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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Pilsudski – Petliura

An alliance of antagonistic partners
3 June, 2010 - 00:00
PETLIURA’S GRAVE IN PARIS. IN KYIV, THERE IS STILL NO MONUMENT... / Photo taken from the book Poland and Ukraine in the War of Independence. Warsaw, 2009 MONUMENT TO THE MARSZALEK OF POLAND JOZEF PILSUDSKI IN WARSAW Photo taken from the book Poland and Ukraine in the War of Independence. Warsaw, 2009

The Treaty of Warsaw, signed on Apr. 22, 1920, by the Chief of the revived Polish state Jozef Pilsudski and the Head Otaman of the Ukrainian People’s Republic Symon Petliura, is one of the controversial issues of the two nations’ past. Discussions concerning the contents and essence of the pact are as lively as ever.

Was it a joint effort to oppose the advance of the Bolsheviks who craved to sovietize eastern and central European lands? An attempt to secure the European choice for Ukraine? A trivial betrayal of Ukraine’s national interests? Or was it just a desperate step by Petliura who found himself in a blind alley? And what are the lessons to be learned from those distant events?

This range of questions was discussed at The Day’s office by our Polish guests: Ola Hnatiuk, Ph.D., Doctor of philology, 1st Counsellor of the Embassy of the Polish Republic in Ukraine, director, Department of Science and Education; Stanislaw Stepien, Ph.D. in history, director, South-Eastern Research Institute, Przemysl; Jan Jacek Bruski, Ph.D., Insitute of History, Jagiellonian University, Krakow; Anna Lazar, deputy director, Polish Institute in Kyiv. Present also were renowned domestic scholars: Yurii Shapoval, Ph.D., doctor, professor of history, director, Center of Historical Political Sciences at the Kuras Institute of Ethno-National and Political Relations, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine; Volodymyr Horak, Ph.D., Institute of the History of Ukraine, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine; and Mykhailo Kirsenko, Ph.D. in history, doctor, professor, the Kyiv Mohyla Academy. We would also emphasize that none of the participants believes the subject to be exhausted. Conversely, it is rather the beginning of future discussions.

Olesia YASHCHENKO, deputy editor in chief, The Day:

“I would like to start with greetings from our editor in chief, Ms Larysa Ivshyna, to the honorable participants of this round table discussion. Unfortunately, she cannot be present here today due to the opening of an important photo exhibit in Kharkiv. Nevertheless, she asked me to give her best regards to our Polish and Ukrainian guests, and assure them that the course of our edition for an extensive, detailed, and unbiased coverage of various aspects of Poland-Ukraine relations (and The Day is exactly one of those periodicals that pay a particular attention to these issues) will doubtlessly remain unwavering. This is proven by the publication of a new book, Wars and Peace, in the The Day’s Library Series, which is exclusively dedicated to controversial or obscure aspects of Ukraine and Poland’s common history.

“Ms Ivshyna believes that one of the most important questions, worth being an object of today’s discussion, to be the following: Why was Poland able, in the roaring 1918-21 period, to consolidate around the figure of Chief of State Jozef Pilsudski, while Ukraine failed to do so with Symon Petliura? What are the reasons for this? And why nowadays in Ukraine we cannot find a leader who could unite the entire nation?

“Giving our most sincere gratitude to the Polish Institute in Kyiv, which has done so much to arrange today’s meeting, we would like to ask Professor Yurii Shapoval to use his extensive experience and act as a moderator of this round table discussion.”

Yurii Shapoval:

“It is an honor for me to perform this mission. I would just like to address all the participants with a personal request to avoid unnecessary shows of reverence (in my opinion, we hardly ever need this) and refrain from excessive emotions, which are likely to prevent us from giving an objective and even somewhat distanced assessment of the events which, as we all can see now, are starting to acquire a new and unexpected importance.

“They are becoming topical due to one phrase said by Petliura and mentioned in The Day’s publication (No.82-83), “In the vicious circle: the year 1920,” which is exactly dedicated to the topic of our discussion, Petliura-Pilsudski pact. Petliura, while speaking to the Ukrainians from ‘his’ camp who had opposed the pact, said the following: ‘I know that most of you doubt our new alliance. That is why I would like to remind you of the following parable. ‘Daddy, Daddy! Look, a devil is trying to get into our house!’ cried a frightened boy. To this his father replied calmly, ‘Better a de­vil than a Muscovite!’

