Posts Tagged ‘Poland’

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A rare public word of thanks for a gathering of minds

October 5, 2015

As regular readers will have noticed, there have been no entries at the blog for the past few days owing to your author being in Gdansk at a gathering of some exceptionally sharp minds (your author naturally excluded from that category).

Being fortunate to have the time to attend many such events when invitations are received should your author choose, few words of thanks and even fewer words relating to what was said (Chatham House Rule notwithstanding) following such gatherings have ever been written here.  It is perhaps time to break that unwritten rule and write a few words of genuine appreciation regarding the quality of the event in Gdansk.

Firstly it is right to thank the City of Gdansk for its support for an extremely high quality gathering in what can only be described as a spectacular and atmospheric historical venue.  The type of venue that adds an additional soberness and sharpening of the mind by default.

Secondly, there is a specific need to thank all panelists and moderators, and especially those who listened so attentively to the panel upon which your author sat and opined for 2 hours – and even more so for some very sharp and insightful comments and discussion.

Therefore, and in no particular order, a name check for one of the most erudite, intellectually challenging and stimulating groups it has been your author’s pleasure to mingle with for a very long time – Adamski Lukasz, Anton Barbashin, Fabian Burkhardt, Marek Cichocki, Slawomir Debski, Adam Eberhardt, Geir Flikke, Evgeny Gontmakher, Jonas Gratz, Olga Irisova, Maria Issaeva, Leszek Jesien, Michal Koran, Kadri Liik, John Lough, Lauri Malksoo, Nikolay Petrov, Hans Joachim Spanger, Rafal Tarnogorski, Sergey Utkin and Ernest Wyciszkiewicz – a heart felt thanks for a weekend where lazy thinking was banished and insightful comment was the branding of the entire event both on and off the official clock.

CPRDU

Indeed thanks to all at The Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding who work in the boiler room behind the scenes and made the event run seamlessly.

Lastly many thanks for the invitations to similar events over the coming months in Warsaw, Prague and London being hosted by other equally erudite organisations which appear to present an equally challenging arena.

Before normal service resumes tomorrow with matters Ukrainian, a special note of recognition to  Slawomir Debski who was an extremely engaging and considerate host.

Bravo to all, a very enjoyable and intellectually stimulating weekend  – how rare it is to leave such a gathering and want to keep all the business cards exchanged (rather than throw most of them away)!

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Another international peace format? – Ukraine

August 17, 2015

At the end of last month an entry appeared that briefly mentioned the activities of domestic and foreign intelligence/security agencies active within the Odessa Oblast.

“Further, it gives the Ukrainian SBU, Moldavian SIS and Romanian SIE intelligence services all the more reason to simultaneously be poking about in Mr Cisse’s backyard a little more forcefully/overtly than usual – something that will not sit particularly well for very long.”

Whilst the mention of the Romanian SIE was fleeting, its activities are quite clear for those who care to look.  Romania, after all, has good reason to actively monitor events within Ukraine, and in particular events that are close to its borders – notwithstanding a large number of Romanian passport holders/citizens within Moldova.  A belligerent and truculent Kremlin with a truly dependent vassal in Transnistria is naturally a cause for concern in Bucharest.

Needless to say, relations both security/intelligence and political/diplomatic between Romania and Ukraine have significantly improved since the illegal annexation of Crimea.  It would seem, considering the “blind eye” being turned to SIE activity upon Ukrainian soil, those relations continue to strengthen.

Between 12th and 15th March, Romanian President Iohannis first met then President Komorowski of Poland, and then President Poroshenko (the first visit of a Romanian president to Ukraine for 7 years).  The upshot – “We must increase regional cooperation between Ukraine, Poland and Romania, and create a certain group of solidarity.” – President Iohannis.

To be sure, Romania, Poland and Ukraine (plus Lithuania) have a very clear-eyed understanding of their shared perceived threats – and are the most vocal about them compared to others in the immediate neighbourhood.  These threats it has to be said, are not shared to the same intensity, nor understood to the same degree, by the supranational entities these nations belong to.  Neither the EU nor NATO, consisting of many of the same sovereign parts, see the issues quite the same way as the Poles, Romanians or Lithuanians – not to mention the organisational outsider in both cases, Ukraine (the victim and current front line).

