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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Why Poland's Ruling Party Has Suddenly Turned On Ukraine — With The Wounds Of History

The Polish government has recently demanded official apologies from Kyiv (which is busy fighting off the Russian invasion) for historic war crimes committed by Ukrainian nationalists against ethnic Poles during World War II. The ruling PiS party is up to its old tricks of scapegoating for votes.

Why Poland's Ruling Party Has Suddenly Turned On Ukraine — With The Wounds Of History

Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meet before an official ceremony in Warsaw, Poland. Until recently Warsaw has been a steadfast supporter of Kyiv, joined in mutual defense against Putin's Russia.

Bartosz T. Wielinski


WARSAW — This was no mistake, no slip-of-the tongue. In the midst of rising tensions between the otherwise close allies, Lukasz Jasina, the spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry was unequivocally demanding that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issue a public apology to Poland for historic crimes in the Volhynia region. In that ugly chapter of World War II, Ukrainian nationalists killed up to 100,000 ethnic Poles, including many women and children, in what is widely considered an act of ethnic cleansing.

Jasina's statement, which appeared on May 19 in Onet.pl, Poland's largest online news platform, resulted in exactly what he wanted: a declaration that Poland has stopped unconditionally supporting the Ukrainian war effort, and a forecast that Polish-Ukrainian relations will emerge as a new issue ahead of this coming fall's national elections.

His statements also generated intrigue, especially since Jasina doesn’t belong to PiS, Poland’s conservative ruling party. Nevertheless, the statement was intentional — and has pushed Poland into a diplomatic frenzy, prompting a reaction from Vasyl Zvarych, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Poland.

This is exactly what PiS leaders wanted to happen.

Plea for forgiveness, with a caveat

Have the crimes committed by Ukrainians against ethnic Poles during World War II been adequately addressed by contemporary Ukrainian politicians? Are the gestures of leaders such as Petro Poroshenko, the former Ukrainian president who addressed the victims of the massacre, not enough? “We forgive Poland and we ask for Poland’s forgiveness,” Poroshenko said in a 2016 speech to the Sejm, Poland's lower house of Parliament.

For some, it could be that this is still too little. When it comes to Polish-Ukrainian relations, political elites have avoided uncomfortable topics about the countries’ shared histories, including the fact that Poland, too, has done harm to Ukrainian people and culture in the past, including ordering the destruction of Ukrainian Orthodox churches.

Yet seeking apologies for Volhynia as Russian rockets fall on Ukraine, when one-sixth of its territory occupied, where war crimes are continued on its territory every day, is unfathomably absurd.

Apparently not for ruling-party politicians, who are worrying about their poll numbers ahead of Poland’s upcoming parliamentary elections this coming fall.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, shakes hands with Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, before a press conference in Kyiv in March before the latter seems to have changed his approach to Ukraine.

Ukraine Presidency

Ungrateful Ukrainians?

The current ruling party is not guaranteed to win a Parliamentary majority. That has left longtime PiS party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, to once again reach for his tried-and-true methods. A new scapegoat has been found. For PiS, it is the ungrateful Ukrainians, who Poles have helped from the very first days of Russia’s invasion — taking in refugees, sending its own tanks and planes — who now do not want to account for their own criminal history towards Poland.

Kaczynski will personally label those who criticize PiS for its actions against the Polish state as traitors. And the battle against Ukrainians is only just beginning.

Decent people in our country cannot stay neutral in light of what is happening here.

This is a testament to the desperation of the ruling party. When the entire civilized world is deciding how to more effectively help Ukraine defeat Russia, Kaczynski is rekindling disputes about difficult historical events. This is a strategic move by the party to get closer to a xenophobic electorate which typically supports the nationalist and far-right Confederation party, which has been fighting against the supposed “Ukrainization” of Poland.

When postponing makes good sense

This is an unforeseen gift for Russia. The Kremlin’s propaganda machine will make good use of Jasina’s words.

Decent people in our country cannot stay neutral in light of what is happening here. We cannot be blackmailed by Kaczynski, nor can we be made to feel afraid by his propaganda. It is us who must send an unequivocal message, that Poland’s unwavering support for Ukraine and its war effort will not fall victim to the political whims of the ruling party.

Discussions of our difficult and mutually tragic history, though necessary, should be postponed until after this war has come to an end.

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Protests Derailed: A History Of Polish Railways Getting Political

Polish state railways have been accused of deliberately keeping protestors from reaching the capital for an anti-government protest march. This is not the first controversy the railways have faced.

Photo of trains in the Warszawa Rembertów Station, Warsaw, Poland.

Warszawa Rembertów Station.

Piotr Stanisławski via Wikimedia Commons

Last June, Polish opposition leader and former President of the EU Commission Donald Tusk called on Polish citizens to protest against the “authoritarian” steps taken by the ruling party, PiS. Estimates by state organizers approximate that 500,000 participants marched in Warsaw, with smaller marches occurring in other Polish cities.

“Do you have enough of [PiS’s] lies, theft and corruption?” Tusk asked in a video published on his Facebook page. "Then come to Warsaw on the 4th of June… we will show them our might”.

In the days leading up to the protest and on the day of the event itself, passengers and groups of demonstrators blamed state railways for delayed train permits, inaccessibility for those with disabilities and a deficit in the train's ability to transport participants to the capital.

“This is how rail functions in Poland,” an anonymous passenger told Gazeta Wyborcza, “It is impossible to get to Warsaw for the March at 12pm from Szczecin.” The same passenger told Wyborcza they were “speechless” at the realization, adding that “it’s an outright exclusion of rail communication”.

This is not the first time that the state-run rail lines have come under fire for allegedly political acts.

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