July 1, 2013

Ukrainian-Polish Relations: the Truth and Myths. "Zakerzonia". Part 1

Within the three years after the Second World War (1945-1948) Poland was inflamed by mass insurgency that could develop into a real civil war. This movement was of two kinds: the resistance of the Polish, which began during the German occupation of Poland, and the liberation movement of the Ukrainian population of Holm, Peremyshlyanschyna and Lemkivshchyna (lands of the Eastern Poland). Their common features were not perceiving the communist system in Poland and seriously enough resisting it. The Polish communist regime of that time had to attract a considerable number of armed forces and significant financial resources to the operation of counter-insurgency, which lasted from the beginning of 1945 up to 1948.

But these rebel movements also differed in many aspects: namely, in the sources of origin and ethnic composition of participants, organization and goals, as well as strategy and tactics.

George Nathaniel Curzon, 1859-1925. The Viceroy of India (1899-1906), Minister of Foreign Affairs of Great Britain (1919-1924), Leader of the House of Lords (1916-1925), Lord President of the Council (1916-1919, 1924-1925)
George Nathaniel Curzon, 1859-1925. The Viceroy of India (1899-1906), Minister of Foreign Affairs of Great Britain (1919-1924), Leader of the House of Lords (1916-1925), Lord President of the Council (1916-1919, 1924-1925)

The Polish resistance movement was an anti-regime one, while the Ukrainian movement was also aiming at liberation from Polish oppression. What was the Ukrainian movement in the so-called "Zakerzonia territory" about? Currently it is the land of the South-Eastern part of Poland. The name comes from the term "Curzon Line". This line was proposed in July 1920 by the British Foreign Minister Lord Curzon to demarcate the borders between the Soviet Russia and Poland, after they had concluded a truce.

Later, during World War II, the region twice had been torn off from the Western Ukraine. For the first time this happened in August 1939, when Hitler and Stalin agreed to divide Poland. Then the newly formed Soviet-German border, according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, almost coincided with the "Curzon Line".

The second time it happened in February 1945, when the Allies had agreed in Yalta on the demarcation of the Soviet-Polish border. It was again established nearly exactly along the "Curzon Line". Hence the name Zakerzonia (Transcurzonia).

Zakerzonia is a strip of land, averagely 150 km wide, that lies North of the cities of Lublin and Holm to the South along the former Soviet-Polish border to the current Polish-Slovak-Ukrainian border in the Carpathian Mountains. Those were historical Ukrainian lands of Holmshchyna, Peremyshlyanshchyna and Lemkivshchyna, inhabited mainly by ethnical Ukrainians(more than 650 thousand people).

The region was considered a behindland from both, an economic and a social — political points of view. Ukrainians lived there mainly by peasant communities and mainly in Zheshow and South-Eastern part of Lublin region, making ethnic majority of the local population. Ukrainian rebels successfully used peculiarities of the territory, where they were favored, in particular, by the rugged terrain of wooded hills of the Southern Highlands and the natural shield of the Carpathian Mountains.

The pre-war Poland was extremely unstable because of the potential threat of revolts of ethnic minorities. A lot of these minorities who were not perceived by the Polish society, were a disintegrating factor in the political arena of the country. Out of the 35 million population of the pre-war Poland, 30 percent were national minorities. The most numerous of them were Ukrainians (4.5 million). They lived on the lands of Eastern Galicia and Volyn (now Western Ukraine) and in Zakerzonia.

The policy of the Polish Government in relation to these minorities, especially to Ukrainians, was not favorable. It was characterized by persistent efforts of the Polish government and the national elite to assimilate national minorities through violent Polonization. Discrimination of Ukrainians in almost all social spheres (political, economic, social and cultural) was only warming up the traditional enmity between Ukrainians and the ruling majority — the Polish

When the active and revolutionary-minded stratum of the society has its ways of usual activities closed, this layer goes into the underground. The establishment and activities of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), a secret political liberation movement, which operated at the time of the Polish rule in Ukraine, was a direct consequence of the state of affairs in Poland in 1929-1939.

