Ukraine as the Latest Fashion

10 March 2014, 01:30

During the decisive week of protests, which ended with the flight of Yanukovych, who was abandoned by his security forces, the Maidan was constantly on TV screens, smartphones and computers.

Euphoria reigns in Poland, where events in Ukraine were followed closely, now that the “guarantor” has beaten a hasty retreat. Poles remember how sincerely they were greeted on the Maidan, and say that they are Ukrainians’ blood brothers.

Mutual compliments sometimes reach grotesque proportions. For example, ultra-right MEP Jacek Kurski from Solidarna Polska (Solidarity Poland), came to Ukraine once everything was over. He was photographed on the barricade, with Samo-Oborona (Self-Defense) fighters in front of the Cabinet of Ministers’ building and with Klitschko, then posted these photographs on Facebook.

This photo session was soon ridiculed in the internet and labelled “Maidan tourism”, although it does show that to a certain extent, Ukraine is in fashion in Poland. It would be good for this period to last as long as possible, although fashion comes and goes – that’s its role.

The stereotype of a Ukrainian in Poland is the same as that of a Pole in the West: a shabby-looking street trader, who has uncertain relations with vodka and self-organisation. However, during popular uprisings (preferably without grudges against Poland), this stereotype changes to that of a campaigner for justice – a romantic warrior with an oseledets (the traditional Cossack haircut).

Poles are regarded in a similar manner in the West, but the romantic oseledets is replaced by a romantic moustache. This was the case during two uprisings in the 19th century, again in the battle against the Bolsheviks in 1939, and during the Solidary movement.

Once the smoke clears above the field of battle, everything will go back to normal – including the stereotypes. The Poles’ romantic moustache is no longer the symbol of a hero, but a drunken villager. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian oseledets can expect the same – the distinction of a proud Cossack will become something uncultured and primitive, while the people wearing it will once more turn into the shabby street traders in worn-out unfashionable jackets. There is no need to fool yourself. Although I would prefer to be wrong, and predict friendship for Poles and Ukrainians, similar to that of Poland and Hungary, even if it is purely declarative.

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After all, Poland and Ukraine have a mutual geopolitical enemy – Russia, and nothing joins countries together like a common adversary. However, I think that this pertains more to Western Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine takes no note or Poland at all, and if it does, then just like Russia, considers it to be a disobedient puppy that throws itself into the game of true geopolitical players.

Fir the central regions – the core part of Ukraine – Poland was only attractive as an outpost of the West, and the part of it that is most reminiscent of Ukraine, and the closest to it.

The last “Polish accent” of the previous revolutionary weeks was the irritated commentary of the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radoslaw Sikorski that a compromise with Yanukovych must be found, otherwise a state of emergency will be implemented, tanks will be brought in and everyone will be slaughtered.

It emerged that this speech was a huge oversight, because even if Yanukovych wanted to impose a state of emergency (and documents from Mezhyhirya confirm this), he was unable to do so: he was betrayed by his circle, and the security forces did not want to risk their lives and get blood on their hands while protecting his estate.

Sikorski was strongly criticised, particularly by the right: MEP Kurski (the “Maidan tourist”) hurled thunder from the Kyiv barricade saying that people cannot allow themselves such things. Stanislaw Penta, a representative of the Law and Justice Party (no-one is more right-wing) referred to the Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as “Moscow’s puppet” and said that he should not have called on Ukrainians to compromise, only to uncompromising battle and ultimate victory. Of course. Paraphrasing the well-known saying, “a Pole is only wise after the damage has been done”, you can say that he is wise after everything has ended relatively well. Meanwhile, the bodies of the dead dampened the euphoria a little.

If there had really been damage as opposed to a successful finale, and Sikorski had called on Ukrainians to engage in uncompromising battle, he would have been called a bloodthirsty idiot. Such a scenario could not have been ruled out. Few remember that even former Polish President Kwasniewski, who best knew the situation in Ukraine (he and Pat Cox spent half of the autumn in Ukraine for negotiations), predicted that Yanukovych would fight until the bitter end. And he probably would if he had any chance.

Sikorski was furious when he came to Ukraine. He could hardly hide that fury whenever he shook hands with Yanukovych, while his undiplomatic words about the state of emergency were not directed to the camera, but to one of the opposition politicians.

The Minister’s fury drew more attention to him than he deserved, since he didn’t bring anything new to the table when drawing apocalyptic visions for the opposition. His words were merely the persistent encouragement of compromise, which was seen as Sikorski’s position from the very start: his solution to the crisis would have left both parties unsatisfied. Should he have chosen a different resolution? It’s hard to say.

You get the impression that he wanted to play the role of Churchill, who similarly tried to cool the Polish hotheads, wanting to reinstate their pre-war borders after Hitler’s defeat. The pragmatic Churchill knew well that Stalin would not agree to this, so persuaded the Poles to sit at the negotiation table and be ready for concessions. Then, Poland was still able to claw something back from the so-called outskirts on its eastern border: the issue at hand was Lviv or the Boryslav Basin. Till the very end, Poland did not believe in the compromise, and the border was established along the Curzon Line. Today, this seems to have been a good decision (although we shouldn’t forget that Polish nostalgia for Lviv remains quite strong), but this is a different matter altogether.

If Churchill had persuaded the Poles to resist Stalin, they would not have gained anything, and the latter would possibly have reconsidered annexing former German territories to Poland.

Thus the British Prime Minister acted pragmatically, preferred to play it safe and not stake everything. This is what Sikorski did. He could rouse the indignation of the Maidan, but making such declarations, he should have counted on the realistic support of the Ukrainian opposition. This is not verbal or economic assistance, but real instruments of pressure. Otherwise, such a call could have drowned in a sea of blood. It is known that the option of force was considered. Even so, everyone was surprised that Yanukovych was not completely decisive, and speculated that given the opportunity, he would have taken every possible measure.

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On Thursday, February 20, snipers shot at people on the Maidan, as if shooting at ducks. And everyone was surprised when on the night of Friday to Saturday, the police, Berkut riot police and titushkas withdrew from the government quarter, while Samo-Oborona (Self-Defense) entered government buildings.

In a word, it’s easy to criticise Sikorski post factum. It’s far more difficult to put oneself in his place. It finally emerged that as a whole, the Polish right had problems with the Maidan. It was quite funny to observe how they fluctuated between support for the anti-Russian unrest (because the Polish right loathes Russia, although with its primitive views and demands, radicalism and its craving to subjugate the interests of the individual to national interests, lists of banned publications, lack of tolerance towards sexual minorities, it is more reminiscent of Russia , than anyone else) and the Ukrainian European vector (they still don’t grasp the notion of the liberal, tolerant, anti-nationalist and worldly EU).

However, the funniest thing about the Polish right lies in something else: they are offended by Ukrainian nationalism; that it cannot duly admit the demons of its own past and recognise its mistakes. Meanwhile, they fail to do this with their own home-grown demons. Poland is afraid of Ukrainian nationalism. To a certain extent, this is logical, because it, just like all the others, is bad. But to be honest, Poles generally understand that those waving the red and black flags on the Maidan are not the ones who intend to pick up arms against them again.

Glory to Ukraine! Dear Ukrainians, you have achieved an unbelievable feat!

Poles understand that those waving the red and black flags on the Maidan are not the ones who intend to pick up arms against them again

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