“These words by Petliura will seem horrendous to any normal person, in my opinion. But unfortunately, they immediately bring us back to the many aspects of present-day reality, Ukrainian and (which is the most dangerous in my view) Polish. For Poland is regarded by many Ukrainians as the state with a European orientation, pursuing a balanced policy, and seeing Ukraine in this European ‘setting.’ However, the most recent events show that, unfortunately, this is not always the case. So, let us openly discuss these questions, go back to the past, and honestly analyze the present.

“What matters for us today is Petliura’s motivation, as well as that of those forces whose ambition is to keep Ukraine from turning into Little Russia. So, where does the importance of the pact lie for us, and what is the main lesson for us to learn from the events which happened 90 years ago?

“With your permission, I will give the floor to Volodymyr Horak, who in his article “For Our and Your Freedom” (The Day, 2006) expressed the following idea: Pilsudski was a very monolithic personality, even a dictator. Petliura instead was a kind of centrist who wanted to reconcile, unite, and ‘consolidate’ all the rest. Why do you think so, Mr. Horak?”

Volodymyr HORAK:

“I will perhaps start with the cause of Petliura’s ‘primeval sin,’ which we are discussing now.”

Yu. Sh.: “Don’t you think Pilsudski also had sins?”

V. H.: “Yes, he doubtlessly had his, and I will speak about them later. Thus, the Treaty of Warsaw, which had an important role in the progress of the national revolution of 1918-21, as well as in the Poland-Ukraine relations, is known to have consisted of two parts. Firstly, the political convention signed in Warsaw on Apr. 22, 1920 and, secondly, the military convention, also signed in Warsaw by the representatives of Poland and the UNR two days later, on April 24.

“In my view, all the articles pre­sent in the treaty under discussion could be clearly divided into two groups as to their contents. Group one comprises those which really promoted democratic and equal relations between the two countries. Yet there were others, which endangered these foundations, to say the least.

“To the first, ‘inspiring’ group I would refer those in which Poland acknowledged the Ukrainian People’s Republic as a sovereign, independent state; those which contained both powers’ obligations to refrain from any actions which might harm either party’s interests; obliged both countries to ensure free and unrestrained national and cultural development for Poles in Ukraine and Ukrainians in Poland alike; acknowledged the UNR government’s right to full sovereign power on the Ukrainian lands in the future; defined the Ukrainian armed forces and the Polish military formations as allies in their struggle against their common enemy, the Bolsheviks; acknowledged the right of the UNR to appropriate most of the military trophies gained in the course of future hostilities; the obligation of Poland to form on the territories in its control Ukrainian armed forces, providing them with everything necessary, and, finally, the possibility of withdrawal of the Polish army from Ukraine following the suggestion made by either side.

“Unfortunately, there were other articles. This other group comprises the articles which, in my opinion, limited Ukraine’s national sovereignty. Here we have to emphasize that, under the Treaty of Warsaw, the UNR had agreed to concede to Poland the rights to Western Ukraine and Galicia. Besides, overall command of the military operations exercised by both Polish and Ukrainian armed forces was delegated exclusively to the Polish high command. So, what was left to the Ukrainian military command? To become ‘generals without armies?’ Besides, Poland was to control virtually all Ukrainian railroads.

“I would also like to add that under the Treaty, the UNR government was obliged to supply Polish troops on the Ukrainian territory with victuals – and that exclusively at its own cost. And the prospective evacuation of the Po­lish army from Ukraine could only technically be done ‘with the agreement of the parties.’ That is to say, a hypothetical demand from Uk­rai­ne that Poland withdrew its troops was not in itself a sufficient condition for this action. The situation with the estates of the great Polish land owners in Ukraine also remained unspecified.

“Summing up all of these conditions, I don’t think we can speak of the Treaty of Warsaw as a democratic and equal solution to the problems of Ukraine-Poland relations. In my opi­nion, it is Poland who profited from the pact.”

Yu. Sh.: “Do you think thus it was a deal between ‘the big brother’ (Poland) with ‘the little brother’ (Ukraine)?”