Despite the high density of ethnic Ukrainian population of Zakerzonia, before the war, the Polish government considered Ukrainians the Polish, completely ignoring their cultural, national and ethnic needs. There were very few schools with the Ukrainian language of instruction. But the Polish government still kept gradually reducing their number. Every attempt had been made to Polonize that territory and to destruct its identity. Local farmers were poor, and ways of their managing the land were primitive.

Their exact opposite was large local landowners who almost all were the Polish. Thus, the national question was closely intertwined with the agrarian one.

Let us have a closer look at a brief chronology of major political events that had led to the mass insurgency of Ukrainians in Zakerzonia. In 1919, as a result of Polish aggression against the young West Ukrainian People's Republic (ZUNR), Poland gets Western Ukrainian lands — Galicia, Volyn and Zakerzonia. Despite the agreement of allies in Versailles, Poland in 1920 legitimizes this aggression through the Riga Agreement with Communist Russia (RSFSR),having divided Ukraine with it. Veterans of the Ukrainian Liberation war (1917 — 1920) create a clandestine Ukrainian Military Organization (UMO), under the leadership of Colonel Ye. Konovalets. In 1929, Ukrainian nationalists create on the basis of UMO a secret political organization — the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), initiating a campaign of political and sometimes armed resistance to the Polish domination in Western Ukraine.

The Non-Aggression Pact of 23 August 1939 between the USSR and Germany
The Non-Aggression Pact of 23 August 1939 between the USSR and Germany. In the secret articles of Molotov-Ribbentrop protocol for the Non-Aggression Pact there is this map. The map shows the line of the state border between the USSR and Germany in the former Poland. The map was signed by Stalin and Ribbentrop

On the 23d of August, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union sign a Nonaggression Pact and the secret Protocol of the Division of Poland by the so-called "line of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact" (roughly along the "Curzon Line"). As a result of the war of Nazi Germany with Poland, Western Ukraine is joined to the Soviet Ukraine, and Zakerzonia remains part of occupied by Germans territory. On the 22nd of June, 1941, Germany attacks the Soviet Union, part of Western Ukraine (Eastern Galicia, and Zakerzonia) becomes part of the administrative area of a German administrative region, so-called General Province- Poland.

On the 30th of June, 1941, under the leadership of the OUN headed by S. Bandera, declares in Lviv the restoration of the Ukrainian state. In response to cruelty of German occupation authorities in Ukraine, OUN begins an armed insurgency against Germany, and in 1942, forms the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

Around the same time, the Polish create their armed resistance under the name of Armіja Krajowa (AK), acting mainly on, in fact, Polish territories, sometimes intruding onto ethnic Ukrainian lands of Western Ukraine and Zakerzonia, terrorizing the Ukrainian population.

Polish Communists also resume their activities, and in 1942 create a small partisan group, National Guard, which eventually will be the core of the pro- Communist Polish People's Army.

During 1944 OUN rebuilds its network in Zakerzonia, and the main leadership of UPA reorganizes units of UPA for a wider armed resistance.

The roots of the Ukrainian liberation insurgency in Zakerzonia in many aspects differ from the roots of the Polish insurgency movement in the autochtonous Poland. Like most Poles, Ukrainian population of Zakerzonia, due to religious and socio-economic reasons, desperately resisted planting of the communist system in the country. But the majority of ethnic Ukrainians, regardless of the political system and on the basis of their bitter experience of the recent past were also against the Polish rule.

A long-term Polish-Ukrainian enmity revived in 1939-1942, i.e. in the first three years of the German occupation of Poland, which also included Zakerzonia. Germans, led by certain political motives, especially set Ukrainians and Poles against each other in Zakerzonia. On the one hand, Ukrainians were granted certain privileges: local self- government passed into their hands, each community was allowed to open a Ukrainian school, large Polish landowners were deprived of ownership of land, part of which was given to Ukrainian peasants.

After the division of Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939, on this land began to rise rapidly activity of Ukrainian intellectuals, especially political activists who, after having escaped the Soviet occupation in Western Ukraine, settled in the German-occupied Lemkivshchyna and Peremyshlyanschyna. These emigrants became teachers of newly opened schools, as well as leaders and organizers of Ukrainian communities of Zakerzonia.

