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21 May, 2018  ▪  Sviatoslav Lypovetsky

Polish politics in Volyn

Henryk Józewski represents some of the most interesting aspects in the Ukrainian-Polish history of the 20th century. What was his legacy as the voievode of Volyn and why he resigned on April 13, 1938

Henryk Józewski, the voievode of Volyn

“A foreigner trying to understand anything in the politics of Poland constantly runs into unexpected things,” wrote Czeslaw Milosz, a Polish writer awarded the Noble Prize for Literature, about Rzeczpospolita, the Second Polish Republic. A reporter for Dilo, the Lviv-based top newspaper for Halychyna launched in the late 19th century, had echoed this popular thought earlier, on June 1, 1926: “A future historian of Poland will have a hard time. If he wants to comprehend the revival of the Polish Republic with a pragmatic approach and use the arguments of logics in describing them, he will walk into a closed door.”

This was true both of the policies implemented in Second Polish Republic, and of a number of actors behind them. It was also true of the national minorities which made up 30% of then-Poland’s total population and were concentrated in 40% of its territory.

Voievode Józewski's instruction banning "assemblies and marches to the Cossack Graves near Berestechko", a site of a major battle between Bohdan Khmelnytsky and the Cossacks, with Crimean Tatars as allies (they betrayed the Cossacks), against the Polish Army

Polish supervisor and the savior of Symon Petliura

Polish leaders did not wait for the interwar ethnic passions to fade or the borders to be agreed to manifest their vision of the future for Kresy Wschodnie, today’s parts of Western Ukraine, Western Belarus and Lithuania that were then the eastern borderland of the Second Polish Republic. On March 2, 1919, National Democracy movement leader Roman Dmowski and the Polish National Committee decided to colonize and Polonize Volyn. Jozef Pilsudski, the de factor leader of the Second Polish Republic, was on a more reconciliatory note. “I was brought up in the Kresy and experienced all of the misery inflicted on us in abundance as a defeated nation […] Kresy politics across the world is identical to ours where we were an object. I don’t know any kresy policies, other than the policy of humiliation and oppression with “Grieve the defeated” as its motto. We, Poles, know well from our own experience what consequences it has, how it doesn’t take us far and what little accomplishments it brings […] While policies towards the borderline areas are unfair across the world, I would like our policies along the border to be fair.”

RELATED ARTICLE: The grand chessboard: Ukrainian-Polish clashes On March 2, 1919, the Polish government decided to polonize and colonialize Volynhia, as the Volyn region of Ukraine was then known

When Pilsudski was delivering this speech, the Ukrainian People’s Republic or UNR was on the verge of collapse. The Treaty of Warsaw signed in April 1920 by Ukrainians and Poles was met controversially: Symon Petliura, the head of the UNR Directorate, signed Western Ukraine away to Poland, and got Poland as the UNR’s military ally. The administrative assistance of the Polish side would be less visible than its military aspect: it delegated two officials, Minister of Land Affairs Stanislaw Stempowsky and Vice Minister of Interior Affairs Henryk Józewski, to the UNR.  

Isaak Mazepa, the last UNR prime minister, wrote that Józewski “was apparently instructed from Warsaw to be a Polish “eye” in our government.” Józewski rejected this claim: “I wasn’t Poland’s instrument in the Ukrainian government, nor an agent or a spy. Poland could trust me. Ukraine could trust me as much.” He seemed to genuinely believe that the two patriotisms could merge without damaging any of the nations.

When the united Polish-Ukrainian army entered Kyiv shortly after and paraded through Khreshchatyk on May 9, 1920, it was Henryk Józewski, the Polish vice minister, who assumed power from Edward Rydz-Śmigły, Commander-in-Chief of Poland’s armed forces, on behalf of Ukrainians.

“My arrival in Kyiv was quite original, unbelievable in a way. Henryk Józewski, known in the Polish society, born Kyivite, a student of the First Kyiv Gymnasium, then St. Volodymyr University [today’s Taras Shevchenko National University], civic activist, chairman of Filarezia [a Polish student organization], as well as musician, creator and scenographer for Studio, a Polish theatre along with Stanislawa Wysocka, now appearing in Kyiv as a Ukrainian minister, accepting Kyiv from the UNR government, and setting up the Kyiv administration,” Józewski recalled. 

Barely a year later, he showed himself in yet another mission. Based on memoirs, Symon Petliura owed his life to Józewski. After the government of the Second Polish Republic signed the Peace of Riga with the Bolsheviks, its union with the UNR was denounced. A joint commission of the Bolsheviks and the Poles was to set out to the Polish city of Tarnów to detain Petliura and hand him over to the Bolsheviks. Józewski got there first, took Petliura to Warsaw and sheltered him in his residence at the Raczyński Palace.

