I live in a mixed, Polish-Russian marriage. The positive side of it is multiculturalism – we celebrate both Polish and Russian holidays. Our children will be bilingual. We are open to any culture. How is it like to live in a mixed marriage? What is mine, yours, ours? If I am staying in Warsaw I say “at my home in Moscow”, if I am in Moscow I say “at my home in Warsaw”. The definition of home is not all that clear any more, although your home is always where your family is. I like sport and I support my team (Russian team), my husband also supports his team (Polish one).

Do we quarrel when the Polish team takes on Russia? No. Are we happy when our spouse’s team wins? Yes. My husband admired the success of our ‘Zborna’ team and we together saw a Russia-Spain match at the Pola Mokotowskie stadium. And I also wanted our “Russian princess among vaulters” to win in Berlin, but unluckily, she lost. Was I disappointed? Not quite – she lost with the Polish player, still ‘our’ player.
In mixed marriages who live in Poland it’s common to speak the Polish language, or sometimes their second language, if the spouse speaks it. We celebrate holidays of both cultures, we go to regular church and Orthodox church to bless Easter eggs, we celebrate ‘Maselnica’ – a Russian, heathen holiday at the end of winter, at an Orthodox Easter we always go to the main Mass to the Orthodox church in Warsaw ‘Prague’, at Christmas we give each other gifts and sit at one table with family or friends (who are not necessarily Catholics).

Mixed marriage enriches each of us mentally and culturally. Thanks to my husband I discovered polish cuisine and even take a liking to ‘barszczyk’, which not that long ago was unacceptable to me compared to the Ukrainian one.

Is it easy to get married with a Pole? Yes, it is. A person only needs a certificate from embassy that confirms they are not married in their country, and a certified translation of their birth certificate. One can get married despite being in Poland illegally. Because of this, embassies of some African countries even try to convince their citizens to such a procedure. In some European countries it is necessary to complete million papers to get married, whereas in Poland everything is easy.

But getting married is not a guarantee, that foreigner’s contacts with offices will be easier. Having a Polish spouse makes it possible to apply for a certificate of temporary stay based on marriage. I have been living in Poland since 2004, I have had several certificates of temporary stay based on studies and one based on job. While getting married with the citizen of Poland, I was in Poland on the ground of the last certificate mentioned. According to polish legislation, every year I was given a certificate of stay for a year, and the last one, given because I had a job here, was given also for a year. The absurd thing is that, as being a wife of a Pole, I am less credible, than a Russian woman working in Poland. My second permission to work in Poland would be given to me also for 2 years, and, consequently, my certificate of stay would be valid also for 2 years, but I did not apply for the permission to work, yet I applied for the certificate of temporary stay on the basis of marriage. For this is my first year after getting married, I can apply only for a one-year-certificate! It doesn’t matter that before getting married I lived in Poland 4 years and I had 4 certificates of temporary stay. In this situation it would have been more beneficial for me to apply for a certificate based on job and get it for 2 years, than to apply for it because of getting married, because I was given that paper only for a year (the cost of getting the certificate amounts to 400 Polish zl and almost 2 months of waiting, plus stress and a waste of time).

But that is not the end of mixed marriages’ problems. After completing documents for the certificate of stay, every couple is asked to attend a hearing. The hearing takes place at a term fixed by the inspector of the Foreigner’s Department. They talk with each spouse separately, then testimonies are being compared. The interesting thing is that two families are being heard in the same room. It is an evident infringement of privacy rights. But civil servants don’t care, they are more interested in how many people came to the wedding, what’s the name of your husband’s uncle, what’s your furniture like, when exactly did you met and started to live together, what did you do last weekend, what’s the colour of walls in your house. After several questions like these, I asked the inspector to give me a question about the colour of our tooth brushers, because we checked it before leaving. He smiled to me and asked about the colour of slippers. When I quoted those questions at work, everyone said that they would not pass such a test, because one spouse pays for the electricity and gas, the other one doesn’t even know how much it costs, women and men perceive colours differently, not everyone has a good memory for names or dates. However, in a mixed marriage there is no place for such ignorance.

The absurd thing about Poland is that papers are more important than family. Husband and wife have to be registered in the same house. Sometimes I have a feeling, that registration in Poland is more important than anything else. My husband is registered in Kalisz, I used to be registered at my employer’s place near Otwock, but now we rent a flat from a man, who agreed to sign a contract with us, but declined to register me and my husband as tenants. In order to prove, that despite of being registered in different places, we live in the same house, we presented our tenancy agreement, printed bank statements, which confirmed that we pay for renting the house, for the water, electricity and gas. That was not enough – they told me to bring the certificate of registration. I could try to register in Kalisz, but I would have to apply for a certificate of temporary stay, attend hearing, go to the office to receive a decision and a certificate, which in case of two working people requires taking a day off and high costs of transport. But even then we have no guarantee, because we can always be visited by a police officer or inspector, whose job is to check whether we really live there or not. So, in our case, the only convenient city is Warsaw. Getting a certification of address of residence was impossible. On the appointed day I went to the Foreigner’s Department to get my document, but it was not given to me, because me and my husband are not registered in the same house. When I begged the homeowner for registering me and my husband in the office, he replied “there is no such possibility”. If he had agreed, I would have been given a certificate of temporary stay. So – A STRANGER DECIDED ABOUT MY FAMILY’S LIFE. And everything was legal. When we realized that, my husband went to the office of Governor of Mazowiecki province and said “Good Morning. I want to take the governor to the court, because he wants to destroy my family”. Two days later the inspector called me and asked me to come for the certificate of stay. But that was not the end of the matter. I was told that the homeowner had to register us, and if he was not willing to do that, we had to register ourselves on our own (and become evicted). We did not register. Instead, we waited for inspector Martha M. to do that. And finally, we received summons to come to the office of our province, in order to explain why we were not registered. Inspector Martha M. wrote a denunciation.

Luckily, among officials of our province there is a person who understood, how absurd that situation was. She registered us in the registry office on basis of the tenancy agreement, which was interpreted as the homeowner’s agreement on registering. I waited over 2 months to get that certificate, I lived in constant stress. I asked myself a question - was Martha M. going to write another denunciation? How the officials would treat us? And, finally, would the homeowner evict us if he found out that we were registered? All those things caused me serious health problems.
I submitted two claims on the ground of mental cruelty towards me and my husband. After that, we were invited for a meeting with the deputy manager of Martha’s K. Foreign Department. Finally, I withdrew an action because they apologized to me, showed me kindness, assured it would never happen again and promised to help us in future. Recently I have applied for another certificate of stay. Has anything changed? No. A certification of address of residence is still a necessary condition to legalize one’s stay here.
The most important thing in every family is the support from your spouse, it’s crucial for mixed marriages. Your spouse may not speak fluent Polish, deal with issues, find themselves in polish reality. And then, their attitude really counts.
For mixed marriages that I know, cultural differences are not a problem (in fact, differences between Slavs are very little), neither are religious differences. My friend married her husband in an Orthodox church, which was not a problem at all. It was easily accepted by all members of her family, too. Me and my husband got married in the registry office, which also was not a problem. Our marriage is not disturbed by any historical events. Anyway, there are things, that you don’t have to talk about; they just exist in your mind.

Text by Maria Strelbicka
Translated by Agnieszka Żukowska