Станіслав (stanislav_ab) wrote in bleu_et_jaune,

Spirit of forgiveness unites Poles and Ukrainians

Published: June 25 2005

Western Europeans may have forgotten that one fundamental reason for the creation of the European Union was to keep ancient enemies from going to war, but the lesson remains fresh for Poland and Ukraine.

Just as the EU helped end hatred and misunderstanding between France and Germany, Poland is hoping that the prospect of EU membership for Ukraine will play a similarly constructive role in eastern Europe - despite complications following the French and Dutch referendum rejection of an EU constitution.

"This wave of reconciliation is moving from west to east. First it was between the French and Germans, then between Poles and Germans and now it is Poles and Ukrainians," said Janusz Onyszkiewicz, a former Polish defence minister and now a member of the European Parliament.

Yesterday leading Polish and Ukrainian politicians met in the west Ukraine city of Lviv to take part in the formal reopening of a Polish military cemetery that has been a source of contention for decades.

In 1919, a newly independent Poland fought against Ukrainian forces over the ownership of Lviv, an ethnically Polish and Jewish city surrounded by a Ukrainian-majority countryside.

The Poles won, and built a grand pantheon to the young fighters who had fought for Lwow, Lviv's Polish name.

The Polish victory was reversed after the second world war. The Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, millions of Poles were expelled by the Soviets and the area - now almost entirely ethnically Ukrainian - was incorporated into the USSR, and later independent Ukraine.

The cemetery stayed although Soviet authorities bulldozed part of it and the rest fell into disrepair.

The cemetery's restoration ceremony ends one historical dispute, and bishops from both countries took steps last weekend to end others.

In language that purposely echoed a similar appeal by Polish bishops to their German counterparts 40 years ago, Roman Catholic bishops from Poland and Greek Catholic bishops from Ukraine signed a call for mutual reconciliation.

"We forgive and we ask for forgiveness," said the statement from the two churches.

Before the second world war, the Polish government clamped down on Ukrainian nationalists, who responded with a low level terror campaign.

During the war, Ukrainian militias murdered tens of thousands of Poles, and after the war the Polish military killed thousands of Ukrainians on the Polish side of the border and deported more than 100,000. Those memories remained fresh for decades and healed slowly only after the end of communism.

Unlike Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, Poles did not reopen issues of borders and population transfers. Poland was the first country to recognise an independent Ukraine in December 1991. Polish politicians and thousands of ordinary people flooded into Ukraine during last year's Orange Revolution and helped push the issue to the forefront of the EU's concerns.

"The new Ukrainian government is more willing to pursue reconciliation. From the Polish side, they really look at Ukraine differently," said Hryhory Nemyria, chairman of Kiev's International Renaissance Foundation. "There has always been a gap between the political leaders, who were more ready for reconciliation, and that of the populations, particularly in border regions. Since the Orange Revolution you can see that gap decreasing."

Historical reconciliation has been helped by expanding economic ties, too. Last year, trade between the two totalled $3bn (€2.5bn, £1.7bn), up by a third over 2003, and overall Polish investments in Ukraine came to $192m.

Ukrainian steel producer Donbas Industrial Union is finalising the takeover of Polish steel maker Huta Czestochowa. Ukrainian car maker AvtoZAZ is concluding the purchase of struggling Polish carmaker FSO with Poland's Treasury.
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