The shared position being to appease or accommodate the current Kremlin is not the answer unless reinforcing a truculent, belligerent, aggressive, unlawful attitude is the desired outcome.  Stand firm now, or stand firm later when the costs and difficulties will be much greater.  In no way should The Kremlin concerns become paramount, thus relegating everybody else’s to much lesser importance – issues your author has written about elsewhere.

It has also come to pass that the PolLitUkr Brigade, an entirely paper entity since its initial floating in 2007, is now a reality headquartered in Poland.  As historical entries relating to the PolLitUkr Brigade have stated – “The assumption by many that two NATO nations creating a brigade with a non-NATO nation would unnecessarily drag NATO into a confrontation with an aggressor against Ukraine is perhaps something of a leap – despite initial appearances.  NATO, like the EU, has no control over the foreign policy of its members – and its members can and do act unilaterally in the militarily sphere without doing so under the NATO flag. “Coalitions of the willing” and all that.”

There are numerous “push” and “pull” forces at work on many levels with regard to the creation of “coalitions of the willing” in the absence of consensus from the broader supranational entities.  The question of continued cohesiveness of the supranational “whole” the most fundamental of those questions.

The most ferociously guarded sovereign spheres within the EU by Member States are those of foreign policy and defence – hence the much (and perhaps rightly) maligned  EEAS is hamstrung from the start with regard to a common defence or common foreign policy that consists of anything more than a consensus driven lowest common denominator.  As almost (but not) all EU Members are NATO members, NATO suffers from similar issues to the EU when it comes to shared threat assessments and associated intensity with which those threats are felt by sovereign capitals.  By extension, the collective response is perhaps not what it could or should be to any identified threat.

Thus “coalitions of the willing” within, and including those without the EU and NATO that share the same threat perceptions with the same intensity and foreboding are an entirely natural result.

It so comes to pass that the newly elected Polish President Andrzej Duda has not only floated the idea, but via Krzysztof Szczerski is going to implement, a new format for “peace talks” relating to Ukraine.  Simply put, President Duda seemingly considers the Normandy Four format unsuitable, unrepresentative and unable to project the thoughts and concerns of the neighbours of Ukraine (and perhaps Ukraine itself).

President Andrzej Duda

President Andrzej Duda

He proposes and is instigating a group of the “strongest States“, including Poland, “to participate in talks on restoring peace“.

Move over France and Germany – Poland, Lithuania and Romania are sitting at the negotiating table too?

Does President Duda bring new ideas and possible solutions to the peace table in lieu of Minsk II? – An agreement that all seem to cling to, otherwise being devoid of other ideas.

If not, this raises the question about the usefulness of any “Duda format” – particularly as the Kremlin will see any new format as robustly (and rightly) in favour of Ukraine losing no more territorial space nor accepting any more political/diplomatic black eyes for organisational time it once needed, but no longer.  Manipulating a hawkish Duda will not be as easy as a dovish Hollande.

Why would the Kremlin entertain sitting down with a “Duda format”, particularly when it can continue to obstruct and obfuscate within the Normandy Four with impunity, whilst hoping to strike deals and talk to the US behind everybody else’s back?  Even downsizing to “Contact Group” talks under the OSCE gaze seeming implies no potential (geo)political gains for a Duda format – and sitting presidents don’t do downsized “Contact Groups” with unrecognised armed groups.

Does President Duda see this newly proposed format as a replacement for the Normandy Four when the Minsk II deadline at the year end passes without Minsk II implementation?  If so what positional shifts does he expect from those positions currently taken by the parties involved?  Who does he expect to shift from their current positions (and what are the ramifications if they do, not just for Ukraine, but for Poland, European and international order)?

Considering the specific Ukraine-centric US-Kremlin communication line, the Normandy Four, existing bilateral and supranational formal channels within numerous involved entities (UN, CoE, EU etc), notwithstanding “Track Two” and other less formal channels., some may wonder what yet another “format/communication/negotiation/diplomatic” platform is likely to achieve where others have failed.

There is no quick fix as long as the Kremlin doesn’t want/need one.

