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European history ain’t simple

Poland was Ukraine’s staunchest ally. Why is it now turning into a bitter rival?

Well, you know, central Europe can be a bit difficult. 100 years ago the western 400 miles or so of Ukraine was in fact Poland. And while people might not be waking up each morning burning at the injustice they’ve not entirely forgotten…..

42 thoughts on “European history ain’t simple”

  1. For the past eight years, the government of an EU member state has been in the grip of unremitting populism.

    The terrifying menace of people voting for politicians they want, instead of politicians the EU wants.

    Opposition MPs have been arrested and attacked physically or verbally in public. Ordinary citizens have been beaten in the streets for wearing opposition symbols. Brutal trolling campaigns have been waged on the internet, often participated in by politicians, including ministers.


    Crucially, the populists no longer condemn the violence inflicted on their political opponents.

    Sorry, bigots, your silence is violence, but our violence is political expression.

    Poland under populist rule will not work for a collective European agenda, but – together with Hungary under Viktor Orbán, Slovakia under Robert Fico and others – for the primacy of the nation state. The illiberal trajectory almost always leads to national egoism and international confrontation.

    A “collective European agenda” somehow always means ignoring what actual Europeans want.

    How many ruinous wars have the populists started, compared with the number of wars our enlightened liberal internationalists have started? I don’t think we can blame Syria, Kosovo, Libya and Ukraine on the Hungarian centre right.

  2. (Massacres)……..carried out in German-occupied Poland by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) with the support of parts of the local Ukrainian population against the Polish minority in Volhynia, Eastern Galicia, parts of Polesia and Lublin region from 1943 to 1945.

    Around 100,000 Poles were killed. The two Guardian writers’ lack of historical knowledge appears to be on a par with that of the former speaker of the Canadian parliament.

  3. Steve across the Pond

    The problems caused by carving up nations, especially after conflicts, with no regard for the populations affected, is a lesson never learned.

  4. Anyway, more than 15 million Ukrainian refugees have crossed the Polish border. Nearly 2 million Ukrainian refugees live in Poland today. Polish troops are still fighting and dying in Ukraine, even though they don’t have to.

    It’s hard to think of what else Poland might do to help Ukraine, other than allow their own agricultural sector to be destroyed by floods of cheap Ukie grain (what happened to the starving Africans the grain deal was supposed to feed?), and that’s not something a centre right conservative party that wants to be reelected can do.

    I don’t think you can fault the Poles over the situation in Ukraine, though I also think their very bolshy attitude towards the Russians, and marriage of convenience with transatlantic neocons, is unhelpful to Poland and Ukraine.

    Does anyone have a plan to end this war? Nothing good has come of it.

  5. Oooh, no, it did get worse. When they moved the borders (Poland, effectively, 400 miles west) then all Poles in what wsa now Ukraine were turfed out, going west,. As were all Germans turfed out further west. And all Ukranians were moved east. They *did* take regard to the populations. Very effectively. Biggest movement of people ever in all of history that was.

  6. As were all Germans turfed out further west.

    Indeed – my German teacher at school was originally from Silesia, which made it a bit awkward when I was on a German exchange trip and the host’s father asked ‘Oh, your teacher is German, which part is she from?’

  7. I’s the same history as the history now. Nobody wants to be living next to an expansionist Russia. So they try & contrive a buffer zone between. That’s often been the fate of Ukraine. History would look very different if Moscow hadn’t existed.

  8. That’s often been the fate of Ukraine

    Yarp, Ukraine does mean “borderlands”, although I understand Ukrainian nationalist scholars have recently taken to disputing this with their theory that God created the planet as a vessel for Ukraine.

    Good fences make good neighbours, but what are we supposed to do when Europe is demographically consumed by a patchwork quilt of ethnicities, most of whom are Turkish barber or Beeg Eeshoo tier quality? Yugoslavia didn’t seem that stable to me.

  9. Jonathan – thank you

    We spoke about the average age of Ukrainian soldiers the other day. Here’s an update on that (from Russia Today):

    In an interview on Tuesday, Aleksey Arestovich, who is a popular commentator for the Ukrainian online media, endorsed recommendations made by former British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who last week urged Kiev to draft the youth to fight Russia.

    “The average health level of a Ukrainian foot soldier, who is well over 45 years old and is close to 50, is not sufficient for the typical battlefield exertions,” the former presidential advisor stated

    RT is obviously biased, but are they lying? If what Arestovich (a ‘former’ Ukrainian spook) is saying is true, Ukraine has already exhausted its pool of fit young men who want to fight. They’ll have to go after increasingly reluctant conscripts, maybe women next.