V. H.: “Almost exactly. The only area where Ukraine did win was in Poland providing it with sizable mi­litary assistance in its struggle with the Bolsheviks. Unfortunately, this is a recurring plot in the Ukrainian history: the ‘big brother,’ assuming the role of an ally, tries to impose his will.”

Stanislaw STEPIEN:

“There is no doubt that it was Pilsudski who was ‘dealing the cards round,’ if I may use this idiom. This is both attributable to his status as Chief of State, and to the real status of the Polish army at that time. One should bear in mind that the Polish state already had a definite territory and organizational structure, unlike the UNR.

“And here arises an important question: What goals did Pilsudski’s policy pursuit, and what was his vision of the future for Poland and Ukraine? One must reflect on Pilsudski as a politician, and as a human.

“In my opinion, the politician Pilsudski was fixed on steering Poland towards Europe – not so much the contemporary Europe as the Europe to come. He wanted to build ‘a new system’ in Europe. However, this was obstructed by great-power Russia, and then Bolshevik Russia which took over tsarist Russia.

“Pilsudski aspired to become a partner (on as equal footing as possible at that) in negotiations with France and Great Britain. Sure enough, no western state would conduct negotiations on equal terms with Poland or Ukraine if Russia dominated in Eastern Europe. Pilsudski was well aware of this, and acknowledged this in his policies.

“So, Pilsudski was constantly looking for a new concept of Poland and its place in Europe. It would have to be a Europe where Poland would have at last regained its statehood, after 120 years of struggle – but so would Ukraine, the Caucasus, and the Baltic states. Pilsudski had special sentiments for Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine, aspiring to harmonize their future with the new concept of Europe. In this new Europe, where no nation would dictate its will, a weakened Russia would have given a new, great chance for once enslaved nations. A strong Russia, however, would have deprived them of it.

“And another issue. Pilsudski loved Ukraine, as a human. And he knew Ukraine. Like every human has his or her own ‘weaknesses’ and preferences, so did Pilsudski. Ukraine was certainly among his soft spots. His thoughts, recorded by one of his aides, show that for Pilsudski, Ukraine was an essential, significant entity. Like for any Pole, after all, as for all of us Ukraine is not just a neighbor state. Its our common history, common histo­rical space, steppes, Cossack times, similar culture and language.

“Mr. Horak spoke of the inequality of the Treaty of Warsaw. Yet let’s ask ourselves this: have there ever been absolutely equal alliances in politics, and in history? Pilsudski had to take care of his state’s security, and foresee the actions and intentions of his partners.

“I would also note that Pilsudski was Chief of State, not a dictator, and he had a strong opposition in parliament – and it was in parliament that power was concentrated. One might go even further suggesting that, due to an alliance with Petliura, Pilsudski risked much more: he could have lost everything, and parliament could any moment displace him from his post of Chief of State.

“Immediately after the pact was signed, there began talks in parliament of Pilsudski who, via his alliance with Petliura, was ‘getting Poland involved in risky politics in the East.’ Not only did this endanger the independence of Poland, but also led to the deterioration of relations with France and Great Britain who believed that Bolshevist Russia would fall before long and therefore there was no need to weaken the recent ally, Russia, territorially.

“Petliura’s risk was much smaller. Although the alliance with Poland added new enemies, it could bring many more advantages, should it have succeeded. He might have gained the independence of Ukraine, albeit somewhat ‘truncated’ in the west – but apart from that, he would have gotten a country with a vast territory with its capital in Kyiv, and with almost all the other historical cities and regions. Petliura had no other allies but Poland.”

Jan Jacek Bruski:

“Of course, the Pilsudski-Petliura alliance was a complicated and controversial construction. This act has gotten very different assessments since the very moment of signing. Besides, there immediately were two opposite viewpoints formed – so to speak, two ‘poles.’

“According to the first view, Ukraine dealt with ‘Polish imperialists’ who contrived to find a weaker partner and force them into total surrender. According to the other, it was a fraternal alliance, where Poles idealistically fought in the Ukrainian battlefields ‘for our and your freedom.’ Meanwhile, both versions are too one-sided, and the historical truth is much more complicated.

