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Poles proceed with caution

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  • michael835554
    Poles—Proceed With Caution By Sławomir Majman 1 December 2004 I am a Kievan, is what most Polish politicians would like to shout today, paraphrasing John
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2004
      Poles—Proceed With Caution
      By Sławomir Majman
      1 December 2004

      "I am a Kievan," is what most Polish politicians would like to shout
      today, paraphrasing John F. Kennedy.
      The Polish Sejm was decked out in orange, the color of Viktor
      Yushchenko. Polish Euro-deputies rooted for the demonstrating
      oppositionists in Kiev's Independence Square. Almost all the Polish
      media have accepted as the gospel truth the Ukrainian opposition's
      claim that the elections were fraudulent. There has never been such
      a deep and emotional involvement of political Poland in the internal
      affairs of another country. In terms of supporting Yushchenko, the
      Poles sprinted ahead of the rest of Europe, and this is fervent and
      unconditional support. For Warsaw politicians and media, Yushchenko
      means democracy, the road to freedom, the consolidation of
      independence. His opponent Yanukovych means Sovietization,
      corruption and submission to Russia. A black-white picture, without
      nuances or doubts.

      The campaign of civil disobedience being conducted by Yushchenko's
      supporters has to arouse friendly feelings in Poland, if only
      because it brings up associations with Lech Wałęsa's Solidarity from
      a quarter of a century ago. The similarity, even if exalted and
      appealing to the imagination, is only a seeming one. A long-time
      bank dignitary is not a charismatic electrician elevated
      spontaneously by the workers, and the independent though poorly
      governed Ukraine is not the totalitarian Poland of the past. The
      rebellion of Kiev and western Ukrainian cities, the rebellion of the
      cheated arouses sympathy, but - truth be told - it's not even
      certain who really won the elections in Ukraine.

      If any country in Europe should proceed with caution and show
      maximum responsibility with regard to what's going on in Ukraine,
      that country is Poland.

      ■ The Poles should proceed with caution because they are Poles,
      because the history of Polish-Ukrainian relations is what it is.
      This is how that history looks from the Ukrainian side: "On a too
      narrow strip of land between two seas is the home of the Ukrainians
      and their permanent foes for a thousand years - the Poles, or
      Lachs," wrote Panteleimon Kulish, one of the rousers of the
      Ukrainian national spirit, a century ago. "And hatred, fed by
      centuries of disappointment, has led them together to a contemptuous
      madness. They are like two lions, Ukrainians and Poles - they claw
      at each other's chests, right down to the place where their hearts

      This naturalistic description found confirmation in recent times as
      well. When Poland regained its independence in 1918, bloody Polish-
      Ukrainian fighting immediately broke out. The young Ukrainians and
      Poles killed in the fighting for Lviv found a permanent place in
      both national Pantheons.

      Once the war was over, there came what the Ukrainians - the ones
      from the country's western part - consider to have been their worst
      experience with the Poles. Four million Ukrainians found themselves
      within Poland's borders - powerful explosives laid under the wall of
      the Polish Republic. On one hand, the Ukrainians quickly discovered
      a new link in the national movement - a terrorist conspiracy against
      the Polish state. The intensity of Ukrainian terror in the 1920s
      and `30s can only be compared with the peak of IRA activity. On the
      other hand, the Polish authorities, unable to cope with the
      Ukrainian separatists, chose the worst way out—applying collective
      responsibility. The most painful thorns to this day are the
      repressions towards helpless people: pacification of villages,
      humiliation of human dignity, repressions of legal Ukrainian
      schools, banks, cultural and sports organizations, cruelty of the
      Polish policemen. This persecution hardened the Ukrainians—hardened
      them in their hatred towards the Poles.

      The war defeat of 1939, on the other hand, brought what was the
      Poles' worst experience with the Ukrainians. It gave the Ukrainians
      a sense of indescribable satisfaction to see the Polish tragedy.
      Things started with the spontaneous murders of Polish soldiers, the
      annihilation of the Polish intellectual elite in Lviv, and led to
      the formation of Ukrainian units in SS uniforms. The collective
      massacre of Poles inhabiting Ukrainian lands began in 1942. The
      Ukrainians grabbed axes, pitchforks and ropes. The victims of these
      ethnic purges were more than 100,000 Polish civilians.

      Such a past is not easy to overcome. With such baggage, the words
      the Ukrainians hear from the Poles today could mean something
      different than the words of, for example, the Americans. The pain is
      too fresh to be erased by the brief period of Polish-Ukrainian
      reconciliation, which was actually a process coming from the top,
      from presidents Kwaśniewski and Kuchma.