    18 months into a war for the survival of the Ukrainian state, and the average age of currently mobilised front line troops is over 45? Fucking hell. Just Stop War.

  10. Steve

    “…though I also think their very bolshy attitude towards the Russians,…”

    If you expect Poles to have any other attitude towards Russia – and I’m not sure that “bolshy” is the mot juste – then you haven’t been paying attention these last 500 years. Russians have always wanted Poland’s destruction.

  11. Recusant – Given Poland’s tragic experience of war, I’d hope they’d be less keen to fight them.

    Poland is one of those unlucky countries that geography and history have determined will never be one of the Big Boys on the European continent, so it would be good if they can find a way to live with Russia and Belarus.

    Curiously, Poland had much healthier demographics when it was under Russia’s jackboot, and the Soviet Union never insisted on sending rapefugees and drag time story hour to Warsaw. The Commies didn’t believe in Net Zero and built loads of lovely power plants and roads. Probably the aqueducts too.

    Some destruction. Maybe they should join the Union State instead of the EU?

  12. Steve. I’d say you have a very rosy view of Poland before ’89. Did you actually spend any time in the country in that period? Some of us did.

  13. Martin Near The M25

    “Brutal trolling campaigns have been waged on the internet”

    This is a surprisingly common feature in military history. Many battlefields are littered with unexploded memes.

  14. It’s God’s punishment of the Poles for their ancestors allowing themselves to be bullied out of the Reformed Religion and returned to papal tyranny.

  15. Well, you know, central Europe can be a bit difficult.

    All of Europe, forever (including us). It’s a worthwhile perpective to watch one of those animations on YouTube showing the map changes over the centuries. Just constant, diabolical churn.

    We’ve had it good since the “rules based system” post WWII; a nice steady period that we’ve taken for granted pretty much. But it looks like we’re going to return to the normal days of conquest and mass graves.

  16. Ignoring the benighted bogtrotters, the boundaries of GB are fixed by God, and the Scottish boundary hasn’t moved for over 400 years. Compare Alsace/Elsàss, which changed nationality four times between 1870 and 1945 or, even better, the Balkans.

    When continental Europeans think about borders, they usually have in mind something that is both quite mutable and highly permeable. Britain’s position is very different*.

    * The fact that we seem to keep our borders open is by political choice, not necessity.

  17. “the Scottish boundary hasn’t moved for over 400 years”

    Apart from tiny changes at each end it hasn’t changed since some time in the 11th or 12th century.

    (It’s hard to be sure because legal agreement often trails behind factual change.)

  18. The Western half of Poland was German for a very long time. My grandfather came from Regenwald (rainforest) in what is now northwestern Poland. That’s why I list my ethnicity as “European Aboriginie”.

  19. BiS – the past 100 years have demonstrated that a nation can survive losing world wars, being atom bombed, and Communism.

    But we won’t survive Equality, Diversity and Feminism.

  20. MG, my dad hailed from Stargard, now on the ‘wrong’ side of the Polish border.
    As a German pensioner living abroad, he had to deal with the tax office in Neubrandenburg, not a million miles from whence he came.
    I imagine that these mass movements of people/mucking around with borders must give the tax people a proper headache.

  21. Mohave: – I believe Silesia was German for about 900 years, the von Richthofen family were Silesian nobility.

  22. Over that sort of time frame you’ve really got to say “Germanic”. There wasn’t a Germany for it to be a part of.

  23. Yugoslavia didn’t seem that stable to me.

    It wasn’t. It waited until Tito died then exploded into ethnic violence, much as my father was predictng would happen whin I was a child back in the seventies.

  24. To complicate matters further, Outer Manchuria was ruled by the Qing dynasty until the “unequal treaties” following the Opium wars, when Russia took over, and shipped a lot of Ukrainians and Jews into the area.
    There are now probably more Chinese in Eastern Siberia than there are Russians, a useful fifth column if China wants 350,000 square miles back.
    And what’s this? On February 14, 2023, the Ministry of Natural Resources of the People’s Republic of China relabelled eight cities and areas inside Russia in the region with Chinese names.
    Protestations of eternal friendship – especially on the Chinese side – may not be as eternal as they appear. For Xi, probably an easier nut to crack than Taiwan. If he can somehow neutralise the nukes and overcome his distaste for referendums.

