Eva Hussain is a dynamic key note speaker and expert on a number of fields, including languages and European citizenship. She is the founder and CEO of Polaron, an Australian company with four global offices providing translation, interpreting and citizenship services for people of European heritage.
We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Ms Hussain during her visit to the UK.
Tell us a bit more about Polaron.
Polaron was founded back in 2000, originally as a translation services provider. We were the first company in the world to start offering Polish citizenship services just before Poland entered the EU in 2004, in response to the interest from the descendants of Polish emigres. This was such an organic and unexpected niche market, and it just grew over time. A total surprise actually – it was only ever meant to be a small side to our language services business.
Whilst our head office remains in Australia, we service clients from twenty different countries, including UK, Canada, US and Israel. In the last fifteen years we have processed over 7,000 applications for Polish citizenship so you could say that we have been quite successful. With nearly 30 staff based in our global offices, it’s certainly grew beyond our wildest expectations.
Why would people pursue Polish citizenship, though?
It does sound a bit strange, doesn’t it? When you look at the immigration patterns out of Poland, millions of people left for economic or political reasons over the last 150 years or so. They then settled in their new adoptive countries and not everybody kept connected with their heritage, for all kinds of reasons. In some countries, like USA, it wasn’t cool to be Polish. People may have kept their Polish surnames, for example, but not much else to do with Poland. The post-1989 changes and the transformation that Poland underwent in the 90s created a real buzz, particularly when EU membership kicked in.
Also see: EU Citizenship FAQs
More and more people started travelling to Poland and discovering the country, as it was transforming before their eyes. It is a place with a 1000-year-old history, architecture and traditions and since your Polish citizenship means that you can work, live and study in all 28 countries of the European Union, people with Polish ancestry saw the opportunity to relocate to Europe without visas or restrictions quite early on. But I have to emphasise here that most people see this as more than an opportunistic grab. It is so much more.
How do you mean? The cynical me can only see the immediate, somewhat selfish benefits, particularly in light of Brexit.
Many of our clients have very little knowledge of their ancestors’ history. You know, people simply got on with their lives once they left Poland, often against their will, leaving their loved ones behind. The post WW2 migration was particularly traumatic: people were displaced and were not able to return to their homes so they did their best to integrate into their adopted countries. Some people maintained a very strong link with Poland but others did not, driven by fear and trauma of their war time experiences. In fact, most Poles did. They buried their identities and went as far as changing their names. They were vague or even silent about what happened to them. So when their children or grandchildren come to us to help them reclaim their Polish citizenship because they heard they might be eligible, we have very little to go on. Our painstaking research often involves piecing a history together by reading between the lines, reviewing archival documents, letters, backs of photos and interviewing family members who – often reluctantly – share small details with us. It’s like a giant puzzle which we rebuild piece by piece. Even the archival documents we get from Germany or UK can only tell you so much. To many of our clients the information we provide them with as part of the citizenship process starts as secondary, only to become a very precious link to their ancestors. They discover things about their grandparents or great grandparents that are interesting, mysterious and sometimes scandalous, including bigamies, children out of wedlock, noble and not so noble backgrounds. With Brexit, the interest in Polish citizenship tripled. No wonder, though: hundreds of thousands of people in the UK have jobs, properties or other interests across the channel.
Oh! What’s the most scandalous case you have ever worked on? Any family skeletons you can tell us about without breaching confidentiality?
Firstly, let me say that the history of every single family I have ever worked with is fascinating and special. Everyone’s journey is different and I feel so privileged to be given access to it. But we do from time to time discover information we’re not quite sure what to do with. Like this case where our client’s grandfather simply left one afternoon to buy a proverbial packet of cigarettes and never came back. Through the electoral roll we found him in another city, remarried and with a Von added to his surname. We’ve had a couple of cases of faked identities, discovered through documents and information that just didn’t add up. Our clients’ grandparents are no longer alive but it was still a shock to their families, despite the passage of time. In one particular case, we simply don’t know the identity of our client’s grandmother, even though we spent years on research. She made sure that we would never know.
