Well, that really was fun. At long last, the stench of corruption is punctured by the righteous, sweet smell of SUCCESS! In a unique show of émigré Polish solidarity – enforced by a united voice of protest – Ognisko club members, and the club committee voted overwhelmingly 88 to 3, (who are the three villains?), against the proposed sale of our Ognisko building. Thus bringing to a shuddering halt the alarming (often secretive) trend of needless land-grabs and property disposals by our self-serving and lay (vulture) trusts.
On 27 May, Whit Sunday, (Zielone Świątki), on a hot afternoon, in blazing sunshine, with near 30 degree temperatures, the gathered Anglo-Polish protesters – their temperatures certainly rising – were in defiant, and uncompromising mood.
Outside, in front of the building’s famous London Polish Ognisko entrance steps, and two pillars on which in black lettering, and brass plates is enshrined our address – 55 Prince’s Gate, Exhibition Road – the agitated crowd amidst crusading flags, banners, song and speeches, vented their anger, contempt, and dissent over the proposed sale.
Inside, the affectionate oldie-worldy club building was a flurry of animated activity. Against its wonderful tapestry of 72 years of Polish emigre history, various groups, and canvassers were anxiously number crunching. The most prominent was coordinator extraordinaire Teresa Stella-Sawicka of Polish Heritage, tirelessly marshalling votes against the sale. The vote to save the, OUR, building was on!
Would Teresa’s many weeks’ of arithmetic add up to a NO vote? You felt that at any moment she would even be joined by the reputable figures of Generals Anders, and Sikorski; President Raczynski; one-time Chairman Count Eugeniusz Lubomirski de Vaux; all ready to pop out from the famous Ognisko walls to the tunes and cabaret of Marian Hemar, all coming to the rescue, calling in unison for law and order, and a halt to this preposterous proposal to sell !
The first step was to ensure an independent Chairman for the EGM, (Extraordinary General Meeting), held in the big ballroom –Sala Hemara. In the event Szymon Zaremba, good friend of Andrzej Morawicz, was voted down in favour of Jan Brodzki who was seen as a safe pair of hands and so chosen to chair events. Round one to the NO sale vote. The news filtered fast to those scattered around inside the building, and the (protesters) outside.
To prevent any possible skullduggery – yes, such was the suspicion of a rigged vote – that a TRANSPARENT ballot box was provided. But there was still more business to conduct before the crucial vote, and the meeting which in the words of Lady Belhaven and Stenton was;”highly charged and very emotional”, still had a moment of drama.
Seated at the back of the packed hall, Lady Belhaven recalls what she describes as; “The most dramatic moment. It came, namely when Andrzej Morawicz tendered his resignation both as Club Chairman and from the Club Committee”. Lady Belhaven adds; ”Morawicz did this with some dignity.” He remained at the meeting – impassive. Lady Belhaven is less kind to the rest of the club committee, all of whom she feels ought to go. Of Tamara Solecka, a solicitor, she is full of praise as someone who as a committee member resigned a week before the EGM on principle and in vehement protest against the proposal to sell. Diplomatically, Lady Belhaven counsels caution, and keeps to herself what she thinks of the remaining club committee members. What she has heard, and what she knows are two different issues. She expresses however great delight at the democratic process allowing matters to progress at the Polish Hearth Club.
Outside, the protesters led by cheerleaders Sławek Wróbel and Kris Ruszczyński are still loudly making their displeasure felt to the point that someone for the EGM meeting confronts them to tone down their boisterous behaviour. Miraculously, peace breaks out. A polite request asking the demonstrators’ to tone things down is accepted.
The vote takes some half an hour. The transparent ballot box is passed around the congregation of voters by Jane Whewell like a ‘tacka’ (donation plate) in church. Ballot papers are slipped into the transparent box until ready for the count. The result, and the news spread like wildfire! It is eighty eight AGAINST the sale, seven abstentions, and three for the sale. The Ognisko building is saved…
or is it?
The various rooms with various interested parties are exaltant. Dotted around the ballroom, bar, restaurant, tent, magnificent Victorian staircase and hallways, it is a carnival atmosphere. The relief is a delight to behold. The almost musical clinking of brimming champagne glasses accompanied by excited victorious chattering is everywhere heard. There you can see Barbara Kaczmarowska-Hamilton – instigator of the now famous 11 May meeting leading to the “Ognisko 27 Rejtans” new members, chatting away with various interested groups. By the Marian Hemar ballroom distinguished looking actress Irena Delmar-Czarnecka is fondly reminiscing about bygone days, the Marian Hemar cabaret, and her own late husband’s huge early input into starting and supporting the Ognisko club and building.
Elsewhere perhaps not all is joy. Andrzej Morawicz, the now gone Chairman, cuts a forlorn, even isolated figure in the corner of the Ognisko tent restaurant. There is also – something he foresaw – a lot of mopping up to do. Here the current Ognisko secretary Wlodek Mier-Jedrzejowicz is now processing the new memberships, and as ably as he can, preserves and paves the path for ‘a new continuity’. There is now (not unusually), a mini power struggle going on with both ‘healthy’ and less desirable vested interests at play…
For a few weeks hundreds of émigré Poles watched the same SAVE OGNISKO TV programme: even though each had his own remote control, there was a united aspiration, a consensus. Well, it begins to look as if the remote controls might now be thrown away, subject to a free for all – what’s that about throwing the baby away with the bathwater…?
Perhaps the final word should go to the historian, and author of God’s Playground – A History of Poland (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1985), Norman Davies. He writes in chapter eleven, Emigracja:
The Polish-University-Abroad, though much diminished, still functions. The Church of Andrzej Bobola provides the focal point of Roman Catholic life. Elsewhere in the United Kingdom, there are large Polish communities in Glasgow, Manchester, Bradford, and Coventry. There are Polish boarding schools at Fawley Court (Oxon.), for boys, and at Pitsford (Leics.), for girls. In all major centres there are Polish Parishes, Polish clubs, and Polish Saturday schools. The tone is gradually changing as the new British-born generation comes to the fore. But if the spirit of pre-war Warsaw, Wilno, or Lwow has survived anywhere it is in the ROOMS OF THE OGNISKO POLSKIE (THE POLISH HEARTH) IN KENSINGTON.
Well, there is certainly much food for thought here. The political map of Wilno and Lwow (Lviv) as we well know has been re-written. But what of the United Kingdom? And particularly what of Zielone Świątki this year at FAWLEY COURT?
Chairman, Fawley Court Old Boys, FCOB Ltd.,
(and new Ognisko Club member, Membership No: 4291)