Dialogue should help overcome ‘memory asymmetry’ of Polish-Ukrainian history


Kyiv, November 4, 2015. The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory and Polish Institute of National Remembrance initiated a Ukrainian-Polish Forum of Historians to have experts jointly discuss the most sensitive issues of Polish and Ukrainian history, namely the events of 1939-1947. According to the Head of Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, Volodymyr Vyatrovych, certain ‘memory asymmetry’ is a centerpiece of discrepancies on national memory issues between Ukraine and Poland. Each party has its own set concept of the most painful events of the past, so they are often unfamiliar with the vision of the other party. “It is this ‘memory asymmetry’ that often causes reciprocal accusations and misunderstandings. Unfortunately, politicians often use this ‘memory asymmetry’ for their own purposes. Depoliticizing these past tragedies is highly important to eliminate their destructive influence on the present. […] Historians’ expert dialogue is a primary tool to overcome ‘memory asymmetry’,” said Vyatrovych at a press briefing in Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

A common goal of the Forum’s participants is a reciprocal search for truth based on available sources.  Vyatrovych said this is highly relevant for Ukrainian historians now, as the law on accessibility of communist special services’ archives (the Law of Ukraine No. 316-VIII) was passed and researchers gained access to an enormous amount of materials showing a number of issues of the Polish-Ukrainian past from a different angle. “It is a good moment for such dialogue, as there is nothing dividing Poles and Ukrainians at present. Polish people show lots of good feelings and support towards Ukrainian people fighting for freedom and territorial integrity,” said Dr. Pawel Ukielski, Deputy Director of the Institute of National Remembrance. “I believe we will manage to reach agreements supporting fruitful dialogue between our nations.”

The first meetings on November 2-4 were devoted to the methodology of the Forum’s work. Participants discussed interaction principles and cooperation rules and evaluated the existing results of Polish and Ukrainian historians’ work and what topics still need to be investigated. The historians appointed 12 people to be participants of the Forum and approved co-chairs from the Ukrainian and Polish groups, Professor Yuriy Shapoval and Waldemar Rezmer.  Forum participants will meet twice a year, in spring and in autumn, once in Poland and once in Ukraine. Two topics will be submitted for discussion, and the results will be published on the web-site of both Institutes and in special annual publication. “The nearest meeting in March 2016 will table the issue of Polish and Ukrainian underground acting since 1939. Moreover, in October we will discuss the most sensitive issue historians dared to tackle, anti-Polish operation of 1943,” said Dr. Ukielski.

“We do understand there still will be some pages of history perceived in a different way, but it is extremely important for us to hear one another,” emphasized Vyatrovych.  “Historians seek to educate their society. I believe the most tragic lesson of Polish-Ukrainian enmity is that these events must never happen again. Whatever happens, we must remember it.”