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24 July, 2013

The Other Side of History

The 70th anniversary of the Volyn tragedy was marked by the historically one-sided resolutions of the Polish Senate and Sejm; the request of Group of 148 that scorns anything Ukrainian (148 MPs from the Party of Regions and the Communist Party wrote an official letter to the Polish Sejm, the lower house of the Polish Parliament, requesting it to recognize the Volyn tragedy as a genocide of the Polish people – Ed.); and a surprising symbiosis of the Communist Party, aggressive advocates of the Russian World in Ukraine and radical right-wing forces in Poland on the one hand, and the feeble stance of most of the Ukrainian intelligentsia regarding this issue on the other.

The question is not whether the latter should condemn the crimes committed by Ukrainians in Volyn in 1943 or not – they are undeniable and absolutely deserve condemnation, while attempts to justify them in one way or another would be amoral. The question is why many Ukrainian intellectuals readily accept the dominating Polish paradigm of the Volyn massacre.

It is based on a few pillars. One is the singling out of crimes of the summer of 1943 in Volyn as a stand-alone phenomenon overlooking other episodes of Ukrainian-Polish relations in that time and place. The other is that the strategic intentions of General Sikorski’s government in exile were overlooked. Finally, the dates and number of victims and killers listed in official Polish documents and studies by leading historians are viewed as the ultimate truth. As a result, Ukrainian nationalists are blamed for an unprovoked mass attack on Polish villages and the mass killing of civilians.  

Well-known Ukrainian publications echo this as they write about “simultaneous attack on 100 Polish villages in July 1943” and “the deaths of tens of thousands of Poles on the night of July 11-12”. However, it is not necessary to have a college degree in history to realize that a massacre of that scale requires at least ten thousand well-trained soldiers and the support of many villagers with axes to encircle villages, towns and colonies of osadniky[1],neutralize their armed defenders and carry out such destruction. Surely the opposite party and the German occupation authorities would have found out about the campaign several days in advance if tens of thousands of armed people were preparing for it?  

Meanwhile, Ukrainian intellectuals revert to political correctness and avoid calling a spade a spade. They never mention the proactive colonization policy of Rzeczpospolita in Western Ukraine and Western Belarus; the attempts of the Polish government in exile to hold on to the territories where ethnic Ukrainians made up 70-95% of the population during WWII, or the acts of Armia Krajowa and other military organizations of this government – under Nazi occupation! – to implement Poland’s colonial policy. Few recall that according to different estimates, Armia Krajowa units killed hundreds – or even thousands of Ukrainians in 1942 while fulfilling their commanders’ orders and “instilling order” in the Chełm and Berestia provinces adjacent to Volyn. This is overlooked when, according to the official Polish version, July 11, 1943 is taken as the starting point of the conflict. Similarly, the USSR overlooked the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23, 1939, when it talked of June 22, 1941 as the beginning of WWII.

READ ALSO: Should the Volyn Crime Be Condemned?

Indeed, for the most part, Polish colonialism was much softer than the Russo-Soviet one, but it was colonialism nevertheless. This ended with the Volyn massacre because colonial and anti-colonial wars go beyond limits – always and everywhere. Wouldn’t Poland benefit from an objective evaluation of it as well?

None of the above justifies the culprits of the Volyn tragedy, however it explains the genesis and scale of it. Moreover, overlooking the mass of Ukrainian victims of that bloody confrontation, not to mention those that went before and after, is a betrayal of their memory.

Ten years ago, I signed the letter of Ukrainian intellectuals regarding the Volyn tragedy that was based on the “we forgive and we ask for forgiveness” formula. Back then, the impression was that this bloody page of history was turned and that we had duly learned our lesson. Now, we see that the dominating part of the Polish elite has revived old grand state insecurities, rolled up in a “humanistic” wrapper. So once more, we will have to talk about events that are painful for both nations, and once more dot the i’s. Today, repentance should be honest and mutual: Poland’s for the long-lasting violent colonization and Ukraine’s for bloody anti-colonial actions. But how is this possible with the pro-Russian and communist Group of 148 and the barren – or capitulating – stance of part of the Ukrainian intelligentsia?

READ ALSO: Ukraine and Poland: Time to Shed Myths

On July 12, members of the Polish Sejm adopted a resolution qualifying the Polish-Ukrainian conflict of the 1940s as “ethnic cleansing with elements of genocide” and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, OUN, and Ukrainian Insurgent Army, UPA, as the perpetrators of this massacre. Poland’s Senate passed the relevant resolution on June 20


[1] Settlers or colonists in Polish, osadniky were veterans of the Polish Army that received land in the Kresy, currently parts of Western Belarus and Ukraine, ceded to Poland under the 1921 Polish-Soviet Riga Peace Treaty

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