The Polish armed underground, in particular, elements of Armia Krayova, fighting against the German occupation, at the same time were carrying out anti-Ukrainian actions. Here’s what a witness of these events, while acting Head of the OUN-Banderites" and organizer of the UPA, Mykola Lebid’ reports,

"But the Poles all the time led the policy of actually a the third occupant, that is seeking at every turn, with both, the Germans and the Bolshevic partizans, to destroy and terrorize Ukrainian people. Poles began a terrorist campaign against Ukrainian people on the outskirts of the Ukrainian ethnographic lands, and especially — in Grubeshivskyi, Kholmskyi, Volodavskyi and other regions on the left bank of the Bug and Syan. This action began in 1942 with attacks on villages, murders of Ukrainian intellectuals, and later total extermination, burning and torment in Ukrainian villages. Victims of their actions in 1942 and 1943 had made more than 2,000 people. In 1944, Poles moved their terror to the Western Ukrainian lands of Galicia, and mainly — to cities. Anti-Ukrainian actions were carried out by all Poles, regardless of their party or ideological affiliation.

The enmity between Poles and Ukrainians poured into an open confrontation after the Ukrainians in 1944 expanded the radius of the revolt from western Ukraine to lands of Zakerzonia. Thus, groups of Ukrainian and Polish resistance, fighting against the German invaders, from time to time had clashes with each other. The enmity reached a boiling point when in 1944 the Central Leadership of the UPA, in order to prevent further deepening of the ethnic conflict between Poles and Ukrainians, decided to move large numbers of ethnic Poles from many regions of Western Ukraine. Most of the evicted (about 300,000 people), leaving the Ukrainian land, voluntarily settled in Zakerzonia, next to the local Ukrainian population.

However, the trigger for the beginning of a large-scale armed rebellion of Ukrainians in Zakerzonia was the territorial division and demarcation of the border between the USSR and Poland.

Curzon Line (1945) and changes of the territory of  Poland
Curzon Line (1945) and changes of the territory of  Poland

In February 1945, at the Yalta Conference, "Big Three" recognized the slightly altered "Curzon line" as demarcation line between Poland and the USSR. Especially insisted on this the Soviet Union, as most of national minorities at the Eastern territories of Poland were ethnically related to the neighboring population of Western republics of the USSR (Lithuanians, Belarusians and Ukrainians). Their inclusion in the post-war structure of the Soviet Union would eliminate the danger of future political complications (irredentism). Ukrainian population was dissatisfied not only with the transfer of Ukrainian historical territories to Poland, but also with the decision of the neighboring countries (Poland and the Soviet Union) to exchange populations — deportation of Ukrainians from Zakerzonia to the Soviet Union, and in their place settling the Polish from the Soviet Union. The situation was further complicated by the progressive communization of Poland.

In April 1943, a group of Polish Communists, located in the Soviet Union, created in Moscow their own organization- the so — called Union of Polish Patriots, thus having laid the foundation of the postwar Communist government of Poland. The first official body of that government was established in January 1944, when at the initiative of the PUWP (Polish United Workers' Party) was organized a clandestine Coalition Council (the National Council of the Fatherland). In the Council were represented selected by PUWP members of some non-Communist parties.

On the 2nd of July, 1944 the Red Army together with the newly formed Polish People's Army crossed the "Curzon Line" and NCF, at the assistance of the Soviet Union, formed the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PCNL), also known as "Lublin Committee".

The following day the NCF and PCNL through a special Manifesto declared themselves the only legitimate government of Poland. On the 5th of January, 1945, the Soviet Union recognized the Lublin Committee as “the temporary government of the liberated Poland". On the 28th of June of the same year, it turned into a "Provisional Government of National Unity," which nominally, based on the Yalta Agreements, was a coalition, and it included representatives of Polish and Russian domestic and emigration non-Communist parties. But Communists controlled the "peaks of power" — the most important Ministries, such as the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Internal Affairs, of Education and of Information.

Having achieved a political victory in the previous elections, Communists have accelerated the process of consolidation, which was completed at the end of 1947. At that time the legal opposition either had been absorbed by the political system in which Communists dominated, or had fallen apart, while the armed resistance (both, Ukrainian and Polish) had been broken everywhere.


To be continued