“For me, the alliance of 1920 is a classical example of real politics (from the German Realpolitik) on both parts. The pact was not equal in itself, and it could not possibly be: on the one hand, there was the UNR government which had virtually lost control of its own territory and had barely any army left, and on the other, there were the well-formed state structures of Poland.

“Yet it was in line with the reality of that time and, what’s most important, with the strategic interests of both states. The situation was pretty complicated at that time: Ukraine was viewed by the West as ‘the German intrigue,’ the former (since the Peace Treaty of Brest-Lytovsky of 1918) ally of Berlin, and the traitor of Entente, whose independence is not worth of defending.

“On the other hand, the Bolsheviks regarded the Ukrainian state as nothing more than a barrier (an obstacle, in Stalin’s words) which hampered the progress of the revolution to the west – a hindrance which had to be destroyed by all means. So, Petliura tried to find a way out. Reaching an agreement with the Polish government, which had by then established good relations with the West could, in Petliura’s opinion, have promoted the process of international recognition of Ukraine.

“Of course, Ukraine had a weaker position in the negotiations. Poland was already consolidated state back then. But it doesn’t mean that here we can see a manifestation of Polish imperialism which allegedly took advantage of Ukraine’s desperate situation and aimed at subjugating its eastern neighbor completely.

“Indeed, even theoretically, Poland could not dream of any protectorate over Ukraine. Ukraine was – and still is – a state with a considerably greater potential (human, territorial, and economic) than that of Poland. Both Pilsudski and Petliura, the architects of the pact, realized this all too well.”

Mykhailo KIRSENKO:

“From the perspective of international legislation, there are two kinds of territory transfer. They include taking possession of a territory (a) de facto and (b) de jure. Western Ukraine (or Eastern Galicia) had been de facto lost as result of the fratricidal Polish-Ukrainian war of 1919. Thus, there was no way Petliura could ‘transfer Western Ukraine’ as he did not have it. De jure transfer can only take place under a treaty signed after the war, not before. And this transfer did take place due to the Treaty of Riga, made between the Soviet government and Poland later, after the war, in March, 1921. That was when Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine transferred Western Ukraine to Poland, or more precisely, legally acknowledged Poland’s right to those lands. All intermediary agreements, including the Treaty of Warsaw, are nothing more than that.

“The second item concerns the operative subordination of the Ukrainian armed forces to those of Poland, under the Treaty of Warsaw. Similarly, in 1944, after the allies’ landing in Normandy, the French armed forces were subordinated to General Eisenhower – so what does it mean? That France wasn’t a sovereign state?

“The third item. Yes, the Polish troops stayed in Ukraine for some time; so what? American troops stayed in Germany after the end of the Second World War, but does it mean that Germany was not a sovereign state?

“These are the facts. In the ‘rectangle of death,’ which was formed in 1919 (with Denikin’s White army and Lenin-Trotsky’s Red army in the east, the Romanians in the south, the Poles in the west, and typhus in the middle) Petliura simply didn’t have any other way out. It was the best solution at the time.

“As for the two figures, Pilsudski and Petliura, they are very comparable. Both socialists, and both renegades of socialism. Pilsudski once said that he had gotten off the red tram at the stop named ‘Independence of Poland.’

“For over one hundred years before that, Poland had been struggling, first in uprisings, then in ‘organic work’ (day-to-day evolutionary work for the nation’s good). It is not comparable to Ukraine as far as uprisings go, while ‘organic work’ gives us grounds for comparisons – only in Poland, this work was much deeper and more intensive.

“Europe knew Poland; Europe did not know Ukraine. During the First World War, on both sides (Germany and Entente) there were offers of independence for Poland; from neither side there were such offers for Ukraine. So when we come to assess this pact, we must proceed from the real alignment of forces.

“The West Ukrainian People’s Republic appealed to the West as it was moderately liberal, but Poland was a more reliable ally. The socialist slogans of the Central Rada and UNR were less than appealing for Europe.

“And another important moment. At the moment of regaining its independence in November, 1918, Poland had at least five (!) governments. In Warsaw there was the Regency Council created by the Germans; Lublin was the seat of a socialist government; Krakow was the seat of the so-called ‘Liquidation Commission’; Cieszyn, the seat of the ‘National Committee;’ and there was another ‘National Committee’ active in Paris. Four out of five of these governments considered themselves to have national representation (!) and fought against the others.

