WARSAW (Reuters Life!) - Poland's first black lawmaker, John Godson, says the color of his skin has helped him get ahead in his overwhelmingly white adopted country and he now wants to promote contacts between Poles and Africa.
Nigerian-born Godson, a former Protestant pastor, took up his parliamentary seat this week as a member of Prime Minister Donald Tusk's ruling center-right Civic Platform after replacing a colleague who became a city mayor in recent local elections.
"Being a black... has helped me in my political service because at least it has made me conspicuous. It makes me kind of visible in the things that I do. So I think it has helped me," Godson, 40, told the Reuters Television in an interview.
Poland, home to Europe's largest Jewish community before World War Two, is today one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in Europe. Its main ethnic minorities are white Ukrainians and Belarussians and a sprinkling of Vietnamese.
Godson's election to Poland's lower house of parliament, the Sejm, comes shortly after Slovenia, another ex-communist state, elected the first black mayor in eastern Europe.
Godson, who speaks fluent Polish, said he had suffered some racial abuse in his 17 years here and in the early days was beaten up twice in the street, but attributed this to ignorance and said having a different appearance was less dangerous in Poland than in countries with large racial minorities.
"What we have in Poland is as a result of ignorance or lack of contact with other cultures... We only have about 4,000 Africans in Poland, a nation of almost 40 million," he said.
"What we have here is not racism, it is low inter-cultural competence," he said, adding that today things had changed a lot and that he now attracted mostly smiles in Warsaw thanks to strong Polish media interest in his life and career.
In many ways Godson, who lives with his Polish wife and children in the central city of Lodz, fits well into Polish society, which is generally more conservative, religious and family-oriented than in many Western countries.
For example, his opposition to abortion is a stance widely shared in this still staunchly Roman Catholic country.
Godson said he wanted Poles to pay more attention to Africa.
"I believe that Africa has a lot of potential that is not being harnessed by Poland. You know, countries like China, the United States, Germany, France and Russia are present in Africa. I would like Poland to be also present in Africa, to do business in Africa," he said.
"Polish missionaries are doing wonderful, wonderful, fantastic work in Africa. I also think Poland should partake in what is happening in Africa." said Godson, who still has parents and brothers living there.
Godson said he might like to take on some kind of "ambassadorial role" to help Africa's development but said he had no plans to return to Nigeria.
"At the present time I feel strongly, strongly connected with Poland," he said.
Writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Paul Casciato