It takes no effort to see that Romania and Poland currently enjoy good strategic partnerships with the US – think missile defence, but it also takes little effort to see that the US is now front and centre leading the western response to the events in Ukraine – both inside and outside of the Ukrainian nation.

Once again, the glacial and inert supranational blob that is the EU is reliant upon a far more nimble trans-Atlantic partner to lead in the immediate matters pertaining to its own European continental security.  The US, in turn, can rely upon the inert EU blob to engage The Kremlin in many years of bureaucratic and technocratic lawfare over the medium term.

Would a “Duda Format” relieve the US of that baton it picked up when Germany ran out of room/desire within the EU constraints?  Is it about political and diplomatic energy?  Does President Duda feel Germany and France are simply flagging and paying grossly insufficient attention to The Kremlin, distracted by other issues?  Is it about Poland taking a lead role in its neighbourhood under new leadership?

The Kremlin has thus far played the game regarding the “Normandy Four” format as far as rhetoric goes – although certainly not as far as action is concerned.  As a result of rhetoric with deliberate lack of action, more importantly for the Kremlin it has publicly achieved its goal of a direct US-Kremlin communication line specifically with regard to Ukraine – exclusive of direct German, French and Ukrainian input.

Whilst the US is very unlikely to strike deals behind the backs of Ukraine, Germany and France, the Kremlin will nonetheless see the publicly acknowledged establishment of this communication channel as a diplomatic and domestic propaganda win when trying to present Russia as a “pole” of global influence to its domestic audience.  It will also, of course, try its very best to get the US to strike deals behind the backs of Ukraine, and the Europeans.

The Europeans collectively have gone as far as the can go being consensus driven, and the “coalitions of the willing” currently beginning to manifest in and of themselves, simply do not currently present the military, political or diplomatic weight to give the Kremlin any pause for thought.

Perhaps therefore, Presidents Duda, Iohannis, Grybauskaitė and others robustly aligned, believe they have levers that will make the Kremlin take note – levers that France and Germany for whatever reason would not use or did not have.  If so what are they?

What does the Kremlin, its inner circle, and the security apparatus that surrounds it care about that has thus far been spared any European attention?

If there is nothing left that has EU consensus, what of the “coalitions of the willing” and Kremlin shenanigans within their nations?  What impact would it have?

A coordinated seizing of Kremlin assets legitimately in line with the Yukos court ruling perhaps?  Reciprocity would naturally follow, but if as with sanctions, Poland, Romania and others are prepared for that, is that a lever worthy of consideration (over and above the legal obligation to enact the court ruling anyway).

What else?  What costs the Kremlin money and time that cannot be swiftly or easily replaced?

A coordinated, former Communist, multi-nation rolling up of Kremlin espionage networks?  Not spies under diplomatic cover that are swiftly and easily replaced, but the illegals where money and time has been spent both on training and integrating such networks in host nations for the purpose of years (perhaps decades) of espionage?

After all, every European nation hosts, and is indeed aware of, Kremlin networks on their soil – whether they roll them up or decide not to.  Rarely if ever has there been a coordinated, multinational rolling up of such Kremlin inserted espionage people.  It would be a major blow with long lasting effect.

Again reciprocity raises its head – but how many illegal networks exist inside Russia run by the Europeans vis a vis those run by the Kremlin within every European nation, and what is lost by who and to what extent if mass roll-ups occur in a coordinated effort?

The targeting and public exposure of all Kremlin sponsored (in full or in part) politicians, political parties, NGOs and media outlets in the European/international media?  Reciprocity is not really an issue here for the “5th Column” has long been targeted by the Kremlin inside Russia.

The coordinated seizing of dirty money/assets (and await the seizing of foreign owned legitimate assets within Russia in response)?  Is there enough dirty money to have an impact within the territory of the “strongest nations” President Duda intends to rally to the “peace” table?

Would the genuine will and ability to arm Ukraine with lethal weaponry tip the balance?  If so, which way?

A “squeeze” on Kaliningrad in some form or another?

What will the “Duda Format” bring to the “peace” table and effectively be able to progress, using what levers that have otherwise been unemployed/underemployed?