“Yet in a certain critical moment all governments were sensible enough to invest one person with power, and that person was Pilsudski. This is what largely influenced further developments. Ukraine remained the site of strife and discord.”

S. S.: “If Petliura had believed that Poland threatened Ukraine’s territorial integrity, he must have understood this other thing, too: Russia (both ‘White’ and ‘Red’) endangered the very existence of Ukraine as a state.”


“By the way, Kyiv at last has a Petliura Street (formerly Komintern St.). But I think that if you ask a taxi driver to take you to Petliura Street he will be outright puzzled, like, ‘where on earth is that?’ And I’m not joking.”

Yu. Sh.: “I have something to do with the new name of this street, as a member of the renaming commission. True enough, the number plaques were changed on one building only. There is no monument to Petliura in Kyiv, while Warsaw has two.

“Now it’s just the time to switch to the second part of our conversation and discuss personalities. Who was Pilsudski, and who was Petliura?”

S. S.: “One of the famous Ukrainian emigration political essayists, Ivan Kedryn-Rudnytsky, wrote a comparative article “Pilsudski and Petliura,” where he mentions, in particular, that after 1918 Pilsudski was already a living legend of the independence movement, a prisoner of Magdeburg, creator of the Polish underground liberation movement before the outbreak of the First World War, creator of the Polish Legions, and Polish military organization...

“Meanwhile, what was Petliura doing? Writing articles. There exists a piece written by Volodymyr Vynnychenko (by the by, Petliura’s ill-wisher) which relates that when Petliura became Head Otaman, he began holding ‘processions’ with priests and wished people to bow to him in Khreshchatyk, to kiss his hands.

“It might be somewhat too literal, yet there is a grain of truth in it. Petliura realized that a statesman must have a background of tradition and social prestige, and the nation had to perceive him as a statesman. His defeat was due to the fact that he failed to create such a tradition back then. He lacked the time for it.”

Yu. Sh.: “Mr. Bruski, could you please tell us, does everyone in Poland love Pilsudski this much?”

J. B.: “Of course not everyone – yet he was not liked by everyone back in 1920. At the complicated moment of formation of the nation-state, the Poles managed to reach a certain, albeit a short-termed, compromise. Then Pilsudski took over (in a legal manner) the powers which made him a quasi-dictator and allowed him to act with more vigor.

“This does not mean, however, that he enjoyed the nation’s love and understanding. There were a lot of communities and entire regions (in particular, those of Poznan and Pomorze) where Pilsudski had virtually no political support. This naturally created numerous problems both for Poland and Ukraine.

“There is one very interesting letter written by Pilsudski to General Sosnowski in the early May of 1920. In this letter he complained that the Poznan regiments, moving across Ukraine, will not understand that they were on allied territory, and rob everyone on their way and he, the commander in chief, could do nothing to stop them. He was indignant that some men’s dishonorable and stupid behavior was ruining the entire Polish-Ukrainian concept.

“Thus we have to bear in mind where the tragedy lies: not only Petliura but also Pilsudski experienced a lack of understanding and support on the part of their societies.”

S. S.: “I would like to note that Petliura was no dilettante in politics or military affairs. Otherwise one might equally justly say that Pilsudski, too, was a dilettante. Yet the events of early February 1918 in Arsenal, Kyiv, in which Petliura took a most active part, are one thing, the Haidamak Kish [a militarized Cossack unit], which he led at one point in time, is quite another, and Petliura’s ideas about the creation of the Ukrainian army are still something else.

“Pilsudski had almost no military experience either, nor did he finish any military schools. Likewise, he made a living by writing political essays.

“I would like to add another feature to emphasize the difference between Pilsudski and Petliura. After the seizure of Kyiv, Pilsudski was literally carried around Warsaw. Petliura would have never received such welcome in Kyiv. A part of society might have done that, but the other part would campaign for Soviet Ukraine. That is to say, society wasn’t consolidated and Petliura did not become a nationwide leader. Pilsudski did, despite all his similarity to Petliura, and all their joint ventures.”

