The Polish Diaspora in Turkmenistan: A Colonial Narrative
(continued from the September 2000 issue)
The center called "Turkmenistan Polonia" was formed in October 1992. While our desire is to reach those Poles who were deported generations ago as well as those who were deported during World War II, we cannot fully satisfy this desire: in Turkmenistan at present, it is forbidden to place ads in the paper informing readers that such a Center exists. This sounds strange to American ears, but such is reality in many post-Soviet countries. The only way we can reach people is by word of mouth. We also realize that older people might have died, while the younger ones were assigned another nationality under pressure. We have been able to gather together 5,000 persons of Polish nationality or background; we have no means to find out what the real figure is. Archival materials are still considered state secrets. Last but not least, the authorities have so far refused to register us as an organization, and this is another reason why some Poles are afraid to contact us..
Other white minorities in Turkmenistan have left or are in the process of leaving. The Germans are all gone. The Russian Embassy has a list of 37,000 persons wishing to leave. We Poles do not have that option. In order to emigrate to Russia, one has to show a birth certificate proving that one had been born there, or that one has relatives there. So we Poles are forced to remain in a country whose culture and religion are alien to us. We cannot even travel abroad because our wages are too low to afford travel.
What are our chances of repatriation to Poland? This is possible only if a county or a district invites a particular family and offers that family a place to live, a job, medical insurance etc. About 2,000
persons from Kazakhstan managed to leave in this way. We know that their situation in Poland is difficult, but we are not looking for luxuries but for an opportunity to return to Poland. So far, the Polish Embassy has not done anything substantial for us.
Since Turkmenistan Polonia is tiny by comparison with other Central Asian Polonias, few organizations take interest in us. This is a vicious circle. We know that it is difficult to sponsor a family, but each of us would be so grateful for an opportunity to emigrate. If even a few families left, the rest would feel encouraged and hopeful.
In the meantime, we have to live in conditions in which we find ourselves. We try to help each other. Even though the authorities have not granted us legal status and have refused to register us as an organization, they are not persecuting us either. Economically, the Center is in difficult conditions. For eight years, we have been asking Polish organizations and Polish diplomats for help. We have not received much help. In the meantime, some of us managed to emigrate to Russia; others fell ill; some two dozen died because of harsh conditions. In 1995, my wife died; in 1996, my deputy in the Center, Wlodzimierz Zuków, and several other persons passed away. No financial, educational, cultural or moral help was forthcoming from Poland. None. But in spite of everything--we survived.
Today, things are better. Hunger is less acute, stores are full, and even some medicines are available. Owing to the selfless enthusiasm of some of us, we built our organization, we introduced courses in the Polish language, we sent our children to Poland for the summer, and we even managed to place a few students at Polish universities. We very much hope that the authorities will finally register the Catholic church here so that we can say our prayers in Polish. Starting with October 1997, two Catholic priests have visited in Ashkhabad: Father Andrzej Madej and Father Radoslaw Zmitrowicz.
Unfortunately, we do not yet have the permit to register the Catholic church. We still are subjected to threats, and a lack of support from the Polish authorities and institutions does not help either.
I have recently read some documents concerning Turkmenistan issued by the U.S. Congressional Committee, and by OSCE. Their evaluation of the political situation here is quite negative. However, we cannot be too vocal in this regard. Our caution allows us to exist: other than the Polish group, no other ethnic organization has ever existed in Turkmenistan.
Our address in Ashkhabad is as follows:
Centrum Polonia Turkmenska
3737717, Walentin Tyshkewich, Inwestbank of Turkmenistan