The Polish Sejm has passed in the first reading a bill that imposes criminal liability for public statements on the involvement of the Poles in the Holocaust and for the promotion of the so-called “Bandera ideology”.
In fact, the legislation could have emerged much earlier. Indeed, in Poland, a campaign has long been gaining momentum to revise ethnic memory, while nationalist sentiment has been on the rise. So Ukrainians have fallen victim to such distortion of history by Poles seeing their neighbors as opponents.
Ukrainians have fallen victim to such distortion of history by Poles seeing their neighbors as opponents
By passing the bill, Poland has shown its reaction to certain processes ongoing in Ukraine, but, this was primarily the reaction to what’s been happening in Poland itself. Therefore, the step is aimed mostly at addressing Poland’s internal political issues, including the pro-government coalition and nationalist groups’ efforts to mobilize their voters. Besides, this about molding public opinion toward the search for a historical enemy, as well as trying to build their own historical myth.
If the controversial bill is signed into law, it will certainly affect Ukrainian-Polish relations. This will further complicate the already difficult dialogue between the two neighboring countries.
There may be direct legal repercussions for the members of nationalist movements in Ukraine, for whom the heroization of OUN-UPA [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Ukrainian Rebel Army] is one of their main tools in Ukrainian politics (this may, in particular, relate to the director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, Volodymyr Viatrovych). For example, their travel to Poland will become a risky endeavor as they are the potential targets of the new legislation. Neither do I rule out persecution of certain Ukrainian politicians.
Besides, Ukraine is already seeing some initiatives in adopting a symmetrical law regarding the symbols and heroization of occupation forces. And if such legislation is adopted, the Ukrainian-Polish relations will simply plunge into the abyss. In general, this can lead to a series of historical conflicts between the two neighbors. I hope that the initiative will find no support in Rada and that the deputies will treat the ongoing developments with due understanding.
Ukraine is already seeing some initiatives in adopting a symmetrical law regarding the symbols and heroization of occupation forces. And if such legislation is adopted, the Ukrainian-Polish relations will simply plunge into the abyss
Of course, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry must react, and Kyiv’s political position on the said Polish bill should be as clear as possible. Legal support must also be ensured for Ukrainian citizens who may be subject to the law. Ukraine should appeal to the international community and, first of all, to that in Europe, to inflict some pressure on Poland.
That is, Ukraine should seek asymmetric responses. And most importantly, Ukraine should seek a dialogue with Poland, or rather, with a rational part of Polish society that does not think stereotypes and myths, instead trying to build their future. And the future of Poland is only possible together with Ukraine.
Vitaliy Kulyk is a director of the Center for Civil Society Studies