Best Polish diaspora paper is in Athens

«You have to know why the Poles came to Greece?» Theodoros Benakis, publisher of the newspaper for Poles in Greece, asked me. We were there to talk about a migrants’ paper, formerly printed and distributed illegally, which grew into Kurier Atenski and won this year’s Gold Statue awarded by the Polish Republic’s League of Journalists and the Diaspora Journalists’ club. It is a great honor, first for Andrzej Jencelewski, who has been behind this endeavor since 1992, and for Andrzej Sokulski. Sokulski is a popular figure, recognized wherever he goes. People often stop him in Polish shops to say, «Write something about us.» The paper, which costs 1.20 euros, has been around for 17 years, and the number of pages has grown to 32. That’s not bad, I think, as I pick up the most recent issue. I try to guess at the topics from the photographs. «Page one, Poland,» Beata Zolkiewicz tells me, «Page two, Greece; page three the world.» Polish focus Politics takes up the first three or four pages, followed by the main issues that concern Poles living in Greece. Issues concerning migrants, work and residence permits, reports on the market, foreigners’ rights, but also pleasing news. There are events organized by the Polish community in Athens, musical performances at the Polish school in Holargos, cultural events, holiday suggestions and sport. Journalist Zolkiewicz, who is married to a Greek, has been working at the paper for five years. She shares the work with another two journalists, a contributor and two correspondents. «When I came to Greece, I lived in the street,» says Andrzej Jencelewski, the executive editor of Kurier Atenski. «I worked non-stop from Tuesday to Saturday, without a break. I would get a few hours’ sleep in the car, have a shower, get changed and go back to work.» Sokulski confirms this: «I always left the office late and I was always second last. It was rare for me to be the one to lock up.» Those were difficult times. «We only had enough money for rent and food. But often we even forgot to eat. «The newspaper had to be at the kiosk every Thursday. And technology at that time was not much help. In the early days, we used to cut and paste. We calculated the columns, cut them up and laid them out, then photographed them. It was very difficult. The layout used to take a whole day,» recalls Andrzej, who now prints several foreign-language publications in Greece. Benakis is the manager of International Media Network, a company that publishes six weekly newspapers – in Albanian, Russian, Bulgarian, Polish, Romanian and Tagalog (in order of sales). But long before the other papers came into being, Kurier Atenski was the first migrants’ newspaper, albeit illegal, in Greece. Large-scale Polish emigration began in the mid-1980s, the preferred destinations being the United States, Canada and Australia. The supporters of Solidarity were engaged in a long struggle, but it took even longer to get a work permit from the American Consulate. The procedure was faster in Greece, where trained and educated Poles could get a permit after only six months. The need arose for a network, for communication with the country they had left behind, the ongoing struggle and their compatriots back home. Greek journalists lent a hand and the first issue of Kurier Atenski was printed illegally, without a residence permit, just like the people who created it. «The first managing editor managed to get to America in 1990. The second, a lawyer by profession, went to Canada in 1992,» said Benakis. Jencelewski became managing editor in 1992. The paper was still being distributed – illegally – to 60 sales points in Attica, but that was still not enough to meet demand. Then two more Polish-language papers appeared, but neither flourished. One took the name New Kurier Atenski, with «new» written small to confuse readers. Kurier Atenski became established among Poles living in Greece. Benakis, who became the publisher in 1996, says: «Fortunately, we found an established product and an established market when we took on the paper in 1996, and perhaps that’s why we haven’t had any real problems.» His first step was to buy equipment, get the journalists legalized – now they all belong to the journalists’ insurance fund – and organize distribution through the foreign press agency. Kurier Atenski is available at more than 3,500 sales points in Greece and Cyprus. No subsidy Meanwhile, the readership is changing. The Poles who arrive in Greece now are not like their politicized compatriots who migrated in the 1980s. Young people from mountain areas hit by unemployment come here to work. Kurier must appeal to them by becoming more modern and youthful, and it has succeeded. But it remains independent. Its journalists, who are professionals, get no subsidies from the embassy or any other organization. «For us, the market decides. If we sell and we carry advertising, we exist,» Benakis told K. Journalist Anna-Maria Leonhard, who is Benakis’s wife, adds, «Even the Polish dailies in Chicago and London that sell far more copies are subsidized by Polish embassies, but that is not news.» The endeavor has succeeded and on April 26 Jencelewski received the Gold Statue at a lavish celebration in Warsaw. That has not made any difference to Polish readers in Athens, Kalamata, Patras, the Cyclades and Larissa, who have showed their approval for the paper every week since 1988. Before I leave Jencelewski and his colleagues to get on with their work, I cannot resist asking him what he thinks about Greeks and Greece. «Well, I’ll tell you what I think: Greeks are good, but there are three expressions of yours I don’t like: avrio, methavrio and den peirazei [‘tomorrow,’ ‘the day after tomorrow,’ and ‘never mind’]. If there’s work to do they say, ‘Tomorrow;’ tomorrow they say, ‘Let’s forget yesterday’s problems;’ and the day after tomorrow they say, ‘Never mind!’» (1) This article first appeared in K, Kathimerini’s color supplement, on September 4, 2005.