Waiting for Poland

10:32 AM 24-7-2015

Adrian Karatnycky, Member of the IWP’s Supervisory Board, for Kyiv PostPoland has elected a new president, Andrzej Duda, of the conservative – and at times, populist – Law and Justice party (PiS). He is to take office on Aug. 6. In October, it looks nearly certain that Poles will elect a government in which PiS is the dominant, if not ruling party.

Rocked by scandals and the appearance of misbehavior, and burdened by a colorless and lackluster standard bearer, Ewa Kopacz, the prime minister who succeeded Donald Tusk, Civic Platform (PO)– the party Ukraine’s leaders have dealt with for the last ten years– is likely to lose.

An average of the five latest public opinion samplings from July give the opposition nationalist PiS party 37 percent, the governing PO 24 percent and the new political formation of the rock star Pawel Kukiz, 13 percent.

While three months remain for the campaign, the reign of Civic Platform, the party that has ruled Poland for a decade, appears to be ending. All the more so since Pawel Kukiz has already indicated his party is willing to cooperate or perhaps enter into a coalition with PiS, but not with the Civic Platform.

After nearly a decade of relations with Poland’s governing Civic Platform, it’s time for Ukraine’s leaders to prepare for a new Polish leadership and to renew and deepen their ties with Poland’s conservatives.

For a Ukraine that is fighting Russian aggression, the transfer of power in Poland has important consequences. Under former foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland was Ukraine’s most important influential voice inside the European Union.

It is clear that from the point of view of its attitude to Russia, PiS is staunchly anti-Putin. Party leader Kaczynski is convinced that the death of his twin brother, the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski and scores of other Polish leaders in an airplane crash in April 2010, was intentionally orchestrated by the Russian state.

However, the new Polish leaderships antipathy to Putin and his regime will not necessarily lead to smoother relations between Ukraine and incoming President Duda or a future PiS-led government.

One major stumbling block will be recent Ukrainian legislation that designated the Organization Ukrainian Nationalist (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) as formations that contributed to the cause of Ukrainian liberation.

For Poles such heroization rings hollow, as Poles, and a large constituency that votes for PiS remember the predations of the UPA North, which was culpable in the murder of 60,000 to 100,000 Polish civilian males between the ages of 15 and 60 in the Volyn region and Eastern Galicia in 1943.

There are other reasons why the political changes in Poland may not initially be helpful to Ukraine, especially in the European Union . As a socially conservative movement, the new Polish PiS government is likely to be regarded in Brussles as out of step with Europe’s reigning secular liberalism. It will also come tarnished with the image of pits past populism and euroskepsis.

Over time, that, however, is likely to change. Indeed, there are not a few signs that PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski is intent on moving away from his former populism and building a modern conservative party.

His government is likely to include market-oriented advocates of fiscal responsibility. One likely leader is Mateusz Moraweicki, who head Bank Zachodni, Poland’s third largest. Morawiecki is touted as the next Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

But even pragmatists like Morawiecki, who with his father, the legendary Polish opposition leader Kornel Morawiceki, was part of the Polish underground that eventually toppled Communist rule, has a hard time swallowing Kyiv’s recent fashion for the heroization of the OUN and the UPA.

In June, I spoke in Wroclaw with both Morawieckis, whom I have known for many years. They have historically been strong allies of Ukraine and were staunch advocates of Ukrainian independence in the 1980s. Both, however, are dismayed by both the recent headline grabbing of far-right movements in Ukraine and the heroization of the nationalist movements of the 1930s and 1940s.

There is a middle ground for Ukraine. That middle ground should be based on objective scholarly examination of the historical record, and acknowledgment that if not the UPA itself, units of the UPA, committed crimes that could be labeled as constituting genocide. An honest examination of the historical record would also show that some OUN and UPA leaders opposed the actions of UPA North and its notorious leader Klym Savur.

Should Ukrainian leaders successfully navigate the shoals of starkly different Polish and Ukrainian historical perspectives on the OUN and the UPA, they will strengthen their relationship strong Polish ally that will remain a reliable partner as Ukraine struggles to resist Russia’s aggression and occupation of Crimea and the Donbas.