Ukraine and Poland. What next?

The Shegyni-Medyka checkpoint at Ukraine's border with Poland. Photo: AFP

The Shegyni-Medyka checkpoint at Ukraine's border with Poland. Photo: AFP 

Analysis & Opinion

Article by: Petro Kraliuk

Vasyl Stus in his “Camp Notebook,” written in 1982, noted: “I am enthralled by Polish victories of the spirit and I regret that I am not a Pole.” At that time a huge mass of Poles, united by the Solidarity trade union, was engaged in an unequal struggle with a totalitarian regime.

Poland markedly outpaced Ukraine then. It became one of the first “cells” of the socialist camp to overthrow a totalitarian regime. It joined NATO, it became a member of the EU. With the help of the West, it was able to transform its economy, becoming a relatively prosperous country.

Will Poland bring about the collapse of the European Union?

And suddenly, in recent years, Poland has turned into a “headache” for the EU. Right wing parties have come to power, who have rejected liberal values and who are adopting populist measures. Democracy is being curtailed in the country. On December 20, 2017, the European Commission initiated a disciplinary proceeding against Poland for the controversial judicial reform that is being implemented in the country. Poland may be deprived of the right to vote in this community. Indeed, the Polish leadership has caused a crisis that could lead to the collapse or reorganization of the EU.

An unfortunate parallel comes to mind. Just as Poland once contributed to the collapse of the Socialist camp and the Soviet Union, it could now lead to the collapse of the European Union. Incidentally,  in Poland today comparisons are frequently made between the USSR and the EU. At the same time, Polish leadership does not refuse considerable subsidies from the European Union.

Unfortunately, similar tendencies are characteristic not only of Poland but also of several recent EU members, especially Hungary and the Czech Republic. This is a phenomenon that has not yet been fully understood by political science. Russia has played a certain role, exerting influence in these countries through its intelligence services and propaganda. However, this factor should not be exaggerated. It rather plays the role of a catalyst for processes that are conditioned by other factors — social, demographic, cultural, and so on. In this context, one must also understand the political processes in these countries. One example is the recent adoption in Poland of amendments to the law on the Institute of National Remembrance, which was much discussed in Ukraine. These amendments provide for punishment for denying the “crimes of Ukrainian nationalists.” They are interpreted very broadly in Poland, making it possible to include many manifestations of the national liberation struggle of Ukrainians under their wording.

Finally, the amendments to the law on the Institute of National Remembrance have generated negative reactions in other countries, especially since they reveal an attempt to ignore instances of the persecution of Jews by Poles.

Why has another problematic initiative appeared in Poland?

In general, it would have been surprising not to expect that the amendments adopted by the Sejm and the Senate would not be signed by the president. He has not been restrained by the negative reactions from Israel and the United States, much less by those of Ukraine. The official statement by Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada on these amendments has not and probably will not generate an adequate response from the Polish side.

There  is still some hope in the Constitutional Court, where President Andrzej Duda promised to submit legislative changes. But it is important to keep in mind that, after the recent judicial reforms in Poland, this institution  is heavily influenced by the current government. At most, the Constitutional Court may become sort of a lightning rod that proposes certain amendments. Perhaps this is what will happen because there seems to have been no other reason for the president to send this law to the Court.

All this resembles  a political game. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and its leader Jarosław Kaczyński remain “clean” since they did “what they could.” “Their” Sejm, Senate and president supported the legislative initiative, which pleases the nationalistically minded Poles — the party’s electorate. The Constitutional Court is a so-called “independent body,” which can afford to take certain “liberties.”

Naturally, the adopted amendments to the law on the Institute of National Remembrance are first of all a tactical move to mobilize the conservative and nationalistic electorate around the PiS party and its allies. True, this is being done to the accompaniment of demagogic statements about the search for “historical truth.” Such actions are effective and support for the PiS party is growing.

These amendments also have the goal of discouraging manifestations of national consciousness by Ukrainians who are living, working and studying in Poland. And there are more than 1 million of them!

In the end, these amendments are another attempt by the current Polish authorities to gauge the reaction of their partners to the curtailment of freedom of speech in the country.

Should Ukrainians be concerned about yet another act by Polish authorities regarding the search for “historical truth”? It must be understood that this is political manipulation that has been taking place and will continue.

Ukrainians should bid farewell to their “Polish illusions.” For some time now Poland has no longer been “Ukraine’s lawyer” in Europe. It will soon need a lawyer of its own. And it is not worth hoping that this country will help Ukraine integrate into the European space. For that we need to seek other partners that are playing a leading role in the  European Union. They are primarily Germany and France. Of course, we should not forget the eastern EU countries that support us –for example, Lithuania.

