Article by: Petro Bilian
Why have Ukrainian-Polish relations recently become more troubled and what should Ukraine do about it?
For the past 25 years, Poland has always been Ukraine’s most reliable partner, even something of an advocate for Ukraine in Europe, who wanted to see our country in the European Union even more that we ever wanted it ourselves. However, as it has become clear over the past month and a half, everything is not as rosy and wonderful in Ukrainian-Polish relations as it had seemed before.
Examples include the attack on the Ukrainian procession in Przemysl, the unexpected termination of local border traffic, the anti-Ukrainian hysteria in the Polish right-wing media. And, of course, the political campaign that is to culminate with the adoption of the decision by the Polish Sejm (lower house of the Polish parliament — Ed.) designed to prove that the bloody ethnic cleansing during the German occupation when Ukrainians and Poles slaughtered each other in Volyn, Pidliashia, and Halychyna was nothing other than the genocide of Poles organized by the UPA. These absolutely do not appear to be random events.
Should one assume this change was unexpected? Perhaps so, but only for Ukrainians. Sadly, neither the Ukrainian elite, nor the journalists, nor especially average Ukrainians, have been overly concerned by what is happening , relatively speaking, behind Ukraine’s Western “fence,” on the territory of our closest ally, Poland. This is why the current situation looks like news.
In fact, after the party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), came to power in Poland, precisely this kind of development should have been expected … Why?
Because this political force has a particular vision of Poland’s place and role in the world, of Polish history, and especially its prospects.
For Ukrainians and even Europeans, it seemed that over the past 25 years Poland has become synonymous with success, that its economy was growing at an unprecedented rate and that achievements in politics and culture could only be envied and possibly even copied. But this is the way it appeared from the outside.
Inside, the Polish reality appeared somewhat different, especially for the supporters of Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the Law and Justice Party. In their view, there has been no Polish success during the past 25 years. There have been serious mistakes and defeats. Lies and betrayals.
It turns out that Poland has been oppressed by the European Union. The Germans and Angela Merkel are keeping it from developing normally, the Ukrainians are manipulating the unfortunate country, and it is being threatened by Putin’s Russia.
Regarding the last point, Ukrainians are in agreement, of course, because it is true. The rest looks like outright nonsense, but this is now the political reality in Poland.
Moreover, for Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his supporters, there are people responsible for all these misfortunes that have befallen “unfortunate” Poland during the last quarter century.
In particular, it is the Nobel Prize winner and fighter against communism, the former president Lech Wałęsa, the well-known reformer of Polish economy Leszek Balcerowicz, and the former Polish prime minister and current president of the European Union, Donald Tusk. There are, of course, all kinds of small fry, communists, thieves, and so on, but the main enemies are major figures.
Accordingly, after Law and Justice gained power, its assignment was to “repair” Poland, to bring about “good changes,” to make a historic transition from the Third Republic to the revised Fourth Republic.
It should be noted that the very idea of a Fourth Republic inspired the Ukrainian leaders considerably, especially the current Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko and the head of the presidential administration, Borys Lozhkin, who even began to write a book with the same title. However, unfortunately (or fortunately), the distance to the realization or even the understanding of Kaczynski’s plans for the “good change” or the “Fourth Republic” is considerable.
Today the slogan “good change” is not simply part of the electoral ideology of Law and Justice, but a Polish reality.
After Jaroslaw Kaczynski gained complete power last year after the parliamentary and presidential elections in Poland, he began to work on “repairing” Poland despite the fact that he does not hold any official position but only the “modest” post as leader of the ruling party.
And one has to admire his talents as administrator.
In seven months Poland has changed dramatically:
- Social media have been subordinated to the state, and journalists and news anchors disloyal to the Kaczynski party have been let go.
- The campaign to discredit Lech Wałęsa has begun (supposedly, he cooperated with the security services. Although the evidence is questionable, it makes for interesting conversation and nothing can be proven anyway).
- The Prosecutor’s office has been subordinated to the Ministry of Justice, where active cleansing of disloyal people is taking place and “reliable” people are being placed.
- And as culmination of all this activism, the Constitutional Tribunal has been blocked, which in turn makes it possible for the Polish officials to act as they see fit. Which, of course, is not difficult since they have the total support of the church behind them. However, these “good changes” have not pleased everyone, not just the “thieves” and “communists” but also Poland’s powerful allies.
It has reached a point where US President Barack Obama found it necessary to defend Polish democracy and the Constitutional Tribunal during the NATO summit , stressing that the rule of law must be preserved.
This is without mentioning the comments of the Venice Commission, the European Parliament and other European institutions. One could envy the activism of Mr. Kaczynski and his colleague if only all this energy were directed for peaceful purposes. However, that is not the case.
History has become another goal of the “good changes.” In Particular, a review of relations with Germans has begun.
The argument is that they (Germans) have oppressed and destroyed and, furthermore, are failing to repent sufficiently. Brussels was next in line, because the Euro bureaucrats are keeping the wonderful Poland from developing. Then came the turn of the internal enemies, who had destroyed everything and what they failed to destroy they either sold or stole.
Now it is the Ukrainians, who are not repenting adequately. There is no doubt that this is the plan for putting Poland in the “right” direction, and one can definitely say that this is not the final “good change.”
The other question is what should Ukrainians do?
First, they must take more interest in what is happening with our closest Western neighbor in order to at least understand what is changing and why. Of course, this requires money and time, but the matter is important nonetheless.
Second, we must not remain silent and fail to react, especially when the Sejm has passed a resolution accusing the UPA of genocide. We must respond pragmatically and with the greatest accuracy and with full understanding of whom we’re dealing with while being careful not to destroy future relations with Poland.
Law and Justice is a powerful force, but it will not always be in power. We will never escape Poland, for good or bad, and geography cannot be overcome.
And third, historians, writers and psychologists must do their work — perhaps the greatest share — to understand what and how it happened that people who used to be neighbors began to kill one another and even found “rational” explanations for their behavior.
Unfortunately, people can easily turn into brutal monsters, especially when they become too enthused with dreams of “good changes.”