What is harmful for Ukraine?

Ukrainians have rejected the “Russkiy Mir” but it doesn’t mean they are longing for social engineers who would treat them to political correctness.

The Year of Polish Romanticism is drawing to an end. Those passing 12 months were overwhelmingly a time of war waged by Russia against Ukraine. And it is worth noticing that in many respects the current situation of Ukrainians resembles what happened to Poles in the 19th Century. It is Ukraine’s sovereign political existence that is at stake in the confrontation with Russia.

Surely, Russia didn’t manage to do the same to Ukraine what three partitioning powers did to Poland towards the end of the 18th Century. The Ukrainian state “lasts” – also or maybe above all due to the help coming to it from the West. Whereas the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was doomed to stand alone.

No wonder then that the November Uprising received no substantial support from any considerable power in Europe. It was even condemned by the pope Gregory XVI in the “Cum primum” encyclical letter from 1832 (though later on the bishop of Rome explained his stance by saying he feared that the tsar would start to persecute Catholic clergy in Polish lands).

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE But there were also milieus in Europe which were well disposed towards the November Insurrection. Only that they hadn’t yet seize power in their country for good. One can mention here liberals or democratic movements. They stood against the Holy Alliance, i.e. the alliance of countries guarding the aristocratic order in Europe from all kinds of revolutionaries.

In this historical context Poland’s being alone in Europe became an important political motive in the work of Polish romantics. Not only verses, poems or dramas discussed in Poland as school readings prove this. One can also point out philosophical writings and epistolography left by the national bard.

For instance, the correspondence between Juliusz Słowacki and Zygmunt Krasiński is worthy of attention. Recently it has been published by Polski Instytut Wydawniczy as part of a great projects which is to be a twenty-volume “Complete works” edition of the first of the aforementioned poets.

Słowacki and Krasiński are commonly perceived as antagonists as to matters regarding social conflicts. However the letters they exchanged bear witness not only to their friendship but also to their experiencing the national captivity in a similar way. Thinking about the world’s history in apocalyptic categories was close to their hearts. They treated the lack of a Polish state as a collective passion experience.

Even though the time of Polish is a distant past, it has something common with the present. It is about a turning point resulting in reshaping the architecture of the world.

In 19th Century Europe these were nation-making processes (this thread also comes up in the Słowacki-Krasiński correspondence). The emergence of nations as modern, egalitarian communities made the feudal order come crushing down and induced democratization of societies. Gradually, groups of the broadly understood political Left joined the competition for power in Western countries. It was them to place emancipation demands on their banners.

One can assume that if the Holy Alliance with its suppressing all nationalism had lasted until the 21st Century, not only wouldn’t the Ukrainian state have been created but also there would be no Polish independence.

In turn we are dealing with a phenomenon of East-Central Europe – i.e. countries situated between Germany and Russia – winning political subjectivity. The powers that, over the course of history, have exercised hegemony over this part of the Old Continent are afraid of losing their position. And although nothing has been settled it may be that this exactly what is awaiting them.

No wonder then that The Polish-Ukrainian rapprochement causes anxiety in the salons of Berlin and Paris. German and Frnech political elites want to have it “as it was” meaning so that there comes back the possibility of making deals with Russia.

Juliusz Słowacki and Zygmunt Krasiński as portrayed by Władysław Barwicki. Photo: ART Collection / Alamy Stock Photo/ PAP/Alamy
It seems that Americans have a different approach to the aspirations of East-Central Europeans countries. It is perhaps the so-called deep state that is playing the key role here. It is manifested by the fact that irrespective of who is now president, the US cannot allow themselves to make abrupt U-turns in international politics. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine must have encountered a resolute response on the part of America’s ruling class. Otherwise the reputation of the US would have deteriorated which could have had disastrous results for the country.

But what is happening in East-Central Europe constitutes in the US a matter of ideological and outlook dispute too. A considerable part of the American Right – associated with such names as Fox NEWS journalist Tucker Carlson – express their opposition bluntly. Quite perversely, it has been defying anything that the political party at power does. It refers also to pro-Ukrainian actions of the White House. The main argument against the Biden administration that is being put forward can be summarized as follows: not only the Russians, but also the Ukrainians hold responsibility for the bloodshed in Ukraine.

And recently, in the comments of right-wing American columnists, a really bizarre accusation appeared against Ukrainian politicians. It’s about the mysterious case... of persecution of Christians in Ukraine. In this way, there is being repeated the Kremlin’s version of events on the subject of the Ukrainian state authorities having detected – within in the structures of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate – subversive activity in favor of Russia.

One may get the impression that part of the American right is simply detached from reality. This is, of course, an optimistic interpretation of the attitude of people like Carlson. The pessimistic one would be that we are dealing here with people who opt for a concert of powers and therefore believe that the US should sacrifice Ukraine on the altar of peaceful relations with Russia. However, this doesn’t mean there are people on the opposite side of the American political scene who define the problems accurately.

Last week Volodyyr Zelenskyy gave a speech to the joint chambers of the American Congress. The Ukrainian president was shown enthusiasm by the US vice-president Kamala Harris and the speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. For them Zelenskyy embodies the oppressed nation’s fight for freedom.

He disposition of politician in America’s ruling cap towards Russia’s war against Ukraine accurately reflects what Biden said during his speech at the Royal Castle in Warsaw in March. The US president stated then that this confrontation was a clash between democracy and autocracy. Therefore, from Biden’s perspective it has an ideological, not geopolitical dimension.

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Such approach expressed by the incumbent president fits in the vision unfolded by the well-known American historian Timothy Snyder. For him Ukraine constitutes a progressive force which opposes its conservative aggressor. In a text of his he identifies “Ukrainianess” with colorful, joyful diversity and, as we can assume, the “Russianness” – with a grey, bleak monolith. In the historians’ eyes the fact that representatives of sexual minorities serve in the Ukrainian army grows into a symbol.

Snyder is an illustrious expert in the history of East-Central Europe. And yet, since he embarked on a campaign against global “populism” during the Trump presidency, the ideological factors in his considerations have begun to outweigh objectivism.

Today Snyder looks at Ukraine form the point of view of a leftist-liberal intellectual. His vision of it is a projection of his idiosyncrasies resembling the “woke culture”. As a matter of fact there something of ideological colonialism to it.

Contemporary Ukraine is no invention of leftist-liberal intellectuals. Ukrainians have rejected the “Russkiy Mir” but it doesn’t mean that as a whole they are longing for social engineers who would treat them to political correctness. As much as Polish patriotism 200 years ago, directed at the Holy Alliance didn’t imply their choosing an anti-Christian path modeled after the French revolution.

The problem is that the discrepancy between people like Carlson and Snyder distorts reality. Banding ideological arguments – be it conservative or progressive – is harmful to Ukraine. And East-Central Europe should speak with its own voice. After all Polish romantics of the 19th Century were capable of articulating the specificity of the Polish soul.

– Filip Memches
– Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenski addressing the US Congress on December 21, 2022. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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