Inaugural Address – Former President of Ukriane Viktor Yuschenko
Viktor Yuschenko opened his address by stating that the geopolitical landscape in Central and Eastern Europe had changed dramatically over the past 25 years, as the breakup of the Soviet Union, had led to the creation of a number of independent nations.
He emphasised that in its history, Ukraine, as a nation, had lost its independence five times.
He said that whilst 25 years ago, Central and Eastern Europe had been dominated by the political agendas of the East, today , this had changed, as the majority of nations in the region, had chosen to turn towards Europe, through this, embracing greater integration and cooperation. The majority of countries in Central and Eastern Europe, had started forming integrationist politics after the fall of Communism. Yuschenko stated that with each year, the region was becoming more and more open towards integration.
Yuschenko then turned his attention to the present instability in Europe, stating that since the end of WWII, we have never had such great instability. He said that there was an absence of answers in Europe on how to deal with the present instability. There are 7 conflicts in Europe, 6 of these in Eastern Europe. The main element present in all of these conflicts is Russia. Russia is the occupant and aggressor, so why don’t we refer to these conflicts as Russian conflicts?
Citing Aristotle’s belief that the road to the truth comes first from a correct definition, he stated that this is how we must think about the conflicts in Europe, we must define them correctly.
He stated that the foundation of the conflicts was the threat of being enslaved versus the opportunity of freedom; they are conflicts between two clashing worldviews. He stated : ‘Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls?’ and emphasised that we must not think of the war in Ukraine as a Ukrainian conflict, but that we must look at it from a wider perspective and focus on Russia’s agenda in these conflicts – Russia’s desire to create a world without Ukraine.
He expressed the view that Russian diplomacy is always focused on Ukraine, because Ukraine finds itself in Russia’s geopolitical space, it is always subject to imperial attacks from Russia.
Yuschenko argued that Crimea is often seen as an internal Ukrainian conflict, but it should be thought of in the same way as a terrorist attack.
Going back to Ukraine’s history, he stated that Ukraine had no nation state for 400 years and that during this time, the country’s memory, language and culture were stolen. But now, for 25 years, Ukraine has been free to exist and there are many changes.
This is Russia’s 23rd war with Ukraine since the rule of Ivan IV. Yuschenko posed the question, does Russia want war? And answered it by stating ‘of course it does’. In light of this, he asked how can we regulate such conflicts?
Talking about the negotiations to help end the conflict, he said they are called tripartite negotiations, but strongly criticised the third party, Russia, whose involvement in these negotiations, he called inadequate to a structured dialogue and a reconciliation of the conflict.
‘When, the aggressor and source of the conflict is not present at the discussion table, it is difficult to hope for a resolution to the conflict’, he stated.
Yuschenko referred to the unique political gesture made by Ukraine on December 5th 1994, with the signing of the Budapest Memorandum, in which Ukraine agreed to eliminate all nuclear weapons from its territory in return for security assurances from the United States of America, the Russian Federation, and Great Britain, which were meant to guarantee that there would never be a conflict in Ukraine. Through the document, these powers recognised the independence of Ukraine, yet despite these assurances, Yuschenko stated, for the past three years, we have had a conflict in Ukraine.
Yuschenko warned that what Ukraine was experiencing from Russia, could be experienced by every sovereign nation in Europe.
In response to those who talk about Russia’s size and strength as a country, and the need to deal with her diplomatically, Yuschenko said that he believes the countries which recognised the independence of Ukraine in the Budapest Memorandum, have the instruments and resources to stop Russian ‘hooliganism’ and that the difficult question we should ask, is ‘why have they done nothing in that direction’?
He stated that Russia’s economy is too weak for its imperial ambitions and that Putin was scared of the reaction of his own nation. He also stated that he believes Russia will have to wait a long time for its awakening due to the absence of intellectual elites and ideas about how to deal with Putin.
He cited statistics, that 1.7 million Ukrainians have left regions of conflict in Ukraine and that there hasn’t been a bigger migration since WWII.
Sounding a note of pessimism, he said that he believes Europe has no plans for such conflicts and displacements of people and noted his disappointment that in Europe, no one speaks any more about how to help Ukraine. Even though more Ukrainians have died in the present conflict than died over the course of the 10 year conflict in Afghanistan, this is something no one speaks about in Europe.
He stated that Ukraine envisaged that there would be a moment when the countries who recognised the independence of Ukraine in 1994, would begin to talk and integrate, unite, and take a stand against Russian aggression.
Yuschenko outlined his belief that the Ukrainian conflict is one of the most important problems affecting the EU today.
He then addressed Poland and Poles, describing Poland as a nation Ukrainians love and consider important political partners. He made reference to the history between the two nations, which he said was very educational as the two countries have frequently experienced wars between each other. He cited the film ‘Ogniem i Mieczem’, which showed how both sides killed one another in a fratricidal war.
Yuscehnko spoke of the great efforts of politicians and ordinary people 14 years ago, which led to Poland and Ukraine reaching out to one another. He said it was a moment when both nations learnt that it is necessary to forgive and unite. He appealed that Poles and Ukrainians should not focus on the statistics of people who died on both sides and spoke of the difficulty for both sides to admit to difficult historical truths.
Yuschenko closed his address by referring to Jerzy Giedroyc and his belief that a free Poland could not exist without an independent Ukraine and stating that Poland had always been closely connected to Ukraine’s fights for independence.
