Letter to the Editor: Polish American Congress at a crossroads: Change or become irrelevant

On March 16 the Polish American Congress, Michigan Division, will hold its biennial election. Ultimately, of course, the Division’s future depends on the national PAC’s survival (which, frankly, looks “iffy”) but this election may determine its near-term fate.
The PAC, at all levels, is in trouble, largely because it has failed to adapt to two realities: the world, including America and Poland, has changed dramatically over the past few decades; and Polonia, inevitably and necessarily, has changed with it. As a result, the PAC continues to slide toward irrelevance, prompting questions about its continued existence—and even about its raison d’être. If the Michigan PAC is to survive, it must, in effect, reinvent itself. First of all, it needs a vision, a defined sense of purpose, and a clear direction. It must dust off its bylaws and mission statement and reinterpret them in light of present realities. A major part of its original mission is no longer relevant: Poland is free; Communism, as a global movement, is dead; and immigration from Poland has almost dried up. Therefore, the PAC must focus on the other parts of its purpose and mission to develop and implement a realistic, sensible and sustainable strategy for the foreseeable future.
The strategy must include a plan to attract young members and move them into leadership positions. It’s a cliché but it’s true: Young people represent Polonia’s future. They are also changing Polonia (which is, in any case, increasingly difficult to define as a distinct entity). They are more open-minded, less biased and – forgive the expression – more liberal, in the broad sense of the term, than many older members of Polonia. In their view, for example, Communism is no longer a world threat, ethnic and racial bigotry are not Christian values, and Poland’s neo-fascist hooligans are not heroes. Unfortunately, little about today’s PAC interests smart young Polish Americans. If they happen to stumble into a typical PAC meeting only to see a musty roomful of old folks arguing over ancient and irrelevant politics, they will never return.
Although implementing a sound strategy relies on leadership and the hard work of members, money is essential. However, as with attracting new blood, raising money demands a solid plan and an inspiring vision. Neither is very obvious right now.
Clearly, then, the PAC desperately needs effective leadership—leadership that focuses on the PAC’s proper mission without wandering off into political and ideological weeds that have nothing to do with the PAC’s mission. That leads, unavoidably, to what the Polish American Congress must not do:
It must not take sides in partisan politics, either American or Polish. The PAC should represent all Polish Americans, not just a few. In recent years, the Michigan Division has often acted as if it had forgotten that.
It must not waste its time and resources meddling in the internal, bitterly divided politics of Poland. Some within the PAC seem unable to accept the fact that Poland is a sovereign, democratic, modern and secular state that doesn’t need the PAC’s “help.” Instead, they attack Poland’s elected government, promote silly conspiracy theories and, worst of all, try to divide Polonia into “real” Poles (like them) and “traitors.” That can’t continue.
Finally, the PAC’s leaders must not dredge up and wallow in conflicts rooted – literally – in the chaotic Polish politics of the 1920s and ‘30s. No clear-thinking people, and certainly no young Polish Americans, care about that stuff.
There are many matters of real importance to Polish Americans and America – and even for Poland – that warrant the PAC’s involvement in accordance with its bylaws and mission statement. Such involvement represents the PAC’s only hope for survival and relevance, but that will require effective leadership, at state and national levels.
That’s why the upcoming Michigan Division election is so important.

Andrzej Ładak

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