A DISPUTE ABOUT MEMORY
Wiesława Lewandowska talks with Michał Dworczyk about historical Policy and difficult Polish-Ukrainian relations
WIESŁAWA LEWANDOWSKA: – Political correctness, used for years in Polish-Ukrainian relations, is taking a revenge – it was commented so by You in connection with protests of the Ukrainian party in relation to another Polish attempt to commemorate genocide done on Poles by Ukrainian nationalist formations during the Second World War. You think that the modern history of Polish-Ukrainian relations is based on dishonesty, on resignation from reminding about the sad historical truth?
MICHAŁ DWORCZYK: – It could be described so even today - after sharing opinion on the genocide committed on Poles by Ukrainian nationalists during the Second World War. It is sad, because Poland was the first country which had acknowledged the independence of Ukraine. We were supporting Ukraine during twenty years of its tumultuous history; we were admiring and supporting two ‘majdans’ which expressed democratic aspirations of the Ukrainians. However, the issue of murders committed on citizens of the Second Polish republic in the years 1939-45, throws a shadow on our relationships, which is still painful for Poles. It is a pity that Polish political elites, for the sake of badly understood correctness and treating Ukraine like an immature child, unable for honesty or serious talk, have avoided touching on this difficult issue for years. There have not been any attempts to do any evaluations of the bloodshed in Volyn, even the moral or ethical ones….Especially that they were not done in Ukraine.
– So, can it be said that the fact that in the Third Polish Republic an honest dialogue was avoided from the Polish party, left a stigma on the quality of Ukrainian historical policy?
– Surely, to some extent, it can. This Polish silence can be treated as permission for this not a different direction. A breakthrough moment in the Ukrainian historical policy – whose acuteness we are experiencing today – was the year 2005, the Orange Revolution, when president Juszczenko began referring to the ‘heroism’ of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and its ‘heroes’. But it was still a moderate phase of the development of this policy; sudden acceleration appeared after the Dignity Revolution, that is, after the so-called Euromajdan in 2014.
– What was it based one?
– In a situation of the war with Russia, Ukrainian politicians began suddenly look for myths around which they could unite the society to fight with the enemy; the Ukrainian Insurgent Army started to be mythologized, its main commanders started to be glorified and their monuments were built. The fact is that today Ukrainian ideologists focus only on a fight of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army with the Soviets in the second half of the 40s or the first half of the 50s of the last century and they omit the thread of murdering a hundred and a few dozen thousand Poles during the second world war.
– A lot of Poles whose families suffered in Volyn in 1943, are afraid of the history repetition today….
– Today I know Ukraine very well, as well as the Ukrainians and Poles living there for years and I cannot see such threats. Anyway, the last elections in Ukraine showed that nationalists do not practically have any support; neither Freedom nor the Right Sector, that is, nationalist parties, entered the parliament and their candidates for president gained support within a statistic mistake. And in addition – it must be said honestly – in narration conducted in Ukraine today there are not any anti-Polish threads nor anti-Polish battue. On contrary – independent American surveys point an enormous fondness of the Ukrainian society towards Poles.
– Wouldn’t it be the simplest – which is suggested by Polish spiritual authorities – that Poles should forgive as the Christians?
– Today’s problem in relations with Ukraine does not concern forgiveness or apologies, but consequences of the historical policy of Ukraine after a few years. If nothing changes in this issue, a new generation of the Ukrainians will appear, with manipulated historical knowledge, for whom genocides will be heroes. Those young people will not understand why Poles cannot accept their heroes and still have some pretences. It is impossible to build anything permanent on glorification of evil or a lie, especially partnership or friendship. So, the two biggest countries of Central Europe: Poland and Ukraine will maintain in the state of a permanent conflict and neither of them will be treated subjectively by big neighbouring countries from the East and the West.
– The Law and Justice party has always emphasized the significance of good relations with Ukraine but it also insisted on pursuing an honest historical policy. Now this reconciliation of fire with water is probably more difficult, isn’t it?