Opening Panel – Immigrants in my city
Krzysztof Stanowski opened by citing the words of Pope Francis about every Christian’s responsibility to help those in need.
He talked about a charitable foundation in Lublin which had wanted to help a Syrian family and bring them over from Syria, but could not find a legal way to make it possible – the failure to host refugees, was not because of lack of money or unwillingness to help, but due to legal obstacles, he said.
Larissa Sulejman talked about her experiences of being an immigrant – her parents had been deported to Kazakhstan in 1940, afterwards they left to live in Chechnya, then she fled to the Crimea and since 2006, she has settled in Poland in Łomza, where she decided that she wanted to do something to help other immigrants. She said that it took her 10 years to finally feel at home and like a citizen of Poland. She said that 10 years ago, people in Poland had no idea how to deal with migrants and how best to help them and what to give them. She said that learning the language of the host country, was the most crucial thing for migrants.
The ambassador of the Czech Republic in Poland, Jakub Karfĭk was asked about his own experiences and examples of good practice in dealing with migrants. He said that in the Czech Republic, 4.5% of the population are migrants. He made a distinction between migrants and refugees, saying they are two different things. As a refugee, you are given the right to political refuge, which an economic migrant does not have. He said that the impulses and reasons for economic migrants to the Czech Republic were well known. He said that good practice was based on the cooperation of politicians and citizens to best integrate migrants.
He said that we should take example from Ukraine as Ukraine is a country where there are 1 million internal refugees, but it is also a country which is very welcoming towards accepting refugees, especially the Muslim Tatars.
Kamil Kamiński spoke of his personal reflections about the fragile nature of peace which were sparked by his work with refugees from Chechnya. These people, he said, had never expected war in their country. He stated that refugees are forced to become refugees and do not become them by choice. Refugees are people who did not expect a conflict in their country, but had to flee due to circumstances beyond their control. Kamiński encouraged us to look at our culture through their eyes. He questioned whether Poles were losing their traditional and proud stereotype of hospitality which they had always been known for. Kamiński felt that most of us now have more and are better off than in the past, but we find it harder to share and are less open and hospitable towards others. He suggested we think more about how many positive things refugees could bring to Polish culture.
Kamiński then talked out the Immigrant Councils which have been formed in some Polish cities, including Lublin. He said Lublin has a lot of experience in welcoming refugees, particularly from Chechnya.
A comment was made by a participant from the audience, asking the panel to consider that in her experience, the experience of refugees in larger Polish cities was often much better and more welcoming than in smaller polish towns and villages.
Jakub Karfĭk said in response to the issue, that integration was the most important thing. It is important not to build camps and ghettos for refugees, but to integrate them locally. Kamiński added that it was not something that was commonly discussed, simply because most of the time, refugees arrive in larger cities where there are the resources and capacity to help them.
Stanowski talked about Ukrainian migrants to Eastern Poland, and how they often become teachers of English. He also spoke of his cooperation with the the Crimean Tatars and how Mustafa Dzemilev had told him that Ukrainians were a ‘true’ nation for how they treated the Crimean Tatars.
Kamiński talked about the city of Gdansk, where the municipal government is seeking to promote multiculturalism as the city’s policy. A dedicated programme has been formed and an Immigrant Council set up to advice on issues affecting to migrants, refugees and foreigners. He said that Warsaw also has such a council and he spoke about the Multicultural Centre set up in Warsaw. Kamil asked us to consider that the words used against migrants in Poland, are the same as those used by those in England against Poles.
Larissa Sulejman added that children are those who suffer the most when they are forced to emigrate as children do not want to be different and stand out from other children.
Finally, Krzysztof Stanowski asked the Czech Ambassador whether in the Czech Republic, memory is cultivated about the migration to the country after the Prague Spring. The ambassador replied that memory about this event is very active. He also stated that the Czech’s have experience of the migration of Romanians to the Czech Republic after WWII from Slovakia and Romania and have been striving for several decades to integrate them into society.
Models of Reconciliation – Panel 1 – Poland – Ukraine: Experiences
Mariusz Sawa began by saying the panel would be focused on the last 25 years from 1991-2016 and that it would look at the points during this time which have led to the two nations being united and cooperating with one another.
He also said that it was inevitable that relations between Poland and Ukraine could also be looked at from a historical perspective and that there is currently great chaos in discussions about these historical perspectives, which can be seen in media coverage and amongst discussions between ordinary people. He said that in the last year, particularly, the events of the last couple of months, have led to a renewed focus on Polish-Ukrainian relations. He made reference to Wojciech Smarzowski’s film ‘Wolyn’, which he said was likely to ignite strong opinions.
He referenced the key events of recent times, including the Polish-Wolyn Act from July 2016 and events in Przemyśl from June 2016, the letter of Danuta Kuroń in response to events in Przemyśl and the destruction of Ukrainian memorials in August 2015 in Tomaszów Lubelski.
He summarised by saying that over the last 25 years, Poland and Ukraine have experienced moments of cooperation, but also moments of dispute. He said that in thinking about Polish-Ukrainian relations, we must depart from historical perspective and posed an opening question to the panel, asking them whether they felt Poland and Ukraine had used the experiences of the last 25 years well and drawn lessons from them?