You must come across quite a bit of family conflict. How do you manage that?
That’s is true. In fact, we have a saying in Polish: the only time you look good with your family is when taking a photo. I say that tongue in cheek but family conflicts are frequent and I approach them with all the sensitivity in the world, as does our staff. You have to be very respectful of people’s experiences and stories. The best way is to be empathetic and telling them that they’re not alone in this also helps.
Back to Brexit. You said that the interest has increased, and greatly so. How does Polaron actually assist people who may be interested in getting their Polish citizenship, and passport?
We start by putting a family tree together and gathering evidence. In some families, good records have been kept, whereas in others, documents have been destroyed. We then check the family history of a prospective client against the legislation in Poland, to ensure that no event took place to affect their eligibility. We do that very diligently and carefully to ensure people don’t waste their time or money. And our reputation is at stake, too, of course.
So this is done free of charge?
Yes, it is. The initial consultation is completely free. We actually guarantee the outcome of people’s application and only take case on that are bound to succeed. It is in everyone’s interest to make sure the applicant qualifies for Polish citizenship in the first place. Of course, we sometimes don’t have the relevant paperwork but we do offer research services to back up people’s claims. People who contact us get the free review of their case and we then provide them with a no-obligation quote, which is fixed. We think it’s a fair transaction.
And how do you know people are eligible?
We look at their case from the point of view of the Polish law. We apply relevant legislation to their case and check eligibility dates. The legislation in Poland is really quite liberal: you do not have to speak Polish and all you need is one ancestor who was a resident of Poland, including the former Polish territories, after 1920. Of course, it is a little bit more complicated than that because the legislation had several amendments over the years. But this is why it is so important to have a clear understanding of each family’s background.
Let’s say I am eligible for Polish citizenship under my grandfather. What happens next? How can you help me?
We send you a quote with a guaranteed outcome and if you are happy to proceed with our services, we allocate a dedicated project manager to you. We check your documents for discrepancies – you would be surprised how many people have all kinds of errors on their birth or marriage certificates. We collect documents that show the link to your Polish ancestor. Everything gets collated, legalised and translated into Polish. This can take a few weeks. After that, we submit your case to the Mazovian Voivodeship Office in Warsaw. And then we wait.
I hear that the process can take several years.
Yes, it can. But not with Polaron. Our average processing time is 11 months. Having said that, we have had a few cases that took much longer. In fact, as long as 5-7 years. You know the fake identity cases I mentioned? Yes, those ones.
Do people often ask you about the current political climate in Poland?
Yes, they do. Are you asking me about the current political climate in Poland?
I guess I am!
This is what I say to those that want to know: I do not live in Poland permanently so my view is a bit skewed, although I visit several times a year. I’ve been living outside of the country for 33 years, that’s a long time. In some ways, I am more Australian than Polish. But Poland is a democracy and people can decide for themselves as who they want to lead the country. There has been so much advancement made in Poland in the last 15-20 years on many fronts but the democracy is still work in progress I feel. But I remain positive and watch the political developments with much interest. When I left the country in 1985, we had no say at all, in anything. And today, if Poles are not happy, they can use the democratic process at their disposal to change things.
Are you going to Poland this summer?
Yes! And I absolutely adore it. Late spring and early summer are the best time to visit. So much to do, so much to see. So much yummy food to eat. Poland’s a fantastic holiday destination. Not that I’m going there for a holiday. It’s all work for me. Maybe with a few breaks here and there.
Well, best of luck with facilitating more Polish citizenship.
Thank you. Polish law and Polish people are very generous in this regard. It is a real privilege to be working in this space.
You are back in London in June. Can people get in touch with you?
Yes, absolutely. I’ll be available from 13th of June for about a week. They can email me at [email protected] if they would like to meet me in person. Otherwise, our UK office manager Kasia Zielinska can be emailed at [email protected].
Find out more about Polaron and their translation, interpreting and citizenship services for people of European heritage at Polaron.com.au