Poland’s Far-Right Government Vilifies Ukrainians, Revives Imperialist Ambitions

Polish President Andrzej Duda announces his decision on the Holocaust bill at Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland, on February 6, 2018. theatlantic.com

Marco Levytsky, NP-UN Western Bureau.

Poland’s Holocaust bill, passed by the country’s far-right Law and Justice (PiS) government and signed by President Andrzej Duda on February 6, has been met with widespread international condemnation, including among other countries, that of the United States and Israel. Most of the criticism has been directed at the new law’s attempts to clear Poland of any complicity in Nazi war crimes. David Silberklang, senior historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research and editor-in-chief of Yad Vashem Studies said the legislation is aimed at promoting a specific narrative of Polish history during the Holocaust — something he called “very problematic.” The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Anne Applebaum, who is married to former Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski, states: “The imposition, now, of a 3-year prison penalty for anyone who participates in the conversation about the past in ways that irritate the current ruling party is simply ludicrous, even laughable. Will the long arm of the Polish state reach out to academic conferences in Tokyo or Buenos Aires if someone uses an incorrect phrase?”

But what has been ignored by commentators outside Ukraine, is the gross vilification of Ukrainians and the revival of Polish imperialist aspirations that this bill, which consists of amendments to the Polish Nation Act of December 18, 1998, contains.

Here are the amendments as posted on the website of the Times of Israel on February 1, 2018:

“Article 1. The Institute of National Remembrance – Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation Act of 18 December 1998 (Polish Journal of Laws of 2016, item 1575) is hereby amended as follows:

“1) Article 1:

“a) item 1a) shall read:

“a) Nazi crimes, communist crimes, crimes committed by Ukrainian nationalists and members of Ukrainian units collaborating with the Third Reich, and other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, committed against persons of Polish nationality or Polish citizens of other nationalities between 8 November 1917 and 31 July 1990.”

And what did the original (as posted on the website of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance) state? It is as follows:

“The act regulates:

“1) the recording, collecting, storing, processing, securing, making available and publishing of the documents of the state security authorities, produced and accumulated from 22 July 1944 until 31 July 1990, as well as the documents of the security authorities of the Third Reich and the Soviet Union relating to:

“a) –  the Nazi crimes, –  the communist crimes, –   other crimes against peace, humanity or war crimes, perpetrated on persons of Polish nationality or Polish citizens of other nationalities between 08 November 1917 until 31 July 1990.”

Not German Nazi crimes. Not Russian, nor Polish Communist crimes. Just plain crimes. So, the authors of the original law thought there was no need to single out any nationality. But, in this amendment Ukrainians are singled out – even though the original document covered “other crimes against peace, humanity…” in a very broad sense.

And what about the second amendment?

Here is the original Article 2

“The procedure for the prosecution of the crimes specified in point 1, letter a;”

Just a general statement referring to Article 1.

Now, here is the amendment:

“2) Article 2 shall be followed by Article 2a, reading:

“Article 2a. Within the meaning of the Act, crimes committed by Ukrainian nationalists and members of Ukrainian units collaborating with the Third Reich constitute acts committed by Ukrainian nationalists between 1925 and 1950 which involved the use of violence, terror or other human rights violations against individuals or population groups. Participating in the extermination of the Jewish population and genocide of citizens of the Second Polish Republic in Volhynia and Eastern Malopolska [Lesser Poland] also constitute a crime committed by Ukrainian nationalists and members of Ukrainian units collaborating with the Third Reich.”

Again, a clause which very deliberately singles out Ukrainians while ignoring German Nazis, Polish and Russian Communists.

Not only that, but this amendment refers to the historic Ukrainian region of Halychyna (the modern-day oblasts of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil) as “Eastern Malopolska [Lesser Poland]”. What this essentially means is that the authors of this amendment consider this internationally recognized sovereign Ukrainian territory as rightfully belonging to Poland. The world has learned to expect the Russian Federation to act with such impunity because Russia is a rogue state to begin with. But Poland is a member of the European Union and, as such, must adhere to the very strict EU rules as to respecting the borders of sovereign states. Therefore, based upon the wording of that particular amendment, which revives age-old Polish imperialistic claims, Poland deserves to be kicked out of the European Union.

Now, let’s examine the 1925-1950 period this Polish government claims Ukrainian nationalists perpetrated acts of “terror” and “genocide”.

1925 is the year after the notoriously anti-Ukrainian Education Minister Stanislaw Grabski dismantled all the Ukrainian schools that had been in operation during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, turning them into “bilingual” schools with the Polish language predominating. At the same time Ukrainians were excluded from Lviv University and its Ukrainian Chairs were abolished. In addition, the Polish government began a program of colonizing Ukrainian lands with Polish settlers. This led to a Ukrainian reaction of civil disobedience and economic boycotts of Polish businesses. The more radical elements, in particular the younger members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, decided more militant action was needed and instigated acts of sabotages against Polish property.

In response, Polish strongman Marshall Józef Piłsudski, who had assumed dictatorial powers in a 1926 coup, initiated the 1930 “pacification” program, during which the property of Ukrainian organizations (including the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) was destroyed and the inhabitants beaten, arrested and even publicly whipped. The militant members of OUN, led by Stepan Bandera, reacted by assassinating Polish officials, most notably, Polish Internal Affairs Minister Bronisław Pieracki in 1934. For that reason, Poles claim Bandera was a terrorist. If that is the case, then what would one call Piłsudski? When Poland was under Russian rule, Piłsudski organized an underground para-military group which, according to Wikipedia, “in 1906 alone…killed 336 Russian officials”. So, one nation’s “terrorist” becomes another nation’s “freedom fighter” and “statesman”.

World War II is a most problematic area with crimes against humanity having been perpetrated by all belligerents in Eastern and Central Europe. What is significant to note is that both Polish and Ukrainian churches have called for acknowledgement of these crimes and reconciliation, as opposed to fueling the fires of past grievances with inflammatory legislation.

Fast forward to 1947 and the notorious Akcja Wisla operation intended “to solve the Ukrainian problem in Poland once and for all”. This involved the forced resettlement of about 141,000 Ukrainians, including Boykos and Lemkos from their ancestral homes beyond the borders of Ukraine, to the “Recovered Territories”, from which the German majority population had been ethnically cleansed. (As a matter of fact, if the Poles want to refer to Halychyna as “Lesser Poland”, then the Germans have every right to refer to the Polish provinces of Szczecin and Gdansk as “Brandenburg” and “West Prussia” respectively.) Because the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) fought to protect ethnic Ukrainians from Communist Polish oppression, the current Polish government now labels them as terrorists.

But the most disturbing aspect of this legislation is the amendment to Article 55, which states “whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes … or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to 3 years.”

What this essentially means is that anyone who would dare criticize the repressive acts committed against Ukrainians by Polish authorities between 1925 and 1950 – including the degeneration of Ukrainian education, the colonization of Ukrainian lands, the pacification program and Akcja Wisla, can be imprisoned for up to three years.

This is an act of a xenophobic, imperialistic and proto-fascist government. It is something one could expect from Putin’s Russia — but not from a member of the European Union.