  25. Remember this is Steve’s area of expertise. He’s the one who assured us back in January 2022 that “Ukraine is a retarded nation of potato farmers”. And now here he is, nineteen months later, watching the remnants of the Black Sea fleet evacuating Sevastopol.

    Poles and Ukrainians (and Belarussians and Romanians) seemed to get on well enough together when Galicia was under Austro-Hungarian rule. They certainly got on well enough to combine and send the Russian army packing in 1920. It was when the area arbitrarily became part of the newly created state of Poland that unpleasantness flared up again.

    My Ukrainian father grew up south of L’viv, and found the Polish language being imposed in school. It did mean that when he rocked up in this country in 1947 he spoke Polish fluently. Ironically there were two Polish couples among our four nearest neighbours when I was growing up in Slough. None of them appeared able to speak English, so my father used to help them out with forms and such, but he never told them that he was in fact Ukrainian. He’d done that with a Polish refugee he’d got to know years earlier, and the Pole didn’t want to know after that. As he said, he’d had enough of all that: “Ve all should behavin’ like British if ve livin’ here.”

  26. “And while people might not be waking up each morning burning at the injustice they’ve not entirely forgotten….. ”

    This isn’t just a European attitude. There are a lot of Mexicans who still resent the loss of Texas, which happened 187 years ago.

  27. And now here he is, nineteen months later, watching the remnants of the Black Sea fleet evacuating Sevastopol.

    True, Paul, but it has been done with Western weapns, training and treasure. Althougn the drone stuff has been achieved by nerds who trained playing Halo in their parents’ attics.

    There used to be ( probably still is ) a large Polish community in Balham South London. They even have their own church that was raided by the Plod for not adhering to lockdown bollox.

  28. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    Noel, at a wedding in (West) Germany, I learned that the groom’s rather elderly father spoke Russian, well enough to teach it at school. Of course I asked where he learned Russian.

    “In Russia. Between 1943 and 1950”.

  29. Silesia was never German. It was ruled by Germans for many centuries, but the people were largely Slavs.

    L’viv was Polish, but the surrounding countryside overwhelmingly Ukrainian.

    Stalin’s forced migrations were evil, but his boundaries reflected the majority of the people. That’s why western Ukraine wasn’t depopulated — most of the inhabitants stayed put.

  30. jgh

    “King of the Germans” rather than Germany.

    It was the essential stepping stone to becoming Emperor. See also King of the Romans ( eg Richard of Cornwall brother if King Henry III, was this for years but there was no impetial election ).

  31. Chester

    Again it is more complex. The Grossfurstentum of Preussen took over from the Teutonic Knights’ colonial rule. What developed were German speaking cities ( eg Breslau, Danzig, Katowitz, Koenigsberg) and the German Junkertum as feudal ruling class in the country but the peasants and rural middle class were indeed ethnic Poles.

  32. Over that sort of time frame you’ve really got to say “Germanic”.

    I think that more aptly applies to most of Western Europe and Scandinavia. The Germanic peoples pretty much abandoned Central Europe by the 6th century, which is partly why we cheekily call the Krauts Huns.

    Both the Celtic peoples and Germanic peoples (and local predecessors) have a high genetic content from the Yamnaya culture (proto-indo-european), which was based in what is now Ukraine and Southern Russia. It seems this European history rhymes a lot.

  33. @Steve, October 6, 2023 at 10:01 am

    Great posts again, facts trump emotion

    Correct about old men. Ukraine is now extraditing ‘refugee’ males from Europe. Also sending women to front line – celebrate equality

    A Ukraine MP writes

    Jean-Claude Juncker Reality Check on EU’s closed eyes

    Good source for Ukraine and other wars news

    Unheard often has good articles eg this

    If West had not turned this into an anti Long Gone USSR proxy war the war would have ended over a year ago with East Ukraine independent and hundreds of thousands of lives and dollars, euros, pounds saved

  34. ‘This isn’t just a European attitude. ‘

    No ZT. Look at the present fuss in Oz re a ‘voice’ for the abos in the constitution. Though I’d argue that those most fond of it are the potential members of the huge new bureaucracy that’d be created to run it. And those who can use the courts to screw anyone who they can claim owns their land.

    Obviously I’ll have to Pocahontas-ise and discover some abo ancestry somewhere. My brother-in-law loves looking at the family tree. Perhaps he can show me how to fake up the evidence.

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