Piotr Tyma began by making ironic reference to his reputation in Polish-Ukrainian relations, saying that ‘there are different opinions about my input in bringing about Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation’. He then talked about the Days of Ukrainian Culture held by the Catholic University of Lublin after World War II, which was the first such event dedicated to celebrating the Ukrainian minority in Poland. He also said that this year, for the first time, the celebrations honouring the day of the Polish Army, included the participation of members of the Ukrainian Army. He said that there was an extreme lack of awareness in Poland about the ‘Petlurowcy’, proponents of the politics of Ukrainian statesman Symon Petlura. He also said that often, people who analyse Polish-Ukrainian relations accuse Ukraine of not making a big enough contribution to the dialogue. Against this, he said that it is thanks to the efforts of Ukrainians, that the graves and cemeteries where Petlura’s soldiers are buried on Polish territory, had been renovated, and that Poles were able to learn about the camps set up for Ukrainians in Poland after the war.
Tyma posed the question, ‘What mistakes have been made in Polish-Ukrainian relations that they still provoke such strong emotions and result in greater aggression?’. Referencing Smarzowski’s film ‘Wolyń’, he stated that the film would be counterproductive to dialogue as it would provoke too strong emotions.
He went on to say that history has become an element of battle and pessimistically stated that his and others’ efforts would be too little to prevent the wave of hatred.
He talked about the Polish government’s policy in the 1990’s to invest a lot of money in the restoration and renovation of the Cemetery of the Defenders of Lwów, which was finally successfully finished in 2005. He suggested that too much money had been invested on this.
He stated that Poland has returned to a time when Communist narratives are once again being used in discussions about Polish-Ukrainian relations and said that Smarzowski’s film was founded on Communist stereotypes about Ukrainians. He said that the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) has no accurate statistics on the number of Ukrainian victims of Wolyń, but that historians were currently working on establishing the numbers on the Ukrainian side.
He finished with a reference to the Bury Massacre in 1946, which saw Poles killing Ukrainians in revenge for Wolyń. He cited historian Ewa Siemaszko, who coined the phrase ‘preventative revenge’ and asked, how long could we keep explaining such massacres carried out by Poles in this way?
Danuta Kuroń followed Piotr Tyma. She opened by saying she was not a historical expert, and that she would speak from the perspective of a witness of history.
She stated that during the Communist period, Polish society’s awareness of Ukraine had been built on the basis of two books and that the negative stereotype of the Ukrainian is something people learnt from school, although there were families who opposed this.
She said that only once underground publications started being published by the democratic underground movements, that information about Ukrainians became more diverse and was not just based on stereotypes and that this information could reach a wider public.
She said that the democratic opposition did not shy away from difficult topics as discussions on these issues had a moral value and that for the democratic opposition who gained power in 1989, dealing with minorities in Poland became an important issue. She stated that the underground Solidarity movement had helped to endorse the idea of a congress of Ukrainian culture, at a time when many Ukrainians feared to admit to their Ukrainian nationality in Poland.
She reminded the audience that the citizens committee which sat at the Round Table talks of 1989 with a view of enforcing political change, had also put forward the idea of creating a dedicated commission to deal with issues affecting minorities in Poland. The democratic opposition in 1989 felt it was obvious that minorities would need to be represented in the Polish parliament. Citing a historian who stated that ‘for the Ukrainians, their independence army, was the same as for the Poles, is the Home Army’, she stated that in those days, this was a controversial view.
She stated that joint Polish-Ukrainian initiatives over the last 25 years, had not materialised into greater public awareness, even though in 1989, Solidarity attempted to give a direction to Polish-Ukrainian relations.
Mariusz Sawa commented that history weighs very heavily on Polish-Ukrainian relations and asked how this affected the work of self-governments in Poland and their work with Ukraine.
Anna Jastrzębska responded by speaking of her experience of 15 years of cooperation with Ukraine through her work for the Lublin government, which followed after her previous work in an NGO. She said that in partnerships and the programming of joint projects, politics was inevitably present. She said that 15 years ago, the first Polish-Ukrainian business fairs were launched, but that now, 15 years later, the two countries have forgotten about integration. She said that work between NGOs was still strong, but described a sceptical view of Polish-Ukrainian relations built on EU funds for joint projects, describing them as false as although EU funds create unity, if there are no people who desire to continue the cooperation, in the long term, nothing results from such joint projects. She also stated that Lublin had a strong record in seeking greater cooperation with Ukraine and she mentioned the Reconciliation Project currently being realised by the Lublin municipal office.
Mariusz Sawa asked the panel what have Ukrainian cities and towns gained through 25 years of cooperation with Poland?
Anna stated that they had gained examples of good practice and that Poland had given Ukraine models of how to how to organise self-governments and their administrations as well as examples of how to relate with NGOs. She also said Poland had helped Ukraine to establish cultural institutes which are today very active. She described that her dream would be to see the unblocking of the border with Ukraine and the elimination of visas for Ukrainians and said that she hoped that in 2 or 3 years time, Lublin would be able to achieve their reconciliation project successfully.
Sawa asked, what is reconciliation?
Piotr Tyma recalled the law of 2005, signed by the Parliamentary Commission for Minorities, whose director had been Jacek Kuron.
He said that representatives of NGOs in Ukraine had had a similar approach to those in Poland – to avoid talking about history. He said the consequence of this, was that now; others are talking about Polish-Ukrainian history and are using history for the purposes of igniting hatred.
He said that dialogues about history between the two nations had started in Gdansk, earlier than in Lublin or Przemyśl.
He stated that in the 1990s – the models of reconciliation which had been employed by the government, was based on unveiling and restoring places important to former polish communities in Ukraine, such as the Cemetery of the Defenders of Lwów and other such places. He said that Polish and Ukrainian memories about the war were not in unison with one another. He said that Poland’s nostalgia for the ‘Kresy’ region, now in Ukraine, was parallel to the Ukrainian nostalgia for their former lands in Poland.