How many nations are the “strongest nations” he speaks of?  Too many people sat around the table can make matters worse, not better.  Sometimes less is more!

Perhaps the “Duda Format” it will bring nothing more than a willingness to pay the (additional) price for failing to reward  Kremlin truculent, belligerent, aggressive, unlawful behaviour.  Perhaps that alone will be enough.  It was Lenin who said “Probe with a bayonet; if you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push” after all, – and Soviet rehabilitation is currently en vogue in the absence of a genuinely accepted Russian identity.  Perhaps the “Duda Format” intends to be the negotiating/diplomatic steel rather than the preceding Minsk mush?

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Balcerowicz invited to join Ukrainian reform effort

January 31, 2015

In an effort to further fill the Ukrainian reform effort with international stars with relevant experience, President Poroshenko has invited the Polish politician and economist Leszek Balcerowicz, the man who was instrumental in devising the Polish reformation plan of 1989, to join the Ukrainian effort.

The Balcerowicz Plan, also known as “Shock Therapy”, has been referred to numerous time throughout the years at this blog – almost every time previous governments have made hollow calls for Ukrainian reform in fact.  (Search within the archives and you will find, should you feel the need).

One of the most notable and wise features about the Balcerowicz Plan, was that is was presented to the public prior to its introduction on 31st December 1989 – on 6th October 1989, on television, to be precise.  Thus the public was mentally prepared for what was to come, some months in advance – albeit, the plan hit far harder than society was perhaps prepared for.  Nonetheless, the “Shock Therapy” was still far less of a shock to the people, than it was to the Polish economy, when introduced.

The plan consisted of:

Act on Financial Economy Within State-owned Companies, which allowed for state-owned businesses to declare bankruptcy and ended the fiction by which companies were able to exist even if their effectiveness and accountability was close to none.
Act on Banking Law, which forbade financing the state budget deficit by the national central bank and forbade the issue of new currency.
Act on Credits, which abolished the preferential laws on credits for state-owned companies and tied interest rates to inflation.
Act on Taxation of Excessive Wage Rise, introducing the so-called “Popiwek Tax” limiting the wage increase in state-owned companies in order to limit hyperinflation.
Act on New Rules of Taxation, introducing common taxation for all companies and abolishing special taxes that could previously have been applied to private companies through means of administrative decision.
Act on Economic Activity of Foreign Investors, allowing foreign companies and private people to invest in Poland and export their profits abroad.
Act on Foreign Currencies, introducing internal exchangeability of the Złoty and abolishing the state monopoly in international trade.
Act on Customs Law, creating a uniform customs rate for all companies.
Act on Employment, regulating the duties of unemployment agencies.
Act on Special Circumstances Under Which a Worker Could be Laid Off – protecting the workers of state firms from being fired in large numbers and guaranteeing unemployment grants and severance pay.

By 1992 the positive effects of the plan were being felt -although the intervening years were undoubtedly a “populist politician’s” dream when it came to saying just how badly the effects of the plan were being felt during that time.  There is no shortage of populist Ukrainian politicians that would boohoo any such plan for Ukraine.  The Kremlin too, would no doubt exploit it.

As written a few days ago, Ukraine already has numerous reformation plans.  Indeed Ukraine has far more plans, from numerous authors, than could be found at an annual gathering of architects “best design” ceremony.  Thus the vast majority, if not all, of the Balcerowicz Plan will already appear in one, or several, existing plans.

What Ukraine hasn’t done (thus far), that Poland did, is explain the plan(s) to the Ukrainian constituency “adult to adult” – perhaps because it doesn’t know what to do with so many plans, or perhaps nobody wants to accept personal responsibility and accountability for implementing them.

Implementation teams, if they exist, are completely unknown to the public – ergo, personal responsibility and accountability is zero in the eyes of an expectant society when it comes to implementation.  As Ukrainian history ably displays, “the team” is always happy to produce plans, but nobody in “the team” is ever held individually accountable for failure of implementation once any such plan has been announced – and subsequently fails to tangibly manifest.

However, Ukraine is not Poland – and successful reform within Poland still continues to this day.  It is an on-going process.