Ukraine should build a purely pragmatic relationship with Poland without any symbolic “brotherhood” and “strategic partnership.” The Ukrainian government, aside from making loud statements about the actions of Polish right-wing politicians (although such statements also are needed) should seriously address the issue of the troubled border trade with Poland and the question of Polish recruitment of Ukrainian workers and students from Ukraine, as well as the protection of Ukrainian citizens who are temporarily or permanently residing in Poland. And it should not forget the Polish citizens of Ukrainian descent.

And, finally, it needs to remind both the Polish government and the EU countries that it is Ukraine that is defending European values in a war with Russia. Perhaps there will be liberals in Poland and in Europe who will recognize this reality and will say they regret they are not Ukrainians.

Historian Petro Kraliuk is vice-rector at the National University of Ostroh Academy

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
Source: Radio Svoboda

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  • laker48

    Poland is a sovereign state and its democratically elected government is backed by absolute majorities in both chambers of its parliament, the Sejm and the Senate. It’s also highly recommended that the author of this opinion column make himself familiar with the amendments in question before passing idiotic judgements.

    Poland has the right to ban any totalitarian ideologies such as Nazisn, communism and banderism on its territory, as the Poles were victims of all three of them in the years 1918-1991. Poland was the only state in Europe that was erased from its map in the years 1939-1945 by Nazi Germany and Soviet RuSSia.

    Individual cases of collaboration with either occupant notwithstanding, Poland’s government in exile in London and its 400,000 strong military arm on its occupied territory, the Home Army (AK), prosecuted all Poles collaborating with the Germans and, since 1943, over 500 Polish collaborators who were selling Jews to the Germans, so called “shmaltsovniks”, were sentenced to death and executed by the AK.

    Poland was the most destroyed by the Germans and Soviet RuSSians country in Europe, and over six million of its citizens were killed by the Germans, half of them of the Jewish descent, and at least another million by the Soviet RuSSians. Also, according to different estimates, between 120 and even 200 thousand of Poles and Jews were killed by the Bandera faction of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (OUN/UPA-B) in the Volhynia region and throughout all western Ukraine in the years 1939-1947, the culmination period being 1943-1944.

    • Микола Данчук

      You know that looking backwards interferes with moving forward?
      Poland has been outstanding in shedding Moskva and becoming a Democratic world member.
      Why is it reverting to intolerable fascistic tactics?
      What will it gain and at what price?

      • laker48

        It’s today’s Ukraine that allows public parades of Ukrainian war criminals wearing uniforms of the SS Galizien Ukrainian unit. Imagine Germany erecting monuments to Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler. Even Ukraine itself is divided along the Bandera the OUN/UPA-B fault line, what is readily discounted by criminal, conceited oligarchs led by Poroshenko to steal big from the divided nation, let alone the fascist RuSSian Federation that has a 100% valid argument in this matter.

        These two clips are just tips of many icebergs. Ukraine is on a path to self destruction.

        I was supporting almost everything what Ukraine did after the Maidan revolution of dignity, but, after my last October two week tour across western Ukraine, I have changed my opinion. The sooner the present kleptocracy is voted out of office, the better for Ukraine and Ukrainians. Ukraine is in a deadly tailspin and may eventually crash and burn.

        Neither Poland nor RuSSia prevented the Ukrainians from building a modern, democratic state, but they have obviously chosen to sink even deeper into Byzantine corruption instead. Don’t expect Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania to stay quiet and see their ethnic minorities that survived the OUN/UPA-B ethnic cleansing to be abused even further.

        I don’t see a point in throwing by anyone good money after bad into the kleptocratic Ukrainian abyss. Poland, that didn’t collaborate with either the Nazi Germany or the Soviets, has the right to condemn Ukrainian Nazi war criminals. Better late, than never. It’s up to the Ukrainians to deal with the criminal Nazi past of some of its citizens, The US may follow in this condemnation.

        • Микола Данчук

          Yes, “It’s up to the Ukrainians to deal with the criminal Nazi past of some of its citizens,”
          As should every nation deal with but not hide or whitewash their past crimes. Nor should they cast stones or bear false witness.
          Is Poland ready to acknowledge its crimes against the Lemko, Rus, Ruthenians, Ukrainians?

          • laker48

            The Poles and Poland have the right to ban the Nazi Bandera ideology until they’re done. Sounds, fair?

