Igor ROZKLADAI: It's Time For The Polish-Ukrainian Reconciliation

It's Time For The Polish-Ukrainian Reconciliation

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Ukrainian media lawyer with a focus on information and media law development and implementation, co-founder of the Center for Democracy and Rule of Law, a think tank dedicated to the development of independent media, civic platforms and movements, and legal reform in Ukraine.

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Relations between our nations are complicated. But in a time of big challenges, we are able to move forward, despite the pain of the past in our hearts. This gives us a place for reconciliation.

.Polish and Ukrainians. Two old European nations, without which it is impossible to imagine modern Europe. During the centuries we stood side by side in battles against enemies, our nations gave to the world prominent artists, poets, scientists, generals. But, at the same time, we had a lot of dark pages, when our lands were lands of fire and rivers of blood of both Ukrainians and Polish people, even in XX century. And still, relations between our nations are complicated. But, a civilizational challenge made by neoNazi Russia now in XXI century gives us no chance to continue our old disputes on events that happened many decades ago in a way we did it before.

Since the Russia decided to restore USSR to its 100 anniversary, Poland and each Polish family opened doors for Ukrainian refugees. The level of support for Ukrainian refugees may be the highest for the whole of our common history and I want to say “thank you” no, “THANK YOU” for every person, every family, and volunteer in Poland for that. And this is a moment of truth: in a time of big challenges, we are able to move forward, despite the pain of the past in our hearts. This gives us a place for reconciliation. And we need mutually do some steps not to roll back and moreover not to allow to our enemies to divide et impera.

Our relations are so rooted to centuries, that our mutual claims can go till the time of Meszko I and Volodymyr the Great. We can dispute cultural influences about massacres and slavery, about the ethnic identity of some prominent historical figures, and even our own. And we will definitely have a lot of arguments for that. We also have a lot of claims on historical figures such as Khmelnytskyi or Pilsudski – heroes for one nation they were enemies for another one.

My roots and my identity give me some carte blanche to evaluate and offer what we can do. I was born in the time of USSR in Kyiv. My genealogy is intricacies of Ukrainian and Polish roots in all territories they lived in – Kyiv region, Galychyna, Cholm region, and Podlasie. My family tree and even DNA show, that I’m a typical inhabitant of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Frankly speaking – I’m not unique in this – the same you can find in the DNA of Ukrainians and Polish from Chernihiv of Warszawa. My Ukrainian roots are present in Tomaszow Lubelski powiat in Lubelske wojewodztwo, where my surname is rooted as well as my Polish roots present in Fastiv, which is located not far from Kyiv. That mix does not allow me to stay apart on what’s going on between our nations.

The most painful for us, of course, is the period from 1914 to 1950th. This is just 1-2-3 generations away from us: it’s about our parents, grandparents, or great-grands. That’s why so many emotions and even hate we can see from both sides. It’s difficult to be impartial if your great-grandfather was shot or your grandmother was burned. It’s difficult whey you dream about independence – you found that there are another people, who pretend for the same land – that’s the reality of our lands, when Ukrainians and Polish diffused so deeply, that it was resolved in the most brutal way – more than 1,2 mln people were uprooted forever – they lost houses, lands, graves of their ancestors and… memory, cleared by the soviet authoritarian system.

It’s very difficult, frankly speaking, impossible to cut one historical period from another: events of the Polish-Ukrainian war of the 1940th were designed not in 1934 or 1918 – it’s rooted in the Medieval ages when our nations decided which religion to make official or which alphabet to use. Yes, if Kyiv wasn’t destroyed in 1240 our common history could be very different, and who knows, might be Russia would never exist. But the conflict between the catholic church and the orthodox church – with different centers of influence: Rome vs Constantinople, interrupted statehood of Rusyns/Ukrainians and a lot of others factors created a watershed for the centuries.

