The truth about the Volhynian massacre
The Volhynian crime was a cruel and planned genocide, but Polish politicians still lack the courage to call it by its name. This error in judgment encourages followers of the neo-Bandera movement to behave in an increasingly insolent way.
For a quarter of a century, descendants of the residents of the Eastern Borderlands have been calling for a respectable commemoration of their murdered ancestors. Successive political powers governing Poland have repeated on numerous occasions that they live in hatred, seek revenge, dream of the borders being reviewed, damage our alliances and destabilize politics. The current and successive anniversary of the crime committed on the residents of Volhynia will not bring them the satisfaction they have awaited for so many years. There is no end in sight to the bitterness felt by the communities of the Eastern Borderlands.
Why is the truth about Volhynia so disastrous that it cannot be expressed in official statements issued by the government and parliament of the free Poland? Why is the truth so disastrous that it is constantly being blotted out of memory, passed over, relativized and underestimated? Although it is impossible not to admit that according to different estimates, up to 200,000 of our compatriots fell victim to brutal murder during the Second World Ward only because of their Polish nationality – the Third Republic of Poland seems to be emitting the same propaganda gibberish about “events” or “tragic events” that it used to distort the history of the People’s Republic of Poland (PRL).
The reason is the fact that the crime was committed by concrete perpetrators and the perpetrators have their heirs maintaining the ideological and organizational continuity, themselves being actively engaged in their country’s politics and having their own importance in it and indirectly in the international political order. The Volhynian crime was planned by ideologists of the Ukrainian (or, as claimed by some researchers, “Galician”) nationalism led by Dmytro Dontsov as early as during the interwar period. Their works openly referred to the historical necessity of physically removing a foreign ethnic element from the territory of Ukraine – Poles, Jews and Czechs, as well as “peasant like” Ukrainians (i.e. those not accepting nationalist ideas), as well as openly called for extermination.
The contemporary reader treats the term nationalism as a synonym of pure evil, as history has always linked both terms with the particularly murderous German nationalism. As in the case of the term “extreme right politics”, there is an effect of imposing the left-wing propaganda in every-day speech; in fact, it does not make any sense to use the term “nationalism” without any adjective specifying it more in detail, because each nation has created its own nationalism over years and they are as different as the folklore of each individual country – despite being labelled the same everywhere. It is difficult to find any similarities between the German, French and English type of nationalism, while there is even a gap between Polish and Jewish nationalism. The Ukrainian nationalism (let’s use this term; the “Galician” one refers to the fact that the ideology has developed only in that part of Ukraine that belonged to Poland, but is ambiguous to the extent that its founders referred their plans to the whole Ukrainian ethnic group and territory) was, if it is possible to make such comparisons at all, even more murderous than the German variant, even in its most terrible, Nazi version. Neither Hitler nor his ideologist Rosenberg propagated the idea of the Holocaust openly, already at the beginning of their careers. Ukrainian nationalists explicitly pointed out that in order to regain the greatness of the Kievan Rus, it would be necessary to reject all moral scruples, while in order to cleanse Ukraine of “members of foreign tribes” and domestic “Ukrainian speakers”, it would be necessary to resort to genocide.
Not only did the nationalists justify the genocide in theory, but they also diligently laid the ground work for it while waiting for the right moment to act. A significant and perhaps even decisive part of their propaganda efforts was to colonize the Greek Catholic Church. Many followers of Dontsov, pupils of Bandera and subordinates of Shukhevych penetrated the clergy of the Greek Catholic Church while calling for murder to be committed directly from the altars of Orthodox churches – it was no coincidence that they were packaged as the “Ten Commandments for the Ukrainian Nationalist”. This part of the truth about the Volhynian massacre is very uncomfortable today which is why the communities of the Eastern Borderlands are alone in their efforts to commemorate the murder compared to those fighting to commemorate the Katyn massacre and other communist murders. The latter could at least take refuge in the Churches, while for the Volhynian massacre, the Church joined the conspiracy of silence for the above mentioned reason.
There is certainly one main difference between Hitlerism (which the Organization of the Ukrainian Nationalists and its leaders openly referred to) and the ideology of Dontsov, Shukhevych and Bandera: the latter has not been condemned yet, it has continued to function quite openly since the Second World War, although in a way this passes over its murderous nature. The Ukrainian nationalism has pretended to be a type of patriotism, a battle for national liberation, or even martyrdom. That has been forged by a coincidence of historical circumstances. During the war, Germans had an ambivalent attitude towards the Ukrainian nationalists; on one side, they formed auxiliary and SS troops out of them, on the other side, they suppressed their ally’s hopes of gaining to political independence – Stepan Bandera and the majority of activists of its fraction of the Organization of the Ukrainian Nationalists ended up in concentration camps. The murderers of Poles were later cracked down by Stalin with his characteristic ruthlessness – leaders of the Ukrainian nationalists, such as Bandera were prosecuted and killed, even in exile. That practice and continues to create a false image passing over the executive role in the organized genocide.
