History is bunk
Among the most successful aspects of Ukraine’s foreign policy since independence has been the development of cordial relations with Poland. Now, however, a ridiculous dispute over the wording of an inscription on a tomb in a Lviv cemetery has been blown out of proportion, casting a shadow over the relationship. The conflict underlines how dangerous it is to allow historical grudges to cloud policy judgment.
As a model of relatively smooth transition to a market economy and open society, Poland has taken upon itself the unofficial role of a slightly condescending “older brother,” guiding Ukraine slowly toward integration with European and Euro-Atlantic structures. In recent years, the close personal bond that has formed between the countries’ presidents has exemplified this fraternal role. With the tape scandal that erupted last year and Ukraine’s growing closeness to Russia, Poland’s Aleksander Kwasniewski has been virtually the only prominent European leader to maintain ties with President Leonid Kuchma. Meanwhile, military cooperation between the two countries has developed through joint exercises and the formation of a Polish-Ukrainian battalion, which is preparing to join the U.N.’s Balkan peacekeeping force. The mood of reconciliation between the two nations was epitomized when hundreds of thousands of Poles and Ukrainians gathered to hear Pope John Paul II address a sermon near Lviv last summer.
The current Ukrainian-Polish rapprochement has, in fact, is taken so much for granted that it comes as something of a shock to be reminded that there is a long history of enmity between the two countries. This bad blood goes back at least as far as the 17th century and Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s bloody rebellion against Polish rule and continues well into the 20th century.
The dispute over the cemetery has in fact been simmering for the best part of a decade. It came to a head again last week when the Lviv City Council refused to accept the text for a memorial agreed upon by representatives of the two governments. As a result, President Kwasniewski cancelled a visit to Lviv to dedicate the monument, claiming the Council’s decision did not fit the spirit of “partnership and reconciliation” between the countries.
None of the sides involved – neither the Polish and Ukrainian governments, nor the Lviv city authorities – emerges with much credit from the situation. It has arisen due to intransigence and insensitivity on all sides. The Poles seem to have shown the arrogance of an “older brother” by insisting on language they knew would offend some Ukrainian sensibilities. The government in Kyiv fueled the fire by agreeing to the text over the head of the Lviv council. Finally, the Lviv council, urged on by a handful of hotheads, refused to back down, even at the cost of exacerbating bilateral relations. There is no reason for this dispute to permanently poison Ukrainian-Polish relations. However, it exemplifies what can happen when negative historical stereotypes and ancient grudges are permitted to prevail over national interest. The rights and wrongs of history should be left to historians, for they have no place on the political agenda. If Ukrainian-Polish relations are to be raised to a new level, and if Poland is to fulfill its chosen role as an engine driving Ukraine’s Euro-integration, then the burden of the past should be discarded.
Cemetery of Young Eagles: Compromise Deferred
Negotiations back to square one?By Viktor ZAMYATIN, The Day
¹16 May 21 2002
The efforts of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reach a compromise with the Polish side over the Cemetery of Young Eagles (Cmentarz Orlat) were never successful. Interfax-Ukraine quotes Leszek Ostrowski, press attachÎ at the Embassy of Poland in Ukraine, as saying on May 17 that the president of Poland has canceled his visit to Lviv for the May 21 summit with his Ukrainian counterpart. According to Mr. Ostrowski, the Polish president made this decision because some problems connected with unveiling a memorial to Polish soldiers in Lviv have not been solved. On May 17, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Press Service released a statement saying that “certain forces” in the Lviv City Hall took a stand which “fails to take account our national interests.” The ministry holds the same forces “responsible for the current situation.”
Lviv City Council deputies decided on May 16 to open the Polish military cemetery on May 21. The city council’s decision, regarded as a compromise, runs counter to the protocol signed by the Ukrainian and Polish delegations last December. In particular, the protocol says that the memorial should include monuments to the US and French servicemen who fought in the Polish Army in 1919-1920 during the war between Poland and the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic (ZUNR), as well as the figures of lions holding shields inscribed Always Loyal and To Thee, Poland. Moreover, the Polish side expressed a desire that the memorial display a picture of the sword of King Boleslaw the Brave who captured Kyiv in 1018. The mass grave was to have a plate inscribed “To the Unknown Polish Soldiers Who Died Heroically for Poland in 1918-1920.” The Lviv City Council decided to delete the word heroically and not to put up tombstones to the US and French soldiers. The resolution says nothing at all about lions with shields. All the inscriptions should be repeated in Ukrainian. Ukrainian diplomats do not hide that it would be in the interests of Ukraine today to open the Cemetery of Young Eagles, taking into maximum account Polish wishes. Minister Zlenko said in this connection that there will always be some causes for dissatisfaction, but there is an official policy that meets the interests of all Ukrainian citizens and his ministry will be guided by this policy only. Polish diplomats say they are certain that “several individuals cannot affect relations between the two countries.”
All these statements would stand to reason but for a few buts. Obviously, those who drew up the presidents’ agreement failed to foresee all the consequences. Nothing was done to bring the Lviv position closer to the official one and the Polish position to the Ukrainian one. Or perhaps this was done without visible results. If a serious public opinion survey had been done in order to carry out comprehensive work on this matter, if the results of this survey had been used by diplomats, and if these arguments had been taken into account for drafting presidential decisions and finding a reasonable compromise, then there would hardly arise a situation such that Lviv residents, who find it psychologically difficult to accept a memorial to those who fought against independent Ukraine, would be so actively and massively protesting the official stand.
Thus the problem is not only in the way the Cemetery of Young Eagles will look. The problem is of symbolic importance for both the Poles and the Ukrainians. For this reason, one should have begun with finding a common ground for compromise. The mistakes first of all come from the unwillingness to reckon with and influence pubic opinion. This has provoked a situation such that even a Poland theoretically as friendly as possible gains an opportunity to exert diplomatic pressure no matter how the Cemetery of Young Eagles problem is handled, which is considered an inadmissible mistake in international diplomacy.
P.S. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has apologized to Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski for the delay in unveiling the monument. “I apologize to Poland, to Poland’s President Aleksander Kwasniewski, that we failed to carry out this measure (opening the cemetery) and pay tribute to (their memory) at the time agreed upon,” Presidential Press Secretary Olena Hromnytska cited President as saying.