|Many people claim to be but ants, which are helpless to change the destiny of the world, but there are those who allow their hearts to reign over adversity and find that fulcrum which realigns the Universe. They succeed, not because they have wealth and power, but through drive, determination, stubborn refusal to give up and sheer hard labour. Their vision emerges and grows when their miniscule grains of sand begin moving mountains and directing world events.
2017 was declared the UNESCO Year of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a military leader with the grit of the survivor, the soul of a poet and the honestly kind heart that burns for true justice. This year of commemoration was the result of a long campaign for world recognition of a relatively forgotten hero of several continents. We know the name but mispronounce it in ignorance and careless disregard that may not offend but certainly gives us no-credit. These international commemorations were instigated by the unrelenting efforts of one woman to change our ignorance and acquaint us with the nobility that is our neglected heritage in the valueless climate pervading modern consumerist societies.
The woman behind the man, in this instance, is a Polish born Australian we know as Ernestyna Skurjat-Kozek, of whom I am in awe. When she retired from broadcasting for her community on the national broadcaster SBS, she set up a website named Puls Polonii to enable her to reach an even wider audience to inform and lobby for her passions, as well as inaugurating a series of festivals in Jindabyne to reveal the multiple people associated with Australia’s tallest peak. For over a decade she has been reconciling cultural quandaries by bringing together members of the local indigenous elders with non-indigenous Australians and especially those of Polish Heritage who feel connected to the Snowy community through the explorations of Paul Edmund Strzelecki, who named the highest peak in honour of his personal hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko, and then, more recently, the Displaced Persons engaged in the Snowy Hydro Project and now their descendants finding pride and a better understanding of each other in such contributions.
Podczas Festiwalu Polskiego w Plumpton Ernestyna Skurjat-Kozek otrzymała tytuł i medal "Zasłużony dla Tradycji Kościuszkowskiej" z rąk dr Leszka Marka Krzesniaka, prezesa Polskiej Fundacji Kościuszkowskiej
Od lewej: Ernestyna Skurjat-Kozek, dr Leszek Marek Krzesniak i dr Longina Ordon, prezeska Ogólnopolskiej federacji Szkół im. Kosciuszki. Foto Bogumiła Filip
Most of this has been achieved through fostering the talents of numerous artists: singers, musicians, poets, photographers, painters and sculptors. The work involved in preparing grant submissions for competitions and festivals is overwhelming, funding is often inadequate and gratitude can be overshadowed by jealousy.
Kudos for founding the Kosciuszko Heritage Organisation
Kudos for the exhausting task of creating and curating, for many years, the best Polish Community website in Australia – Puls Polonii
Kudos for encouraging the creation of all the original songs and compositions
Kudos for facilitating all the new poetry and literary works
Kudos for enabling the photographs, prints, paintings, collages and sculptural works
Kudos for organising all the Kozzie Fests with their superb dance, folk and classical concerts
Kudos for the Friendship Flights with the Jindabyne Aero Club
Kudos for introducing us to the Indigenous Custodians of the Land
Kudos for guiding Indigenous Elders in their understanding of the Polish Community and the Polish Ethos and then taking them to Poland for a visit
Kudos for organising intercultural exchanges between our communities
Kudos for the meticulous research and effort required to obtain UNESCO approbation of the importance of recognising the Year of Tadeusz Kosciuszko
Above all Kudos for engaging the local Indigenous Custodians with the international community in educating us regarding the Spirit, which should unite all who share this Great Land.
Not all diplomatic efforts are undertaken by official delegates, consulates, or embassies. Often the most effective diplomacy is that which arises spontaneously with the offer of a helping hand or a gesture of friendship and goodwill. At various functions organised by Ernestyna Skurjat-Kozek, as well as meeting indigenous elders and the Polish Diplomatic Corps, I have been introduced to the Hungarian and Byelorussian ambassadors, spoken with Ukrainian Consuls, engaged in casual conversation about the beauty and fragility of the landscape, discussed the state of the environment, marvelled at technical innovations and forged new friendships with kindred from all walks of life. Sometimes we are astounded by how much an exceptionally dedicated and industrious pawn on the chessboard can achieve. Mistakes will inevitably cause angst, however, the wise man and woman will own their mistakes and learn from them to build something better, stronger and more cohesive.
In 2018, while the Western Nations celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day, Poland will be celebrating the first centenary of its re-emergence on the World Map – a feat attained partially by military endeavour, but greatly eased into being by the grace and diligence of a virtuosic musician and composer, who dedicated himself to a cause that seemed futile but inspired artists, writers and dreamers into creating enduring masterpieces to uphold what they considered a sacred duty. They all contributed to the building of bridges, both physical and metaphoric, fostered sympathy for their struggle and garnered the coins necessary to give support for ensuring long-term freedom and self-determination.
This was an ongoing struggle that Tadeusz Kosciuszko was intimately acquainted with. Inspired by the painters, writers, poets and composers of his milieu, he gave his heart to a cause he considered to be worthy of every drop of his life’s blood. Tadeusz Kosciuszko’s endeavours bore fruit many years later with a cohort of leaders such as Haller from France, Dowbor-Musnicki from Byelorus, Petlura from Ukraine and Pilsudski from Lithuania unexpectedly infused with strength by another pianist and composer, in the spirit of Chopin, who through gracious kindness had earned the friendship of many heads of State, thus gaining millions of ears in his appeal for Freedom and an inalienable Right to Self-Determination for his people. Ignacy Jan Paderewski was indubitably one of the greatest heroes of the journey to regain Polish independence, even though – unlike Tadeusz Kosciuszko – he had never been known to wield a lethal weapon. His triumph at the end of the Great War brought him a burdensome presidency from which he later escaped to tour the globe, including Australia, where he generously devoted his talent to raising coin for War orphans while lacking money for his own needs.
Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Ignacy Jan Paderewski, although separated by a century and more in time, nevertheless shared a passion for improving the common lot for their fellow individuals. Their common ground was an overwhelming social justice imperative, in which military-might must give way to uncommon diplomacy.
The Arts are a tremendous social gift, easing despondence and promulgating hope. However, it is not necessary to be an artist oneself in order to bring great art to life. Sometimes, it can be more effective to spark an idea and coax it into a fire of motivation for others to raise their torches from. It is here that Ernestyna Skurjat-Kozek excels. This one woman army, who ignores the frailties of her all too human body, impassioned by her own aspirations to reveal the extraordinary qualities of her personal heroes to everyone. The exhausting negotiations undertaken by her with various stakeholders to acquaint them with the reasons for Paul Edmund Strzelecki to have chosen to name Australia’s highest peak after Tadeusz Kosciuszko have impacted on more of us than she could even begin to comprehend.
Thank you so much Ernestyna for your ongoing positive influence on the Australian Community and Australians of Polish Heritage in particular – please continue being my personal contemporary Heroine.
3ZZZ Melbourne Ethnic Community Radio Broadcaster