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«Poles and Ukrainians, Poland and Ukraine The Paradoxes of Neighbourly Relations Joanna Konieczna Institute of Sociology, Warsaw University Warsaw ...»

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Poles and Ukrainians, Poland and Ukraine

The Paradoxes of Neighbourly Relations

Joanna Konieczna

Institute of Sociology, Warsaw University

Warsaw 2003

Poles and Ukrainians, Poland and Ukraine.

The Paradoxes of Neighbourly Relations

In searching for a context within which the present image of Ukraine and of

Ukrainians in the eyes of Poles may be considered, recourse must be had to the history of these two people’s relations. In Poland, the neighbouring nations are often thought of through a historical perspective; this is particularly true in the case of the Ukrainians, with whom Poles shared a single state for several hundred years. This fact may well account for the condescending, patronising treatment meted out to Ukrainians, an attitude usually accompanied by a staunchly negative view of the various currents favouring Ukrainian independence arising at different points in the two nations’ joint history. This opposition towards Ukrainian independence prevailed even during the 19th century, when the Poles themselves were seeking allies in their own quest for national rebirth. While Polish political thought did posit the idea of Polish- Ukrainian co-operation at this time1, the debate over the future shape of a newly arisen Polish Republic came to be dominated by incorporation rather than federation concepts for combining the two groups. In this way, an idea of brotherhood was transmuted into denial of the Ukrainians’ entitlement to national identity and to their own state2.

The same was true after World War I. Adolf Juzwenko writes that3 "neither historical, political, nor ethnic grounds were conducive to Polish-Ukrainian understanding. (…) In the Second Polish Republic, the concept of a national state gained the upper hand over that of a state nation". The newly emerged Polish state followed a policy of discrimination against ethnic minorities, with mutual antagonisms deepened further by the fact that, much of the time, ethnic divisions coincided with social ones. Ukrainians – or Ruthenians, as they were 1 A synthesis of these ideas may be found in the essay by Aleksander Ziemny (1991); for a comprehensive selection of texts by proponents of Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation, from many years ago as well as from the present, please see the anthology Nie jesteśmy ukrainofilami edited by Paweł Kowal et al.(2002).

2 Also aired were ideas to the effect that Rusini were created by the powers which had partitioned Poland. Roman Dmowski, for instance, wrote that "long before the outbreak of the war, the Germans formulated the idea of organising the Małorusini [translator’s note: Small Russians – a geographic designation] into a Ukrainian state and openly lent their support to the Ukrainian national movement" (quoted after P. Kowal, Przyczynki do dziejów „sprawy ukraińskiej” w Polsce in: (P. Kowal et al. 2002) p. 10).

–  –  –

then referred to – were generally rural-dwelling peasants; the large rural estates, meanwhile, were most often owned by Poles or by Ruthenians who had become polonised.

Some publications from this period argue that Poles are culturally superior over Ukrainians, and also that Ukrainians are incapable of gaining independence (see, for instance, Kossak-Szczucka 1996). These, of course, were not the only writings on the subject, but it was they – concordant as they were with the idea of a Polish national state – which set the general tone towards Ukrainians.

The complex nature of Polish-Ukrainian relations was made even more difficult by the dramatic events of World War II; insofar as the collective Polish memory of the war and its immediate aftermath involves Ukrainians, the recollection is of what would today be called ethnic cleansing and of wholesale slaughter of Poles perpetrated by Ukrainian fighters. This issue is further complicated by the fact that, during communist times, the subject was banished from all official discourse; historians shunned discussion of it, no research was conducted, etc.

Such knowledge as was passed on took the form of oral accounts by those who witnessed the upheaval and lived to tell their tale. Ukraine was a republic of the Soviet Union, and Poland was a Soviet satellite state; this circumstance predetermined and limited any discussion of shared history. This discussion could begin in earnest only in the year 1991.

In the meantime, books published in Poland after the war and assigned to schoolchildren as obligatory reading did their part to reinforce the stereotype of Ukrainians as war criminals; many young people were left with the conclusion that the sole purpose of the Ukrainian Insurgents’ Army lay in the murder of Poles.

For more than ten years now, Ukraine is an independent country. The PolishUkrainian border bears little resemblance indeed to the one familiar from Soviet times. Almost from the very beginning of political and economic changes in Poland, Poles have had quite intensive contacts with Ukrainians as well as with other nationalities once included in the Soviet Union. These contacts are significantly different from those pursued during communist times not only by virtue of their unprecedented intensity.





3 See the introduction to the anthology already cited, Nie jesteśmy ukrainofilami.

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For many years, Poles were used to travel abroad, usually to Western Europe, to take up work – most usually unofficial – and to thus improved their material lot.

Today, they encounter foreigners from further east who arrive in Poland for the very same purpose. This is an altogether new social phenomenon which is bound to exert its impact on the image of Ukrainians as perceived by Poles and on Polish attitudes towards Ukrainians as a national group and towards Ukraine as a state.

Ukraine is the largest European country which, following the next round of the European Union’s enlargement, will find itself outside the outer boundary of the EU4. Since the first days of its independence, Ukraine has been occupying a prominent place in Poland’s foreign policy. Polish relations with Ukraine have been the object of considerable attention on the part of the mass media, and the ties being forged between the two countries are assuming a new importance with Poland’s imminent accession to the EU.

