One of the most spectacularly baffling aspects of the Ukrainian crisis has been the part played by Poland. Its government, firstly under Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radek Sikorski, then since September under Prime Minister Eva Kopacz and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Grzegorz Schetyna, have been amongst the most eager supporters of the Kiev government.
This vociferous support was cemented in an address given to the Verkhovna Rada by the Polish President Bronisław Komorowski on 9th April. Remember that date, as it is hugely significant.
In his speech, Mr Komorowski said that Poland has:
“…stretched out its hand to Ukraine and is doing everything — and will do everything — so that other states and peoples of the free Western world stretch their hands out to Ukraine as well… Poland’s stretched hand is not just an indication of the current political trend but our understanding of the historic processes turning Ukraine into an equal and extremely important partner and neighbour.”
He then went on to allude to their apparent shared enemy, albeit without actually naming them:
“One cannot tolerate that the aggressor’s soldiers, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and antiaircraft installations are present in Ukraine’s east… only the blind cannot see their lies today.”
Well talking of the blind…
I mentioned above that 9th April was a hugely significant date for the President of Poland to be making such as speech in the Verkhovna Rada. It is entirely possible that this date might become etched on the memories of Polish schoolchildren in future generations. The reason for this is the on the very same day, in the very same building, 271 lawmakers (and none against) passed a law which describes anyone who fought for Ukraine’s independence from November 1917 until August 24, 1991, as part of formal, informal, underground, military or guerilla groups, as “freedom fighters.” An explanatory note to the document states that:
“The law envisages that the state recognizes the fight for Ukraine’s independence in the 20th century and defines a legal status of the participants for the fight for Ukraine’s independence in the 20th century.”
Why is this so significant? Well, for much of the period mentioned in the bill, the fight for independence was chiefly against Poland itself. In fact, the first Ukrainian resistance movement, the Ukrainian Military Organisation was established in Prague in 1920 as an armed resistance movement against the Poles following their territorial gains during the Polish-Ukrainian War. The organisation then merged with a number of other groups to form the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) in 1929, a group that used violence and terrorist tactics in an effort to achieve their goal of the creation of a Ukrainian state.
In 1940 the OUN split into two parts, the OUN-M and the OUN-B, with the former led by Andriy Melnyk, and the latter led by the far more radical Stepan Bandera — a man who is now idolised by certain sections of Ukrainian society today. The leadership of both organisations are known to have collaborated with the Nazis, and Bandera’s followers are also known to have carried out pogroms against Jews in the city of Lviv. Bandera himself was later imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp after declaring Ukraine as an independent state, but the “anti-Polish operation” he spawned was carried on by his ideological disciples after his internment.
This led to the establishment of a military wing of the OUN-B in 1942 — the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) — which set about a campaign of ethnic cleansing, mainly of Poles and Jews. Estimates vary as to how many people were killed at the hands of the OUN-B/UPA, but most sources put the numbers well above 100,000, and some even as high as a million. One of the most notorious examples of their brutality, and in fact one of the worst episodes of the War period, was the 1943 Volhyna massacre, where the OUN-B/UPA are reckoned to have slaughtered between 35,000 and 60,000 unarmed Polish men, women and children. Further ethnic cleansing was also carried out in other areas, such as in Eastern Galicia, and the Lublin region.
The actions of the OUN-B/UPA are despicable and ought to be deemed indefensible by any person with a moral compass in reasonably working order. However, what the Verkhovna Rada has just voted for is precisely the opposite: to defend the indefensible actions of these people as being the actions of freedom fighters.
The Poles can hardly claim that they weren’t warned about this. The nature of the post-coup government in Kiev was clear from the day it took power, and its often overt nationalist ideology — which has its roots in the ideas of the OUN — has become increasingly clear over the following year, as recently seen by the appointment of the leader of the Pravy Sektor, Dmytro Yarosh, as an adviser to the army chief of staff, Viktor Muzhenko. In the picture above, which shows Mr Komorowski making his speech to the Verkhovna Rada, the chap in the top left is Andriy Parubiy, First Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada. Mr Parubiy also happens to be the founder of the Social-National Party of Ukraine (self-consciously named after the German National Socialists), and an ardent ideological heir of Bandera.
Not that everyone in Poland has been blind to this. In fact, a group of Polish politicians from the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) recently submitted a draft resolution to the Polish Sejm (Parliament) raising concern over the increasingly nationalist tendencies in Ukraine [NB. I have no sympathies with the populist, socialist SLD at all, but like a broken clock, they may well be correct on occasion]. Their resolution read as follows:
“The Sejm expresses concern over the Ukrainian state authorities’ nationalist traditions associated with ideas of Dmitri Dontsov and political practice of Stepan Bandera. Also the glorification of those responsible for the crimes committed against the Polish nationals.
