12:53 Oct. 14, 2016
Polish civic leader and ex-Deputy Minister of Education and Foreign Affairs Krzysztof Stanowski commented RFE/RL the notorious movie about the Volhynia tragedy
I am neither a film critic nor a film fan. I do not like movies that cause feeling of horror by showing blood and violence. Perhaps it's because I've seen too much unhappiness in my life: in interrogation cells, in refugee camps, in villages with no single male left. I have met many people wounded during Maidan. I have had many friends who had lost their lives in Crimea or hadn't returned from the front…
By request of regional authorities, yesterday in a town of Goleniów I had a conversation with the first viewers of "Volhynia" film by Smarzowski. Many ethnic Ukrainians live within local community, relocated here during "Vistula" operation – approximately two thousands of migrants from Ukraine. At the hall entrance there is an exhibition dedicated to 25th anniversary if Ukrainian Independence.
The film ends. People keep silence. Some of them leave. How do I start the conversation?
My Lord, grant them eternal rest... We forgive and ask to be forgiven.
40-60 thousands of Poles were brutally murdered in Volhynia. Holocaust devoured almost all Jewish there. Tens of thousands Ukrainians perished there too during the war. The film tells the bitter truth about nationalism. To everyone. Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, Russians… Nationalism kills your soul. It leads your neighbours to death, lightning its way by torches and screams.
Considering Volhynia tragedy, one should remember that citizens of Rzech Pospolyta (official name of Polish state – UT) both did killings and were killed there. If we define them simpler – as Poles – we need to be consistent and admit that Poles murdered Poles.
The film of Smarzowski is the story told by one side. It shows Polish point of view on what happened on Volhynia. Sometimes it looks like it's the movie about Spartacus uprising filmed by Roman. It was all good and nice, and we all lived in harmony, but suddenly on reason unknown they started rioting and killing their neighbours. It was not all that good, though. The film indirectly reminds us about social inequality. About appointed Poles in al high offices. About destroying churches in 1930-ies, performed by Polish Army. Mistakenly (according to what I know) Poles are shown as fluently speaking Ukrainian (even praying Ukrainian), also numerous mixed marriages. The film totally ignores the fact that during Polish-Soviet war in 1919-1921 the only allies Poland had were Petlura's soldiers of Ukrainian People Republic. Film doesn't mention General Marko Bezruchko, Sich Rifle Division commander who led the defence of Zamosz against the Red Army. Poland betrayed them all by Riga peace treaty in 1921, when we recognized Ukrainian Soviet Republic and soldiers who defended Warsaw against the Soviet occupation were locked away in internment camps. Most of those soldiers died of various diseases there. Betrayed and forgotten. Instead, Smarzowski - with no reliable sources or evidences - shows how Greek Catholic Church (not present in Volhynia at the time) sanctified axes and knives.
Besides one final scene – where Poles get their revenge over Ukrainians – all who die in the movie are mainly Poles, Jews, and one Soviet teacher. Death eludes Ukrainians on the screen. The film promotes this stereotype: Poles can be good, neutral or sneaky; but Ukrainians can only be evil, very evil or the evilest of them all – those who shout "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Heroes!" These are the Ukrainians and Ukraine today's Russian propaganda keeps telling us about.
Mass massacres of Poles in Volhynia is a crime of the dreadful time of nationalism. Hierarchs of Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and President of Ukraine admitted it and asked for our, Polish forgiveness more than once. In my native Lublin Nadiya Savchenko asked the same – Ukrainian hero whom Russian investigators couldn't broke.
During Russian aggression against Ukraine
There is no good time for films like this. We shouldn't forget that tragedy. The film about Volhynia was bound to appear. However, there can be especially bad time. Smarzowski work comes out on big screens at the same moment when Ukraine tries to defend itself from Russian aggression. It is war for Independence. Ours as well. Crimea is occupied. During last two years, approximately 20 thousands of Ukrainians were killed at the front – soldiers, doctors, journalists. The same number as the population of Goleniów. One and a half million of people (populations of Poznan, Szczecin, Gdansk and Gdynia summed up) were forced to leave their bombarded and occupied homes in Donbass and Crimea. Every Ukrainian town has taken in certain amount of refugees. Coffins and mutilated heroes continue to come back to Ukrainian homes. Showing this film now is like supporting the idea about excesses of the Polish nobility, Targowiсa betrayal during the Warsaw Uprising. Only Moscow is happy. Oh, if they only could quarrel like that again.
The film is on the big screen. Youth flocks to the movie theatres. At the same time, Ukrainians live beside us. English teachers, programmers, janitors, workers. Some of them will go out to see "Volhynia". Most of them see advertising posters or trailers on TV. They silently listen to the Poles commenting the film in the bus, or in the office, or at home. Most of them had never heard about Volhynia crimes before. Their parents lived in Soviet Union, the state that fuelled the hatred towards Polish nobility and simultaneously tortured Ukraine by staging an artificial famine, which resulted in millions of deaths. Getting out to the streets of their cities – during Revolution on Granite, then Orange Revolution and finally during Dignity Revolution – Ukrainians believed that their dreamed-about state would also take the European way. Perhaps not right away, but would join European community. Against the tradition, upheld by grandmas and grandpas, these people believed that Poles were the same neighbours who will support them in need and are friends indeed.
Let's not forget the victims of Volhynia tragedy. We forgive and ask to be forgiven. We realize our ancestors were not saints. They committed different unworthy deeds, which someone will definitely show in some film – for the sake of truth. Let's do everything we can to prevent memories about the crimes of the past from igniting todays hatred. The kind of hatred that kills souls and sometimes neighbours. And its starting points are writings on the walls as shown by Smarzowski, imposing the language of hatred in today's Poland, destruction of tombstones, attacking people praying near graves of their ancestors.
The 100th Anniversary of Battle of Warsaw approaches. It was the battle when Poles and Ukrainians stood together to defend Rzech Pospolyta and Europe. Let's do all we can to remember there were also good moments in our undivided Polish-Ukrainian history. Let's take care about cemeteries. Let's pray near the graves of our common heroes. Let's tell out grandchildren about them. In both Poland and Ukraine.
Krzysztof Stanowski is a president of "Solidarity" International Fund, member of Committee of Civic Solidarity with Ukraine, former under-secretary of state in the Ministry of National Education of Poland (2007-2010) and former under-secretary of state at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2010-2012)