Measured by percentage of population, Poland is less rural than at least a dozen other countries in Europe. Richer countries like Finland and Ireland have proportionately more people living out in the countryside, yet the cherubic image of Poland as a pastoral land of priests and peasants lives on, often in a powerful, magical and romantic way.
When Pawel asked if I would like to spend a weekend with his family at their home on a farm about 40 km from Łódź I jumped at the opportunity and quickly said yes to the invitation. It was for me a rare chance as a stranger from Asia to get close and personal to the real soul of an important and resurgent nation at the very heart of Europe.
As a nation, Poland is an authentic European hybrid.
Despite being Western in culture, religion and politics, Poland is by geography and recent history an Eastern European country with a language that sounds like a rustling swishing variety of Russian but written in Latin alphabets like French and English.
Present day Poland may not be rich or even stylishly influential in world affairs but with its homogenous society rooted in a decisive role in history and Roman Catholic tradition, the country has pressing lessons for a Europe facing a crisis of divided societies fractured by the issue of mass mainly male muslim migration.
The first lesson learnt is in the heart-melting kindness felt by travellers, including non-white people, to Poland. Such experiences are signs of a people largely at peace with their identity, faith and conscience. They also prove that Poland unlike Western Europe with its history of colonisation and slavery see no need to give out residency or passports on a huge scale to nationalities of people of different skin colours in order to be nice, tolerant and respectful of them and their cultures. After all, to cherish ones own heritage and wanting to protect it from a deluge by migrants of a different religion after centuries of foreign domination and subjugation does not equal racism or exclusion.
Indeed if Europe is today honest about defending what it considers to be its inalienable and inherent secular liberal values from the twin threats of terrorism and rising intolerance, then those values must also necessarily and urgently be enlarged to include Poland’s right to remain Catholic and Polish without being branded superstitious or regressive.
All images and words Copyright Kerk Boon Leng 2016