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Giedroyc lives on

Every few years in Poland there is a call to depart from the so-called “Giedroyc doctrine”. This is a philosophy about Eastern Europe that was proposed by Jerzy Giedroyc, the editor-in-chief of the 20th century Polish émigré journal Kultura.

June 27, 2018 - Adam Balcer - Hot Topics

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko meets with Polish President Andrzej Duda during the 2016 NATO Summit. Photo: (CC) Kancelria Prezydenta RP.

Critics of this idea point to the invalidity and outdated nature of this vision which assumed that Poland’s stability and security is dependent on the independence of Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine. Among them include the former minister of internal affairs and specialist in Eastern studies Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz as well as, more recently, Wojciech Konończuk an analyst with the Warsaw-based think tank: the Center for Eastern Studies.

In his recent text titled Why Poland needs a post-Giedroyc doctrine towards Ukraine?, which was first published in Polish in the paper edition of Nowa Europa Wschodnia and then translated into English and republished online by New Eastern Europe, Konończuk states that the Giedroyc doctrine has fulfilled its historical role. In his view, the “most important element of this policy was to recognise the right to self-determination of the subdued nations and renounce any territorial claims Poland might have towards them”. Konończuk also argues that as “Kyiv left the Russian sphere of influence and univocally strategically shifted to the West, there will be no returning to the Ukrainian-Russian relations of the past, as Kyiv has irreversibly achieved agency”.

While presenting such opinions he should take into account the possible scenario of Ukraine transforming into a failed state, however unlikely this may seem. This would be caused by the internal crisis and the actions of outside forces. This then would have a tremendously negative impact on Ukraine’s independence. Konończuk seems not to notice the fundamental importance of the European idea that came from the doctrine and made no references to Juliusz Mieroszewski’s idea (supported by Giedroyc) for the need to reconstruct the Polish national identity. Notably, such a reconstruction was perceived as a key condition for the success of Poland’s Eastern Policy while the vision of its final implementation included Poland’s and Ukraine’s membership in a united Europe. When taking these two factors into account, it turns out that the Giedroyc doctrine has not lost any of its validity it nor has it been fulfilled. On the contrary: from a long-term and strategic perspective, it can be said that Ukraine’s independence, Poland’s renouncement of its territorial claims towards Ukraine’s western territories and even Poland’s membership in the European Union are signs of only the primary implementation of the doctrine.

Europe, above all!

Konończuk claims that Polish foreign policy thinking is based on an unquestioned “thesis, created half a century ago by Kultura, which claims that Poland’s standing in the East determines its position in the West”. However, he concludes that, “the developments across Poland’s western border will be much more important”. Yet, Giedroyc’s genius lied in the holistic approach which assumed a foreign policy concept with both eastern and western parts functioning as connecting vessels and not closed chapters. It was as early as 1953 when the editorial team of Kultura announced: “Poland can regain and maintain its independence only in the framework of a federalised Europe. We claim that the right to participate in the future project of European federalisation belongs not only to the nations that were independent in 1939 but also to Ukrainians and Belarusians. Considering the danger of Russian imperialism, both current and future – the creation of an independent Ukraine and its participation in European federalisation is of primary importance for Poland.”

This clear and profound European orientation was best reflected in Mieroszewski’s slogan “Europe, above all!” meaning above the nation-state. What is more, Kultura editors believed that Poland was best to play on two of Europe’s pianos: the western and eastern parts of the continent. Its position in one of the continent’s regions is determined by its influence in the other, and vice versa. Western Europe, however, was seen as the centre of European integration. Within a federated Europe, Poland should find its main ally in Germany, which is also interested in Eastern matters (Ostpolitik).

While recognising Poland’s strategic goals in its policy towards Ukraine when it shows “support towards Ukraine on the international stage, its democratisation and reform process as well as European integration” Konończuk confirms yet the validity of the Giedroyc doctrine. He does not, however, reflect on what Poland can do today given the fact that it is being increasingly recognised as a country of regressing democratisation and collapsing rule of law. Equally important is the fact that Poland’s position today in the European Union is the weakest since the country’s accession in 2004 and its relations with EU institutions, as well as Germany and France, are the worst in its history.

The Polish government has been postponing, ad infinitum, the country’s joining of the Eurozone. The dismantling of the legal system that is taking place now in Poland makes the perspective of introducing the euro in Poland an unreal one, regardless of the current government’s intentions. Meanwhile, before his death Giedroyc had said that Poland should, after joining the European Union, also join the Eurozone.

Poland’s conflicts with key European players also lower the country’s position in Ukraine and makes Poland’s support for Ukraine’s European integration more difficult. Poland’s strategic goals regarding Ukraine, as they are listed by Konończuk, would be much easier to achieve in strict co-operation with Germany and European institutions. While Konończuk is correct in stating that “in the last two years co-operation in some spheres has reached new heights and intensity” it is also certain that Poland’s engagement in Ukraine is insufficient. Consider this: since Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, Poland has increased its development aid (which is of key importance for supporting the pro-European civil society in Ukraine) just by 1.5 times. Canada, on the other hand, increased their aid tenfold.

