Poland and Ukraine haven’t yet lost their chance

The Polish and Ukrainian flags are tied together at a rally in Kyiv

The Polish and Ukrainian flags are tied together at a rally in Kyiv 

2016/11/24 • Op-ed

Article by: Lukasz Koltuniak

Both Poland and Ukraine are at a very important moment of their histories.

Poland is on the proper road to a successfully completed transition, but the risk of deep regression still exists, first of all, due to growing anti-democratic moods in Polish society.

Ukraine fights for its right to establish a full democracy and gain full independence with the help of the most important „capital” its society – the young generations of the Orange revolution and Euromaidan, who praise democracy and are thought to be able to implement crucial reforms.

But lately, we have been observing tensions in Polish-Ukrainians relations due to improper manipulations of our difficult history.

In the 80’s, Polish and Ukrainians dissidents believed that we can overcome the difficult past and build a new future.

The western observers who know only our difficult past even predicted open conflicts between our nations similar to the dreadful events in Yugoslavia. But after 25 years of Ukraine’s independence, our relationship is at the best in our history. Polish support for Ukraine is unquestioned, as is Ukraine’s sympathy to Poland.

Now, the nightmare of the past seems to be back. I don’t think that history is unimportant. They are many black cards in our relations. We need an honest discussion where both sides are ready to confess their faults. The contemporary formula of „who was worse should be replaced by the formula of Polish-German relations, „we forgive and ask for forgiveness.” To build a better future, comprehending history is important, and we need a dialogue and fair discussions from both sides.

Also, we have great capital in contemporary relations, which must be used. The Ukrainians’ approach to Poland is better than ever. What delights me is the desire of Ukrainians to learn Polish, because they want to know the language of the nation which is so well perceived in their country. Many people in Ukraine are interested in Polish culture and history. The Polish support for both revolutions is very praised Ukraine. As well, many Polish people support Ukraine, and also are interested in our common history and common modernity. Lviv is now not the city which divides, but rather connects: Poles visit it to not only pursue historical sentiments but are also driven by their sympathy to contemporary Ukraine and their citizens.

But on both sides there exist politicians who aim to use history for their own political capital, to the detriment of our reconciliation. The only way to facilitate historical dialogue is for Poland to reconsider its approach to the heritage of its former Kresy region which contained territories of modern western Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania. For Ukrainians, it would be useful to develop the ability to condemn the dark sides of the Ukrainian insurgent army in the history of the Second World War without denying the positive sides of the independence fighting.

We need to find common ground not only in the face of danger from Russia. To be fair, a friendship only „against Russia” can be dangerous for the future of our relations. Poland should always support Ukraine against Putin’s regime, but also we should aim to build a better Eastern Europe.

The end of the 80’s was the time of dialogue between Poland’s Solidarity, Ukrainian dissidents from Rukh and the „new Russia being born in the perestroika time.” Now the Russia of Lilia Shevtsova or Andrey Sakharov seems to not exist.

But we should believe that another „Eastern Europe is possible” and in the future, the peaceful cooperation between Poland, Ukraine, and Russia will be a copy of the successful reconciliation of Western Europe.

Now Polish people who support Ukraine on the path to a functioning democracy believe that Ukraine should not exactly copy the Polish success, but also avoid Polish mistakes.

Facing history may be difficult and for many people in our countries it will be painful. But now in the time of the global crisis of values and democracy, in the time of growing nationalism and cynicism, we have a unique chance of successfully following the examples of German-French, German-Jewish, or German-Polish reconciliation. Ukrainians people proved during the „revolution of dignity” that they believe in European values despite their unpopularity in the contemporary world.

If we can build the future based on these values, even the scariest facts from history can’t divide us.

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Lukasz Koltuniak is a PhD student in Kracow and Olomouc focusing on the politics, history, and philosophy of Central Europe. He is interested in the Ukrainian culture, history, and modernity.
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Edited by: Alya Shandra

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  • laker48

    Cannot agree more. Let’s wait and see, as the ball is in the Ukrainian court, and it’s up to Ukraine how to play it out. The denial by the Ukrainian side of the Volhynia genocide has reduced Ukraine’s support among the Poles from over 95% to about 63% over lest than three years. It’s telling. The unrestricted free flow of historical information has always been much better than in Ukraine where any condemnation of basically fascist ideology of the OUN/UPA is now a criminal offence. Ukraine will never make it to the EU and NATO with Bandera and OUN/UPA-B as national icons and this is quite visible. Remember that the Yushchenko decision of proclaiming Stepan Bandera a Ukrainian national hero in 2005 triggered a resolution of the European Parliament condemning it, and this resolution hasn’t been revoked.