      ■ The Poles should proceed with caution because the fiasco of
      Poland's efforts is too recent for Poles to become a bridge linking
      Ukraine with the West.
      Poland was the first country in the world to recognize Ukraine's
      independence in 1991. From the start of President Kwaśniewski's term
      in office, Warsaw encouraged Kiev with all its strength to get
      closer to NATO and the European Union. For years, the Polish
      president played the role of the main Western probation officer and
      attorney of Leonid Kuchma.

      Quite recently, and not without reason, there was talk of the Warsaw-
      Kiev axis, of Ukraine as Poland's closest ally in the East. When
      Poles and Ukrainians saw their presidents in a bear hug in Lviv, a
      city that divided the two nations in the past, it was widely
      commented that reconciliation had become a fact. Soon it was to turn
      out that it was easier to achieve reconciliation in the sphere of
      symbols than to change Ukraine's strategy from a pro-Russian to a
      pro-Western one. What was meant to be the greatest international
      success of Kwaśniewski's term—pulling Kiev towards the West—became
      the greatest illusion of the time. Even worse, one couldn't avoid
      the impression that the old fox Kuchma had used Kwaśniewski as a fig

      The failure of Poland's Ukrainian policy was not just due to the
      fact that Poland ran out of ways and means. First and foremost, it
      was the West - and especially Brussels - which treated Kiev so
      condescendingly that there was no way of outweighing the traditional
      pull towards Russia.

      Such a recent fiasco of Poland's deep involvement in the Ukrainian
      cause should be a lesson in caution. It's not a good idea to make
      yourself a laughing stock twice: first because you had
      enthusiastically bet on the ruling camp, and the second time—with
      equal enthusaism support the opposition.

      ■ Poles should proceed with special cuation, because Ukraine is
      The crack is not just political, but mainly - regional.
      Yushchenko has the firm support of the whole of western Ukraine -
      where national feelings are well-developed, but also where
      nationalism is strong. Supporting Yushchenko, the Poles are
      supporting a camp that, yes, is more pro-Western and pro-reform, but
      with a strong nationalist leaning. On the wave of freedom euphoria
      in Warsaw, people have forgotten the shocking nationalist views
      uttered by Yushchenko's right hand—millionaire Yulia Tymoshenko, nor
      did they notice that among the sea of orange ribbons, you could see
      the threatening tridents—a symbol of Ukrainian terrorists. Lviv,
      Tarnopol, Ivano-Frankovsk are fortresses of the opposition, but they
      are bastions of nationalism at the same time, and in Ukraine
      nationalism is always anti-Polish.

      Maybe Yushchenko has his own recipe for toning down the nationalism,
      but in Eastern Europe the nationalisms of the first half of the
      previous century, which were in hibernation under communism, have an
      amazingly sinister power and long life.

      Ukraine is cracked, and the worst scenario for Poland, though an
      unlikely one, is Ukraine splitting into the eastern part, culturally
      and politically assimilated with its Russian neighbor, and the
      western part with its strong national profile, bordering on Poland.

      ■ The Poles should proceed with caution if they don't want further
      deterioration of relations with Russia.
      To say that Warsaw-Moscow relations aren't too good is like saying
      New York City is biggish. Polish trade is losing out on this
      political climate. The things Moscow can tolerate from Schröder and
      Bush with respect to Ukraine, it will not forgive Polish politicians
      for in a long time.

      The Russian elites have never accepted the degradation suffered by
      Russia after the Soviet Union fell apart. To Moscow, Ukraine is a
      natural area of direct interest.

      Yes, Putin's Russia is interfering in the situation in Ukraine, but
      from Moscow's perspective it's the Americans and Europe that are
      brutally interfering in Russia's most important neighbor, at its
      nearest strategic border.

      Russia is treating the extremely euphoric involvement of Polish
      politicians in supporting Yushchenko's camp with a dangerous mixture
      of contempt and animosity.

      Does this mean that for fear of ruining reelations with Putin, the
      Poles should keep quiet, just like Europe kept quiet for a long
      time? No, that would be immoral. Poland's place is among the other
      European countries, and neutral arbtitrage, including Poland's,
      seems essential. The kind of arbitrage that Kwaśniewski's mission to
      Kiev represents. Otherwise no one will be able to govern in such a
      polarized country.

      The developments in Ukraine are a threat for Poland. But, they could
      also become an opportunity to start untangling the knot of Polish-
      Ukrainian relations.
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