Our past and our present must serve the future
On the eve of the sad anniversary of the Ukrainian-Polish conflict and the memory of its victims, we, Ukrainians, members of the civic committee “Reconciliation between Nations” recalling the heroic and tragic pages of our relations with our neighbor the Polish people and aspiring to harmonious cooperation with them today and in the future, consider it indispensable to affirm the following:
Almighty God made our two peoples neighbors. Thanks to this gift of God, we have close languages and traditions that offer us the possibility to understand and get to know each other better. Ukrainian and Polish history is replete with pages revealing our peaceful coexistence and shared noble feats, as well all too many conflicts that, thanks to Providence, never took on an all-encompassing character.
However, dramatic recollections of conflicts are retained in human memory much more vividly than harmonious cooperation and joint victories. Complex relations are characteristic of all nations that live next to each other. One feature of Ukrainian-Polish relations is the unfortunate circumstance that for an extensive period of time our nations were deprived of statehood, and their relations with each other were exacerbated by deliberate provocations engineered by imperialistic forces in order to maintain their rule.
Both our nations lived through the terrible tragedy of the Second World War, when they were at the mercy of two murderous, totalitarian regimes: Nazi and Communist. Ukrainians and Poles frequently helped each other to endure those dreadful days; sometimes, however, preoccupied with their own survival, they looked on passively while others suffered. It is to be greatly regretted that there were tragic moments when we raised arms against each other, with the result that thousands of innocent people on both sides lost their lives.
We extend our sincerest sympathies to our Polish contemporaries, the descendants of those who perished or suffered at the hands of Ukrainians, as we do to the descendants of those Ukrainians who perished or suffered at the hands of Poles. In particular, we are compelled to do so by the recollection of the tragedy that took place in the Volyn region seventy years ago. We bow our heads to the memory of the victims, call upon all to take part in prayers for them, and appeal to all to do everything possible so that nothing like this will never be repeated!
In analyzing the present, which is attested by twenty years of good neighbor relations, we declare with satisfaction that this is how it should always be; this is our great goal. We ask our fellow Ukrainians and Polish brothers to look at the past through the prism of contemporaneity and to acknowledge that our present state of good neighborliness was achieved through much suffering over many centuries and that the conflicts of the past were never the foundation of our life together.
These conflicts were part of a historical process which, in the end, brought us to the present time, and this must be accepted; we must not seek revenge. Our task now is to do everything to ensure that such sufferings, especially loss of life, will never happen again in our mutual relations.
Without a doubt, the joint foundation of our national distinctiveness is our belief in Jesus Christ, which unites us and transforms us into children of the One Heavenly Father. That is why we should acknowledge that throughout the centuries both our Christian peoples often violated God’s commandments and committed evil. But we, existing children of our Christian nations and children of God, must acknowledge our forefathers’ transgressions and on their behalf forgive each other for the terrible sins that were committed on both sides. “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6: 14–15). This was already achieved by the direct participants of the conflict, who at one time were able not only to put an end to the mutual bloodshed, but also to rise up together in the struggle against the common enemy—the Communist regime. Hence there is all the more reason for us, their descendants who are living in different circumstances that are best suited to harmonious coexistence, to demonstrate the capacity to express mutual forgiveness.
Major steps have already been taken. For example, mutual forgiveness was offered by the hierarchs of our churches in 1946, 1987, and 2005. In 2003 the joint declarations of Ukrainian and Polish intellectuals were circulated, and official statements were issued by the representatives of both our states: first, by the highest legislative bodies—the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and the Polish Sejm—and later by the presidents of Ukraine and Poland. Therefore, at the present time we already have normative acts on mutual forgiveness in place, which are extremely important to both our nations.
We should go further and develop our good neighbor relations. It is precisely these kinds of relations that will serve as a worthy monument to those who perished, proof that tragedy has taught us to live in the Christian way.
We should also safeguard the achievements attained thus far and prevent sundry, irresponsible political – revanchists, who continue to nurture feelings of mutual hatred, from transforming the memory of the difficult past into an instrument that will destroy our current rapport.
Politicians who are governed by statesmanlike thinking and care about the good of their people have already spoken on this matter and should now look to the future. Let historians continue debating the causes, scale, and consequences of the Ukrainian-Polish conflict. They should explain this tragedy to the maximum extent possible, thereby providing our nations with crucial historical truth.
We are confident that our initiative, aimed at safeguarding mutual understanding and good neighborliness, will be supported by concerned citizens of Ukraine and Poland. For we remember the eternal Gospel truth: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31).
It is only by acting in concert that we can pay proper tribute to those who perished and guarantee peaceful and harmonious coexistence to current and future generations of Ukrainians and Poles.
- The First President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk
- His Holiness, the Patriarch of Kyiv and All Rus-Ukraine Filaret
- The Most Reverend Symeon, Metropolitan of Vinnytsia and Mohyliv-Podilskyi
- His Beatitude Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, Major Archbishop Emeritus
- Myroslav Marynovych
- Maria Matios
- Borys Olijnyk
- Ada Rohovceva
- Ivan Vasiunyk
- Volodymyr Viatrovych
- Ihor Yuhnovsky