Proud to be Polish

A Divided Town: The Polish town of Cieszyn on the left of the River Olze, Cesky Tesin and the Czech Republic on the right.

Due to border disputes in the wake of the Great War, many of Polish origin were left on the Czech side of the border for many years. Now due to the added rights given to them by EU membership, there are still many many challenges facing the small Polish Minority of Zaolzie.

By Piers d’Orgee

The small town of Cieszyn has a long and rich history, legend would have us believe it is over 1200 years old. Due to territorial dispute in 1920 over the region of Cieszyn Silesia from the newly formed state of Czechoslovakia it is now partly in the Czech Republic.

This action has left many of Polish heritage on the Czech side of Silesia, which is now called Zaolzie. Still today there is a minority of Poles living in the region that number roughly 38,000, of which 3,500 remain in Cesky Tesin formed in 1920, separated from Polish Cieszyn by a river that flows through the centre of the town.

There has been some unrest between the Czech and Polish community however; as many Czechs believe that the Polish minority should be speaking the national language. The argument is that as the Polish were already in the region before the borders were set, why should they assimilate?

‘We didn’t move here, our ancestors have lived here forever, we love our traditions, our culture, our language of course,’ said Daniela Durczok, an English teacher at a Polish school in Cesky Tesin.

‘I for example do not have any family in Poland, it’s a very usual question “you have family in Poland?” and I say no, for we have lived here for an age, and it is normal for us to be here’, said colleague and biology teacher Ewa Troszok.

In 1910, a census took place that counted 124,805 Poles in Zaolzie (69.3%) of the population, just eleven years later the figure had fallen to 68,034 due to the feeling that ethnicity was defined by state citizenship. Despite the long legacy of Polish community, there can often be discrimination from Czechs towards the Polish, particularly visible since the EU directive to give extra rights to minorities that are more than 10% of a region’s population.

‘In communism, the communist program was to have one nation, they do not want to have any minorities and children in communism didn’t learn history. Even now if you meet somebody in the street you hear ‘what are you doing here? You are Polish? Go across the border!’ so I say I am at home, my ancestors were born here, I live here, I didn’t move here,’ said Durczok.

The lack of knowledge of historical events in the region may be partly to blame for the discrimination. Others believe that there are other reasons among the younger generations for such acts.

Glos Ludu: A paper coordinated by Kongres Polakow, written for and by the Polish Minority in Cesky Tesin

Roman Wirth, of the Polish Minority in Cesky Tesin, said that many of his Polish friends believe that the amount of money the government spends making bilingual signs for two languages that are so similar is a waste of money. The language issue has also become a problem, Wirth was at the Kongres Polakow (Polish Kongres) looking for advice ‘I come from my office of work, and the woman who works there says I have to speak Czech, because I am in Czech Republic, but this is not true.’

The Kongres Polakow President said, ‘we represent the Polish Minority politically, and independently and if there is a problem we can do something about it. We have a newspaper (Glos Ludu) and we also look after the Polish schools in Czech Republic. We are looking for media, as we only have one show a week in Polish for 5 minutes.’

More on the Polish Minority of Zaolzie

The People

The Politics

The Culture

The Two Towns of Cieszyn and Cesky Tesin

About Piers