He recalled the anniversary of ‘Akcja Wisła’ and mentioned the town of Radyma, where during the war, the population had been split 50-50 between Poles and Ukrainians. He said that in Piskorowice, there is no dispute over history.
He stated that not addressing history and memory, would result in it being colonised by populists.
Mariusz Sawa turned to Danuta Kuroń and the incident that occurred at the Cemetery in Pikulice. He referred to Kuron’s apologies to the Ukrainians at Pikulice and asked, how can we reach reconciliation?
Kuroń responded by saying we need to focus on what has divided us. She stated that during the 1000 year history of Ukraine, Poland had twice been the aggressors. She said we could not let the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) be the only one to deal with Polish-Ukrainian history, but that there should be departments of Ukrainian studies at Polish universities, staffed by Ukrainians and that we should study Ukrainian history and not just occupy ourselves with memory. She referenced the books of historian Timothy Snyder and stated that for foreigners, it is easier to look at difficult history from a wider perspective.
She then talked about the Kuroń Foundation, which wants to create an independent ‘self governing civil society’ – a phrase coined by Kuroń during his time as a member of KOR (Worker’s Defence Commitee). She said that even if we create institutions, they must be self governing.
Her final thought was that today, Ukrainians in Poland, had come to be seen in the same way as the pre-war Jews and she expressed her worries that Ukrainians had come to be at the forefront of attack.
Models of Reconciliation – Panel 2 – Threat of Blurring of Crimes
Zbigniew Gluza opened by saying that the eradication of memory about historical crimes first began to be practiced under Communism. In the mid 1980s, the genocide of the Jews was sidelined. He said that when in the 1980s, Malgorzata Niezabitowska was in the process of writing a book about the last 10 Jews in Lublin, no questions were asked about what happened to the Jews. Only in 1987, the Eastern Archive was the first to try to give a voice to those who had been sent to the concentration camps.
Under Communism, a database was kept about Poles who had been repressed under the Soviet regime, but no such database was kept on the crimes committed by the Germans on the Jews in Poland.
He expressed the view that in the first half of the 20th century, Poland did not have a historical policy at all.
He referenced Jerzy Giedroyc, editor and creator of Kultura Paryska who stated that the reconciliation between Poland and Ukraine is fictitious, because there is no understanding between the two nations.
He said that relations between Poland and the Czech Republic and Poland and Lithuania were even worse than those between Poland and Ukraine.
Speaking about Smarzowski’s film ‘Wolyń’, he said that the film was consistent with accounts of those who had survived the massacre so in this sense it was a film which was ground in truth, though he stated that it was important to understand that the film shows only one perspective. He stated his belief that Ukrainians were not ready to see such brutal images and to see their fault and that the film could have a profoundly negative effect on Polish-Ukrainian relations.
Moving to speak about his organisation, Karta, Gluza said that Karta had begun a Polish-Ukrainian dialogue in 1994 through the launch of a conference, but that at the time, no newspaper had reported on the event.
He ended by saying that every anniversary of the Wolyń massacre to date, has been a missed opportunity to establish a Polish-Ukrainian dialogue and that the film ‘Wolyń’ was a strong picture of a massacre which had for many years been covered up.
Leszek Buller stated his belief that historians should not be the only ones to research and analyse historical events but that what is needed is an interdisciplinary approach.
He said that people were afraid to remember, that they were scared of the repercussions if they started to talk openly about it and that we had to be wary of all forms of historical propaganda.
Tatevik Hakobyan spoke from the perspective of Armenia. She said that in 2015, Armenia marked the 100 year anniversary of the Armenian genocide, whilst on 21st September 2016, Armenia celebrated 25 years since its independence from Russian occupation.
Between 1915-1918, the Ottoman Empire in Armenia, in which the Turkey sought to eradicate the Armenian population, seeing Armenians as an obstacle to the development of Turkey.
Hakobyan said that at the genocide commemorations each year, Armenia commemorates all other genocides alongside the Armenian genocide. She recalled that the Armenian genocide is still unpunished, that Turkey has not been held to account for this crime and that Turkey had tried to cover up information about the genocide so that people would not know about it.
She said that France, Germany and Argentina are the only countries which have officially recognised the Armenian genocide. Every year, the genocide is commemorated, but Turkey does not want to admit that the genocide took place and she feels that it will never do so, because it is too political. Nonetheless, she said that Armenians were intent on keeping memory alive, so that it would never happen again.
She also said that Young Turks and Armenians have good relations and realise the need for openness in future cooperation with one another.
Larissa Sulejman spoke about the Chechnyan wars and said she did not feel a hatred towards the Russians. She said nationalities do not matter as we have a lot in common. She said that as a child, she had been taught by her parents and those around her, not to speak about their deportation to Kazakhstan in school or with her friends.
Kamil Kamiński He also stated that we must remember that when our lives are in danger, morality disappears and we have to be aware of the fact that in such circumstances, we act irrationally. He also spoke about the concept of inherited trauma and that children of those who have experienced trauma, are also traumatised even though they have not experienced trauma first hand. He said that people who have experienced trauma, often want some kind of justice, but firstly, they themselves have to be willing to accept their trauma.
Larissa Sulejman said that her father had been unable to forgive, but stated that hatred was a difficult weight to bear for a person and that reconciliation was a very individual issue.