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“Nobody knew what happened to the Otaman [Petliura] and where he was. Neither the Poles nor the Ukrainians knew anything. A few days later, they were coming to me to find something out. Apparently, they didn’t find out anything,” Józewski wrote. “Department Two [the Bolshevik military counterintelligence unit] tried to find out where he was, so did the ministries of interior and foreign affairs.”

When an official of the eastern department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs put Józewski up against the wall seeking to find out where Petliura was, he said that the otaman was in the next room just behind the wall. The official did not believe Józewski and left the residence insulted.

The case of Volyn

While Jozef Pilsudski was officially holding the Chief of State title, it was Roman Dmowski who actually won the thoughts and ideas of the Poles. As a result, assimilation and Polonization began in Volyn right away. Colonization of land was the first step. In 1921 alone, 1,055 Polish troops came to Volyn, out of the total 1,396 in all of eastern Kresy. That’s how the osadniks appeared there. Their settlements were officially called Pilsudchanka, Hallerivka, Ulanówka etc. after military officials and the military tradition that brought them to Volyn in the first place. 

Ukrainian schools faced a greater blow. According to official statistics, Volyn had 442 schools in 1922-1923 and 2 in 1926, which journalists failed to locate.

Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski, a symbol of the émigré Polish government during World War II, proposed in the early 1920s to play on the differences between Halychyna and Volyn to undermine Ukrainian unity. Despite the lower level of national awareness, the share of the Ukrainian population was higher in Volyn (68.4% of Ukrainians and 16.6% of the Poles) compared to Halychyna. And that was in 1931, after an intense colonization campaign.

In 1926, the May Coup brought Pilsudski to power in Poland. The price paid was nearly 400 Polish lives and the launch of the Sanation regime. From the ranks of the Pilsudchyks, the figure of Henryk Józewski, a one-time active member of the Polish Military Organization, emerged. He became the tenth voievode of Volyn in 1928. His governance lasted a decade, which was longer than the tenure of all other local voievodes combined.

It’s difficult to find a more controversial figure in the history of Ukrainian-Polish relations than Józewski. This controversy may have been less about his personality and more about the Polish politics towards Ukrainians which its Chief of State’s environment envisioned only vaguely but the voievode had to implement. It was recorded in history as a “Volyn experiment” and hints at what Pilsudski’s concept of national minority policy had been.

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Ukrainian life in Volyn developed with direct support of the local authorities. As the voievode used it against Russian influences, he encouraged the Ukrainization of the Orthodox Church and the appointment of Ukrainians to various public institutions. His actions were risky at times but done with “Ukrainian hands”. In an attempt to prevent a pro-Russian rally at the Pochayiv Lavra, a major Orthodox shrine in Ternopil Oblast, he urged Ukrainians to take it to the streets under their flags and in a Ukrainian tone.

“I admit that the plan was quite risky,” Józewski wrote. “A crowd of thousands squeezed within the walls of the monastery in such maneuvers could have led to tragic consequences and human victims. I decided that it was best for the voievode to not stay in Lutsk on the Day of St. Job of Pochayiv, so that nobody knew where he was. I went grouse hunting early in the morning and returned late at night. I was expecting discouraging news, police reports, losses, protests, complaints of the metropolitan, information on the killed and the injured […] Anything could have happened.” Contrary to Józewski’s fears, the event ended successfully and with no victims.

While Halychyna used the terms “Rusyns” and “Ruthenians” for Ukrainians officially, Volyn had “Ukrainians” as the official name thanks to Józewski. Blue and yellow flags were raised with the consent of the authorities, the Ukrainian anthem was sometimes performed in the voievode’s presence, and Ukrainian activists were elected to the Sejm under the lists of the pro-government Non-Aligned Bloc. 

Józewski himself was fighting against pro-Russian influences that increasingly signaled of sovietophilia, as well as Polish national democrats. He coined the phrase about “national democrats’ mentality, widely promoted by the clergy, being enemy number one in the shaping of the Polish attitudes in the eastern borderland”.

Building the border between Ukrainians

Yet another enemy from which Józewski was trying to protect the locals was Halychyna, officially known then as Eastern Little Poland. While encouraging the development of Ukrainian institutions under his control, he diligently obstructed the spread of legal press or civic organizations from Halychyna in Volyn. As a result, Volyn saw nearly 800 library centers of Prosvita [Enlightenment], the society that promoted national awareness and education among Ukrainians in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as other Ukrainian cultural and commercial communities shut down.

