Ukraine-Poland: How past damages present and what can we do?

Author : Bohdan Klyuchnyk

Source :

On December 13, the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, visited Ukraine. The meeting of the Polish and Ukrainian presidents took place against the backdrop of a significant cold in the relations between Kyiv and Warsaw because of historical disputes. Should the history of the past influence the politics of the present and what should we do to restore relations between our states?
23:32, 18 December 2017

President's press service

2017 became one of the most difficult years for the relations between Poland and Ukraine in decades. The March bombardment of Polish Consulate General in Lutsk by the unknown men was one of the first bright signals. Immediately after that, in April this year the profile state commission of Ukraine added fuel to the fire, banning the exhumation of Polish burial places of the Second World War in Kostyukhnivka, Volyn district. This step aroused a wave of outrage on the part of the Polish side, which in a few months developed a "black" list of Ukrainian officials involved in the adoption of the relevant decision, which provided prohibition of their entry into Poland. Also in Poland, nationalists with the connivance of law enforcement agencies several times destroyed Ukrainian memorials and conducted anti-Ukrainian marches.

In autumn, the "crack" in relations between the countries began to expand rapidly due to the renewal of historical misunderstandings. First Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Vitold Vashchikovsky, who is rightfully considered the main fan of hostility between Kyiv and Warsaw, during his visit to Lviv demonstratively refused to visit one of the museums, because of the allegedly anti-Polish position of his director. At the same time, after returning to Poland, he expressed his doubts to Duda about the expediency of the upcoming presidential visit to Ukraine. The head of Poland himself later called on the Ukrainian leadership not to appoint high-ranking officials "people who openly proclaim nationalistic and anti-Polish views."

In mid-November in Krakow, both sides reached an agreement to abolish the moratorium on exhumation of graves, and for a moment it seemed that the conflict was exhausted. However, on the next day, November 18, the border guards banned of entry the secretary of the State Interdepartmental Commission for the commemoration of Donbas conflict participants, victims of war and political repressions Svyatoslav Sheremeta, because of the same Polish "black" list. Therefore, instead of reducing the tension, another stage of the escalation of the conflict has ripened. After the rotations in the leadership of Polish government, Ukraine hoped at least for an early change of Vashchikovsky, but in vain. At the last moment, the newly elected Prime Minister Moravetsky decided to postpone any changes in the composition of the Council of Ministers, at least until early next year.

On December 13, President Duda came to Ukraine on a working visit. Despite the negative forecasts of many domestic and Polish experts, the meeting with Poroshenko was quite constructive, especially in terms of security. Of course, there was a discussion of historical contradictions. "In the context of history, we must take care to strive for truth and hope that lies do not cast a shadow between our peoples," the Polish president said after meeting with Poroshenko. And this statement does not mean that relations with Poland will start to improve quickly. After all, Duda does not stand behind the modern Ukrainian-Polish conflict, but the "gray cardinal" of Poland, the leader of the ruling party "Right and Justice" Jaroslaw Kaczynski is an important figure. For him, the historical factor is the main instrument for winning the electorate. But what exactly is the essence of the long-standing conflict?

Where are roots of contradictions hidden?

The aggravation of Ukrainian-Polish contradictions in the media is usually explained by historical disagreements, the Volyn tragedy of 1943-44, when thousands of people died in inter-ethnic clashes. However, these disagreements lasted long, but for some reason, under Leonid Kuchma's presidency, the countries got along well. Then negative stereotypes were removed by mutual recognition of historical truth, which is enshrined in joint statements of the Presidents of Ukraine and Poland "On Understanding and Unity" (May 20, 1997) and "On Reconciliation on the 60th Anniversary of the Tragic Events in Volhyn" (July 11, 2003). These documents contain provisions on forgiving each other for historical tragedies in the fates of both peoples: the events in Volhyn in 1943 and Operation Visla in 1947. Could this topic be the cause of the current contradictions?

Some observers admit that in this way a certain "third force", for example, Russia is trying to drive a wedge between the two partner countries, using their history. The presence of the "Russian factor" is seen in the statements of Polish organization and the information storm around this issue in November 2016. In addition, the media reports that Russia supports Polish radicals, who express anti-Ukrainian stance.

Certain political forces of both Poland and Ukraine from time to time return to the mentioned historical events.

In 2010, Viktor Yushchenko signed a decree "On conferring the title of Hero of Ukraine to Stepan Bandera," which for the first time during the reconciliation period aggravated Ukrainian-Polish relations.