M. K.: “Professor Stepien just took these words right out of my mouth. Moreover, Petliura was amateurish in state-building, resembling in this way the philosopher Tomas Masaryk, the pianist Ignacy Paderew­ski, the musical critic Vytautas Landsbergis... Three months before Masaryk triumphed as President of Czechoslovakia, he was declared a vile traitor... Everything changes.

“Mr. Stepien, I completely agree with your assessment, but I would like to add one little detail. Pilsudski died in glory. Petliura, as we know, was assassinated. As a result, his enemies were able to shift all the blame onto him. He tried, although to no avail, to fight pogroms – so he was made into an anti-Semite. He was an absolutely consistent patriot – and was made into a traitor.”

Yu. Sh.: “We are trying to grasp the similarities and differences about these two figures. There is another interesting fact: Pilsudski signed the Treaty of Riga with Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine. In doing this, he was perfectly aware that the Treaty of Warsaw would be virtually made void. What were his motives in this?”

S. S.: “This is an extremely important question, which is not confined to Poland-Ukraine relations alone. The political arena of that time had many more players. But the most important question was if the Poles could go on fighting. They did not have enough victuals or arms. That is why, they had to seek help from western nations, France and Great Britain in particular. But what happened then? At that very moment there broke out strikes of British dokers, who would not load the vessels with the weapons and supplies for the Polish army, shouting the slogan ‘Hands off the Soviet Land!’

“Poland had to decide if it could go on supporting this struggle, if the Polish people could go on making sacrifices to defend Ukrainian statehood. Pilsudski had a lot of political opponents. The population was tired of fighting but, in order not to betray Petliura, he personally wanted to support his cause.

“It was a hard and bitter situation indeed. But Petliura also understood that no further war with Bolshevik Russia was possible. Although an anti-Soviet uprising on the territory of Ukraine was still feasible, there was a lack of victuals and arms. Polish society was not prepared for such a collision, either.”

Yu. Sh.: “There was an agreement under which the parties to the Warsaw Treaty should not take actions detrimental to the other party. With this in mind, did Pilsudski betray Petliura?”

S. S.: “To my mind, such a formulation is incorrect. Why should Pi?sudski be a traitor? He simply did not have a choice. After all, it was not his decision, but that of the Polish sejm, where he was in minority.”

Yu. Sh.: “Okay then. So we can say that the Polish state did not keep this treaty.”

V. H.: “Do you think there was a moment when Pilsudski realized that Petliura’s game was up, and he was no more useful from the perspective of Polish interests?”

J. B.: “I think such a moment will never arrive. I would like to go back to the moment of signing of the Treaty of Warsaw. It was preceded by long hours of midnight conversations between Pilsudski and Petliura, which actually had a decisive role. These two heroes met and understood each other, because they resembled each other as people and – even more importantly – respected each other.

“Men like Petliura are born once in two centuries,’ – this is how the Marshal referred to his Ukrainian associate after his death. Pilsudski never left Petliura. Ukrainian troops and politicians crossed the border (and it totaled up to 40 thousand people!) and were waiting for an opportunity to come back to Ukraine.

“On the territory of Poland there existed a Ukrainian government, parliament, and the higher military school – at first, officially, and then, secretly. In May, 1926, Pilsudski was back in power, and it is then that Petliura was assassinated in Paris. Of course it is no coincidence. Pilsudski’s men had not forgotten about their alliance with Ukrainians.

“Many months before the May upheaval, there had been intensive political discussions. The Poles gave (certainly, under the table) money to the Ukrainians, and allowed them to start a newspaper Tryzub (Trident) in Paris. This was critical for the international propaganda of the UNR cause. Eventually, there appears a suggestion that Petliura come back to Warsaw, in order to continue their struggle against Bolsheviks together with Pilsudski. However, Moscow had enough time to destroy this plan.”

S. S.: “I think there is another moment worth of attention. Under the additional agreement which was signed, contrary to Pilsudski’s opinion, after the Treaty of Riga, Petliura and several other Ukrainian politicians were supposed to be extradited by Poland, but this never happened. There also was an attempt at assassination, made in Poland by a Bolshevik agent, but the Poles protected Petliura.”

M. K.: “Petliura’s problem was being a centrist while Pilsudski was a federalist. But as a head of state, Pilsudski had to be, and he was, a realist, so this also must be taken into account. Pilsudski was between a very Polish Dmowski and not a very Polish Dzerzhynsky. He had to be somewhere in between.

