"What Britain stands for is a complicated question"CHRIS LAWTON/UNSPLASH

My British friends are sometimes surprised by the amount of references to British culture and pop-culture I understand. I suppose part of that has to do with the influence of my father’s Anglo-Saxon upbringing, who grew up in Southern Africa. But for the most part I would attribute it to my education. I was lucky enough to go to a school which had a brilliant English language programme. Apart from learning the language we also learned about British culture: the Union Jack, fish and chips, tea with milk (I’m still not convinced), and of course the Royal Family.

If you visit any large town in Poland you will find people speaking fluent English. You are likely to meet people who have lived in the UK, or who have relatives here. Then of course there is the cultural presence that Britain has. Around the world people listen to The Beatles, Adele, and Ed Sheeran. People in Poland know exactly who Billy Elliot is. And then there is the Queen. On Thursday the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw was lit up in purple to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

“I think the UK still has a lot to be proud of”

To many Poles, Britain represents a promise of a better life. An estimated 830,000 Poles emigrated to the UK since 2004, most of them economic migrants. I too came here in 2019 because of this promise. Britain still has one of the best higher education systems in the world. I was lucky enough to get an offer from Cambridge, a university which has no equivalent outside the UK or the United States. No Polish university has made it into the top 500 of the world’s best universities according to the 2022 World University Ranking.

As my home country struggles with political corruption, racism, and homophobia, the UK, or at least the Cambridge bubble, feels like a welcoming, multicultural and open-minded safe-haven. To pretend that everything here is rosy would be immature. Johnson’s government wants to ship migrants to camps in Rwanda, limit the right to protest, and strengthen policing powers. All this is worrying, together with the ongoing economic crisis, and Boris’ obvious lack of respect for the public. Furthermore, Polish people face the same prejudice and discrimination as do other minority groups in the UK.

“There is nothing stopping British people from being patriotic whilst at the same time being critical about British history”

Then there is the dark side of British history: slavery, empire, the Troubles, etc. Brexit has not helped international perception of the UK in recent years. However, I think the UK still has a lot to be proud of. This was one of the first countries to legalise gay marriage. This is a country where women can decide whether or not they want to be a mother, with emergency contraception and abortion widespread and accepted by society.

These things can easily be taken for granted. Poland is just over a two hour plane journey and a popular destination with British tourists. Meanwhile its government is increasingly undemocratic, has implemented the strictest abortion laws in the EU, and regularly uses scaremongering as a tactic to win elections. In his 2020 election campaign President Andrzej Duda called LGBT people an ‘evil ideology’. I can’t imagine the Queen ever saying anything like that, partly because she does not have to run for office, but even Boris Johnson would not get away with such disgusting homophobia, and he tends to get away with a lot these days.


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Despite its problems Poland is still my home and I am proud of my culture and history. This includes accepting the dark aspects of Polish history, even if the government is not willing to do so. This is the country which wanted to imprison historian Jan Tomasz Gross for claiming the participation of Poles in the Holocaust. There is nothing stopping British people from being patriotic whilst at the same time being critical about British history.

I think the Platinum Jubilee offers a good opportunity to focus on and celebrate what is best about Britain: its diversity, openness, and democracy. At the same time it offers an opportunity to reflect on whether as a country and as a society we are where we aspire to be in terms of those treasured values.