In June 2013, the Polish Senate recognized the events of 1943 as "ethnic cleansing with signs of genocide" on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Volyn tragedy. In turn, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Warsaw apologized to the Poles for the Volyn tragedy.

However, the starting point for the current disagreement in the relations between Poland and Ukraine is July 22, 2016. On that day, the Polish Sejm adopted a resolution on the establishment of the Day of Remembrance of Poles, Victims of the Genocide perpetrated by the OUN-UPA on July 11, which the Ukrainian side called "a manifestation of the politicization of Ukrainian-Polish history tragic pages."

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In Ukraine, on the wave of decommunization, the government often rashly makes decisions, calling it a manifestation of independence. When no one can contradict you and you can rename all the streets by names of people with a dubious reputation. So, the streets of Bandera and Shukhevych appeared in Kyiv - and this is against the backdrop of a crisis in relations with their European "lawyer". Was it so necessary at this time?

If you do not dwell on the problem of the Volyn tragedy, you can see that certain political forces in Poland try to conceal this attempt to hide their actions for implementation of "Great Polish intentions."

So, in August 2017, it became known about Poland's intentions to demand from Germany to pay reparations for losses during the Second World War. This statement predetermined some experts to talk again about issues of restitution. Namely, on the background of the current tense relations between Warsaw and Kyiv, the Poles can raise it at the state level. "The Polish government can review the legislative base, which deals with this issue." The ruling party will have enough votes in the Sejm, "says Iryna Vereshchuk, director of the Center for Baltic-Black Sea Studies. Meanwhile, according to the expert, these cases are legally doomed to failure in European courts.

However, Polish experts still do not rule out attempts to start restitution. "If we already make bills for Berlin, then we will be able to do it for Kyiv," said Polish journalist Marcin Kowalczyk. Although both cases, in his opinion, are unprofitable. "Warsaw can talk about restitution, because among the Polish authorities there is growing dissatisfaction with the politics of Kyiv, especially the glorification of nationalists, such as Kaczynski's statements that Ukraine will not enter Europe with Bandera, and the demolition of UPA monuments."


Therefore, as we see, in the situation with political tension between Ukraine and Poland, there is both traditional Russian and Polish factors. Both sides are trying to use the complex historical past of Ukraine and Poland to achieve their political goals. Is it possible to resist this and how to come to an agreement?

Ways to overcome crisis

The current state of Ukrainian-Polish relations is "pre-conflict," said Yury Honcharenko, an expert at the Inter-Maritime center. An alternative to this he sees the implementation of the script "friendship for the sake of victory." Honcharenko believes that both sides should refrain from escalating speculation on difficult periods of joint history.

Of course, the worsening of the contradictions with Poland for Ukraine is a disappointing prospect. At a time when Ukraine is already at war, this situation will only deepen the crisis within society. The historical subject as a threat to interstate relations has clearly been underestimated in Ukraine, political expert Adam Lelonek said. "The administration of the Ukrainian president believed that the period of this government would end and everything would return to this state, which was, according to Polish experts, a big mistake from the Ukrainian side. There was no plan of action, "the expert says.

Of course, the discussion is important in this matter, but it should take place without participation of politicians. "It's about dialogue in the context of the relationship between historians and scientists. It is worth saying that this painstaking work is very often, unfortunately, interrupted by reckless political and populist slogans that sound in this context," says the co-chairman of the group on inter-parliamentary relations with the Republic Poland Oksana Yurinets. At the same time, the rapprochement between Kyiv and Warsaw, both Ukrainian and Polish experts see in the implementation of joint economic, infrastructure and defense projects. Among them - the modernization of NATO standards for the T-72 tank, which both countries are exported. As well as our R-27 air-to-air missiles developed for the Polish army. The ZRN-01 Stokrotka rocket launcher system combined Polish WB Group vehicles and Ukroboronprom Ukrainian missile technology.

Obviously, it was President Poroshenko the conciliator at the last meeting with the Polish leader, after all, he made an encouraging statement on the results. "We came to the general idea that history should not influence the strategic nature of Ukrainian-Polish relations and it is necessary to remember the heroes of the past, to honor the memory of innocent victims, but we must firmly move forward. Because we will not change history, but we must change the present and create better conditions for the future, so that no one can inspire hatred in the hearts of the Ukrainians or the hearts of the Poles, "the Ukrainian president said.

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