The most serious crisis since 1991

Konończuk mentions that in the last 25 years Polish-Ukrainian relations were characterised by a serious re-evaluation. To be more bold, one can admit that the two countries are dealing with the most serious crisis in their relations since 1991. Konończuk is also critical of Polish paternalism, pointing out to a few non-diplomatic statements by Polish politicians and mistakes that have been made. Paternalism is hard to eliminate, when Polish-Ukrainian relations are reduced to the conflict over the Volhynia massacre and guilt is mainly attributed to the Ukrainian side. In his view, “Ukrainian decision-makers should … understand that without bold decisions the past will lay a shadow over the relations between our countries and societies for many years to come”. Poles, in his views, have made “years-long efforts to patiently explain our point of view to the Ukrainians. They either do not want to understand it, or they took it as a sign of our weakness because, after all, ‘there is no independent Poland without an independent Ukraine’”.

Konończuk claims that “Giedroyc was not fully aware of the potential of a symbolic and historical disagreement between Poles and Ukrainians”. Konończuk is mistaken in this regard. Giedroyc possessed in-depth knowledge of this concept. Of course, there are elements of Ukraine’s historical policy, including the glorification of UPA, relativisation of the scale of its crime against Poles and a refusal to regard at least some of it as a genocide, that have not helped the historical dialogue.

Having said that, many reservations can also be made towards Ukraine’s image in Polish historiography. I have pointed to this on many occasions in my publications in New Eastern Europe and Nowa Europa Wschodnia. On the Polish side the problem is much wider and more complex than a few non-diplomatic statements. It also goes beyond historiography. It was also discussed in Kultura and especially by Mieroszewski, who thought that the fundamental task to be tackled by the Poles was the “reform of Polishness” (reforma zakonu polskości). For him when “once and for all, we [the Poles – editor’s note], will renounce our traditional-historical imperialism in ALL of its forms and expressions Poland will be able to be anchored in Europe and establish good relations with its eastern neighbours”. Mieroszewski and Giedroyc were proponents of a civic national identity, one which will enable Poles to stop idealising its former eastern territories (Kresy) and being nostalgic of them. It will also be free of the ethnic nationalism that developed in the pre-Second World War nationalistic thinking.

Before his passing, Giedroyc expressed in many interviews and essays, often very strongly, his dissatisfaction with Poland’s post-1989 elite. He criticised them for their failure in building a civic identity and allowing for the growing Kresy nostalgia and nationalist thinking. He believed that the consequences of this negligence will lead to a group that would endanger Poland’s position in the European Union and its relations with Ukraine coming to power.

Unfortunately, the 2015 Polish elections proved that Giedroyc was right. In recent years, opinion polls have been showing signs of increased xenophobia within the Polish society. There is also recorded increase in hate crimes aimed at non-Poles. Considering the small number of immigrants in Poland, the frequency of these incidences is much larger than for example in Spain. Also worth admitting is the fact that Poland is known for underreporting of such crimes by the victims and that the Polish judicial system does not recognise many offences as hate crimes. Quite disturbingly, the Polish state belittles the problem or tolerates it (since 2015 a large number of cases have been dismissed or the offender got a very mild punishment).  What is more, important Polish politicians have a history of making a number of statements that are justifiably regarded by human rights organisations as xenophobic. The increase in xenophobia has started to affect Ukrainians as well, although not to the degree that it affects Muslims and non-white people visiting or living in Poland.

The fundamental difference between Poland and Ukraine lies in the social attitude of one neighbour towards the other. Accordingly, the 2014 research by the International Republican Institute revealed that almost 40 per cent of Ukrainians claimed positive attitude towards Poland while only 14 per cent showed negative attitudes. This data was obtained in the winter, before the Maidan. In the summer, months after the Revolution of Dignity, the pro-Polish attitude further improved and almost 60 per cent of Ukrainians declared positive feelings towards Poland, while only three per cent harboured ill-will. Sociologists explained this increase in positive feelings as gratitude and admiration towards Poland. Surprisingly, Konończuk seems to omit this fact.  

Today, Poles are not only regarded as the most liked neighbour by Ukrainians, but Ukrainians are also the neighbour that likes Poland the most. Paradoxically, positive feelings towards Poles and the most pro-European feelings are expressed by those Ukrainians who also show a positive attitude towards the UPA. In Ukraine, overall, the UPA is regarded as an organisation that was, for the longest time, engaged in a fight for Ukraine’s independence. Their struggle was aimed at the communists in the first place. Unfortunately, Poland has recently started wasting this huge capital of positive feelings that Ukrainians express towards it. The latest research conducted in 2017 shows a fall in positive attitude in Ukraine towards Poland (50 per cent of the surveyed show positive feelings, seven per cent – a lack thereof).