“The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine recently honored the death anniversary of Roman Shukhevych, commander in chief of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), who was responsible for the death of 100,000 Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia.
“The Ukrainian Parliament also adopted a resolution to hold public events in connection with the anniversary of Peter Dyachenko, a commander of the Ukrainian military units who took part in the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising and the destruction of Polish villages in the district of Lublin. Since President Poroshenko’s decision, the anniversary of the formation of the Ukrainian Army is celebrated as the Day of Defender of the Fatherland.
“The Polish society is seriously concerned over these facts. For the sake of memory of the victims of World War II, the Polish Sejm calls on Ukrainian authorities to abandon the admiration of persons and organizations responsible for the crimes against the Poles.”
Unfortunately, the Ukrainian authorities show no signs whatsoever that they are about to abandon their admiration of those responsible for these horrific crimes. To the contrary, they seem to be intent on admiring them all the more, as the SBU head Valentyn Nalyvaichenko’s recent words indicate:
“SBU does not need to invent anything extra — it is important to build on the traditions and approaches of the OUN-UPA security service. It [the OUN-UPA security service] worked against the aggressor during the temporary occupation of the territory, it had a patriotic upbringing, used a counterintelligence unit, and had relied on the peaceful Ukrainian population using its support.”
So what we have is a Polish President, making a speech to a neighbouring country’s parliament which is fervently nationalist, and which shows its true colours by voting on that very same day to legitimise the ethnic cleansers of thousands of Poles during the 1940s by calling them “freedom fighters”. What to make of it?
If I were a Pole, I would be absolutely outraged by Mr Komorowski’s speech. As a Brit I imagine how things would be seen here if the following scenario emerged: a coup spearheaded by nationalists sympathetic to the Nazi regime takes place in Germany. A national holiday is proclaimed on April 20th, the day of the Führer’s birthday. A resolution is passed in the Bundestag which labels Hitler and his henchmen “freedom fighters” or “Heroes of Germany”. Now, if the British Prime Minister, or even the Queen, turned up in the Bundestag on the same day as this vote, and used the kind of “stretching out our hands” terminology used by Mr Komorowski, I have a fair idea how this would go down with the British population.
Is this a fair analogy? In some ways no, since the actions of the OUN-B/UPA seem to be far more unknown in Poland than the actions of the Nazis are in Britain, due to a strange quirk of Poland’s post-war history. My wife, who is Polish, tells me that the actions of the Banderites in the 1940s were not even mentioned in schools during the communist era, since criticism of any part of the Soviet Union, which of course included the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine, was not permitted. So you have the odd paradox where Soviet-style education prevented most Poles from learning the true history of the Ukrainian Nazi-collaborators and their massacre of thousands of Poles.
Whether this excuses Mr Komorowski himself is another matter. As the Head of State if he is going to go and make speeches to foreign parliaments, he ought to at least have had some idea of the ideology of many of the people he was addressing on 9th April, and of the historical significance that the vote which took place that same day has for his own country. He ought also to have known just how hollow all that blather about “peoples of the free Western world” would sound in the light of a vote to effectively legitimise the murderers of many of his countrymen.
However, I think the reason for Mr Komorowski’s apparent lack of knowledge or understanding lies not in historical ignorance as much as it does the kind of blindness he alluded to in his speech. It appears that Mr Komorowski’s unqualified allegiance to the U.S., along with the Polish government’s unqualified allegiance in general, has blinded him to the nature of the parliament he was addressing on 9th April. The enemy, so the narrative goes, sits in Moscow and so the friend must sit in Kiev.
This is folly. Contrary to Western scaremongering, Russia has no intention of invading Poland and poses no threat to its existence whatsoever. The enemy has been invented by neocon warmongers in Washington who are using their puppet states of Poland and Ukraine to further their aim of destroying Russia, and the illusion must be maintained at all costs. However, in going along with this false reality, sadly it seems that Mr Komorowski — and perhaps many Poles — has neglected to see what is right in front of his eyes: that the nationalist ideology that led to the deaths of thousands of Poles in a campaign of ethnic cleansing, far from being expunged, has reared its ugly head and has now been legitimised at state level.
I hope that one day soon, Poland, Ukraine and Russia can all be on friendly terms. However, to think that this is possible whilst the Ukrainian state glorifies the so-called “freedom fighters” who killed in their tens if not hundreds of thousands, is a farcical idea at best.