Zbigniew Gluza added his thoughts that no nation is ever made up entirely of aggressors. He said that at the time, Poland was not ready to look closely at what Russia was doing in Chechnya. He said the Russian memorial to victims of the wars was very important also for relations between Russia and Chechnya.
Piotr Tyma added his thoughts during the Q&A, recalling that Karta had published a book which had for the first time sought to challenge the stereotype of Poles as infallible heroes. He spoke about the return of thousands of people to the Lublin region in 1956, who had earlier been deported as part of ‘Akcja Wizła.
Zbigniew Gluza said that Polish-Ukrainian dialogue would only be constructive if we came to objectify the losses on both sides and stated that NGOs would be the only ones that could help do this.
Models of Reconciliation – Panel 3 – Memory of the Borderlands
Alina Dzeravianka said that her experience of Brest was that the official narrative of the city was based more on national history than the perspective of the border. She said living in a border city allowed for an exchange of cultures and religions.
Olexander Boichenko talked about his experience of living in the border city of Czerniowce in Western Ukraine. He said that the mayor of Czerniowce during WWII had been a Romanian, who saved 20,000 Jews, but that this was a story which barely anyone knew. He said that during WWII, life in border towns was very rich culturally.
Alexander Suhak was born in Biskupiec and brought up in Olsztyn. He talked about the memorial monument in Mysliborz a city which had become Polish only after WWII.
Wanda Kościa talked about how her parents arrived in London after the Warsaw Uprising but her mother had been from Krzeminiec and her grandfather had been curator at the Museum of Krzemieniec.
Alexandra Zińczuk asked whether the image of the borderland as a utopian, unspoilt land that we remember from our childhoods as a land of many cultures, was a myth or still exists?
Wanda Kościa stated that her grandmother had been a councillor in Krzemieniec and was always elected by the minorities in the town. She recalls that there were certainly problems between numerous nationalities, but also good relations. She talked a little bit about her inspiration for the documentary ‘My Friend, My Enemy’, which came after a meeting with Mirek Krajewski, who had suggested that he wanted to make a film about the righteous Ukrainians.
Alexander Suhak stated that it was only in the 1990s, had he learned about crimes committed by Poles against Germans after WWII. Before that, the only narrative had been of evil German and the good Pole. He referenced an earlier film made by Wojciech Smarzowski about crimes against Germans in Prussia.
Olexander Boichenko said that Czerniowce was only a utopian myth in the German speaking world where it is considered a kind of arcadia. It was once considered to be ruled by Germans with the passengers being Jews and Ukrainians. He says Jews did not try to emphasise their identity at the time, but it was possible for all nationalities to get along and engage in dialogue. He talked about the idea propagated by elites that Bukowina is multi-cultural. He said also that Czerniowce was the first place where Jews were recognised as an ethnic minority and not a faith. Petro Rychło cultivated Jewish culture in the German language.
He said that it is a myth that in Czerniowce, everyone co-existed without any problems. He referenced the theory that when the ‘other’ is part of your existence, they cease to become the ‘other’ and everyone integrates without problem, but stated his belief that this was too utopian. He said that his impression from reading biographies of people connected to Czerniowce, was that Jews did not notice the Ukrainians, the Ukrainians the Jews and so on, however even though the situation was not utopian, nevertheless, different nationalities co-existed peacefully until WWII.
Dzeravianka stated that in Brest, the multiculturalism of the city was not something that is taught in schools, only once you begin to study oral history, you can see that Brest is significant to numerous nations. She stated that only when individuals begin to look into their family history and the mixture of nationalities that official narratives can be challenged.
Suhak said that together with his foundation ‘Foundation Borussia’, they had published and translated nearly the whole of the literature written on the topic of German longing for the regions of Eastern Prussia. He also spoke about the ‘Island of Children’ project, a Ukrainian – German project bringing together volunteers to help conserve monuments significant to minorities. He talked about his experience of seeing a group of Russians arriving in the Mazury region as part of the project and how one of them had told him that participating in the project had changed his life. Suhak said we must practice ‘open regionlaism’. He ended by musing on the question, how do we define a borderland?
Dzeravianka said that with her foundation ‘Twierdza Brzesc’, they try to tell a wider history about Brest than the one which is taught in schools. They want younger people to learn about the Jewish history of Brest. She said that history was more than just WWII. In the projects run by her foundation, they want to involve local people and youth and said that in her experience, she had encountered people who were very open to learning a different perspective about the city.
Wanda Kościa said that memory about the borderlands was a very niche topic and that not many people know about it.
Alexandra Zińczuk asked the panel whether there is future potential in the borderlands or whether they are places which are under threat of slowly becoming lost forever?
Kościa said that there are a lot of great initiatives from the borderlands which are being heard about more widely. She said it was interesting for her to visit the Wolyń countryside and that she was shocked by how great an effect history still has there and that people are afraid to talk about it, but she said the last traces of history and the people who remembered the massacre were slowly dying out in Wolyń.
Suhak said that even though Warmiua and Mazury is a poor region he is optimistic about its future.
Boichenko said that in Czerniowce, the majority of current inhabitants arrived in the city after the war and that traditions are still cultivated in the city.
Dzeravianka said that in her view, there is great potential in border regions as the setting places for cultural events and said she hoped Brest would not only be known for being a border city.
