Poland-Ukraine: what kind of integration are we talking about?

Why shouldn’t we want to cooperate closely as an alliance or confederation? Do we fear that Vladimir Putin or Sergey Lavrov will once again announce that Poland “wishes to control Ukraine”. And that they will scare the Ukrainians with “a return of the Polish nobility”? Or maybe we are afraid of ourselves that it is us, Poles, who shall suddenly feel “a longing for our borderlands” and come up with an idea to polonize our neighbors?

There are basically two points of view within the discussion over the integration of Poland and Ukraine: “for” and “against”. Meanwhile despite general statements on a possible Polish-Ukrainian federation there seems to be no precise proposals for what such a joint creation should look like. Therefore it is unknown whether if it is worth endorsement – or rejection.

In “TVP Weekly” from June 24 there is a very interesting and worth reading article by Filip Memches „ Should Poland and Ukraine be one state? Unreasonable dreams of federation”. the author makes reference to Dmowski, Piłsudski and Giedroyć convincing that “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.”

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

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

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Well, firstly: not instantly. And secondly: when speaking of “an” integration we have to know what in fact we are talking about.

Unlike the first one, unlike the second

When we think about this integration, it is the First Polish Republic (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) that immediately comes to my mind – in our historical tradition: an oasis of tolerance and a country, in which various nations coexisted. Of course, speaking of nations, we think of about these present-day, contemporary Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Lithuanians. Meanwhile, in the then Republic there were living the ancestors of these nations. Perhaps the pre-partion Poles constituted a society bearing the closest resemblance to the present-day Polish nation, but then again: not utterly: the identity of the nobility was different to that of the peasants or even burghers.

By the way, let us recall, that many of powerful magnates in the Commonwealth, having their estates in present-day Ukraine were descendants of great Ruthenian families; the Wiśniowiecki came from the Rurik dynasty just as the Ostrogski; the Zbaraski were descendants of the Nieświcki princes. For them it was all alike if their peasants spoke Ruthenian or maybe Polish. In turn, for peasants there was no big difference either, if they lived in estates belonging to Ruthenian, Lithuanian or maybe not that much titled magnates from Mazowia or, for example, Lesser Poland.

That very Commonwealth cannot be therefore a pattern for Polish-Ukrainian integration. Surely, to some extent it may be a historic reference – back in the day our ancestors lived in one country. But of course not all. At the peak of its power, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Odessa, not to mention Stettin, Breslau or even Katowice didn’t belong there.

The Second Polish Republic wasn’t a mother that would love national minorities. Of course, in Ukraine one doesn’t remember about the Ukrainian largest legal political party in that period – about UNDO, the Ukrainian National Democratic Alliance; they don’t remember the largest Ukrainian newspaper – about “Dilo”, a daily published in Lviv. Not much is being spoken that 150 thousand Ukrainians fought in the ranks of the Polish Army against Germans in September 1939. One remembers that which is bad: closing down Ukrainian schools, tearing down Orthodox churches, pacification of villages. And they hail the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN] struggling against “Polish oppression”. From the Polish perspective the OUN was a terrorist party, so the differences in assessing the common history are clearly visible. Let’s then give this Republic to historians – may them try to pick up and show what is common and good. Without, of course, concealing what was bad.

Let’s look for something new

In other words, if we are to talk about integration between Poland and Ukraine, it would be improper to seek patterns in the past because they either they don’t match the present-day one or, on both sides of the river Bug, they are viewed in a completely different manner.
Celebration of the Day of the Constitution of Ukraine in Kraków, June 28, 2022. Photo Omar Marques / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Truth to tell there is a need to make up something genuinely new. First of all, by thinking, to what extent the two nations – Poles and Ukrainians – may wish an integration of both countries and whether they are prepared for it at all.

Paradoxically, the Ukrainians may be more willing to undertake such actions. And it is not only about – as the study shows – that Poland has been enjoying much liking from them, and president Andrzej Duda is the most appreciated foreign leader (by the way, like Alexander Kwaśniewski some time ago, but for other reasons). There are many nationalities dwelling in Ukraine, most of the time it was in peace; for the citizens of this country is absolutely natural and obvious. So, mayhap it would be much easier to prompt them a integrative formula. All the more so, because that for many of the it was country that became destination of economic migration and they managed to get to know quite well.

Poland, on the other hand, became a mono-ethnic country after WW II. Poles constitute 95% of its citizens and even if a million Ukrainians have come to work in recent years, few (tens of thousands) remained in Poland permanently, the majority was coming and going. Now we have maybe two million refugees from Ukraine – one doesn’t see any serious conflicts. We understand each other much better and probably even half a million newcomers from upon the Dniester and Dnieper will settle permanently in Poland.

However, will we, Poles, be able to overcome the critical view of our Eastern neighbors, marked by historical experiences? There are people in Poland who see Ukraine only through the prism of the Volhynian massacre, not accepting that Volhynia is a small area of Ukraine in terms of territory and population. And beyond the river Zbrucz, local Poles remember the Soviet oppression: the great famine, the so-called “Polish Operation” conducted by the NKVD and deportations to Kazakhstan, and they only read about the UPA in history books.

There is one more difference between the citizens of Poland and Ukraine. It must be remembered that the vast majority of our eastern neighbors had been under the Soviet rule of since 1920. Intensive Sovietization had lasted there for decades. No matter how much we would criticize the Polish People's Republic, we must admit that differences between “People's Poland” and the USSR [Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic] were enormous in many respects (for example the role of the Church and private land ownership on our side of the Bug River).

Tumultuous history of Polish lion figures in Lviv

As an irritating symbol of Polish “occupation of Lviv” the lions were removed before a tank action on August 25, 1971.

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And there are a lot of questions about future integration. What is to be its formula? Let us assume for a while that a Polish-Ukrainian federation should be established, as some suggest. Who will lead it and with what powers? Will a Pole or a Ukrainian be the president? Or maybe we will argue about it? ... We will create a joint parliament or will the Sejm and the Verkhovna Rada remain, and for example the Senate will be joint? One central government with limited powers and two national governments? In this federation, will we adopt Polish and Ukrainian law, or will we create some completely new ones? Will we accept a common zloty, a hryvnia, or something else?...

And further on: will Poles be obliged to learn Ukrainian, and Ukrainians – Polish? What about assessments of the common history: will we work out a compulsory, common version, or will we stick to our own, calmly working on approximating the historians’ views? What about culture, will we keep the Polish and Ukrainian parities? Such issues could be enumerated ad infinitum.

Gradually, forward

Of course, everything can be arranged somehow. “Somehow” is the key word here. Because it is not really about creating a Polish-Ukrainian federation that will have to carry a burden of numerous problems – but about acknowledging that we have succeeded, because this is a real integration of Poland and Ukraine.

First, we need to consider what our common interests are. Of course, the fundamental common interest is to act in such a way that we count as an eighty million political entity in Europe and the world. But it won’t happen by itself. It will not be that we will suddenly declare the creation of Poland-Ukraine or maybe Ukraine-Poland and everything will go nicely and smoothly.

First of all, it is necessary to think about what are the spheres in which we could act together. Some things are somewhat of obvious. In the first place, we need a real opening of the frontiers between our countries. Because before the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the situation looked dramatically bad: long lines, awful crowds at border crossings. Only that Poland is in the Schengen area, and Ukraine does not even belong to the European Union. If we do not want to wait for our eastern neighbor to join the EU, we need to develop a qualitatively new formula for the common border to function properly. One that Brussels will agree to. This, of course, will have further consequences, and all of them need to be reconsidered – inter alia future regulations for the settlement of Ukrainian citizens in Poland and Polish citizens in Ukraine (because why should the population flow only in one direction?).
Two Russian machines destroyed during the invasion of Ukraine, brought to Poland and exhibited near the Royal Castle in Warsaw, June 28, 2022. The T-72 tank was destroyed by Ukrainians in Bucza near Kiev. Next to it: the 2S19 Msta self-propelled howitzer. Photo STR / NurPhoto via Getty Images
Then you can start dealing with more complicated matters. For example, “national” defense may be common. Of course, we are talking here about the situation after the end of the war in Ukraine, otherwise it will turn out that this Polish-Ukrainian integration will simply result in involving Poland in combat. But in the future, the creation of a joint command of our armies may be very beneficial for both Warsaw and Kiev. Of course, Ukraine should probably join NATO first, which, however, does not seem unrealistic today.

And of course, we can also deal with foreign affairs together. This may happen at the latest, because Poland is in the EU, and Ukraine is not. The perspective of Ukraine joining the EU seems remote today, but with considerable effort it can be accelerated. Anyway, at the beginning it may be enough to coordinate our foreign policies.

If such was the common integration plan, then one could think about creating a Polish-Ukrainian confederation. It is about understanding a confederation as a union of states; to some extent today it is the European Union, and in the past it was, among others, The German Confederation (1815–1866), the Confederated States of America (1861–1865), as well as Serbia and Montenegro (2003–2006). For in the present conditions it makes sense only to integrate gradually, slowly, to the benefit of both countries and after having carefully thought it out. All Polish and Ukrainian citizens should be absolutely clear where and why we are going. And the progress of integration must be carefully evaluated. So that – if something doesn't work – you just gets out of it. And to try a different, better way.

We have to set goals

Again, paradoxically (putting the drama of the ongoing war aside), Ukraine, unlike Poland, has clear goals ahead: joining the EU and NATO. We have already achieved this, and there is little evidence of a new direction to pursue beyond the general welfare of all citizens.

Why shouldn’t we want to cooperate closely – as an alliance or confederation – between countries which, historically speaking, are very close. Do we fear that Vladimir Putin or Sergey Lavrov will once again announce that Poland “wishes to control Ukraine”. And that they will scare the Ukrainians with “a return of the Polish nobility”? Or maybe we are afraid of ourselves that it is us, Poles, who shall suddenly feel “a longing for our borderlands” and come up with an idea to polonize our neighbors?

There is no need to fear difficult challenges. To paraphrase the words of Filip Memches, Poland's raison d'état is Ukraine as a country that is independent and strong in relation to the Kremlin. This does not mean, however, that we cannot think about a mutually beneficial, gradual, Polish-Ukrainian integration in the long run.

– Piotr Kościński
– Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: Day of the Constitution of Ukraine, celebrated on June 28, 2022 in Kraków. The participants of the ceremony at the Wawel hill are holding Polish and Ukrainian flags, and in a moment they will break the world record in simultaneous performance of the song “Chervona Kalyna” in various parts of the world with which they connected via the Internet. Photo Artur Widak / NurPhoto via Getty Images
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