“Did Pilsudski betray Petliura? Treaties should be kept – as long as they correspond to the existing conditions. If the conditions change, so should change the agreements. That is why I will agree with my colleagues in that Pilsudski was doing a lot more than he actually had to do for Petliura and the Ukrainian cause.”

Yu. Sh.: “I think that the figures of Pilsudski and Petliura require a separate historic research each. I will again quote our classic Siundiukov. He writes, ‘Being aware of historic mistakes does not mean being able to avoid them. One can get no guarantee there – or rather, the only guarantee is the unity of knowledge (comprehension, understanding) and conscious actions.’

“For me, these are very important words, as I would like to dedicate the third part of our discussion to the contemporary implications of today’s conversation, as well as those events which took place 90 years ago. It looks as if both Ukraine and Poland are entering a new phase. For me the death of Poland’s elite in the plane crash at Smolensk has become an omen of this.

“On the other hand, we have a clear and conspicuous message from the current political leadership of Ukraine. The needle of the political compass is wavering. As far as I am informed, Poland is also forming other vectors. The most important thing for us now is to evaluate the domestic political situation. So, a question to those present: why are these lessons important for us, and wherein is their urgency for us?”


“When I come to think about the urgency of the lessons of history, it is the end of Jerzy Hoffman’s famous With Fire and Sword that occurs to me first and foremost: ‘the decay of Cossack Ukraine involved, a few decades later, the decay of the Polish state, as an objectively inevitable process.’ The conclusion suggests itself: the weakening of one of our states, albeit later, in the next generation, will inevitably bring about the weakening of the other. For there will always be a third state which even now is guided by Aleksandr Pushkin’s doctrine: ‘Either the Slavic streams merge together in the Russian sea, or this sea will perish.’ This is the alternative picture painted by the Russian classic.”

Yu. Sh.: “Don’t you think that Poles and Ukrainians over-anatomize their problems? Aren’t we too prone to see a third state as the original cause of our problems? What can we learn from Petliura and Pilsudski’s lesson in this sense?”

M. K.: “I would like to repeat Mr. Siundiukov’s quotation word for word:

So, who will win in this unequal contest,
The haughty Pole, or the faithful Russian?
And will the Slavic streams merge in the Russian sea,
Or will it go dry? That is the question.


“Baburin, the Russian MP, publicly said the following to Ukraine’s first ambassador to Russia Volodymyr Kryzhanivsky, ‘There is only one road for us, reunification or war.’ To which Kryzhanivsky replied, ‘Don’t you assume we could just be good neighbors?’ Baburin would not change his mind, citing the above verse in response.

“It is very good that Mr. Baburin does not represent the Kremlin’s official view. However, one must take such statements into consideration. As long as Poland and Ukraine remain independent, but not important, players, Eastern Europe will not see any stability.”

Yu. Sh.: “Then I have a question for Mr. Bruski: Is Poland a dependent actor?”

J. B.: “Mr. Shapoval, I’m sure that neither you nor anyone else present has any doubts here. Poland certainly is an independent actor in the international arena. This can even be proven by its constant, albeit not always successful, attempts to activate the Eastern (Ukrainian in particular) direction of the EU politics.

“But, regardless of certain present-day circumstances, Ukraine has been, and will remain, an independent actor as well. We might draw our hope from the past. It is particularly striking when we speak of the Ukrainian state, which doubtlessly exists now, having its own structure, state ideology, and a level of consciousness which they could only dream of back in 1920.

“As far as the Polish-Ukrainian relations go, they, too, are on a quite different level than they were 90 years ago. We are past the hard, yet fruitful, stage of ‘bridging the gap.’ There are no territorial issues between us which used to divide our two nations – we are truly ‘doomed’ to cooperate. So my views are founded on sensible optimism.”

Yu. Sh.: “The new Ukrainian leadership has replaced 12 ambassadors including the ambassador of Ukraine to Poland. The Polish ambassador to Ukraine is approaching the end of his term of stay, so a new person will take over.

“Speaking of Ukraine’s ambassador to Poland, his term ought to continue, as a matter of fact. I also perceive this as a certain sign. I might be mistaken, but it is worth thinking about. Mr. Stepien, will you please reveal your views regarding the main question of the elegiac part of our discussion?”