The creation of II Rzeczpospolita was a huge victory of the Polish Nation in the XX century – more than 100 years Polish people fought for that. Two huge uprisings, which failed but fueled the fire of resistance finally turn back their own state to the Polish people. But one factor was ignored – a Ukrainian population, which lived in Galicia and in Kongresowka and western russian gubernias. Slowly occupation by Moscovia, later Russia since the fatal military agreement with Khmelnytskyi and Moscow tsar make Ukrainian elites bloodless and less prepared for the creation of the state. As a result, the Ukrainian people’s republic failed in 1922. Again Ukrainian people were divided between USSR and RPII. Polish leaders knew, that Ukrainians are not favorable to the Polish state and it caused a policy of pacification and, let be honest – discrimination of the orthodox population. This affected my family – my great-grandfather had limited possibilities to find a job, there were a lot of unfair policies and he finally planned to emigrate from Poland. Life in Poland at that time was more than uncomfortable. Repressions and, what is worse – destroying more than a hundred churches in Kholm region in 1938-39 fired a conflict: people, yesterday neighbors became enemies. This conflict fired a Wolyn and ends with huge resettlement, which made huge damage to the cultural heritage and diversity. But Ukrainians in USSR appeared in the totalitarian system much worse even the autocratic regime of Pilsudski. Collectivization, the Great Famine, Great terror, and terrible losses of WWII took millions of lives of Ukrainians. How survived my other great-grandmother – for me it’s a miracle.

Wolyn for Polish people is a nationwide tragedy. It is well known, popularized and still, a lot of people know it from the family stories. I remember how angry was a taxi driver in Warszawa, while we riding to lotnisko Shopina and I used a very popular term for Ukrainians after Maidan “zhydobanderowcy”. His ancestors were victims of the Wolyn war. I saw that the feelings and emotions of this man were very natural – it was his pain. He really sure, that his ancestors were victims of Bandera and his fighters. Of course, I could reply to him with a story of my family, of two resettlement of 1914 and 1945, that all graves of my ancestors were taken by locals as a building material and I have no place to put a candle, that I’m still holding trauma of my ancestors. But I didn’t want to. Personally, this man is not responsible for the events of the past. I want to leave the past to the past.

You can disagree – we want to heal wounds and we want to achieve justice. It’s fair and right. But time and Russia are against us. First of all, we have no access to historical documents. Ukrainian archives, which are the second after russian ones became open only in 2015, and not all of them survived to this time. Some of them disappeared or moved to Russia, even in 1991. Polish historiography, which developed during these 2 decades also needs time to analyze and admit that not all presumptions or versions are viable. Ukrainian historians need time for their own analysis – it will also take time. And for justice in common sense, it’s better to do it in the most accurate way. And when we will get access to the russian archives who knows how many surprises we will find.

In recent years we saw how russia used its agents to provoke conflict between us. For the russia it was important – to cut Ukraine from its partners. All these broken gravestones, attack on the Polish consulate – we saw these gray hear. Russia used old and verified by time techniques. They use our pain point and press on it. It’s time to take it out.

First of all, we must admit, that it’s impossible to reconcile historical persons, who lived and died several decades ago. They lived in that time, with that historical circumstances, values, views, and we are not able to change it – what is done is what is done. Moreover, we must admit, that these as well as other persons are taking place in historical narratives and even pantheons of our nations. And yes, a hero of one’s is an enemy for others. There is no place for compromise here. But what we can do – to respect. To respect the right of one nation to have its own religion, language, and heroes. Secondly – to honor: each civilian victim, must be respected. The pain of one nation must not be ignored. Our past is a common pain. And victims in villages near Tomaszow or in Volyn must be respected, destroyed graves – reinstated. We must admit that graves of enemies of our ancestors can’t fight. Bones can’t fight and defend themselves. If we have nazi cemeteries what’s the reason not to leave in peace ours? For AK, UPA, bataliony hlopskie and others must be mutual decisions – we honor them on the same ground and principles. And protect them from any attempt of vandalism.

And the last one. Ones Polish bishops asked their German brothers: We excuse and we ask to be excused. It’s time to repeat this. Not for formality, but for mutual respect. Yes, it will take many years to recreate the whole picture of that tragic period, a lot of debates would be, but historians must do it – to prevent such tragic events in the future.

.Our nations passed through the XX century and survived. We are much more prepared for the challenges of century XXI and I’m sure that our role would be more than important for the challenges for democracy, and all future crises that we will face in this century.

Igor Rozkladai

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