Politically, the “post-Maidan” political system in Ukraine is dictatorship of big capital packed in ultra-right ethics and esthetics. Glorification of the 20th century national movement figures is an integral attribute of it. This has triggered a conflict of values with a significant part of the Ukrainian people and even with neighboring Poland where the events of 1930-1940 in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia are interpreted unambiguously.
Poland’s policy towards Ukraine is highly ambivalent. One the one hand, Poland is an important partner of the Kiev regime and provides military and technical assistance to deter “Russian aggression,” as well as stimulates inflow of labor migrants, both highly qualified specialists and workers, from Ukraine to replace the Polish people who migrated to more developed countries of the European Union. In 2016 alone, Poland issued 120,000 permanent work permits and 1.3 million temporary work permits to Ukrainians. Warsaw is ready to receive Ukrainian migrant workers on condition that they see and understand life, the past and the present as required by the state ideology of Poland.
At the same time, Warsaw cannot turn a blind eye to glorification of such persons as Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych and Yevhen Konovalets by the Kiev authorities, who do not want to abandon their bellicose nationalist ideology. Oligarchs use it to distance themselves from the people that is sliding into poverty. The relations of Kiev and Warsaw have been experiencing hard times recently and have begun cracking gradually.
The relations of Poland and Ukraine soured last summer when Sejm adopted a resolution declaring July 11 as the National Day of Commemorating the Victims of Genocide committed by Ukrainian nationalists against the citizens of the Second Rzeczpospolita in the period of WWII. This broke the consensus in the relations of the two countries that Leonid Kuchma and Alexander Kwasniewski achieved in 2003 by signing the Declaration “On Reconciliation on the 60th Anniversary of the Tragic Events in Volhynia.” Who knows, perhaps, the Polish parliamentarians would not adopt such decision, but for the decision of the Kiev Council to rename the Moscow avenue into Stepan Bandera avenue a few weeks prior to that event.
Within 2016, there were clashes on ethnic grounds between the Polish and Ukrainians in Poland. Ukraine’s national flag was burnt during the November 11 Independence March in Poland. In addition, a week ago, Ukrainian students were beaten up by Polish radicals who claimed that “Lviv is a Polish city.”
As for restitution, a Polish Prawica newspaper reported that the first claims by successors of the owners of Polish estates located in the territories that are considered to be Ukrainian now are ready to be submitted to the courts of Lutsk and Ternopil. “Restitution of Kres” organization has prepared materials for about 1,600 claims within 1.5 year. At present, about 100,000-150,000 people residing in Poland can prove that they are heirs or legal successors of the owners of properties in the territory of Ukraine, mostly in Western regions.
In October, Foreign Ministry of Ukraine “strongly recommended” the Polish Institute in Kiev to cancel the planned demonstration of scandalous film “Volhynia.” Actually, the film unveiled the fact that OUN-UPA (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists – Ukrainian Insurgent Army) fighters were behind the atrocities in Volhynia in 1943.
In response, Poland halted financing of prostir.pl, the website of the Ukrainian community in Poland. The website’s editor-in-chief says it is “revenge for active civil stance in 2016, in particular, for participation in the discussion about ‘Volhynia genocide’ and for cooperation with Ukrainian mass media.” The official statement of the Polish side was as follows: the website was deprived of financing “for history rewriting and propaganda hostile to the Polish statehood.” For similar reason, “Nashe Slovo” (“Our speech”) daily newspaper of Polish Ukrainians may also be deprived of financing.
The “war of monuments” is raging between Poland and Ukraine. The Polish radicals destroy the graves and monuments for OUN-UPA fighters in Poland. In Ukraine, last month, vandals desecrated the monument to the Poles, the victims of the WWII in Guta Penyatskaya (Lviv region) and then desecrated the Polish cemetery near Kiev (where victims of the execution in Katyn forest were buried). Diplomatic departments send notes of protest to each other, trying to blame Russia for this, at the same time.
Another case that caught media attention was the announcement of Robert Choma, Mayor of Przemyśl, a Polish city, as a persona non-grata by Ukraine’s Security Service. Kiev authorities explained their decision with what they called “systematic anti-Ukrainian activity, support to anti-Ukrainian movements.” Choma was detained after annual “March of Eagles of Przemyśl and Lviv” under his patronage, since they were chanting anti-Ukrainian slogans.
Poland’s Foreign Ministry responded sharply to the incident. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Jan Dziedziczak demanded removing Choma’s name from the “list of the outlawed,” otherwise, his country would not attend the Polish-Ukrainian Forum in Rzeszów. Without settling this situation and cancelling the decision, it is hard to imagine further cooperation on the pre-existing terms, he said.
There are really alarming notes – Polish Gazeta Wyborcza published results of a survey saying that for the first time during the last two decades, the number of the Polish citizens who are not loyal to Ukrainians has exceeded the number of those who sympathize immigrants from the neighbor country.
The field of confrontation between Ukraine and Poland is expanding rapidly. “The Russian threat” so far holds the sides from shifting to an active phase of confrontation, since the local elites and the elites of Euro-Atlantic states having a high influence on Ukraine and Poland do believe in it. The wind of change is felt as never before. With the new leadership in the United States and the anticipated changes in the high-ranks in European countries, the interest of Big Powers in Kiev and Warsaw may fall to the minimum. If Poland and Ukraine lose foreign support, they will use the “nationalist cards” more actively, which will affect both Ukraine and its citizens in Poland (who will face Polonization) and the security of Eastern Europe.
Denis Gayevsky, Kiev