Boichenko said that in Czerniowce, people proudly talked about the city’s multiculturalism, but that this was no longer the present reality of the city, but that the golden age of Czerniowce’s multiculturalism had passed. But he was optimistic about the future. Citing Mikhail Baktin who said that the ‘culture is former on the boundaries’, he said that in Czerniowce people do not seek to eradicate the differences between nationalities.
Shustak said that the greatest ethnic minority in the Mazury region were Ukrainians. He said that in the borderlands, memory would always be a strong element of these places because every individual has their own memories.
Models of Reconciliation – Panel 4 – Survivors and Saviours
Alexandra Zińczuk asked the panellists to say a little about their own experiences of working on a difficult topic which is not mainstream and asked what had influenced them to work in this area.
Leon Popek said that for him it was an obvious decision to want to work on research about the Wolyń Massacre. His mother came from Wola Strawiecka and his father from Gaj. On 30 August 1943, at dawn, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) attacked these and other villages. In Wola Strawiecka more than 570 people died, in Gaj around 600. In total, from his mother and father’s side, around 30 people died in the Wolyń Massacre. He grew up hearing about the massacre from his parents and with their questions, asking why did this happen, Poles had always lived there, for over 400 years, Poles felt they had done nothing wrong and lived in good relations, so why had this happen. He decided to research and analyse this history, because he wanted to find answers to this question, why did Wolyń happen? He decided to study history at KUL, hoping he would gain the knowledge and the skills to be able to discover the answers. At KUL he met Jerzy Kłoczowski, a renowned historian who, when Leon told him about his family story, told him that he must start collecting testimonies and to start quickly. He told Leon to first start collecting testimonies from the elderly, those who still remembered the massacre and that he should collect these into a drawer and in time, these testimonies would be vitally important. Leon described how he took this to heart and bought a recorder, this was 1978 and he set out, firstly with his mother, and began collecting testimonies. He said how he will never forget his first testimony, a Ukrainian who was the only one to escape from a place were 233 others had been killed, he had been wounded 6 times. 2 or 3 weeks after the recording, he found out the man had died. His second testimony, a month later, was a lady who also died not long after the interview. He said how he started to feel that it was some sort of fate, wherever he went and interviewed people, they died soon after the interview, but he said explained it to himself that people are waiting to talk about these traumas that they carry inside themselves. He said that he has collected over 2500 testimonies to date, interviews, letters, documents and said it was a pity that he had not managed to collect more and reach more people.
He said that a generation of people had passed away who were waiting to communicate their memories and traumas, but there weren’t enough people like him, to collect these memories. He said that people felt a sense of relief after sharing their memories with him. Many books would not have been able to be written without the testimonies he collected, and now, there are hardly any witnesses left. He said that he feels it is our great loss that we did not better utilise these witnesses of history. He also said that he does his work from a sense of duty, through collecting testimonies, etc, he is able to pay a debt to those who do not have graves, 95% of those who died in Wolyń, did not have Catholic funerals and not have graves or crosses on graves. He also said that his work was paying a debt to his grandmother from his father’s side, who survived because she was saved by a righteous Ukrainian, Ivan Potocki. He described feeling grateful to him and his regret about not being able to do more.
Patrycja Dołowy said that her family had also inspired her. Her Jewish identity was something her family knew about, but it wasn’t something obvious and not something that was talked about openly. She said that finding out more about her family’s history had become important to her after she became a mother.
Alexandra Hnatiuk talked about coming from a family of multi nationalities, amongst them Ukrainian heritage and how both of her parents carried trauma within them. She said that she and her family had experienced hatred from Poles. She said that she tries not to divide stories into Polish, Ukrainian, Jewish or others, but to focus on individual human trauma. She also said there had been a lack of information about the Holocaust during the Communist period, which meant that she began writing about it.
Adam Kopciowski said that in Poland, there is still prejudice against ethnic minorities and it is better not to mention if you are from mixed heritage. He said that his own mixed heritage, led him to want to work in issues to do with multiculturalism. He said that before 1939, multiculturalism had been something obvious and unquestioned in Polish society.
Alexandra Zińczuk asked the panel about the status of righteous among the nations and asked them to give a few examples of survivors and saviours
Adam Kopciowksi said that every theory is a generalisation and that while some individuals could be painted in black or white, for others, there were grey areas that prevent us from seeing them as entirely good or evil. To illustrate his point, he gave the example of Leopold Socha who had been a criminal, but extraordinary circumstances turned him into a hero. For his second example, Kopciowski talked about Mr Sendlak, who saved Jews in Zamość but was not recognised as Righteous among the Nations in Yad Vashem, because in order to be recognised at Yad Vashem, the act of heroism had to be put forward by the victims who had been saved. He said for Sendlak, it would now be difficult to get recognition for him.
Alexandra Hnatiuk talked about Agnieszka Holland’s film ‘In Darkness’ in which she showed Leopold Socha’s moral transformation. She said this was done didactically. She said that in her books, she wanted to based her characters on direct accounts. She said Holland’s film was the fourth film production which focused on stories of Jews being saved by being hidden in the sewers of Lwów. She then moved to mention a document, which first appeared in 1945 which was based on the firsthand testimony of Ignacy Chiger , documents which are today kept in Moscow. She said there was a book published in Russian, based on this account. She also talked about the example of her grandmother who helped to hide her Jewish friend, saying that for her, she felt a duty of solidarity to help her friend, and that it was also her maternal instinct to help.