S. S.: “I would like to remind you the words of a certain Polish song. In a most generalized translation, it says ‘the greatest problem is for two to aspire to one.’ The Ukrainian-Polish relations of the future will take such a shape as the two nations, Ukrainian and Polish, will want them to take.

“This is an important task for elites, intellectual leadership, and administration on all levels: to create and develop society rather than subjugate it to their whim. The question is, how much exactly our intellectual leaders (writers, artists, and journalists) want our relations to be perfect. We should not place our relations with Russia above our own national interests. The Orange Revolution has been, since the moment of gaining independence, the highest point for Ukrainian society. The Ukrainians tried out their strength and strove to prove that they had the right to their own views.

“I think that the future generation of Ukrainians will return to that struggle. And this, too, has had an effect on Ukraine-Poland relations. Throughout the world people respect those who can stand up for their interests.”

Yu. Sh.: “One simple question to the Ukrainian participants in the discussion: Why should we remember Pilsudski-Petliura alliance today?”

M. K.: “In order for Ukraine to find strength to return to Europe, and in doing so, also save Russia.”


“To remember our own errors and, having made proper conclusions, never repeat them again.”

V. H.: “To successfully build further relations between nations, past experience is indispensable.”

O. Ya.: “The previous experience doubtlessly has to be taken into account, but Ukraine must complete the process of its self-identification before returning to Europe.”

I. S.: “In my opinion, the flawed thesis about a common history with our eastern neighbor is very dangerous for the ideological foundations of Ukrainian statehood. Yet we are still unable to come up with a thesis to oppose it. Meanwhile, the subject of our today’s discussion is just another vivid example of the common Ukrainian-Polish history, with a lot of positive experience, even despite the controversial character of the Treaty of Warsaw. This is not the kind of historical moment which can be done away with eulogies and oversimplified analysis. Nevertheless, the Treaty of Warsaw is a perfect example of how our nations could interact.”

Yu. Sh.: “I would ask Ms. Olha Hnatiuk to answer the same question as a researcher.”

Ola Hnatiuk:

“It is crucial for us to achieve understanding where this understanding seems impossible or next to impossible. The lesson that I have learned from our discussion today is that rhetoric can tell us much.

“We very often tend to stay in the captivity of old cliches and stereotypes. And why I am so much opposed to Mr. Siundiukov’s thesis about the disgrace of the Treaty of Warsaw is because, according to Ukrainian stereotypes, the Poles had been humiliating the Ukrainians. This is simply part of the interpretation of history which was imposed on Ukrainians from outside.

“It is not worth interpreting the rhetoric as something clear and transparent in itself – one should perceive what it stands for. Each notion has its own history, roots, and development. Do not let yourselves be stuck with old concepts. Instead, form a new network of images and definitions, with a deep realization of the meanings of such important words.”

Yu. Sh.: “Dear colleagues, I am sincerely grateful for your participation in this discussion. Our joint efforts helped us revive historic events in quite definite dimensions, including the level of anthropology when we spoke about the creators of that alliance, the politicians as absolutely concrete personalities with their own fates.

“Ms. Hnatiuk, being a linguist, very appropriately remarked that words have their own values, and definitions have their own values, so we should search for new definitions when speaking about the past. To avoid falsehood in the quest for new meanings, we should look for new contexts, finding new ideas through our interpretations of the past. I think we have succeeded in doing so today, albeit partially. I am sure that this discussion will catch the eye of The Day’s readers in Ukraine and abroad, especially those who are sincerely preoccupied with the fates of the Ukrainian-Polish relations.”

On Apr. 22, 1920 Head Otaman of the UNR Symon Petliura signed, jointly with Chief of Polish State Jozef Pilsudski, a document which went down in history as the Treaty of Warsaw.

On Apr. 26, 1920, Pilsudski’s troops and Petliura’s divisions launched an anti-Bolshevik campaign in Ukraine under the famous slogan of the 19th century fighters, For Our and Your Freedom!

On March 18, 1921, Pilsudski signs the Peace Treaty of Riga, under which the borders between the parties resemble those under the Treaty of Warsaw. This time, however, Pilsudski had to negotiate with Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine.