Should Poland and Ukraine be one state? Unreasonable dreams of federation

There is no reason to trigger the integration of our countries today.

For some time now, voices have been heard more and more often saying that Poland and Ukraine should be connected by something more than just an alliance of two states. One example is the words of Andrzej Zybertowicz in an interview given to the "Gazeta Pomorska" daily a week ago.

He declared, among other things: "I wonder if the concept of some kind of Polish-Ukrainian union or a Republic of many nations could not be a great adventure for a generation of young people".

Thus, the well-known sociologist joined the group of publicists and experts who have made similar reflections, for example, in "Nowa Konfederacja" (New Confederation) or on the wPolityce portal. Their texts are a testimony to the fact that, after Russia's attack on Ukraine in February this year, dreams of rebuilding the former superpower, which 400 years ago was the Polish state facing east, were revived. It is significant that in this case we are not dealing with marginal discussions on social media, but with debates in the mainstream media.

The current rapprochement between Poland and Ukraine - at both political and social level - is a fact. It represents enormous capital for the future, especially in view of the continuing threat from Russia. But this does not have to mean transforming the Polish-Ukrainian neighbourhood into what is sometimes referred to as a "federation". Especially if this were to cause Poland serious problems.

The point is that ideas about creating a new Polish-Ukrainian political entity derive from an uncritical treatment of the First Republic. The multinational character of that state is sometimes idealised. This is because it was a political power in Europe, and for understandable reasons Poles still feel sentimental about it today.

In the Polish national imaginary, the territory known as the (Borderlands) is associated with a strong Polish presence in the East. Knights defending the bulwark of Christianity and poets praising their homeland may come to mind in this context. Even though cities such as Lwów, Grodno and Wilno are now outside the Polish state, they cannot be removed from Poland's romanticised collective memory because of their past.

However, the First Republic was not a multinational arcadia. The blood-soaked history of Polish-Ukrainian relations is clear proof of this. Of course, in the name of political correctness, one can turn a blind eye to such painful events as the Cossack uprising of Bohdan Khmelnitsky, just as one turns a blind eye to contemporary disputes between various nations. But the fever does not go down when the thermometer breaks.

According to the Polish historian and publicist Feliks Koneczny (who lived at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries), the eastward expansion of the First Republic resulted in a clash between civilisations. This was because the Cossacks belonged to a different kind of civilisational order to that of the Polish nobility - one that was the legacy of the barbarian invasions from the Great Steppe, and not the result of the radiation of Latin Rome into Europe.

Thus, on the one hand, the Borderlands were filled with Baroque Catholic churches, but on the other hand, Poland became orientated (the Polish nobility took on the characteristics of the Turanian peoples). This was manifested by Sarmatism, which distanced Poles mentally from the western part of Europe (traditional robes as a visible sign of this separation).

From Koneczny's conception one can conclude that Poland, by turning away from the West towards the East, made a disastrous mistake. The Borderlands became a burden of sorts for it as a conflict area and a source of political culture that weakened the kingdom.
Krakovets-Korczowa crossing at Ukraine-Poland border. Should we remove this border? Fot. Alona Nikolaievych/Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images
No wonder that at the beginning of the 20th century, when modern Polish nationalism was being forged under the Partitions, its main theoretician, Roman Dmowski, was negative towards the model of a multi-national state. That is why he wanted the future independent Poland to take on the territorial shape of a relatively homogeneous national state. As far as the civilisational order was concerned, he looked to the West, and saw Great Britain as a model of political culture for Poles.

What was in Dmowski's conception of the borders of the Polish state came true to a certain extent after the Second World War. Of course, the loss of the eastern borderlands of the Second Polish Republic may be perceived as an injustice done to the Poles in favour of the USSR (even taking into account the compensation in the form of the Western and Northern Territories). However, any territorial revisionism is a powder keg, as we have seen in Europe for three decades.

And it should be noted that due to the fact that Poland became a nationally unified country (because the borders were moved and the majority of the German population was resettled), it avoided the brutal perturbations that, after 1989, were experienced by the countries that were once part of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. And this fact must be kept in mind especially in 2022, also taking into account migration issues.

Meanwhile, the people who are today advocating the creation of a new Polish-Ukrainian political entity are speaking from anti-nationalist positions. They praise multiculturalism. They refer to Jagiellonian geopolitics, which was promoted after World War I by Józef Piłsudski.

The Marshal of Poland looked at reality from the perspective of a borderland nobleman cherishing the heritage of the First Republic. He was a supporter of a federation bringing together Poland and the states that were to emerge on the ruins of the Russian Empire. And as we know, nothing came of this in the inter-war period. Not only because Soviet Russia proved to be stronger, but also because of the antagonism between Poles, Ukrainians, Byelorussians and Lithuanians.

Another authority for advocates of a new Polish-Ukrainian political entity is Jerzy Giedroyc. His doctrine - formulated after World War II together with Juliusz Mieroszewski - is treated as a creative continuation of the Jagiellonian geopolitics. But this is a misunderstanding.

Giedroyc was a hard-headed realist. Although he came from a Borderland aristocracy background, in political matters he had no sentimental attachment to the past. He was aware of what burdened Poles' relations with their eastern neighbours. He therefore decided to learn from history.

He acknowledged the territorial shape of the Polish state after World War II with all its upsides and downsides. However, he was convinced that the key to Poland's security lay in the creation of states separating it from Russia. He therefore hoped for the break-up of the USSR and the emergence of Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus as independent political entities (hence the acronym of his doctrine: 'ULB'). However, according to the editor of the Parisian "Kultura", both Russia and Poland were to be non-imperialist in this arrangement.

The British historian and expert on the history of the First Republic, Richard Butterwick-Pawlikowski, urges Poles to treat the Giedroyc Doctrine as a starting point in their eastern policy. At the same time, he contrasts the "ULB" with what he calls "Jagiellonian fantasies". At this year's Poland the Great Project conference Butterwick-Pawlikowski said: "I would advise against suddenly displaying the emblems of the Hadziac Union [this was the First Republic's agreement with the Cossacks, concluded in 1658] in the expectation that Ukrainians, Belarusians and Lithuanians will march in large number under a Polish banner."
Thus, in essence, Giedroyc's thought clashes with Piłsudski's geopolitical assumptions. On the other hand, it may come as a surprise that it corresponds... with Dmowski's concept.

A myth grew up around the leader of the National Democracy that he was an anti-Ukrainian politician. However, in one of his most important books - " Thoughts of a Modern Pole" from 1903 - he refers positively to the nation-forming aspirations of the Ukrainians.

Here is a fascinating passage: "If the Ruthenians are to become Poles, they need to be polonised; if they are to become an independent Ruthenian nation, capable of living and fighting, they need to be told to acquire through hard work what they want to have, to be told to toughen up in the fire of battle, which they need even more than we do, because they are by nature much more passive and lazy than we are. If we give them without resistance everything they want, 'and even more than they want', in this way we will only withdraw from Ruthenia ourselves, but will not create a Ruthenian nation. Having satisfied their excessive appetites today, we will leave this beautiful land to idle, satiated idlers, whose self-sufficiency will last until someone more energetic than us lays his hand on them. Instead of an independent Ruthenian nation, we shall prepare a ground for the Muscovite nation".

Some might object that the quotation betrays the author's contemptuous and paternalistic attitude towards Ukrainians. And this would be a legitimate reaction.

However, in the above-mentioned passage, one should also see an indication of the benefit to Poles of supporting the Ukrainian population against the Tsar. This is something very important and even prophetic. Just like the fear that handing Ukraine over to the "lazy, satiated idlers" (wouldn't today's reference simply be to those oligarchs who hinder their country's development, or men who evade the army with bribes?) would bind it civilisationally to Russia. SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE We cannot ignore the fact that Dmowski put Polish national interest first and formulated his opinions at a time when he did not have to censor himself with political correctness. Of course, now his writings should be read critically. However, in order to extract from them what is sensible and up-to-date in the area of Eastern policy, it is worth filtering them through Giedroyc's doctrine.

There remains one more important point. It is that the Ukrainian people must not be treated as objects. Its sensitivity should be taken into account, especially now when it is in a dramatically difficult situation. However, putting forward the idea of a Polish-Ukrainian union or federation - in addition to evoking the memory of the First Polish Republic - may arouse fear among Ukrainians that Poles want to colonise them. This in turn could revive old Polish-Ukrainian antagonisms, which the Kremlin would be happy to exploit. And making such gifts to Russia is worse than a crime.

To sum up, Ukraine as an independent state that is strong with regard to the Kremlin is the Polish raison d'état . However, this does not mean that some kind of Polish-Ukrainian integration should be initiated straight away.

– Filip Memches
– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: Ukrainian and Polish delegations lay flowers to victims of communist terror at the Bykivnia cemetery in May 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ishchenko/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images.
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