Patrycja Dołowy said that the narratives about survivors and saviours were present in Warsaw, but were hidden somewhere beneath the surface and hard to find. She questioned why the individual stories were not in the public space, though said that these were not stories for a monument, so to give a voice to these individual stories, it is necessary to create a space where they can be told. She also spoke about the story of her uncle and his extraordinary experiences as a 6 year old in the Lódz ghetto. He lived by hiding in a cubby hole. When the order was given by the chief of the Lodz Ghetto Hans Biebów for all the inmates to present themselves, her uncle left his hiding place to stand with everyone else, but when Biebów saw him, he spared him, asking him to go and hide. In this extraordinary way, he survived when everyone else perished.
She said that this and one other example were the basis for the theatrical production ‘Hideout/Kryjówka’.
Leon Popek said that stories about righteous Ukrainians were still very young. He talked about Adrej Madej who had planted roses and put up a monument in honour of the righteous Ukrainians but that this had not been reported widely in any newspapers. He described the term ‘Righteous Traitors’ and talked about his personal experiences of how 20 years ago, he had gone to visit the Wolyń region together with his father and his father’s family. He said that whilst they were there, at local Ukrainians came and his father had the impression that one of them was the man who saved him, it turned out that it wasn’t his saviour, but that his saviour’s son was still alive and they went to see him. His father then asked Leon Popek to thank the man for having saved his grandmother. Leon Popek described how he had been completely unprepared for such a moment and had no idea how to thank someone for saving another person’s life. He said that after the trip, he took down the names of those Ukrainians who had acted as saviours and presented a list of names by letter to the President of Poland, but received no reply. He said it was sad that we did not know how to thank them and said that we should acknowledge their acts of kindness.
Alexandra Zińczuk asked the panel to discuss the challenges in using witness testimonies.
Alexandra Hnatiuk said that national narratives do not allow us to fit in stories which do not fit the official narrative and that there was a problem with integrating different memories and perspectives. She said this was true both on the Polish and Ukrainian sides. She said that national narratives focus their attention only on heroes and villain. She also said that, using the example of her grandmother, those who saved others, did not always wish for their actions to be honoured or remembered, though she said this was probably because of fear, because her grandmother was honoured a few years later.
Adam Kopciowski said that the schematic process of awarding honours, which is run by Yad Vashem, contributes to people seeing things in black and white terms as only the countless few have a chance to receive a medal due to the conditions which have to be met. He also said that for a long time, he could not understand the ungratefulness of those who had been saved but did not come forward to recognise and thank their saviours. He said that after 1967, Polish-Jewish relations reached a stasis in which the awarding of medals by Yad Vashem was treated with suspicion.
Leon Popek said that in his experience of collecting evidence about the righteous Ukrainians, he found that a lot of people were scared to talk about it. He said this was because the heroes of the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) were being glorified by some in Ukraine. In light of this, he said, the stories about those who helped to save Poles, became something Ukrainians were scared to talk about. He said that it was a worrying sign when people are afraid to talk about the most virtuous acts of man.
In a question and comment from the audience, a participant stated his belief that the unwillingness and fear of Ukrainians to talk about history was clearly connected to the political situation in the country. He asked the panel whether they thought Smarzowski’s film ‘Wolyń’ would be an occasion for greater integration or of rubbing salt into old wounds and whether now was the right time for the release of such a film?
Alexandra Hnatiuk said that there is never a right time. She said that almost 70 years have passed since the war, therefore if now was not the right time, when would be? She said that when she hears about the fear of those who are asked to give testimonies, it is not knew, as the fear was always there and there were many reasons for fear and different degrees of oppression which people feared depending on what country they found themselves in. She said that in Ukraine, fear is still present and that Ukrainian politicians were playing a dangerous game.
Patrycja Dołowy said that there is an absence of narratives about Jews who saved other Jews, but that the dominant narrative was still of Jews as the victims.
Leon Popek said that we often hear that now is not the right time for a film like ‘Wolyń’, but he said he thinks now is the right time. He said that in Wolyń, there are still 55,000 unburied Poles. He said that because of this, the film would be difficult for Poles and not just Ukrainians. He said that trauma is inherited from generation to generation.
Adam Kopciowski closed the debate with his thoughts that we must depart from schematic thinking, because it creates a falsification of history.
Models of Reconciliation – Panel 5 – From Crisis to Freedom
Andrij Savanec opened by saying that when we think about reconciliation, we must also think about what divides us. We speak about wanting to create unity but how do we see our role in bringing about unity?
Zbigniew Bujak said that he will approach the discussion from the perspective of his own experiences (mainly with the Solidarity movement). He said that in Poland, it had taken a long time for Poles to come to terms with what happened at the town of Jedwabne and still today, police have to guard the monument to the victims for fear that it will be destroyed. This shows there is still a long road ahead to truly come to terms with Jedwabne. Bujak moved to talking about the Gdańsk agreement, 1980, which came about through a successful Solidarity strike in which Solidarity won the right to free trade unions. He said that anti-Semitism in Poland was still strong and that it was clear to see in the public sphere. He said that when they held meetings of Solidarity, anyone who spoke anti-Semitic words was immediately escorted out of the discussion room. He said the chief success of the Round Table talks, was not only the promise of political change, but the victory of workers winning the right to have their voices heard.
He also spoke briefly about the work of the Polish-German Reconciliation Foundation and mentioned Bishop Kominek who observed and documented the ill treatment of Germans displaced from the Western regions of Poland, information which did not reach a wider public consciousness.
He said that in Polish-Ukrainian relations, we often hear about apologies and forgiveness, but in his view, reconciliation can only be reached once we have reconciliation at the individual level.
