Last week the Senate of Poland voted for the bill “On Amendments to the Law on the Institute of National Remembrance – Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation, and Some Other Laws.” This step aroused criticism on the part of Kyiv and righteous indignation of Jerusalem. The US State Department also called on the Polish government to reconsider the bill because it can undermine the freedom of speech in the country and set up a new diplomatic barrier.
As for Ukraine’s reaction, immediately after the bill was voted for, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed “concern” over this decision and announced that it “categorically rejects the new attempt to impose a one-sided interpretation of historical events.” Later, when the law was finally passed, President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine tweeted: “The conclusions in this resolution are absolutely biased and totally unacceptable…, and the adopted bill betrays the principles of strategic partnership between Ukraine and Poland.”
Incidentally, Den has already written about the adoption of this law (“Without illusions and advocates” dated January 30, 2018, https://day.kyiv.ua/uk/article/podrobyci/bez-ilyuziy-i-bez-advokativ, and “Western front?” dated February 1, 2018, https://day.kyiv.ua/uk/article/den-planety/zahidnyy-front).
Poland itself has also reacted. A number of Polish intellectuals have come out against the amendments to the law.
“THE CONCEPT OF OVERCOMING THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE VOLYN TRAGEDY”
Valentyn YABLONSKY, Doctor of Sciences (Biology), professor of veterinary medicine:
“The concept of overcoming the consequences of the Volyn tragedy:
“1. The Volyn tragedy is part of the history of the struggle between Poland and Ukraine for Volhynia. The Poles in fact lost this struggle, but the longtime myth about Greater Poland with Eastern Borderlands and the loss of the latter in this rivalry is still weighing heavily on the Poles, as if calling them for revenge. They chose to exert informational pressure on the Ukrainians who were allegedly guilty of this tragedy.
“2. The struggle for Volhynia began in 1918 with the attack of Jozef Pilsudski’s legions, supported by the Entente, on the young Western Ukrainian People’s Republic. The latter suffered a defeat, and its territory, together with Western Volhynia and Western Belarus, became part of the Second Polish Republic which was trying to turn Poland into a monoethnic state by Polonizing the population, colonizing the area, ruining Ukrainian churches, and imprisoning Ukrainians in a special concentration camp at Bereza Kartuska. During the ‘pacification,’ 1,357 people (including 93 schoolchildren aged 8 and older), were beaten up, over 40 women were raped, 13 people were killed, and 1,739 arrested. Five to seven thousand Ukrainians were arrested in Bereza Kartuska.
“The years 1941-42 saw the second wave of repressions – Ukrainian activists in the Kholm region were attacked and their families killed, 154 churches were turned into Catholic temples, 164 churches were closed, the Ridna Khata society was banned and its libraries and other property were destroyed, 40 villages were burnt down. The only way out for Kholm residents was to seek protection in Volyn across the river Bug.
“The third wave of face-offs, the peak of the Volyn tragedy, was the rebellion of Volhynians in retaliation for 25 years of occupation.
“3. The particularity of World War Two in Volyn was that Ukrainians waged a national liberation struggle on three fronts – against German punitive squads, Red partisans, and Polish self-defense units and Armia Krajowa. Making the OUN its ally shortly before invading the USSR, Germany not only cheated it (did not support the formation of a Ukrainian state), but also provoked a Polish-Ukrainian confrontation. Formed in Belarus to fight the Germans, Red partisans chose to collaborate with the Poles in their anti-Ukrainian actions in Volyn – they fought not a single battle against the Germans in Western Ukraine but, instead, they were past masters of provocations.
“4. Thus, in 25 years of the occupation of Volyn, the Poles, who used to be a friendly people, became the main enemy of the Ukrainians in their national liberation war. The initiators of the Polish-Ukrainian war were Polish head of state Jozef Pilsudski (1918-35), President Ignacy Moscicki (1926-39), and the London-based government in exile. It should also be taken into account that the Nazis and the Bolsheviks provoked interethnic clashes in Volyn.
“5. Having lost the struggle for Volyn in spite of great efforts, the Poles are trying to put all the blame on the Ukrainians, but may I ask you:
• Who launched the 1918 Polish-Ukrainian war in Lviv?
• Who breached the 1920 Warsaw Treaty and signed an agreement with the Bolsheviks on fighting against Ukraine?
• Who interned the courageous defenders of Ukraine and Poland – UNR servicemen – in prison camps, where 700 people died of wounds, hunger, cold, and unsanitary conditions in four years?
• Who closed Ukrainian schools, ruined Ukrainian churches, conducted Polonization, colonized the area, and ‘pacified’ the population of Galicia and Volyn?
• Who began anti-Ukrainian actions in the Kholm region in 1941-42, which resulted in a heavy death toll, destruction of property, and the burning of 40 villages?
• Who set up concentration camps in Bereza Kartuska and Jaworzno?
• Who decided to resettle Ukrainians and Poles in 1945?
• Who organized Operation Vistula?
