Low Voter Turnout by Polish Immigrants in EU Election and a Debate Over Where to Focus Political Energy

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, Polish Daily News and FI2W reporter
A Polish citizen votes in the European parliamentary elections in New York - Photo: Marcin Zurawicz

A Polish citizen votes in the European parliamentary elections in New York – Photo: Marcin Zurawicz

Polish immigrants have historically shown more interest in elections in their home country than in U.S. politics. But now the tables may have turned. At two polling sites in New York on Saturday, only 872 people cast their votes in the European Union parliamentary elections, according to consul Przemyslaw Balcerzyk of the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York. That is approximately 10 times fewer than the total number who went to the polls in New York to vote in Polish parliamentary elections two years ago. Last November voters in the heavily Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn turned out in large numbers to vote in the presidential contest between Barack Obama and John McCain.

This was only the second time that Poles participated in an EU election, which typically attracts little attention even in countries that have been members of the European community for a long time. Only around 43% of the EU citizens voted this year, the lowest turnout since this type of election was first held in 1979.

In Poland the turnout was about 24.5%, which was actually more than 5 years ago, when approximately 20% of eligible Poles voted. But among Poles living in the U.S. the election stirred even less interest.

Many Polish immigrants said they were simply not interested.

“I don’t even know these candidates. I stopped following Polish politics years ago and I don’t quite understand the European Union political structure,” said Jolanta Krysowski (50), a bookkeeper who immigrated to the U.S. 16 years ago.

“Besides polling sites are too far,” said Krysowski, who lives in New Jersey.

This year 10 polling sites opened for Poles around the U.S. Some Poles actually believe they have no right to participate in Polish or European elections and that Poles living in Poland should chose their government by themselves.

Andrzej Dobrowolski, a political commentator for the Polish Daily News agrees with this point of view.

“For our community it should be most important to participate in American elections. This way we would be noticed by politicians who can affect our everyday life,” said Dobrowolski, who left his native country over 30 years ago.

But others described voting as an obligation. Jan Milun came all the way from Boston to cast his vote in New York.

“Poland is our real homeland and we should exercise our right to speak out on the issues important for our country,” said Milun, 71, an opera singer and concert organizer, who has been living in the U.S. for almost 40 years. “It’s not important where you live. It’s important which country you feel attached to.”

All together, 3,483 Poles casted their votes in the U.S., wrote the Polish Press Agency. According to the 2000 Census, there are more than 485,000 Polish immigrants in the U.S. It is unclear, however, how many carry a valid Polish passport, a necessary requirement to participate in EU elections.

The majority of Poles who voted in the U.S. chose the conservative Law and Justice party, which in the European parliament is a member of the Union for Europe of the Nations. In Poland, the center-right Civic Platform won. Civic Platform is the largest party in the lower house of the Polish parliament and a member of the European People’s Party.

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