That was all the easier that the spiritual heirs of Dontsov and Bandera were found by the Western intelligence services to be useful allies. The Ukrainian diaspora, contrary to our emigration and “cursed soldiers”, were able to gain from this in political terms. To create a historical narrative that was convenient not only for the Bandera movement, but also for the Western world which would not like to be accused of cooperation, even a silent one, with perpetrators of the genocide. The diaspora scattered across America and Canada, often led by veterans of the Organization of the Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, as well as other murderous formations, created and kept a false history about a “civil war” in Volhynia and “mutual harm” that it used to promote in the country after Ukraine had regained independence.
This historical narrative is as hypocritical as the Nazi interpretation of the events in of September 1939 or the Stalin interpretation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The creation of symmetries between harms caused by Poles to Ukrainian citizens of the Third Republic of Poland and the Polish civil defence during the war, which rarely took the form of a bloody revenge, and the Ukrainian genocide, as well as fighting between the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the Home Army, is absolutely false has been rejected by historians several times. Ukrainian murders were planned, committed in an orderly and organized way; their extreme brutality was also well-thought and planned so that it exceeded everything that the Nazis and Bolsheviks did commit. It is beyond any doubt that genocide is the only appropriate term to call these murders.
Ukrainians tend to ward off the term with a similar doggedness as Turkey uses its influence to prevent the commemoration of the murdered Armenians, and keeps actively negating mass and organized crimes, or the way China tends to “feel offended” by any mention of Tibet, Uyghurs or human rights abuses.
The fact is easy to understand. What is difficult to understand is the cowardice that has made Poland withdraw from any intent to speak the truth about the history of Volhynia and the Volhynian residents for over a quarter of a century, as well as the murders committed by the Organization of the Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the eastern part of Lesser Poland that were related to the massacre. Events have followed a familiar pattern: a commemorative resolution was deleted from the agenda of the Sejm’s session or was replaced with rambling gibberish about “tragic events” and “mutual harm”, the room prepared for a planned meeting turned out to be undergoing renovation or unavailable for some other reason, and the calendar of all, even low-rank representatives of the state authorities, suddenly becomes full if the Ukrainian ambassador does so much as squint, an article chastening Polish nationalists was published, or a voice is heard claiming that anyone who “drives a wedge” between Polish and Ukrainian people pleases Putin.
It would be possible to understand such behaviour if Ukraine, as China and Turkey, were a power with whom economic relations are too profitable to risk losing. However, we are talking about a country that – by accepting the full sympathy for its independence aspirations – did not manage to exist independently and keep intact more than, for example, the Republic of Transnistria or Kosovo. We are talking about a country that needs Poland’s help and good will more than Poland needs its favours.
It is hardly surprising therefore that the residents of the Eastern Borderlands, having been shocked by the resistance of the Polish state to assert the truth, sometimes resort to conspiracy theories – they tend to think that the cowardly rejection of the history of Volhynia is due to American pressure influenced by the Ukrainian diaspora. However, it seems to be even worse (than that). We are facing a disgraceful immaturity on the part of Polish politics and in general within Polish mentality. There is a magical conviction that if the Volhynian murders are passed over, the problem will go away on its own accord.
Unfortunately, the discourse used currently by the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) does not differ from the one used by all its predecessors. We tend to tell ourselves that modern Ukrainians do not have anything in common with the tradition of murderous nationalism, and that the commemoration of the victims by introducing a day of commemoration, passing a bill or a commemorative resolution in Poland may gravely offend the Ukrainians and turn them against Poland as they do not have anything in common with the past events. It is hardly possible to make up a more appalling nonsense. If Poland keeps silent, the neo-Bandera movements will be encouraged to behave in an increasingly insolent fashion. Historians tell us that documents about the mass murder seem to disappear from Ukrainian archives. Scientific conferences, exhumations of the remnants of the execution victims are the object of attacks; victims, who once decided to talk about these times now call up Polish authors begging them to delete their histories from the books and not disclose, for God’s sake, any data could people could identify them with.
Our behaviour could be compared to the situation when we persuaded ourselves in the early 1930 that nobody should disturb Hitler in his ascent to power, as the majority of Germans were decent and ordinary people, and it was no use offending them by suggesting that there were some Nazis among them. Let’s repeat that once again, Polish cowardice, the Polish mindless belief in the power of appeasement, results in a steady increase of the cult of Bandera in the modern Ukraine and the extension of political influences of his heirs. “Average” Ukrainian citizens do not need to be appeased by Poles – they need a clear signal that Bandera followers are not heroes, but murderers, that there is no place for the Bandera-made Ukraine among civilized nations, that the path to democracy must not go through the historical lie and apology of the genocide.
Polish elites, both those linked to Michnik, those claiming that Poland is the worst and the most guilty one, and those of Rymkiewicz “hating Russia more than loving Poland”, are wandering about terribly. The fact that it is of our interest that Ukraine is free, democratic and civilized does not mean that any type Ukraine is in our interest. If it turns out that due to our misjudged politics, we are in fact exchanging the corrupted, mafia satrapy of Yanukovych, as is the case in other parts of the world, for a country that is more independent of Moscow, but bringing to life the postulates of the founders of the Ukrainian Nationalism, then this will be even worse than dishonour. With regards to the latter one in the context of how the Polish state treats the commemoration of the Volhynian victims, there is no doubt anymore. A question arises: Will the dishonour be followed by a political catastrophe?
RAFAŁ A. ZIEMKIEWICZ
Source: Do Rzeczy