In Poland, for years, less than one third of Poles admitted that they do not like Ukrainians, a similar percentage have showed positive feelings towards them, while the remaining one third have showed a neutral attitude. The Revolution of Dignity did not have much impact on the perception of Ukrainians in Poland. However, the current tensions between Poland and Ukraine, together with the spreading of hate speech towards Ukrainians on the Polish internet, increased substantially negative feelings among the Poles. In an opinion poll conducted in Winter 2018, 40 per cent of Poles declared their antipathy towards Ukrainians and less than 25 per cent, sympathy. The public opinion also shows that among the supporters of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS), as well as those supporting Kukiz ‘15, negative attitudes towards Ukraine is above average. Overall, while in Poland anti-Ukrainian rhetoric can get you votes, in Ukraine (at least for the moment) the anti-Polish rhetoric does not. 

Historical dialogue

By calling Ukrainians to admit their guilt in the Volhynia Massacre, Konończuk shows that the Giedroyc doctrine is relevant today. A paradox again; Giedroyc was of the opinion that modern Polish-Ukrainian history was a “bloody history, but more than anything else, a falsified history, which is only fuel to chauvinistic attitudes on both sides. Thus, the only solution was to speak the full truth, and only the truth”. For Giedroyc clearly the problem was not only on the Ukrainian side.

Kultura started the process of Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation with a very important text published in 1952. It was authored by Józef Łobodowski and titled “Against the demons of the past”. The editors indicated that they agree with the author who wrote, among others, that: “the Polish-Ukrainian dispute did not start in Eastern Małopolska. That is the first thing. This dispute is not limited to the slaughter of Poles by Ukrainians, neither in Ukrainian nor in our history texts. In addition, this coin has its other side as the slaughter took place on both sides … Poles need to understand the psychological attitude of the opposite side. There is no way to effectively cure the wounds, if we do not know their causes … both sides are guilty and we will not make a step forward as long as we deny this sad truth.” For decades both Giedroyc and Mieroszewski supported this viewpoint.

Today, Łobodowski’s argumentation could be the best foundation for breaking the impasse in dialogue with the Ukrainians. However, it does not seem to be compatible with the attitude of Poland’s current authorities. In their view Ukrainians must face the truth (according to a quasi-religious rhetoric) and admit to their sins, meaning fully accept the Polish interpretation of events. The “dialogue” is thus limited solely to the events of the Second World War. At the same time, Poland wants to maintain its right to organise social campaigns that promote the Polish presence in the borderlands (Kresy) and rejects any suggestions about Poland’s colonial past in these areas.

Know thy neighbour – the citizen

For a few decades, Kultura was engaged in popularising Ukrainian history and culture to Polish readers. This fact is almost omitted in Konończuk’s text, which is regrettable as today it is even more relevant than it was ever before. This is true especially when we look at Ukraine’s image among a large number of Poles, including the political elite. We can even talk about Ukraine’s projection. This is a phenomenon known in psychology as a narcissistic defence mechanism which assumes assigning one’s own faults to others. For Poles, Ukraine is radicalising and Stepan Bandera is perceived as Ukraine’s version of Hitler. This attitude prevails despite the fact that it is the Polish, and not Ukrainian, politicians who say that “people from other parts of the world spread diseases and parasites”. At the time when ethnic nationalism is on the rise in Poland, Ukraine is seeing a rebuilding of a civic national identity. A Polish scholar and expert of Ukrainian matters, Ola Hnatiuk, described this process in 2016 saying that “in the last years, we have witnessed a significant change taking place in regards to understanding the nation. Even in the nationalistic interpretation, a Ukrainian is not someone who speaks Ukrainian, not someone who is a Greek Catholic or Orthodox, and not someone who knows the history of his/her state, but someone who is loyal towards this state. This is a Ukrainian patriot. It is no longer the nationality, nor the language or religion that decides who belongs to the Ukrainian nation. The person who started the Revolution of Dignity – the EuroMaidan – was Mustafa Nayyem, who was born in Kabul. He is currently an MP in the Ukrainian Parliament.”

Significant differences between Polish and Ukrainian nationalisms can also be seen in public opinion polls. Based on the data obtained in 2017 by Pew Research Centre almost 60 per cent of Poles stated that it was better for them to live in a country where people are of the same ethnicity, religion and culture. Less than 35 per cent supported a multicultural model. In Ukraine, over half of the respondents opted for a multi-cultural model, while 35 per cent a one-nation model. A large majority of Ukrainians – much larger than that of Poles in this regards – have no problem with the fact that a Muslim person could become a citizen in their country. Also in regards to Jews and the Roma minority, Ukrainians – although to a smaller degree – turned out be more open than Poles, when it came to granting them citizenship.

Should this research be conducted after the recent Polish-Israeli conflict over the law on the Institute of National Remembrance, the difference between Poles and Ukrainians regarding their attitude towards Jews could turn out to be even larger. The developing civic identity of the Ukrainians who at a certain point will also need to confront their murky past is without a doubt closer to Giedroyc and Mieroszewski’s concept of the nation than what we are seeing in Poland today. Perhaps this development is the greatest success of the Giedroyc doctrine?

Translated by Iwona Reichardt

Adam Balcer is head of the foreign policy programme at WiseEuropa, a Polish private think tank. He also works as a national researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and a lecturer at the Centre of East European Studies (SEW) at the University of Warsaw.

This text was originally published in the Polish bimonthly Nowa Europa Wschodnia issue 2/2018.


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