All these motives – the new role of Ukrainians as economic migrants, the social perception of the Ukrainian state in Poland – were taken into account in the survey discussed in the present paper5. An important issue was posed in exploring the opinion held by society at large in Poland as regards the country’s policy vis a vis Ukraine. The first study to take into account almost all of these elements was carried out two years earlier - in January of 2001 - by the Institute of Public Affairs. On many points, the data published by the Institute of Public Affairs (see Konieczna, 2001) served as a point of reference for us, enabling us to formulate conclusions concerning tendencies and trends in the analysed phenomena.

1. Ukrainians as Migrants Sociologists generally consider Polish society to be ill-disposed towards strangers, if not downright xenophobic6. In the past, such attitudes had favourable conditions in which to appear because the average Pole had little 4 While Russia is clearly larger, it can not be classified as an unqualifiedly European country.

5 The study presented in this paper was commissioned by the Stefan Batory Foundation and carried out by the Centre for Social Opinion Research (CBOS) on December 7-8, 2002. The sample comprised 1 000 people. The study constitutes part of the project pursued by the Stefan Batory Foundation and the Widrodzhennia Foundation, The Enlarged EU and Ukraine – New Relations; it was financed out of resources made available by the PAUCI Foundation.

6 See, eg, Paulo de Carvalho, Studenci obcokrajowcy w Polsce, IS UW, Warsaw 1990.

4 Poles and Ukrainians, Poland and Ukraine.

The Paradoxes of Neighbourly Relations contact with foreigners. Foreign workers were an absolutely unknown phenomenon in Poland. For decades, Poland herself was a source of migrants seeking better livelihoods in the labour markets of Western Europe and beyond – certainly not a target of such travels. Those rare cases where foreigners did take up work or permanent residence in Poland were negligible from the statistical point of view, too much of an exception to have any impact on the awareness or outlook of the average citizen.

In the early 1990s, this situation began to change; the causes for this were manifold, the break-up of the Soviet Union and of the East Bloc being not the least among them. In the beginning, Poland became a transit country; in recent years, however, it has become a destination for immigrants in its own right (Iglicka, 2003). This fact has implications for Poland’s labour market as well as for the social perception of Poland’s neighbours to the east, whose representatives are now arriving in Poland in search of employment, whether legal or otherwise.

How is Polish society reacting to these phenomena? As it turns out, Poles are now taking a relatively friendly view of economic migrants, especially if the query about that view is couched in general terms. Asked about the preferred course of action to be adopted by the Polish government with regard to foreigners arriving in Poland from countries with a poorer economic situation, many respondents replied that such people should be allowed to work (a total of 46%). Only 17% of the respondents expressed definite opposition to migrants;

32% believed that the Polish government should seek to limit the influx of foreigners to Poland. For an illustration, please see graph 1.

Graph 1 What course of action should the government take with regard to economic migrants arriving in Poland ?

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Three years earlier, in 1999, almost one-third of the respondents (31%) took the position that foreigners should not be permitted to work in Poland at all7; the proportion of respondents voicing such a view today has fallen by half, down to 17%.

More than any other factor, the attitudes presented here were dependent on age. This dependency was almost linear in nature – the younger the respondents, the better disposed they were towards immigrants. In the lowest age category, comprising persons aged between 18 and 24, a total of 60% of the respondents expressed the view that all immigrants should be permitted to work or that immigrants should be able to work provided that there are jobs available for them.

Map 1 Regional differentiation in attitudes towards economic migrants differentiation

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Older respondents were more keen to limit the influx of economic migrants to Poland.

It should also be noted that the degree of openness towards immigrants varied significantly among different regions of the country. The greatest number of persons favouring limits on arrivals by foreigners is to be found in the southeastern regions of Poland abutting on Ukraine (map 1). By contrast, inhabitants of western and northern Poland – i.e. regions where practically all the residents are, in a sense, immigrants or descendants of immigrants – are the most open towards immigration8.

7 See the CBOS study from October 1999 discussed in the article by Sławomir Łodziński (2002) 8 For an explanation of the geographic division of Poland adopted for purposes of this study, please see the Annex.

–  –  –

The data presented here might be taken as suggesting that Poles, while generally willing to accept immigrants in their midst, harbour some particular antipathy towards migrants from Ukraine. More thorough analysis of the results, however, demonstrates that, although some negative sentiments certainly do occur, the nature of Polish attitudes towards Ukrainians is much more complex.

Any interpretation of attitudes towards Ukrainians as compared to the overall view of economic migrants must take account of the fact that Ukrainians are the most numerous and most visible group among the foreigners trying to search for earning in Poland.

Contacts between Poles and Ukrainians One of the important factors influencing the image of Ukrainians in the perception of Poles is presented in the frequency of contacts between the twin nations as well as in the nature of such contacts.

It is a known fact that no personal experiences or contacts are needed for the entrenchment of a stereotype; rather, stereotypes belong to the cultural tradition and system of values in force within a given societal group (Nawrocki 2001). The stereotype of a Jew exists despite of the fact that there are very few Jews to be found in Poland.. As a matter of fact, "live" interaction actually serve to modify stereotypes and prevent them from taking root in some simplified and schematised form. The images of other ethnic groups shaped through constant contact with that group’s representatives have a cognitive function rather than an ideological one and tend to carry less emotional freight (on the different functions of stereotypes, see Kofta, Jasińska-Kania 2001).

Contacts between Poles and Ukrainians are rather frequent. More than half of the respondents (53%) admitted to first-hand contact with Ukrainians. It nonetheless appears that, in recent years, the circle of people interacting with Ukrainians has not expanded, with exactly the same result obtained in the Institute of Public Affairs study executed two years ago (Konieczna 2001). In other words, the stereotype-modifying influence of personal contacts extends to only a portion of the population.

7 Poles and Ukrainians, Poland and Ukraine.



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