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Poland’s Destructive Grievance Politics

Even though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently honored the victims of a 1943 massacre of Poles by Ukrainian nationalists, some Poles still think their country is owed an apology. Worse, such demands are symptomatic of a broader embrace of messianic victimhood that has taken hold in recent years.

WARSAW – July 11 marked the 80th anniversary of the Volhynia massacre, when Ukrainian nationalists fighting for their own state slaughtered nearly 100,000 Poles in a matter of days. People were killed with axes, their entrails and eyes gouged out. Children were thrown against walls, and pregnant women were pierced with bayonets. In response, Poles then killed 10,000-15,000 Ukrainians.

Whereas Polish historians speak of the slaughter as a genocide, Ukrainians recall a war between two underground armies that were both being savaged by the Nazis and the Soviets. To this day, the lack of a Ukrainian apology remains one of the biggest obstacles to a Polish-Ukrainian alliance. Even though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky honored the victims of the massacre at a recent meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda, some in Poland still complained, arguing that Duda should have demanded more.

But this is rather ironic, considering that Poland has a robust tradition of refusing to admit guilt for its own historical wrongs. In Poland, one never speaks about how their forebears brutalized and exploited Ukrainian peasants over the centuries. If you read historian Daniel Beauvois’s account of Ukraine’s treatment during the First Polish Republic and under the partitions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, your hair will stand on end. Yet, beyond a small circle of historians and bookworms, few people in Poland know anything about these matters. All they “know” is that they are owed an apology from the Ukrainians.

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