Since its creation in 2008, the popularity of the Karta Polaka (Polish Card) has been on the rise in the entire Post-Soviet space in general, and in Ukraine in particular. Here’s an analysis of the situation in Mikolaiv City, Southern Ukraine.
“I am not doing it for myself. I am old already. But I am doing it for my daughter, for her to have a better future, the possibility to travel to Europe if she wants to.”
These words, heard at the Polish Cultural Association “Polonia Semper Fidelis” of Mykolaiv city, Ukraine, echo throughout the entire post-Soviet space. Many people, like our interlocutor, hope to be able to prove to the Polish authorities of the local consulate that they are of direct Polish descent and thus entitled to the door-opener to Europe, the “Karta Polaka”. As the card can also be granted to children of its holders, the stakes are high.
The Karta Polaka, or “Polish Card” (literally meaning Pole’s Card), established in 2007 by an act of the Polish parliament that entered into force in 2008, was intended to help citizens of the former Soviet Union who belong to the Polish nation but cannot obtain dual citizenship, have never held a Polish passport and do not reside in Poland, to maintain their “Polish heritage”. If holding the card does not itself grant a Polish citizenship (nor does it allow one to settle in Poland), it still brings many advantages to its holder.
Indeed, individuals granted a Karta Polaka can be exempted from fees of the Polish visa as well as the obligation to have a work permit in Poland, can also set up a company in the country under the same conditions as Poles and study for free at Polish public universities – foreigners studying in Poland usually have to pay fees – but retains the right to apply for scholarships granted to foreign students. Other advantages include a discount on public transportation (37%), free entrance to state museums, and, last but not least, access to health care in life-threatening situations.
A set of rights many Ukrainians can only dream of – the Schengen Visas – are still close to impossible to obtain. It is not a coincidence that the act on Karta Polaka was adopted in 2007 – the same year that Poland entered the Schengen Area, making it much harder for the members of the Polish minorities of the CIS countries to travel to Poland.
Studying abroad through exchange programmes is also highly unlikely for Ukrainian students because of the low level of collaboration of Ukrainian higher education institutions with their European counterparts, and the high costs of a complete education in another country makes it unaffordable for an average Ukrainian family.
Obtaining the document can however be a rather complicated process. The three main conditions include: relationship with the Polish culture, language and traditions, written declaration of belonging to the Polish nation, proved Polish nationality or Polish citizenship of ancestors or (instead of the last one) confirmed activity in Polish cultural associations. To prove their Polish origins, applicants must submit several documents, such as birth certificates, baptism certificates issued by Roman Catholic churches, documents proving deportation or imprisonment during Soviet repressions, USSR passports mentioning Polish nationality, etc. Because most of the aspirers are Poles from the second or the third generation, the needed documents are often missing from their local archives, destroyed or lost during the Second World War and following years of mass displacement and territorial changes. Many of them have to send their inquiries to Poland or to other countries of the former Soviet Union to gather the needed proof.
Only twelve members out of eighty of the Polish Cultural Association of Mykolaiv hold a Karta Polaka. Such Polish communities are quite popular in the region: they offer free language classes – language proficiency and in-depth knowledge of Polish culture and history are requirements to be granted Karta Polaka – to Ukrainians of Polish descent. Poland is very attractive for Ukrainians because of historical, cultural, and linguistic links and similarities between the two countries. There are currently fourteen official Polish visa delivery centres in Ukraine, and some of them, mainly in western Ukraine, had to employ more officers after introduction of Karta Polaka. In addition to that, a whole informal “industry” has developed around it: language schools in Ukraine promise to teach Polish and to prepare for the required Polish language examination (although the examination is intended to verify the ties with Polish traditions and knowledge of the Polish language, which is considered to be applicant’s native language) and questionable enterprises that arise on both sides of the border offering to extract documents from the state or church archives for exorbitant prices.
As of 2012, about 46 500 Ukrainian citizens held a Karta Polaka in Ukraine what makes them the largest group among the total of 100 000 holders from all former Soviet Union countries. The majority of them never emigrate from Ukraine – they mainly benefit from the advantages of the long-term multiple entry visa to Poland and free of cost application procedure. Those Karta Polaka holders who decide to leave Ukraine and apply for a permit to settle in Poland encounter often further bureaucratic problems. Although entitled to the right to settle without having to document their previous residency in Poland, they however need to prove their Polish origins once again in a different administrative procedure. Unfortunately, Karta Polaka is not being recognized by Polish Voivodeship offices as a sufficient determinant of the Polish descent (as issued by the consulate on more arbitrary grounds). This means that a person needs to submit these documents twice – first in Ukraine and then in Poland.
It can also be observed that in the past 2 years the number of positive decisions on Karta Polaka has been constantly decreasing. In 2012, Polish consulates in Ukraine issued around 7 000 documents to Ukrainian citizens, which is by almost 3 000 less than in 2011. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this is due to the generally smaller number of applications for the regulations and issuing conditions have not been changed.
At the time of writing, we did not know if our interlocutor from Mykolaiv managed to obtain his dreamed-of document, and – by this means – open the “door of Europe” to his daughter.
This article was written by Marta Szczepanik and Sara Dutch in the context of the youth exchange programm Europe in a suitcase which aim is to bring together young teams of experts from Poland, Germany and Ukraine and take them on dialogue trips to the countries of the Eastern Partnership. The authors travelled through the Mikolaev region for four days and held meetings in several universities, schools but also with representatives of the civil society. This reflection on Karta Polaka is the result of Since 2008, the popularity of the Karta Polaka has been on the rise in the entire Post-Soviet space in general, and in Ukraine in particular. But is it as relevant in Southern Ukraine as in Galicia ? Why do people try to obtain this document so bad ? one of these meetings. For more information about our team , please visit our facebook page and for more information about the project in general, please click here