The Ukrainian National Democratic Union, the biggest political force in Halychyna, was not allowed in Volyn. The Volyn Ukrainian Association was set up to counter it, involving politicians with the UNR background: nearly 40,000 people migrated from the UNR to the Second Polish Republic after the arrival of the Bolsheviks, so Volyn was the region where they could manifest themselves.

Józewski worked to transform Ukrainians into a loyal Polish group. The “Sokal border”, named after a town on the border between the two provinces and designed to block the influence of Halychyna in Volyn, thus became a real internal border within Poland. Józewski rejected Lviv as a regional center and held joint conferences with the voievodes of north-eastern territories treating Vilnius as the local capital. The Volyn voievodeship was the second largest after Polissya voiyevodeship. Together with Vilnius and Nowogrodek voievodeships, they accounted for 30% of Poland’s territory.  

“The key task of state policy in Volyn, based on the Polish national interest and the local circumstances, is state assimilation of this land and the deepest possible merging of it with the population of the Second Polish Republic,” Józewski stated as he opened a conference of the eastern Kresy voievodes in 1929. 

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Other voievodes approved these statements. What this assimilation actually was shows in the interesting phenomenon of tutejszy, a unique national identification that developed in the north-eastern land. Józewski had a simple explanation for this: “Ukrainian national awareness was making its first steps. Most Orthodox residents of Volyn are tutejszy”.  

However, a look at the two censuses held in Poland in 1921 and 1931 reveals a problem with this statement. The first one showed 38,943 people identifying themselves as tutejszy in the Second Polish Republic. Ten years later, the number was 20 times higher at 707,088.

Assuming that this change did not result from falsifications by the administration, the most likely explanation for this was the denationalization of those living in the north-eastern Ukrainian territories. It would be more accurate to admit, however, that both factors had contributed to the emergence of a nationality in the interwar Poland that was almost equal to the number of the Germans or Belarusians in the country, and three times larger than the Lithuanians, Czechs and Russians combined.

A march in Lutsk, the capital of Volyn, to grieve the death of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski. Józewski stands on the podium under the portrait of the Chief of State. he came up with the idea of "Volyn marriage", a solemn pledge of allegiance by the locals to Pilsudski

Another manifestation of political taming was the “Volyn marriage”, a pledge of allegiance by the local population to the “late Jozef Pilsudski” initiated by Józewski. The lists of the “marriage” signatories were to be cemented into the walls of Lubart’s Castle in Lutsk but the idea was never implemented. The Volyn experiment failed as well. The Polish and Ukrainian interests were too different at that time, and too hard to merge. As a result, Józewski was criticized and treated as an enemy both by the Poles, and by Ukrainians. The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists condemned him to death penalty but an assassination attempt never happened.  

The late 1930s were the period of growing oppression of Ukrainian life in the Second Polish Republic. Churches were ruined in the Chelm region, the units of the Border Protection Corps were forcing the conversion of the Orthodox population into Roman Catholicism and deporting the locals. At the same time, the osadniks tried to introduce a new church calendar for the Orthodox region.  

“What was happening in Volyn in 1938 was becoming intolerable. It was an attack not only against the Orthodox, but against Poland,” Henryk Józewski wrote in his memoirs. “I tried to resist it. I spoke to the top state officials. The moment I realized that I could do nothing, I went to Warsaw, asked to meet with Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Affairs, Gen. Slawoj-Skladkowski and delivered to him my resignation from the office of the Volyn voievode.”

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Józewski was leaving Volyn to Do You Hear Me, Brother?, a ritual song for the Polish insurgents fighting against foreign oppression in the 19th century and the misfortunate Ukrainians forced to leave their homeland, and the Polish anthem performed in Ukrainian.

“The entire Polish citizenry of Volyn and Halychyna, and most of the Polish citizenry in the whole of Poland took the news of a change of voievode in Lutsk with true joy,” the Polish press reported on the resignation. “While ‘the entire Polish citizenry’ met the resignation ‘with joy’, the entire Ukrainian citizenry met it with no sadness, too,” the Ukrainian newspaper Dilo added.  

Both Polish and Ukrainian reporters were right. Nobody liked Józewski. But it was less about his personality than about the chimerical and inconsistent policies on national minorities in the Second Polish Republic. The voievode of Volyn was a unique and probably the brightest representative of it.

Translated by Anna Korbut

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