    • WorldCommenter

      Poland also has to acknowledge the anti-Ukrainian activities of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The discrimination against the usage of Ukrainian language and subordination of Ukrainian culture to Polish preferences. Also the forced transplanting of Ukrainian Lemkos to disperse them among Poles so they would assimilate into Poland. The replacement of moved Ukrainians with Polish WW I army veterans in historically Ukrainian territories. The attacks and killing of Ukrainians by the Polish “Home Army”.

      Both have historical grievances against the other and Russia uses these to keep Poland and Ukraine from keeping the “bear” in check. Both need to be wise to the antics of Russia to disrupt cooperation and trust between these neighbors.

      • laker48

        All unquestioned by anyone sane Polish atrocities committed against Belarusian and Ukrainian minorities, mainly in the years 1936-1939, aree well documented and have become public knowledge in Poland since 1992, and they’ve been officially condemned by all Polish governments after 1992. It’s Ukraine that refuses to condemn the narrow margin of degenerated ultra nationalists congregated in the OUN and its Bandera faction UPA-B around Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych, Dmytro Klyachkivsky, Vasyl Ivakhov, Ivan Lytvynchuk, and Petro Oliynyk. Bandera was in detention in Germany during the Volhynia genocide, but he was the main ideologue behind it.

        • Dirk Smith

          The Volhynia massacre was simply a response to the earlier massacres perpetrated by the Polish military. That never gets mentioned. Zakerzonia, Zawya, Pashov, etc.

          • laker48

            Links to sources universally considered to be credible that corroborate your unfounded allegations, please!

            There were many acts of violence and injustice perpetrated by Polish authorities in the years 1935-1939, but fatalities on the Belarusian and Ukrainian side were few and far between, and they didn’t justify the Volhynia genocide committed with previously unseen cruelty and inhumanity. Those Bandera, Shukhevych and other fascist monsters, together with their savage followers, don’t deserve to be any nation’s heros.

          • slavko

            What greater fascism is there than when a government such as Poland’s willfully stole Ukrainian lands and gave those lands to Polish nobility? By and large that was certainly NOT done by mutual consent. I believe that is called RAPE. And then the there’s the fascism by forcing Ukrainians to forsake their own language, customs, religion and culture by forcing them to accept the Polish ways. Do you have any idea what that does to the psyche? And to live that slow death over centuries? The Polish centuries old savagery culminated in Volhynia. Let the Shushkevychs and the Dmowskis remain as reminders to a wretched past. Thankfully now that’s over and both nations can say enough is enough and we move ahead with mutual respect!

          • laker48

            ” The Polish centuries old savagery culminated in Volhynia.”
            What savagery? Learn your own history!

            It was Ukrainian aristocrat, prince Yarema Vishnevetsky, who forced orthodox Rus’ to unite its Orthodox church with the Vatican, albeit with preserving all its Orthodox rules and rites. Present Ukraine, that was called Rus’ or Ruthenia, was part of the Great Duchy of Lithuania and Poland didn’t interfere with anything there. There was no Ukrainian land there that was owned by Ukrainian peasants, as they were serfs to their nobles as well as Polish ones to their Polish masters until 1898 in Galicia and 1910 in Russia, when they could legally become landowners.

            Majority of land in both Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires was in the hands of their crowns or nobles, so singling out Polish nobility seems at least unfair. After WW1, the eastern part of Ukraine was forced into collectivisation by the Soviets after the Great Famine in the winter of 1932/1933. The peasants in interbellum western Ukraine, divided among Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania, escaped collectivization in the 1930s and the accompanying famine. Who was the savages then?

            BTW, as I’ve already stated, “for a sailor who doesn’t know which port he’s heading to, no wind is favourable.” Ukraine is again on a collision course due to its nation’s inability to reform, fight corruption and evolve into a modern, democratic state. It can still count on a strong support of Poland in its struggle against the fascist RuSSian Federation, but due the proliferation of neo-fascist political parties and movements there, Polish support will come at an increasingly higher price and the Polish government will likely be blocking any attempts of Ukraine’s ascension into NATO as long as Bandera, Shukhevych and other OUN/UPA-B thugs are Ukraine’s national heros, The same may happen with Ukraine’s membership in the EU, if the EU survives in its current shape until Byzantine corruption-ridden Ukraine is technically ready to join.