            Poland has condemned all crimes against the Hutsuls, Lemkos, “Rusins” and Ukrainians committed by its communist, Soviet imposed governments. Those peoples were displaced to other regions of Poland and were given farmland as the compensation for what they were forced to leave behind. The casualties were few and far between. There’s no symmetry between the 1939-1945 Ukrainian genocide of 120,000 to even 200,000 Poles in the Volhynia region and throughout western Ukraine, and the Action Vistula.

            The Association of Ukrainians in Poland is heavily subsidised by the Polish government and has been since the early 1950s. All those displaced people who wanted to return, were given government assistance to do so, come the early 1990s. Poland is and has been, even under the communist occupation, an oasis of freedom in the whole communist block and still is under its democratically elected government, what cannot be said about today’s Ukraine, so your mostly phoney grievances are totally misplaced.

          • Микола Данчук

            Please, the Soviet communists, what about prior WWII? Whitewashing don’t cut it.
            Don’t you understand the deep-rooted grievances you chose to totally ignore?
            But of course it’s the Ukrainians and everyone else that should bear responsibility?

          • laker48

            No pre-WW2 grievances justify the 1943-1944 Bandera-engineered and carried out by Lebed and Shukhevych genocide of Poles and other ethnic minorities in the Volhynia region and throughout whole western Ukraine. I try to stay away from the “whataboutism”, but if western Ukraine hadn’t stayed within the Republic of Poland’s borders, the 1932-1933 Hołodomor might have claimed at least twice as many victims as it did in the Ukrainian Soviet Republic.

            The second argument is crashing both the Ukrainian government and the falsifying Ukrainian history Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance with its head Volodymyr Viatrovych, who keep banning exhumations of the victims of the 1939-1945 genocide of Poles throughout western Ukraine, in the Volhynia region in particular.

            There’s no symmetry here, as the Polish government and the Institute of National Remembrance not only open their archives and territory to exhumations of the remains of fallen Ukrainian fighters, but also encourage them to do so in all contested sites where OUN/UPA monuments are illegally erected, since such monuments can be legally erected only on actual and confirmed burial sites.

          • Микола Данчук

            “but if western Ukraine hadn’t stayed within the Republic of Poland’s borders in the 1918-1939 period”, what, did they have a say? Where do you get your facts from and what, western Ukraine should be grateful having been subjugated by Poland?

            The hypocrisy is your illegal misinterpretation of history, or is that a Soviet-Polish thing to?

          • laker48

            Your arguments are lame and in the lack thereof, you’re escaping on tangent. There were many gross misdeeds committed by the Polish government against Ukrainians and Belarusians after the 1935 death of marshal Jozef Pilsudski, but there’s no symmetry between them and the Bandera-concocted and engineered 1939-1945 genocide of Poles and other ethnic minorities throughout western Ukraine. Bandera and his OUN/UPA-B were Nazi war criminals. Period!

          • slavko

            So for 300+ years Ukrainians were serfs within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth AND the Russian Empire. Ukrainian lands were taken, their language was forbidden, their churches and schools were closed. And if the Ukrainians spoke out against the oppression they were then jailed. And here you are on a Ukrainian media site complaining about the Ukrainian population that finally stood up against their oppressors. Where’s your sense of humanity?

          • Geralt von RIva
          • Maik Steiner

            You should go to ukraine and help rebuild this country!

          • MichaelA

            why? plenty are there doing that already
            its actually you russians that need to go back and help rebuild your country
            but all you want to do is flee to the west

          • Quartermaster

            You’re simply unhinged and spouting propaganda. The only one here that needs to be ashamed is you.

          • laker48

            Since when telling the truth and bringing about historical facts is spouting propaganda? Every nation has shameful cards and deeds in its history, and it takes courage to admit to and condemn them. Crimes of a group of freak Nazi war criminals shouldn’t give a black eye to the whole nation. Here’s something that may help you educate yourself.
            There are more historical sources you can draw on, and publications of historians Norman Davies and Timothy Snyder, for example, may help you as well.

          • Quartermaster

            The point is ignorance of why certain things were done, when they were done. Like it or not, Poland was one of the oppressors of Ukraine. The Germans were simply a vehicle to get Russia and Poland out of Ukraine. Once can legitimately criticize the atrocities that were done, but you’re simply painting things black and white, when they are quite a muddy grey.

            You’re still,unhinged and spewing propaganda.

          • laker48

            “You’re still,unhinged and spewing propaganda.”
            It’s exactly what you’ve been doing in your arrogance and ignorance. You don’t have the first clue about history of Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine, let alone RuSSia.

