World War II isn't quite over in what historian Timothy Snyder called the Bloodlands. The nationalist government in Poland is eager to confront Ukraine about an ethnic cleansing episode in 1943, and the Ukrainian authorities, whose own nationalism is a sometimes violent reaction to Russian aggression, are torn between glorifying the perpetrators of those crimes and apologizing to the Poles, their closest allies in Europe.
In the Volhynian massacre, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), the military wing of Stepan Bandera's Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, killed up to 100,000 Poles mainly in the Volhynia, or Volyn region that is part of today's western Ukraine but was part of Poland before World War II. The reasons the Ukrainian nationalists did this were twofold. Between the two world wars, Poland had oppressed Ukrainians living in the area, forcibly converting them to Catholicism and generally treating them as second-class citizens. And in 1943, many Volhynian Poles sympathized with the Red Army, which had turned the tide against Nazi Germany's onslaught, and cooperated with Moscow-backed guerrilla units.
By 1943, Bandera himself was in a German concentration camp, and his allies in Ukraine were disillusioned with Germans as allies who would help them set up an independent Ukraine. They also hated the Soviets with a passion (after the war ended, they kept up resistance against them in the woods for another four years). They realized they would have to fight alone, without any foreign support, and they moved to destroy what they saw as a fifth column. In his book about the region's bloody history, Snyder, who is sympathetic toward modern Ukraine, thus described the chain of violence:
The OUN-Bandera, the nationalist organization that led the partisan army, had long pledged to rid Ukraine of its national minorities. Its capacity to kill Poles depended upon German training, and its determination to kill Poles had much to do with its desire to clear the terrain of purported enemies before a final confrontation of the Red Army.
Snyder goes on to explain how the ethnic conflict launched by the anti-Communist UPA's actions only strengthened Stalin's hand. Stalin attached the contested territories to Soviet Ukraine and continued purging them of Poles.
Last week, the upper house of the Polish parliament, the Senate, recommended that the lower house, the Sejm, pass a resolution describing the Volhynian events as genocide. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, has promised that the Sejm would comply; he can probably be trusted on that since his party dominates the parliament.
Read the full article here.