Grzegorz Gauden recalled the topic of the Armenian genocide from the earlier panel discussion, saying it was an important issue in the Polish-Ukrainian context. He said that, regardless of nationality of the victims, both Poles and Ukrainians are carriers of trauma and this trauma passes from one generation to the next. He said that as a child and young adult, he had learnt the narrative that Poles were the most tolerant nation and treated all other nationalities well. He says that only later, he came to revise this view. He said that journalists had been unwilling to write about the events that took place at Jedwabne. He made reference to the controversial book ‘Neighbours’, published by Jan Gross, about which there are many disputes in Poland and which is written about Jedwabne. He went on to say that in 2001, at the commemoration ceremony to mark the anniversary of Jedwabne, no representatives from the Polish Catholic church came to participate. He said the Polish Roman Catholic Church had acted in a cowardly manner and the people who attended the ceremony were left only with a priest who tried to tell them that the massacre by Poles hadn’t happened. He also said that the chief of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance could not bring himself to public declare that Poles had killed Jews at Jedwabne. Gauden stated that he believes that part of our national identity must also be based on accepting the crimes Poles have committed in our history. To illustrate the anti-Semitism which he believes was present in Poland before and during WWII, he said that Poles who had hidden Jews during WWII, were not scared of Germans, but other Poles who would denounce them to the Germans for helping Jews. Spekaing about Polish –Jewish relations, which he referred to ironically as a Polish – Jewish monologue, he said that what was positive is that the monologue was increasingly becoming a dialogue.
Stefan Bartuch said that every crisis situation has in it the potential for inspiring positive actions and emotions. He said that the border between Poland and Ukraine, physically divides the two nations and on both sides, we can find towns were there were fratricidal massacres. He said that in recent years, an idea had been put forward to organise a meeting of Poles and Ukrainians in these border towns. He said that majors of towns had initially been sceptical and considered the meetings as potentially dangerous but that the meetings have now been taking place for over a decade and the majors of more and more towns near the border on both sides are coming forward with the desire to organise host meetings in their towns. He said people in these towns want to live in harmony with one another and maintain neighbourly relations.
Bartuch then talked about suffering, saying it was hard to measure suffering but that suffering could have a purifying effect. He said that memory about difficult historical events could have many different aims, but said that researching difficult memories for the purposes of integration was the right thing to do, as opposed to using it to open old wounds and accuse one another.
Ojciec Sergei said that as Christians, we must look from the perspective of other people. He said he had always been in awe of the way in which Solidarity worked in Poland. He said that during the Majdan protests people of all different faiths came together to pray together. He talked also about his social work. He said that often when people need help, they turn to the church. As an example of Polish-Ukrainian cooperation, he gave the example of the ‘Days of Henryk Sienkiewicz’ taking place in Lwów and organized by an organisation from Wroclaw. He said that although he believes it is important that we speak about the massacres on both sides, we must move past them. He said that the aim of memories about the atrocities was to ensure that Poles and Ukrainians would never attack one another again. He also gave the example of the town of Cieszyn, whose left bank lies in Czechia and right bank in Poland, they are known as Polish Cieszyn and Czech Cieszyn. He said that inhabitants of both sides cross over to the other side and both Czechs and Poles live harmoniously.
Andrij Savanec said that crises can be catalysts for change and asked the panel at what point are we on the road from crisis to freedom?
Zbigniew Bujak said that he thinks we have achieved a lot. He said that Europe has developed itself through crises, through the way in which it has dealt with these crises. He said that he was very critical of the Polish-Wolyń Act from July 2016. He said that in his view the use of the term genocide had been wrongly used.
Talking about Smarzowski’s film ‘Wolyń’, he said that if the film came to be seen as a great work of art, then it should be immune from political questions and seen as a work of art.
Bujak said that since the 1970s, he has met many people who remember the Wolyń massacre or have a personal connection to it. He said that for the victims, the film would create huge emotions, in the sense that others would now also be able to feel and share in their trauma. He said that if we are able to interpret the sense of the film correctly, then the film would have a positive impact in that the victims would cease to feel abandoned.
Gauden said the only sense that we needed to extract from the memory of Wolyń is that both sides were at fault.
Stefan Bartuch said that he felt that Polish-Ukrainian understanding had already been reached on a societal level and said that sometimes we unnecessarily seek out the dark sides in relations between the two nations. He said that he felt that sometimes, bringing skeletons out of the closet was an obstacle to dialogue and reconciliation.
Piotr Tyma added his thoughts to the debate from the audience, saying that the massacre as an element of our present identity was something that refused to go away. Making reference to Smarzowski’s Wolyń, he said that he felt it was based on an oversaturation of brutalism which would kill any reflective instinct in viewers of the film. He said the film was made to conform to a very narrow theory and was not an intellectual invitation to reconciliation. He said that Claude Lanzmann’s ‘Shoah’, was a better film, which had been banned from being screened during the Communist period. He said that in Ukraine, there were people who were not afraid to speak the truth.
Alexandra Zińczuk commented that it was dangerous to mix memory and history and that we must keep working on memory.
Tayevik Hakobyan spoke from the audience to add her thoughts saying that she was surprised to hear that people felt fear in talking about the Wolyn massacre. She said that for Armenians, it was not an option to not speak about the genocide, as Armenians understand that it needs to be talked about so that it does not happen again.
Noted by Blanka Konopka, UK
Ed. Alexandra Zińczuk