– We supported and still support Ukraine in its pro-European course, especially that we want safety for Polish interests. Speaking figuratively - the shorter border with the Russian Federation, the better it is for us, and independent Ukraine is an obvious increase of safety of Poland. Despite that, we have a principal attitude to historical issues and we consequently pay attention to dangers resulting from neglecting the historical truth. Therefore as the first political formation, in 2013 – on the 70th anniversary of genocide in Volyn - we prepared a resolution draft referring directly to those events. That resolution was rejected with votes of the Civic Platform party and Palikot Movement; at that time the project of the Civic Platform authorship was accepted, which, in fact, had blurred the problem, excluding, among the others, the word ‘genocide’ in it. This year MPs of the bilateral Polish-Ukrainian group had attended a cycle of meetings in Kiev. We talked to the chairperson of Werchów Council and its deputies very honestly and openly, as well as with representatives of all political fractions, representatives of the Ukrainian Foreign ministry, the general procurator.
– Were Polish arguments accepted with understanding?
– Reaction was surprise but also misunderstanding why Polish politicians are speaking about it today. They were astonished…..
– That somebody is returning to the problem so stubbornly and strongly, which should have been forgotten long time ago?
– That is true. But not only the Ukrainians were astonished – after one of those meetings I heard from our diplomat, that I was the first Polish politician who was assertively discussing with the Ukrainians about these issues.
– Was it an accusation?
– I do not think so…It can, certainly, be thought that such an assertiveness is bad as it does not consider sensitivity of our partners or that it is good because, after all, we are honest towards one another.
– Are there any pressures on mitigating this problem?
– There are rather inner discussions, which have been getting stronger for a few years. This years the Law and Justice party has prepared a resolution draft, which describes this historical issue and also includes a draft of the National Day of Remembrance of Victims of Genocide committed by Ukrainian nationalists on citizens of the Second Polish Republic.
– This year a particular kind of drafts has appeared….Don’t we have to deal with a political abuse of the tragedy in Volyn?
– I regret to say that the issue of Volyn has been treated by politicians instrumentally this year….Nearly just before the 73rd anniversary of the ‘bloody Sunday’ in Volyn, in the Seym there appeared even five various suggestions of its celebration! On 10 February on the 80th anniversary of Poles deportation to Kazakhstan the Law and Justice party submitted its resolution draft in which we tried to describe the martyrdom of the Polish nation in the borderlines of the First and Second Polish Republic. In fact nobody undertook a discussion on this resolution. Nearly two months later the club Kukiz’15 submitted its resolution draft and later there appeared other drafts.
– Why did the Law and Justice party resign from the statutory regulation?
– After the numerous appearing of regulations drafts before the 73rd anniversary of the bloodshed in Volyn, in order to mitigate the situation, it was necessary to connect two regulations drafts – of the Law and Justice party and Kukiz’15 – and create one resolution, but the legislative process did not give any chances to be on time before the anniversary of the ‘bloody Sunday’, that is, before 11 July. So. We were forced to return to our resolution draft from 2013 and enrich it with a suggestion of establishing a permanent National Day so as to finish the problem effectively this year, from the political point of view and on the level of the Seym.
– The Polish discussion provoked Ukrainian politicians to react – in the beginning of June there appeared a letter addressed to Poles by the former presidents of Ukraine and Ukrainian intellectualists.
– After our discussions in Kiev the Ukrainian diplomacy got activated as well as politicians afraid of passing resolutions by the Polish parliament – in their opinion – anti-Ukrainian resolutions, which may lead to worsening of good bilateral relations. The Law and Justice party, as the only formation, decided to reply to this letter, because we really want good relations with Ukraine. This reply was signed by over 200 our MPs.
– This, however, did not mitigate the situation. The chief of the Ukrainian National Remembrance Institute Wołodymir Wiatrowicz replied to the letter of the Law and Justice party quite strongly. Do we have an escalation of the problem instead of mitigation?
