Polish passport images as a mnemonic bone of contention

Author : Yuriy Panchenko

Source : 112 Ukraine

Polish authorities plan to use images in Polish passports of landmarks in formerly Polish cities, which now belong to Ukraine and Lithuania
12:55, 9 August 2017

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Poland continues to generate scandals with its neighbors. This time – with Ukraine, and even with Lithuania.

The essence of the next conflict is the new design of Polish passports, which is scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the restoration of statehood. Polish Ministry of the Internal Affairs has already outlined the images that should appear on the pages of the new passport. According to Minister Mariusz Błaszczak, "they would like to pay tribute to all those who shed their blood for the freedom of the Polish state."

Part of the drawings has already been approved, among them is Cemetery of the Defenders of Lwów ("Memorial of Eaglets"). However, the intolerance (or provocation) of the Polish government does not end there. Among the unapproved illustrations, which to undergo the on-line voting, is the Gate of Dawn, one of the attractions of the Lithuanian capital.

Related: Ukraine's Foreign Ministry sends terse protest note to Poland over controversial passport design

If Gate of Dawn in Vilnius is, first of all, a spiritual monument (inside it is a chapel with a famous icon), then the burial place of the defenders of the then Polish city from the Ukrainian Army can be taken as a hint of territorial claims. Well, the official Warsaw emphasizes that such a similarity is deceptive, these pictures do not mean any territorial claims to neighboring countries, but only emphasize the special role of these monuments for national consciousness (which is true).

However, even in Poland, this step has caused ambiguous evaluation. In particular, Wyborcza (Polish media) has already asked for a comment to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, whether it believes that the emergence of motives of cities located outside of modern Poland, can lead to tension between the countries.

However, nowadays mostly only oppositional Polish media criticize the scandalous design of new passports. Therefore, it is possible that such criticism only increases the confidence of the government that they have made the right decision.

Lithuanians were the first to react.

Related: Poland, Ukraine to resume dialogue on historical reconciliation

August 4, Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius called on Poland's interim ambassador to Lithuania. "We explained to him the situation and warned that this should not happen ... Using photographs of other countries, especially knowing that there were different pages in our history, is strange. As for Vilnius, the fate of this region, it is even more painful," said Linkevičius.

The statement of the head of Lithuanian diplomacy ("as far as we know, the position of Ukrainians is similar," he noted) meant that Vilnius had managed to discuss these issues with Kyiv. Therefore, a similar step by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry was quite anticipated.

Eventually, after the weekend, the official Kyiv also reacted. On August 7, Polish ambassador Jan Pieclo was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Ukraine considers such intentions as unfriendly, which negatively affects the development of a strategic Ukrainian-Polish partnership," Foreign Ministry claimed.

It is worth recalling that in recent months this is not the first case when Ukraine is forced to respond to Polish unfriendly actions.

For comparison, it is worth mentioning last year's conflict in the Polish Przemysl, which resulted in a ban on the entry into Ukraine of the President of this city, Robert Thomas. This decision, taken by Ukraine’s Security Service without consulting with the government, caused a sharp reaction in Warsaw. In the end, the ban had to be canceled, which put Ukraine in an awkward position.


Related: Russia could ‘respond’ to dismantling of Soviet memorials in Poland

The key point is that this time Ukrainian Foreign Ministry acted cautiously, but quite rightly. It has coordinated its actions with Lithuania, refraining from unilateral steps.

As a result, the Ukrainian reaction seems more adequate than the previous one. However, giving rise to an international scandal, are we ready for its escalation? Do we have a plan if Poland does not agree to change the drawings on their passports? The probability of such a scenario is rather high - at least because the current Polish authorities rarely admit their mistakes. What will Ukraine do in that case? Limit the new application? Or find a way to appeal?

Another thing to remember is that in recent years Warsaw has been constantly trying to "test" the reaction of its neighbors, once in a while resorting to increasingly controversial steps. Consequently, the lack of Ukraine’s reaction motivates our neighbors to re-emerge.

The final decision on the design of the new passport must be made in September. Polish officials have not commented on this case, suggesting that the final decision has not yet been approved. In any case, this scandal will reveal in the fall. And before we must be ready.

The worst scenario would be when Warsaw refuses to place the image of Vilnius (where the decision has not yet been approved, and everything is extremely easy to change), but will leave Lviv’s memorial.

Related: Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance accuses Russia’s Defence Ministry of falsifying history

Therefore, it is important now to have the support of Vilnius in order to be able to bring this problem to the EU level.

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