My book, Kings and Comedians: A Brief History of British-Polish Relations, has been published today and is available on Kindle and in paperback, as well as from Amazon.co.uk. It contains war, repression, liberation, art, heroism, war, betrayal, poetry, war, football and war. I hope you enjoy it. The introduction is below the fold:
The great British historian Norman Davies settled in Poland by mistake. As recounted in an interview with the Financial Times:
As a young man, Davies was “collecting languages” and one of them was Russian. At a Polish-Soviet border crossing, however, he was refused entry…into the Soviet Union. He stayed in Poland…
I also settled in Poland almost by mistake. Having trained to be an English teacher, I hoped to work in Japan. All the schools that might have hired me had dubious reputations, though, and all the better schools were strangely unwilling to employ a 22-year-old with thin qualifications and no experience. As I was on the verge of giving up and staying in England I received an email from a Polish language school. Was I interested in a job? In Poland? Sure, why not.
Still, I thought I would stay for a year and then go to Japan. Yet a year turned into two, two years turned into three, three years turned into four, and four years turned into five. Looking back, I am extremely thankful for what happened. I was young enough and dumb enough to think that going to Japan would be like wandering into a Murakami novel, and, meanwhile, I fell in love with Poland. For the last five years I have been living in a town in the Silesian Highlands. It is beautiful, and cultural, and fun, and full of opportunities for the future. From there I have been fortunate enough to visit great cities like Krakow, and Gdansk, and Toruń, and I have experienced the beauty of the Baltic Sea and the Beskid mountains. I have found love, and the best years of my life, and it is an honour to live here.
These are vexing times, for Britons and for Poles. Fifty-two percent of British voters chose to leave the European Union and Prime Minister Theresa May’s government has stumbled, staggered and slipped through negotiations on a post-Brexit deal. Many Poles, meanwhile, have been appalled by Western leaders’ dithering with regards to the migration crisis, and perceived meddling in their national affairs. The EU, on the other hand, has been frustrated by Polish unwillingness to accept refugees, and the government’s allegedly anti-democratic restructuring of the courts.
The British and the Polish occupy two different ends of the European Union, and both nations – among others – have at times felt ill-suited for the organisation. Britons, who exist at a distance from the continent, and who once projected power across the oceans, chafe against real or perceived intrusions on their independence. Poles, meanwhile, who have often had more far to fear than to welcome from their neighbours, are suspicious of large European powers.
Despite these comparable Eurosceptic instincts there is a danger of tension between Britons and Poles when we lurch into a post-Brexit Europe. There are more Poles than immigrants from any other nation living in Britain – as well, of course, as some Britons living in Poland – and their status is falling into question. These two European refuseniks will have to come to terms on how their economic, cultural and political relations will be navigated in the coming years. This, as well as the happy occasion of a hundred years of Polish independence, inspired me to write this book exploring the history of British-Polish connections. To be sure, it is not a story of unblemished friendship. It contains a great deal of hostility, betrayal and indifference. But it is also a story of courage, and sacrifice, and admiration, and the extent to which Britain and Poland have been interconnected should inspire us to pursue a friendly and cooperative relationship in the future.
There are some admissions I should make of this book. First, it is not scholarship, though I hope the information is accurate and the arguments are compelling and at least somewhat original. Second, it is not objective, though I like to think that my affection for both countries is balanced by authorial conscientiousness. Third, it is not polemical. It contains arguments addressing different matters but the histories of both nations are too vast, complex, contradictory, tragic, humorous and human to allow for one straightforward narrative. This, I think, is part of their charm, some of which, I hope, is encapsulated in this book.