– Wołodymir Wiatrowycz is the main Ukrainian ideologist today, who – unfortunately, I regret to say – as in many earlier speeches, also in this letter, mixes facts with untrue information. In its report Foreign Office placed an evaluation full of criticism in relation to historical policy, run by Mr. Wiatrowycz, similarly as it is described by the Polish Centre of Eastern Studies.
– Nevertheless as the Ukrainian authority in the sphere of history, Wiatrowycz sets forth an accusation that Poles glorify, for example, the Exiled Soldiers, who were responsible for killing civil population…
– It is extremely cynical. In Poland there was no civil nor military organization which would aim at murdering civil people for achievements of a political purpose. Although we have in our history such dramatic people like ‘Wołyniak’, an authentic hero of the independence underground movement, who fought with the Germans heroically, and later with the Soviets, but, unfortunately, in 1945 he got disgraced after murdering a hundred and a few dozen Ukrainians in Piskorowice town. We can appreciate his earlier merits, we can understand the dramatism of the situation, in which he was fighting at that time, but I did not hear anybody in Poland would like to build a monument for him or present him in school books as an example to follow….Whereas in Ukraine it is normal today to commemorate people directly responsible for genocide.
– Polish elites with a similar attitude to the Civic Platform party think that not only should we not reopen painful wounds, but we must also take some of the blame…
– Surely we should pay tribute to the civic Ukrainian people, who were murdered within the Polish revenge actions. However, it is not in our country but in Ukraine where an ideology appeared, according to which people of non-Ukrainian nationality were methodically murdered, first of all, Poles and Jews were murdered. One of ideologists preparing the genocide action, Mychajło Kołodziński, the author of ‘Ukrainian military doctrine’ wrote that this action must be so cruel as to scare those so that they would be scared to look towards Ukraine in a hundred years. Stretching out a hand for reconciliation, it is also worth thinking about it….
– It is difficult to build good neighbouring relations on such a historical memory…
– Certainly, it is. But at that moment Poland has got so many common issues with Ukraine, and in my opinion, despite that all, we can realize a lot of projects and pursue a normal cooperation. But in this particular matter we should maintain a principal attitude. It requires effort from Poland and a good will from Ukraine.
– And probably not only….
– There are a lot of people and countries which want Poles and the Ukrainians not to be in a good relationship or get on well. Therefore they will do everything to enlarge this problem.
– Beside the exchange of Polish-Ukrainian letters, there was also an inner discussion in Poland – also in the governing party. There appeared divergences concerning the date of the Remembrance Day of Bloodshed Victims in Wołyń, understood as attempts of mitigation of the strained Polish – Ukrainian situation.
– Here, in my opinion, there appeared a kind of misunderstanding in interpretation of the pronouncement of the chairman Jarosław Kaczyński, who suggested that on 17 September would be a very good day to commemorate the whole heritage of the Borderlands. Today we talk only about the genocide in Volyn, but we still have other tragic events in Borderlands. And we are also to commemorate the great positive heritage of the Borderlands. The whole historical contribution of the Borderlands in history, culture, politics, about which we often do not remember, and it is one of fundaments of our national identity. 17 September would be the best date to commemorate this heritage, as a brace linking the period from the first partition when we lost the first eastern areas, till the beginning of the end of the Borderlands on the day of the Soviet attack – 17 September 1939.
– So, shouldn’t we have at least two National Days of the Borderlands?
– In my opinion, it would be good if one of them reminded the whole heritage of the Borderlands, and the other one was devoted only to the tragedy in Volyn. It results from our meetings and discussions with groups of Borderlands inhabitants, not only from the southern-eastern areas, but also from Novgorod, Hrodna or Vilnus.
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A politician, historian, scouting instructor, an activist in the local government, Member of Parliament of VII and VIII tenure, chairman of the Sejm Committee for Liaison with Poles Abroad and the Polish-Ukrainian Parliamentary Group