In the dialog between Brussels and Kiev, the question of the eurointegration of Ukraine never leaves the agenda, despite the crisis in Europe. Brussels does not give its Ukrainian partner any chances for membership in the EU, but consistently proposes economic initiatives meant to distance Ukraine from the CIS and bring it closer to the European Union. Poland has been given special functions in this case; it tried to promote the eurointegration of Ukraine during its chairmanship of the EU (the second half of 2011), and now it is conducting a lively dialog with Lithuania, which is to take the chair in the European Union July 1, 2013.
And in November 2013 in Vilnius there will be a summit of the Eastern Partnership countries at which Lithuania plans to act as an advocate for Kiev in its efforts to become closer to Brussels. Warsaw will be active in this area as well, seeing in Lithuania its key ally. However, in order to develop common positions on a number of major issues, there must not be any political friction between Vilnius and Warsaw; otherwise the duumvirate will not work. But behind the Polish-Lithuanian political accord lie serious historical grievances between the two sides.
Today Poland still remembers the victims of the tragedy in Švenčionys – the killing of 400 Lithuanian Poles by Hitler's forces and Lithuanian nationalists in 1942. The Polish people remember the events in Švenčionys as the «German-Lithuanian crimes». (1).
Švenčionys is a small town 80 km from Vilnius with a large Jewish and Polish population. First a part of the Belarusian SSR, in 1940 Švenčionys was transferred to the Lithuanian SSR. A year later, in 1941, the Germans entered the town. A Jewish ghetto appeared, whose residents were totally annihilated. The mass executions continued for two years, right up until 1943. They executed Poles along with the Jews, mostly peasants and intelligentsia. Today they are buried side by side at the local Jewish cemetery.
The executions in Švenčionys took place only a week after the massive killings of Poles near Vilnius in the forest at Ponary. There the Germans and Lithuanian nationalists killed around 100,000 people, at least 20,000 of which were Poles. Among them were well-known cultural figures and scientists (pioneer of Polish oncology Kazimierz Pelczar, law professor Mieczyslaw Gutkowski, composer and chairman of the Polish Red Cross of the Vilnius region Stanislaw Wenslawski, and geographer Wanda Rewenska).
According to the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (INR), the Lithuanian polizei were no less zealous than the fascists. A special INR report dedicated to the tragedy in Švenčionys states that «it was the Germans' largest punitive action against Poles in the Vilnius region» (2). However, even such a direct wording arouses disagreement in Polish society: to the Poles it was not only an act of vengeance; it was the mass annihilation of people of Polish nationality based on ethnicity. Lithuanian patriots are in total disagreement with such a statement of the issue and believe that Hitler's Lithuanian comrades-in-arms were fighting for Lithuania's freedom, defending it from Polish imperialism. In 2011 local Lithuanians expressed their attitude toward the memory of the Poles killed in Švenčionys by vandalizing Polish gravestones and painting swastikas on them.
This war of symbols between the Poles and Lithuanians reveals the full depth of the historical contradictions with which the history of both peoples is filled. Part of Polish society considers the Vilnius region to be Polish territory, as well as the rest of the «Kresy Wschodnie». There are many Poles in Lithuania to this day: 240,000 in a republic with a population of less than 3 million.
During its chairmanship of the EU, Poland tried to intensify not so much the economic component as the political component of its relations with countries in the Eastern Partnership, including Ukraine. Economics was only an adjunct to politics. The main demands made of Kiev were less friendship and more declarations in its relations with Moscow. Now Vilnius is proposing approximately the same thing to Kiev. Vilnius' invitations for Ukraine to join the EU are one more attempt to bind the military and political triangle of Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine together with an anti-Russian orientation. In this respect the statement of Krakow cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz is significant: «Lithuania needs Poland in order to lean on the West against the East. And Poland needs good neighbors as well» (3).
At a recent meeting with Lithuanian prime minister A. Butkevičius, Polish ambassador to Lithuania Janusz Skolimowski assessed relations between the two countries as very good (4). Neither Švenčionys nor Ponary were mentioned in the conversation between Skolimowski and Butkevičius.
Warsaw is behaving reservedly on the threshold of the upcoming anniversary of the Volynia massacre: June 11, 2013 will mark its 70th anniversary. In order not to disturb the dynamics of the Polish-Ukrainian eurointegration dialog, Warsaw is willing to sacrifice the memory of thousands of Poles wiped out by the executioners of the OUN-UPA, and even to turn a blind eye to the territorial claims made by Western Ukrainian politicians… For example, Iryna Farion, a deputy from the «Svoboda» party, plainly states that Poland has occupied 19,500 square km of original Ukrainian territory («the Ukrainian ethnic territories of Lemkovshchina, Podliashia, Sokalshchina, Ravshchina, and Kholmshchina have been annexed to Poland…») (5).
It is worth noting that Ukrainian fascist organizations on the territory of Poland receive financing from the Polish budget. In Przemyśl there is a so-called Ukrainian House which publishes the nationalist newspaper Nashe Slovo (Our Word), etc. Polish National Remembrance Foundation chairwoman Lucyna Kulinska officially addressed the government of Poland on behalf of an agitated Polish society, demanding that it stop pandering to the Ukrainian nationalist organizations in Eastern Poland and acknowledge the criminal role of Ukrainian nationalists in the mass executions of Poles: «Due to the Polish elite's cover-up of the killing of Poles in the «eastern territories», to this day in Ukraine they continue to deny their guilt for these killings…Ukraine needs to be denazified, like when Germany was rid of Hitlerism» (6).