Indeed Ukraine (and Georgia, Moldova and some Balkan nations) suffer an additional and significant problem that Poland never faced – that of a meaningful, cancerous, overt and covert, insidious Kremlin intervention.  Poland was blessed by a weak (and distant compared to Ukraine and Georgia) Russia when it began to reform.  Upon joining NATO its continuing reforms then enjoyed the protection of significant security.  Poland is now strong enough to cope with the current Kremlin shenanigans within its borders, preventing any reform derailing.

It goes without saying that in the current circumstances, such things matter, for security removes the excuse that war (in whatever form it takes) slows or prevents reform.  War (in whatever form) presents a universal excuse to a weak and/or infiltrated political class for not, or failing at, reform.  It is, at the very least, a distraction with a significant impact upon the national treasury and society alike – perhaps with catastrophic consequences to the orientation of the victim nation’s direction.

Thus whilst the Kremlin experiments with a hybrid and asymmetric war, the west experiments with economic warfare – Ukraine (Moldova, Georgia and some Balkan nations), experiment with reform without security whilst under Kremlin attack.

The Kremlin will ultimately fail to bring down the post 1945 European/western architecture – though it may cause considerable damage along the way if Europe/”The West” does not fully appreciate the challenge that has been presented.

Given enough time, the western economic warfare at current levels may ultimately prove to be successful.  Turning up the “pain dial” is always an option.

What is entirely unclear, and perhaps the least likely experiment to succeed, is national reformation without any form of “group security”, whilst under consistent and meaningful Kremlin attack – perhaps aggravated by the absence of clearly defined external western prizes for success.

Undoubtedly Mr Balcerowicz would bring something to the Ukrainian table should he accept the offer made to him – but when all is said and done, Ukraine is not Poland.

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Delighting in perversity – regional geopolitics once more

November 29, 2013

Yesterday I wrote that whether Ukraine or the EU likes it or not, Russia has declared through its actions, a geopolitical battle over the EaP nations.

The day I wrote that, perversely, the Roshen chocolate ban, a completely unjustified and arbitrary unofficial sanction on Ukrainian produce that had been running many months, was lifted.  As this occurred pre-Vilnius, a clear indication that the Kremlin was absolutely confident that Ukraine would not have a last minute change of heart and sign the Association Agreement with the EU.

It is perverse in so much as the banned chocolate brand is owned by Petro Poroshenko – a robust supporter of EU integration who took the ban and $ millions of losses in his stride, never wavering from his European integration – via the Association Agreement – stance.  The result of not signing the agreement is of direct benefit to his business perversely.

Wouldn’t it be even more delightfully perverse if his regained Russian source of income was then employed by sponsoring continued momentum of the євромайдан campaign?

For certain, євромайдан would be very welcome when it comes to maintaining upwards pressure on both the Ukrainian president and EU with the EU-Ukraine Summit due at the end of February 2014.  Another plausible chance at signing agreements – prior the European parliamentary elections and a good deal of inward looking by Europe for a while.

The EU also announced that it has recommended the removal of Visas for Moldavian citizens – at least those who hold a biometric passport.  That decision, perversely, now gives Moldavians Visa-free within the Schengen area, despite neighbouring Romania, a full EU member and “cultural home” to many Moldavians, still being denied Visa-free within a block it is a member of.

Perhaps that will stem the tide of 22% of Moldavians seeking and happily being granted Romanian passports and thus Romanian annexation of Moldova via populous if not territory.

Perversely, after forcing Ukraine and Armenia from the thus far less than convincing embrace of the EU Association Agreement, and with a need to put spanners in the Moldavian and Georgian works as well, there is perhaps to be expected a short but definite lull in overt Russian pressure leading up to and during the Sochi Winter Olympics – despite momentum being with Russia in the geopolitical battle currently.

However, thereafter, undoubtedly Russian pressure will increase, surpassing anything seen thus far, as Mr Putin can then concentrate more fully on his political legacy of Russian imperialism via the Eurasian Union due to launch officially in 2015.

