High unemployment and corruption scandals plaguing the current left-wing coalition government mean that, come October, a right-wing coalition of the Law and Justice (PiS) and Civic Platform (PO) parties is likely to be in power. Mateusz Tomala, an active member of the PiS youth wing, the Youth Forum, tells us why young Poles are leaving their homeland and what can make them come back.
Is Poland’s accession to the EU the reason for its youth brain drain?
No, it is not just a problem of open borders. It would be populism to tell people that it is better to stay here… young people are not naive and politicians know that very well. The problem is their lack of patriotism. I often encounter my peers claiming that they don’t need to stay here, that they hate this country, that they don’t know what they are doing here. But I don’t consider the European Union to be the reason for this and - at the same time - any threat. [Being part of the EU] is a great chance for us to present ourselves in the European world, to fight against the stereotypes of the Polish thief and drunkard. Thanks to young people studying and taking up jobs in Western countries we can present ourselves and our country in a more positive light.
The Law and Justice Party is tipped to do well in the upcoming elections. Is there anything in your manifesto concerning young people and the brain drain issue?
Yes, we have some ideas to encourage young people to stay in Poland. We would crack down on the problem of lawyers’, doctors’ and dentists’ fraternities [which are very difficult to get into and control the job market in these areas]. In Poland, if you have some useful connections, acquaintances or family bonds you will get a job - no matter if you lack the necessary qualifications. These people steal employment opportunities from those who are properly educated and highly motivated to work and learn. Politicians need to persuade these people to stay by ensuring a decent life for them in Poland, for example by creating new job opportunities, and increasing salaries for academics and scientists so that they perform their research here, in Poland.
Do you know any people personally who have chosen to move abroad?
Yes, many of them. Most want to leave right after college - primarily for economic reasons, but also because there is a problem with the Polish mentality. We can compare [this exodus] to a large extent with the mass emigration of Poles to USA in the 1980s. These Polish emigrants didn’t have high living standards, sometimes they were even worse off than in Poland, but they would never admit it because they believed in the myth of the wonderful Western world. Maybe they were ashamed of the fact that they left their country and so defended their decision at all costs. I think that the reason for such a decision is caused by the lack of patriotism among young people.
Do you believe that this trend of emigration will continue?
I think that we are still overwhelmed by the possibilities that were laid open to us by EU enlargement, but sooner or later things will calm down. When the living standards in all EU countries become more equal, there will be no need to leave. We need a good, clever government to provide incentives (such as scholarships) for young, ambitious Poles to remain in the country and to support Polish enterprise. The political and cultural weekly magazine Polityka runs a programme called “Stay with us”, which provides scholarships for the best scientists and students. But it is not enough. This kind of incentive should be carried out at a state level and on a larger scale. The USA is a world power because they have the best-educated scientists in the whole world… We should follow in their steps.
But isn’t it better that at least now Poles are staying within Europe, rather than going to the USA?
Yes. It’s closer and we have more in common with other Europeans, no matter how big the differences between the nationalities are. We were raised in the European spirit - our parents couldn’t move freely like we can - and now we are facing a great boom in the number of people going abroad to earn money or learn in Great Britain, in Spain, in France. I really support the idea of free movement of people – as long as they come back to their country. After gaining some knowledge, a bit of experience and language skills they should bring it all back to use it here, for their country.