywy prawa i praktyki międzynarodowej oraz polskiej), Instytut Multimedialny, Kraków 2014, pp. 268–282.
[5] See, for instance: European Parliament. Question for written answer to the Commission Rule 117 Radvilė Morkūnaitė-Mikulėnienė (PPE), 08/02/2012, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+WQ+E-2012-001123+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN; Sz. Pogonyi. Extra-Territorial Ethnic Politics, Discourses and Identities in Hungary, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2017.
[6] Wronska, op. cit., note 4 above.
[7] M. Wołłejko. ‘Realizacja ustawy o Karcie Polaka w latach 2008-2011 – sukces czy porażka?’, in: Bezpieczeństwo Narodowe, 20 (2011), pp. 149-158.
[8] Ibid.
[9] ‘Ustawa o Karcie Polaka znowelizowana przez Sejm’, Rzeczpospolita, 01/04/2016, http://www.rp.pl/Polak-za-granica/304019914-Ustawa-o-Karcie-Polaka-znowelizowana-przez-Sejm.html.
[10] Wołłejko, op. cit., note 7 above.

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