            Kyivan Rus prince Konstanty Ivanovich Ostrogski was the most distinguished and decorated military commander of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a Grand Hetman of Lithuania from 11 September 1497 until his death in 1530. As a speaker of the Ruthenian language he is considered to be one of the precursors of the Ukrainian language and a national hero in Ukraine. His tomb is still in the Pecherska Lavra in Kyiv.

            Ukrainian crown prince Michael Korybut Wisniowiecki was elected king of Poland and reigned it between 1669 and 1673. Your idiotic fairy tales about discrimination against Ukrainians in Poland don’t have historical merits. As far as Ukrainian peasantry is concerned, there was no difference between Lithuanian, Polish and Ukrainian serfs until the second half of the19th century.

            The only period of partial discrimination against Ukrainians in Poland was in the years 1919-1939 with some Ukrainian triggered violence (over 2200 Ukrainian terrorist attacks against Poles and Polish state institutions) after 1930, leaving behind very few and far between Ukrainian casualties.

          • Quartermaster

            “…partial discrimination….”

            Such jokes you tell. Your history is also quite disjointed. As for your other stuff, are you going to regale us with your propaganda as to how well Ukrainians were treated by Russians? If you try that, you’ll be lying about that as well.

          • laker48

            You’re all stink, no cheese. read this, genius! Your knowledge of history is none. Zilch!
            Bandera will destroy Ukraine from his grave.

            No wrong done to the Ukrainians by the Poles can be compared to the Volhynia and western Ukrainian genocide and ethnic cleansing of Poles, Jews and other ethnic minorities perpetrated by Bandera followers.

          • Quartermaster

            You’re laughable. Russian trolls are always laughable.

          • laker48

            It’s exactly what and who you are; an utterly pathetic banderite troll. Zero arguments, 100%% insults. As they say in Texas, “all hat, no cattle.”

            Bandera will destroy Ukraine from his grave. Karma is catching up with you. Someone in Kharkiv painted a banderite monument white and red (Polish national colours) last night. Eastern Ukraine considers the UPA-B and Bandera Nazi war criminals.

          • MichaelA

            poland has a long category of wrongs done to ukrainians and other nations around it
            the poles just try to cover it up
            you are doing a great job of calling attention to it

          • laker48

            LOL! Any real arguments but barking?

          • slavko

            You are trying to re-write history to Poland’s favor. These attempts of yours are like putting lipstick on a pig. Your claim that Poland only in the years 1919- 1939 partially discriminated against Ukrainians. That is simply not true. Your knowledge of history is shameful and skewed. The history books clearly show that the Polish crown wholly discriminated against Ukrainian landowners. As an example, Khmelnytsky, an ethnic Ukrainian who spent many faithful years in the service of the Polish crown, had his birthright stolen by a Polish “nobleman”. Khmelnytsky took his case to the Polish crown thinking that his meritorious service over the years would play to his favor. Instead, the Polish crown allowed the Polish “nobleman” to continue thieving and keep Khmelnytsky’s lands. This in turn was the catalyst for the Ukrainian uprisings against Poland. It was the final straw in a long line of years of Polish oppression of non-Polish peoples. Quite simply when people are happy they do not bite the hand that feeds them, but in this case it were the Poles that were allowed to thieve Ukrainian lands. How would you feel if I set up camp in your home and slept with your wife and even your daughters? And then laid claim to your home? I’m pretty sure that you would not take it too lightly unless you are some coward without the ballz to fight for what was given to you by your ancestors.

          • Микола Данчук

            You could look up my family name (Polish spelling) in the archives. I don’t need translation or misinterpretation of what Ukrainians (by any root) contributed to the Polish realm. Nor can you silence me as the knowledge of my family dates back prior to there ever being a Poland.
            All you need to do is look at the discrimination laws imposed by the almighty Polish crown.

          • Quartermaster

            You’re welcome to believe what you wish. Your generalities betray a basic ignorance of people, however, as the rest of your posts betray a basic ignorance of history.

          • Микола Данчук

            Not all of history is black and white, unless that is all you could relate too.
            My history deals with people, time and necessity. A personnel reflection as it is.

          • Maik Steiner

            You should go back to Ukraine and help your country rebuild.