“6. The UPA won in the Volyn conflict, preventing the Poles from regaining Volyn as part of Poland. This embittered the Poles, and we can still see this today.
“7. The Polish-Ukrainian confrontation in 1918-45 was in fact the inception of an ongoing hybrid war, in which propaganda played a major role.
“8. However, in spite of everything, the late 20th century was marked by friendly relations between our peoples, and Ukraine extended a hand of assistance to Poland when an economic crisis gripped it in the 1970s-1980s. On its part, Poland was the first to congratulate Ukraine on the declaration of independence on August 24, 1991, and the confirmation of this at the national referendum. The two countries maintained excellent relations, and Poland was even considered Ukraine’s advocate in complicated international issues.
“9. However, the research of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance shows that the two sides were not prepared in the early 1990s for a constructive dialog to work out a compromise attitude to common historical memory. What stood in the way of mutual tolerance were old and new stereotypes which the interested civic and political forces kept injecting into both peoples by way of manipulations and outright falsification of history.
“10. Gradually, the nostalgia of Poles for the ‘Eastern borderlands’ they lost in World War Two transformed into a specific national self-identity and a biased attitude to Ukrainians. It is impossible to restore a tolerant coexistence of our peoples unless this attitude is dropped.
“11. Now that the historical past is weighing upon political reality, the current Polish-Ukrainian relations are in a stalemate. So, we must say that the past is a fact to be reckoned with, but we cannot change it 70 years after it took place.
“12. Ukraine has found itself in sort of a triangle of horrors: on the one side, Russia’s aggression; on the other, far-fetched claims of Polish radicals; and, in the center, political strife, like a rotten hollow, inside our society.
“13. The only way to normalize political relations with Poland and keep the two countries free of reciprocal accusations, claims, and unrealistic demands is to announce political vacations for five to ten years until the end of elections in both Poland and Ukraine (sort of a moratorium on international historical debates).
“14. Finally, as members of the European community, Ukraine and Poland must draw up a program of normalizing our partnership during the political vacations, adhering to the old principle ‘For your and our freedom.’
“The draft Ukrainian national program of the normalization of partnership with Poland:
“What will play a decisive role in overcoming the consequences of the Volyn tragedy (as envisaged by the program of Ukrainian political vacations) is overcoming the economic crisis and political imbalance in society; cessation of the hybrid war; the formation of a new system of European security, an effective European-level system of wages and pensions for Ukrainian citizens; financial stability in Ukraine; endorsing the national idea and forming the Single Local Church; developing and strengthening national diplomacy and the powerful armed forces; Ukraine’s accession to NATO; the formation of an ‘antiwar coalition’ with partner states.
“The fulfillment of this program will help Ukraine enter the circle of European leaders that are reckoned with and respected.
“Therefore, we must work for building a new Ukraine. Let’s do something. If we fail to do so, others will do it for us – and without us.”
Appeal of the Polish intelligentsia against the amendments to the law on the Institute of National Remembrance
We, the undersigned, protest against the latest amendments to the law on the Institute of National Remembrance which have been passed by the legislature of the Republic of Poland. The new provisions of the INR law will legalize discriminatory practices and acts of aggression already present in the public space, facilitate the stigmatization of any individuals and ethnic groups, increase xenophobic attitudes, generate other hate crimes, and deepen the legal, social, political, diplomatic, and information crisis. At the same time, we stand together with the individuals and institutions who have already protested against the amendments to the INR law, especially in the context of the threats to education, science, freedom of speech, and the state of Polish-Jewish and Polish-Israeli relations.
With utmost determination, we draw the attention of the Republic of Poland’s legislators to the fact that the amendment introduced by the Kukiz’15 legislator Tomasz Rzymkowski, which broadens the concept of “Banderaite crimes,” poses an immediate threat to the safety of Polish citizens of Ukrainian ethnicity and Ukrainian workers in Poland. We intentionally quote not the amendment itself, but its media counterpart, because it has already acquired a life of its own – primarily on social networks, but not only there. On January 25 this year, member of the Sejm Rzymkowski said when informing the chamber about the proceedings that take place in the district court of Przemysl over a brutal and vulgar blockade of a Greek Catholic procession: “Talking about the Bandera issue from the current perspective: (...) the Ukrainian brought to court for physical aggression against a Polish citizen had torn off the latter’s T-shirt with the inscription ‘Volhynia – we remember!’ and when the Polish court asked him why he did that, he said that he disagreed with attacks on his national hero, as he considered Stepan Bandera to be one.” The materials of this case, labeled PK 599/17, show exactly the opposite. It is Poles who are being tried over attacking, with shouts “tear away that Banderaite rag,” a parochial security officer, who wore a traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt with a blue-and-yellow armband. But for street justice, the actual state of affairs does not matter. The image of the victim with the caption “a Banderaite” is already circulating through the Web, and Polish nationalists are finding justification for their actions in the new amendments to the INR law.
Adam Balcer, Bogumila Berdychowska, Agnieszka Holland, Anna Dabrowska, et al.