            The US government under president-elect Trump will also call the Kyiv government’s hand and cut off its financial assistance until transparency of central and local Ukrainian governments is achieved. There will be likely unblocked shipments of US advanced weapons to Ukraine, though, as the US 173rd Airborne and US Delta Force/Navy Seals instructors trained up to 20,000 100% reliable territorial defence and special forces soldiers who can be entrusted these weapons.

            I’ve been following Ukraine pretty closely sice 2005 or so, and have developed my own perspective. I’m not an optimist anymore, like it or not. Poland is under no obligation to support Ukraine unconditionally and it probably won’t. Polish president Andrzej Duda said during his official visit in Kyiv last summer that “Ukraine has the right to choose its allies, but it will also have to live with all consequences of its choices”. Those may appear prophetic words.

            Just compare the last year’s progress in Poland and the pathetic lack of any real progress in Ukraine! Instead of whining to the whole world about a single provocation during the 80,000 strong 11th of November March of Independence in Warsaw where an either Ukrainian or Upper Silesian flag was burned (both look identical, but the Upper Silesian flag has yellow at the top and blue at the bottom), take your reforms seriously, or Ukraine will become a land forgotten by God and people after the fascist RuSSian Federation collapses, perhaps even by the end of this decade. Good luck, but remember that the world doesn’t owe Ukraine anything. Ukraine isn’t a child of special needs.

          • slavko

            As long as you keep crying the Blues, so can I! No relationship is a one-sided affair except in the case of rape. Yes, there was that too. And you must admit there has been some kind of relationship between Polish and Ukrainian people for at least a thousand years. And not always soft, fuzzy and warm either. Both sides can cry their Blues or the both sides can learn and improve themselves rather than complain about the other. What do you say?
            The Polish-Ukrainian relationship is becoming one of MUTUAL interest and convenience. Yes, Poland is much farther ahead developmentally than Ukraine on many levels and Poland has been a member of NATO and EU with a tremendous exposure to “new world” and Western thought. Ukraine is just coming out from under heavy duty fascist and narrow minded social and economic domination by Muscovy. Twenty Five years of independence is just a small drop in the bucket of time. Not even a generation. Social change takes at least a generation or two to take root and remain sustainable. So please try to be fair with your criticisms of Ukraine. Friendly relations between Poland and Ukraine are mutually beneficial. And they just ain’t gonna improve if the complaining about the past continues. In any event, Poland will always benefit from Ukraine’s friendship going forward, especially on the defense level if Muscovy continues its bullying. No one wants Ukraine on the side with an enemy.

          • laker48

            You seem not to pay attention to the fact that when Poland went through a painful period of sacrifices and not always well thought through reforms that eventually led it to the membership of NATO first and the EU five years later, Ukrainians were busy looting their own country until there was nothing left to steal anymore. I would bet that if Yanukovych has signed the EU Association Agreement in Vilnius in November and December of 2013, he would have become a national hero and kept robbing the country blind. After the fall of the fascist RuSSian Federation, Ukraine may become another Afghanistan run by local oligarchs and neo-fascist warlords. The last three years are a fair predictor of such a scenario.

          • slavko

            Actually I do remember Lech Walesa and the Solidaity movement. I also remember when he was being hounded by the Polish Secret Police. In fact Walesa was an inspiration with his indomitable human spirit. I remember that well and hoped that Ukrainians could also do the same for what they aspired to while being under the Muscovy boot. And Ukraine has made a bold stance against Muscovy… FINALLY. I think that Ukraine is socially much further ahead than Russia as they are now publicly talking about those things that are forbidden to be talked about in Muscovy. Human rights in Ukraine are much further advanced than in Muscovy. These things take time. Like I mentioned earlier that it’s hardly been a generation since their declared independence from Muscovy. And Muscovy is breathing hard upon the neck of Ukraine. You are too much of a pessimist while the reality is that Ukraine is miles ahead from where she was three or four years ago. The corruption is a lot more exposed and as that continues the house cleaning will pick up too.