Despite many “experts” and “commentators” stating that without Ukraine it is nothing but a hollow shell, it is perhaps Kazakhstan and not Ukraine that will be the undoing of Mr Putin’s Eurasian political legacy before it even officially gets going.  It is no secret that the Kazakhs are very unhappy with the existing Customs Union and will need a great deal of convincing to continue onwards with the new Eurasian Union.  Perversely the threat of it unraveling comes not from an unwilling Ukraine, but from within its existing ranks.

Recognising the pooh-poohing of Mr Putin’s imperialist desire to leave a political legacy of the Eurasian Union by the Europeans, perversely, if there is a driver other than his own legacy of a Eurasian Union, it is not to combat the slow moving, lowest common dominator and cumbersome European Union – which he more than capable of tackling – it is to restrain the far more nimble, unilaterally decision making China.

I could go on and on with such examples, but there is a peculiarly delightful perversity to the geopolitics of this region that hardly ever fails to deliver, no matter what layer of policy or strategy you care to look at.

Meanwhile, amongst all this perversity, let us hope that Mrs Merkel, Poland and the Baltic States, put some spine into European affairs and Russia is confronted in its geopolitics convincingly.

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President Komorowski statement – What of proportionality?

October 28, 2013

In amongst what has become standard statements from EU leaders to the Ukrainian political class, this recent statement made by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski has an interesting little addition which many don’t contain.

“Poland does not question the decision of the Ukrainian courts, but noted that “human rights are and will always be the foundation of the EU.””

Hmmm.  I’m not sure I would agree with that entirely.

I will accept the reality that the ex-Soviet law that Ms Tymoshenko was found guilty under was – and currently remains – the law.  Ergo I accept that if she did break it – and I would not be surprised – that she be held accountable.  Albeit there should be a very long line of other politicians in that queue that were notable by their absence.

I also fully agree that the way in which she was tried,  by international standards was very poor – even though Ukrainian judicial standards often fall below the international normative, and have ever since I arrived here many years ago.  Thus her human rights, like a vast number of other Ukrainians – daily – were not properly adhered to during the judicial process.

Thus far however, I can accept the construct of President Komorowski’s statement and that of the position of Poland.  I certainly understand why it was made, the way it was made and its timing.

But even if I can understand the Polish position as orated by President Komorowski,  I cannot fully accept the decision of the Ukrainian Courts as he states both he and Poland do – I do question the decision of the Ukrainian Court when it comes to the sentencing.  I question the proportionality of the sentence itself against the “crime” committed.

Even if the trial had been conducted to international standards, and even if a large percentage of the political class also guilty of abusing their office had also gone on trial and latterly been found guilty – in fact if everything would have been done as transparently, cleanly and free from passions as is possible, surpassing the highest international standards in judicial process – I would still question the Ukrainian Courts sentence with regard to its proportionality.

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Svoboda protests Polish President’s visit to Lutsk on 14th July

July 4, 2013

Last week, I highlighted the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church’s apology to Poland for the heinous acts that occurred in 1943 at Volhynia and throughout Eastern Galicia.

An apology accepted by the Catholic Church in Poland, calling it “free from nationalist or backwards thinking”.

A step toward reconciliation – at least between the Greek Orthodoxy in Ukraine and the Catholic Church of Poland and their respective adherents.

It seems, however, that the forthcoming visit of the Polish President, Bronislaw Koromorski and his planned visit to Lutsk to remember the Poles slaughtered there in WWII is being framed by the Ukrainian nationalist Svoboda Party as a “provocation”.

It seems like Bronislaw Komorowski wants to come to symbolically humiliate the Ukrainians who fought for independence, and introduce them as murderers. I am convinced that Komorowski has no business being in Lutsk after months of anti-Ukrainian hysteria from Polish politicians… People may accept his initiative as a provocation.” – Anatoliy Vitiv MP Svoboda Party 

A “provocation”?  Surely that depends on what – if anything – the Polish President says when commemorating the deaths of so many people.  The Polish parliament has yet to define any wording of a resolution relating to the incidents in 1943, and thus until that occurs, the Polish President has no official wording of the Polish position to follow – or disregard – in any statements he may make.  His words may prove provocative or conciliatory.

The official position of Ukraine is yet to be known also.