          • MichaelA


    • MichaelA

      sure poland is a sovereign state
      if it does anything incompatible with eu membership it will be booted from the eu
      otherwise it gets the same rights as everyone else

      • laker48

        The EU may kiss Poles’ as*es. There’s no clause in the Treaty of Lisbon to boot a member state out of the EU and the EU without Poland will become dysfunctional. NATO, and the US in particular, keeps rapidly building up its military might on Polish territory to protect its members from not only RuSSIa, but also from Ukraine if it goes the mafia state way. Moreover, Ukraine will never enter the EU or NATO with Bandera, Melnyk and Shukhevych as its national heroes. Look what Hungary has already done to Poroshenko’s ego! More to come. The EU and NATO won’t tolerate a state whose national heroes are WW2 Nazi criminals against humanity.

        • MichaelA

          poland may kiss eu as*es
          yes states can be booted out of the eu and if poland violates any fundamental rules it can expect that to happen
          no the eu doesnt need poland – it got along fine without it before and will do so in future
          the way poland is going it might yet see ukraine as a member in place of it – thats what childish arrogance does for you

          • laker48

            If Poland doesn’t decide to exercise a Polexit, the EC can only bark, growl and bark, what has already been clearly demonstrated by Hungary and the very Poland for the last couple of years. Check the balances of mutual trade between Germany and Poland and Germany and put on a thinking cap!

            The main source of EU pressure on Poland was Germany in a hope of unsaddling the new government voted into office in October 2015. All those efforts have not only fizzled, but reinforced Poles’ support of this government from 31% in 2015 to close to 50% now and this support will likely increase after the so called “Cell Plus Programme” gains momentum. The programme is about prosecution and punishment of economic crimes of the former coalition government of the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish Peasant Party (PSL). Over 1000 criminal prosecution cases are already open. Chances are fair to good that president of the European Council Donald Tusk will soon face criminal charges in Poland.

            Weakened by the migrant and government crises France and Germany have started backpedalling and started making noises about the restoration of the Weimar Triangle, what is being communicated to Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki in Munich and was two days ago in Berlin. Don’t count on weakening Poland’s position in the EU and NATO in light of its explosive economic growth and rapidly growing military might (Poland’s economic growth rate is around 5% per year and its military budget will grow from the current 2.1% of GDP to 2.5% of GDP by 2022).

    • MichaelA

      but what is the relevance of that rant?
      if polands laws dont violate eu rules then its not a problem
      if polands laws do violate eu rules then it will be booted from the eu

  • MichaelA

    the idea that poland can bring about the collapse of the eu is absurd
    the eu has a limited set of requirements and any country that doesnt want to comply with them is free to leave
    poland doesnt seem to have an issue with the vast majority of eu regulations which relate mostly to trade
    the only real issue is regarding democracy where the eu only has limited requirements anyway – it seems unlikely that poland will press any point regarding these

    • laker48

      Don’t worry about Poland, copy and paste artist (you could have formatted your pasted comment before posting :))! It holds hands with the US, the UK and its EU and NATO neighbouring member states, and builds around it the 12-state Three Seas Initiative based on independence from RuSSian oil and gas possible to achieve by 2022.

      It may also become one of the main European hubs and distribution centres of the New Silk Road. Take a look at the map of Europe and imagine what a strong both economically and militarily Poland with 30 thousand US troops on its territory can do in Europe.

      • MichaelA

        “copy and paste artist” what on earth are you going on about? i pasted nothing
        when you write silly childish things like that you do nothing to advance your argument even once you work out what it is
        the rest of your comment doesnt relate to anything i wrote
        now here is some pasting – it is my same comment again which you have not responded to:
        1 the suggestion in the article that poland can bring about the collapse of the eu is absurd – if you disagree with that, say why
        2 the eu has a limited set of requirements and any country that doesnt want to comply with them is free to leave – if you disagree with that, say why
        3 poland doesnt seem to have an issue with the vast majority of eu regulations which relate mostly to trade – if you disagree with that, say why
        4 the only real issue is regarding democracy where the eu only has limited requirements anyway – it seems unlikely that poland will press any point regarding these – if you disagree with that, say why

        • laker48

          While I don’t contest your first three points, I can assure you that Poland will not compromise on its sovereignty and won’t comply with any ridiculous and vague noises made by two unelected idiots Timmermans and Verhofstadt. Jean Claude Juncker has already noticed this and has started backpedalling from his position.

          As you can already see, nobody in the EU emits any longer any noises about new laws recently legislated by Poland and there’s no intentions on the Polish government’s side to change them. They are there to stay and new ones will be legislated in the course of delivering on this government’s election promises.

          Poland will not enter the eurozone in a foreseeable future if ever, what has been already acknowledged by France and Germany backpedalling from the concept of Europe of two speeds. There’s also an open case of the German WW2 reparations for Poland that are now being tallied up and will be officially announced at the end of this year by a special standing committee of the Polish parliament.