Not too long ago there was an outburst of anti-Ukrainian prejudice in one of my classes. A student said she didn’t like Ukrainians, didn’t want them around and wasn’t happy that there are so many of them in Poland in general or in the city we’re living in in particular.
The student was, of course, Ukrainian herself and spent a few minutes explaining and elaborating on the idea that the biggest enemy of Ukrainians in Poland are other Ukrainians. Some students seemed a little taken aback, but I just smiled and said “Yeah, I’ve heard that before… I sympathize.”
Partly I sympathize with the idea of leaving your country only to be bumping into to the people you wanted to get away from (I have a mild version of that myself and tend to absent myself whenever I hear an American voice).
And partly I found it amusing because I have heard it all before – from Polish people when they talk about other Polish people abroad. I’ve heard lots of complaints from students going to the UK to earn some spending money and finding themselves surrounded by other Poles (followed by stories about how hopeless they were) and partly from a few who decided to move. One friend was moving to America and had bought a guide which constantly admonished the reader to steer clear of other Polish people in the US (notorious for… trying to exploit newcomers).
The only thing that surprised me is that the students hadn’t heard any of this before and it seemed a little weird to them. The idea of either especially seeking out or avoiding their countrymen when outside of the country or being embarrassed about their worst specimens… just wasn’t on their radar (and some of them have traveled/lived/worked abroad).
It was one of those moments when I realized things really are different now and that I need to dust off old ideas that used to be true but which are increasingly irrelevant.
I really hope that in a few years Ukrainians won’t be mortified by their own when traveling or living abroad – that would be a sign of real progress.