Exploitation of historical politics in Poland in recent years has become one of the main ways to mobilize the electorate. Back then currently ruling Law and Justice Party (LJ) successfully used this driver in the fight against opponents who were presented as being not enough patriotic. The conservatives, led by Yaroslav Kachinsky, armed with the slogans inviting turn to the “true patriotism” as response to the liberal narrative of the previous government, managed to form a solid electoral base, and ultimately got win and came to power. This was facilitated by the fact that proceeding from the experience of previous election campaigns, the attention of the Polish public, which is very sensitive to historical issues, can easily be switched from pressing issues of domestic politics and socio-economic issues to the issues of the past – i.e. relations with Germany or Ukraine.
LJ was expected to organise something similar during current election campaign to the Sejm. However, the recent visit of the new President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky to Poland finally led off melting the ice in relations between Poland and Ukraine inherited from the previous President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko.
It seems that the Polish authorities considered it fundamentally important to be aware of the commitment of the new president of Ukraine to build relationships from scratch. Vladimir Zelensky’s visit confirmed these expectations. Although the narratives of economic cooperation and security challenges were raised during the visit incidentally, Warsaw demonstrated their commitment to intensify interstate cooperation immediately as soon as Vladimir Zelensky’s promise to lift the moratorium on search and exhumation works is officially fulfilled.
Recently, Ukraine has provided Poland with formal consent to the renewal of exploration and exhumation work in its territory. The issue, which has recently been one of the most acute in relations between Poland and Ukraine, has been resolved positively on a practical level. Therefore, it would be illogical for LJ to exploit the fundamental provisions of their historical policy when building (loyal) relations with the new authorities in Kyiv during the election campaign to the Sejm, that is, to focus on the past injustices and grievances and on the moral superiority of Poland, which fought against totalitarian regimes and Bandera adherents. Evidently, one cannot say that this is the position of the political force as a body. It is gross and diversified. It is quite probable that such representatives of the right-wing anti-Ukrainian arm of the party, such as, for example, deputy of the Sejm Sylvester Chruszcz, will keep promoting Ukrainophobic trends, playing the game of those who would like to maintain the situation of conflict (in modern Poland) between real politics and nationalism. “Neutralization” of such politicians may become a real challenge for the current government.
Liberals and the Left, who do not address historical memory issues as fetish, take this issue very moderately, believing that a compromise may be reached on many issues.
However, we should mention that some political forces involved into the election campaign tend to increase their rating among voters (just) by appealing to national feelings. These forces may be conditionally divided into two groups. The first includes those who are stubborn and persistent in their use of the historical past in their selfish interests. The ancient Greeks called such people, incapable of thinking in terms of political categories and acting in the interests of their state, ‘idiots’. The second group includes those who knowingly politicize history being influenced by powerful shadow player.
Such a shadow player is Russia, making efforts to drive a wedge between the Polish people and neighboring peoples, especially Ukrainians. Nothing new. Russia has practiced this since tsarists times. The most influential, if we may say so, parties and organizations, which promote the anti-Ukrainian, as well as anti-American and anti-European map, are the Kukiz`15 movement, the right-wing radical group Confederation interparty bloc which includes the KORWiN, the National Movement, All-Polish Youth and other (as well as multiple) marginal groups. By politicizing the issues of historical memory, populists from Kukiz`15 and the right-wing radicals from Confederation, create an informational background favorable to Kremlin. These parties are sympathetic to the revanchist course implemented by Russia against Ukraine, though they have their own subjectivity and do not always coordinate their actions with Moscow.
However, such marginal structures as Smena, Falanga, Camp of Great Poland, National Rebirth of Poland, National Radical Camp, Self-Defence of the Republic of Poland are totally pro-Kremlin, and receive Kremlin organizational and financial support. Their features are anti-Americanism, Europhobia, Ukrainophobia. (Carrying out their election campaign to the Sejm,) following the instructions of their masters, they implement the most outrageous actions related to issues of history and their influence on present situation. For example, Ukrainians are accused of aggravating the economic situation in Poland – supposedly their presence in the state was one of the preconditions for the decrease in wages, etc. In their attempts to make such marginal statements mainstreaming, they seek provoking hatred of Ukrainians, which is beneficial to Kremlin.
On October 13, parliamentary elections will be held in Poland. Progress of the current election campaign gives reasons to hope that the pro-Kremlin forces which play on ethnic and political conflicts will be defeated.
The discussion of “historical politics” is an important part of real politics. It requires mutual wisdom and sympathy. Reconciliation between nations is a social process, and it is very difficult. Perhaps the new Sejm deputies will seize the opportunity and downgrade the big fuss over controversial issues. The shadows of our ancestors should not deprive us of the chance to build good relations with our neighbors.