I must admit I find it impossible to accommodate or accept the actions at Volhynia and East Galicia in 1943 with regards to what amounts to ethnic cleansing – to the point of removing all traces of “Polish-ness” in that area.  Other acts that genuinely fought for Ukrainian independence against the armed forces of both Soviets and Nazis alike, I can accept and understand.

I appreciate to some in 1943 it may have seemed like a necessary – if unpalatable – plan to create a space for a Ukrainian State – but the manner in which this plan created, authorised and carried out by a would-be Ukrainian leadership is indefensible – It is no different to Srebrenica, only 19 years ago – which has rightly been classed as a war crime.

One has to ask, with Svoboda purportedly supporting EU trajectory and democracy, why its members are stating that the head of state of one of Ukraine’s most steadfast supporters within the EU should not be welcomed in Ukraine at any time – let alone to visit a site on the eve of a massacre that took so many lives – even if events surrounding it are challenged in some quarters.

If the situation was reversed, Sovoboda would call it a “provocation” from a supposed EU ally if they wanted to visit a site of the slaughter of Ukrainians within Polish territory and were refused?

If Ukraine receives an official request to visit from a foreign head of state with which it has friendly relations – particularly one from a nation that has steadfastly supported  the Ukrainian cause within the EU – how and why should it refuse?  How is such a refusal going to be viewed by those who doubt the Ukrainian cause?

I have no objection to Svoboda speaking out over the issue – that is a democratic right – though I wince at how the statement is worded and the way they are trying to frame the visit as a “provocation” against Ukrainian society.  I have no problem with any peaceful demonstration that may occur during the visit either.  That is yet another democratic right.

However, it is the sign of a democratic and tolerant nation, a democratic party, and a democratic and tolerant society, that nationals and visitors alike, can exercise their right to freedom of movement, expression and speech.

Considering Svoboda’s formal association with UDAR, Batkivshchyna and a RADA declaration they signed relating to EU trajectory – and with numerous claims to be champions of democracy engaged in a battle with undemocratic forces – they must wholly agree with the right for Komorowski to exercise such rights within Ukraine either when acting as a head of state or private individual.

If so then the democratic normative of free movement (including to Volhynia), freedom of expression (commemorating those slaughtered) will be tolerated for a visiting European head of state, no differently than it is for many thousands of Jews who visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman in Uman every year.

The anti-Svoboda feelings are already becoming entrenched within the European Parliament, regardless of which European Parliament party you care to examine.  Pressure for UDAR and Batkivshchyna to disengage at the earliest opportunity is consistent and a matter of public record from MEPs.

One hopes that if this visit occurs and if President Komorowski visits Lutsk, any peaceful protests from those with nationalist sympathies remain consistent with democracy, tolerance and the rule of law.

Any disintegration from that will undoubtedly further entrench the anti-Svoboda emotions across the EU and amongst many of Ukraine’s most stalwart supporters within – and that will have consequences – particularly if an opposition coalition comes to power that includes Svoboda.

Let us hope all occurs without serious incident.

Post Script:  I am well aware that Poland is without an unblemished history.  Most established old European nations are without unblemished histories – particularly those that had empires – and thus I readily include my own when it comes to guilt in what would today be classed as crimes against humanity, either by direct action or indirect manipulation of ethnic divides.

However to hide behind comparatives and state “well they did it too and are equally as guilty”  is no excuse and is nothing but “nationalist or backwards thinking“.  Crimes against humanity are just that – regardless of who committed them or when – and in no way should they be mitigated by stating others have done it as well –  They are what they are, shameful and uncomfortable as they may be.

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Ukrainian Greek Orthodoxy apologises to Poland

June 29, 2013

Here is an interesting development in the contentious history of Polish/Ukrainian relations.

The Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church has publicly apologised for the war crimes committed by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army at Volhynia in 1943 – an apology accepted by the Polish Archbishop calling it “a sign of sound and brave patriotism, free from nationalist or backward thinking.

It has to be said, in accepting the apology, the Polish Archbishop shows a spirit of reconciliation no less “free from nationalist or backward thinking” either.

Unfortunately, the theatre of Ukrainian academia and historians seems to be  somewhat less “free from nationalist or backward thinking” in some quarters.

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