So it is not only the Benes Decretes hounting the spirits in Central Europe...POLISH PRESIDENT CONDEMNS 'OPERATION VISTULA.' Last week President Aleksander Kwasniewski expressed regret over "Operation Vistula" -- a forced expulsion by the communist authorities in 1947 of some 140,000 ethnic Ukrainians from their native areas in the southeastern part of the country to Poland's newly acquired northern and western territories, the so-called Recovered Lands, Polish media reported. In a letter to the National Remembrance Institute (IPN) and participants in the IPN-organized conference on "Operation Vistula" in Krasiczyn near Przemysl (southeastern Poland), Kwasniewski wrote:
"On behalf of the Polish Republic, I would like to express regret to all those who were wronged by [this operation].... The infamous 'Operation Vistula' is a symbol of the abominable deeds perpetrated by the communist authorities against Polish citizens of Ukrainian origin.... It was believed for years that 'Operation Vistula' was the revenge for the slaughter of Poles by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in the east in 1943-44. Such a reasoning is fallacious and ethically inadmissible. It [involves] a principle of group accountability with which we cannot agree. The slaughter of Poles cannot serve as an excuse for the brutal pacification of Ukrainian villages and the expulsion of populace. 'Operation Vistula' should be condemned."
Professor Eugeniusz Mironowicz from Bialystok University, a historian specializing in the Polish communist authorities' policies vis-a-vis the country's ethnic minorities, presented a political background of 'Operation Vistula' at the conference in Krasiczyn. Mironowicz argued that the Polish authorities were determined to solve the problem of the Ukrainian minority by resettlement immediately after the liberation of Poland from the Nazis. In September 1944, the Polish Committee of National Liberation (an interim governing body) signed accords with the governments of the Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania on repatriation and exchange of population. In theory, the repatriation process should have been voluntary, but in practice forcible and violent methods were applied to Ukrainians, who were decidedly unenthusiastic about resettling in the Ukrainian SSR.
In 1944, the government tried to prompt Ukrainians to leave their villages in the Bieszczady Mountains by increasing taxes and quotas of compulsory supplies of agricultural products to the state. This policy proved to be only partly successful: in 1944, some 80,000 Ukrainians of the estimated community of 600,000 left Poland for the Soviet Union. In 1945, the government sent considerable armed forces to the southeastern part of the country. In the autumn of 1945, these troops joined police, security-service forces, and border guards in the compulsory relocation of Ukrainians to the Soviet Union. There were many fights between Polish troops and UPA guerrillas who wanted to prevent the resettlement. The peak of the deportation of Ukrainians to the Soviet Union occurred in the autumn of 1946, when some 200,000 people were relocated within four months. In total, according to official data, some 490,000 Ukrainians were expelled from Poland to the Ukrainian SSR.
According to Mironowicz, in November 1946 the General Staff of the Polish army proposed to the government to dispose of the remaining Ukrainians -- and ethnic Lemkos who inhabited the adjacent Beskid Niski region but remained fairly reserved about defining themselves as Ukrainians and supporting UPA fighters -- by way of "internal deportation." The "internal deportation" meant a compulsory dissipated resettlement of some 140,000 people in Poland's Recovered Lands. The government made a formal decision on the deportation of Ukrainians in the spring of 1947. Polish textbooks of history assert that the official go-ahead for "Operation Vistula" was given a day after the assassination of General Karol Swierczewski -- Poland's deputy defense minister -- by the UPA in an ambush in the Bieszczady Mountains on 28 March 1947. Mironowicz said the killing of Swierczewski served as a convenient pretext for the communist authorities to launch a drastic resettlement operation, but in fact it had nothing to do with the chain of political decisions that were made on the deportation earlier. "Operation Vistula" began on 28 April 1947.
The newly appointed Ukrainian ambassador to Poland, Oleksandr Nykonenko, also sent a letter to last week's conference in Krasiczyn. Nykonenko wrote that Kwasniewski's apology is an important step in assessing the Polish communist regime's crimes against ethnic Ukrainians. "There is a lot being done to overcome 'ghosts of the past' in Poland and in Ukraine," PAP quoted from Nykonenko's letter.
Some Polish media noted, however, that while Poland is really doing a lot to look at its past from a new perspective in a bid to overcome historical barriers to friendly Polish-Ukrainian relations, Ukraine is doing decidedly too little. The private TVN Television, while praising Kwasniewski's statement on "Operation Vistula," commented simultaneously that Warsaw is still waiting for Kyiv's official apology for massacres of the Polish population in Ukraine's Volhynia region in 1943. According to Polish historians, the UPA brutally murdered between 60,000 and 70,000 Polish civilians in Volhynia in 1943. In connection with these massacres, the IPN branch in Lublin has launched an investigation into crimes of genocide committed by Ukrainian nationalists (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 8 May 2001).