          • laker48

            I agree with everything you’ve written and also understand that Ukraine isn’t an ethnic and religious monolite as is the after WW2 Poland. I also believe that the Polish government of the day will advocate for Ukraine in the US, as president Andrzej Duda has already been officially invited to the US by president-elect Trump. Polish Minister of National Defence Antoni Macierewicz points out during all his official statements about RuSSia or Ukraine that RuSSian soldiers without insignia and RuSSian-sponsored terrorists kill Ukrainian army soldiers and civilians in Donbas every day. This will continue, as well as the cooperation between Polish and Ukrainian military industrial sectors.

            We need to be watchful and sensitive to the fact that most Ukrainian and some Polish ultranationalist groups are sponsored, financed and infiltrated by RuSSian agents of influence. Ukraine is, IMHO, up for a very bumpy ride if it takes to heart its fight against corruption that is the major factor of its destruction, not the breathing its last RuSSia. As I’ve pointed it out, after the collapse and disintegration of the fascist RuSSian Federation Ukraine may fall into the chaos of a real civil war, as the fight against RuSSian aggression is one of very few and far between factors integrating Ukrainian society. It’s up to the Ukrainians how they decide to govdern their homeland.

          • slavko

            I believe that we do agree on many things, even that sometimes it may seem differently.

            Your last paragraph especially brings to light some pertinent details especially of how Muscovy operates and takes advantage of national pride. Nationalism is strengthened only when there is the fear of eradication. Muscovy plays on that very much. It is most important to continue along the path of unaltered borders, with the right to self determination to remain within those borders and not from outside influence.

            Ukraine may still surprise you, actually all of us. I think that the next couple of years will be telling. In a way, Pootin must be thanked for helping to bring the Ukrainian nation together. May the nation-building continue. And so we go one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

          • laker48

            Bringing a nation together for what Putler needs to be credited, is a necessary, but not satisfactory condition for building a sustainable statehood. My worst fears are that after the collapse of the fascist RuSSian Federation, what may happen as soon as in 2020 or even earlier, Ukraine will fall back on its old ways of misgovernment driven by corruption, larceny and theft, thus becoming a major source of instability in Europe. This peril is more real than many of us think, so all its neighbours have to develop contingency plans for such a turn of events.

          • slavko

            It’s all about creating an ethical society. And this must be clearly outlined as a path towards economic wellbeing. All the more reason to encourage wealth building across the spectrum of society. Then people feel much more a part of the national success story. I can only hope that small business is encouraged and that “big box stores” such as Walmart are kept out. And this includes too the McDonald types, which in my opinion only marginalizes the individual. When people become marginalized then the “gray” and “black” markets flourish. Entrepreneurship with clearly mandated rules of ethics is a must. This should also be getting encouraged now within the school systems.

          • laker48

            Ukraine needs to attract its diaspora to do so, I’m afraid. There are many Ukrainians of Natalia Yaresko’s class, and they need to be attracted and brought to the country. I also hope that president-elect Trump will be really tough o Kyiv kleptocrats and introduce tight controls on all US financial help funnelled into Ukraine. The Trump presidency may become a blessing in disguise for Ukraine and Ukrainians.

            BTW, corruption is everywhere, but it has to be manageable within reasonable limits by introducing right checks and balances. During my graduate policy analysis classes my professors used to say that there are no monetised benefits in public policy if the enforcement of any rules is more expensive than the value of social benefits the introduction of the rules brings about. The best example of this political failure is criminalisation of marijuana eating up significant police resources that could have been employed more efficiently elsewhere.

          • slavko

            There’s no way to rationalize or excuse such actions by the Ukrainian side. At the same time, the Polish side needs to acknowledge that the centuries of cruel oppression against the Ukrainians which culminated in Volhynia, contributed towards the angry backlash by the Ukrainians for which the Polish cry foul.

          • Dirk Smith

            That pretty much sums it up. It’s not like the Ukrainians were invading countries and/or subjugating their neighbors. In the 20th Century alone, Ukraine was occupied by 5-6 different countries. If any country is entitled to a strong and active nationalist movement, it’s Ukraine.

          • laker48

            Talk is cheap. Credible sources, please!

  • Dirk Smith

    Muscovy is the enemy. That should be the focus.

    • laker48

      The problem lies in the lack of any direction of Ukraine’s both domestic and foreign policies. For a sailor who doesn’t know which port he’s heading to, now wind is favourable.