In retrospect, they were bound for a collision. In 2015, Poland’s right-wing national-conservative Law and Justice party won the parliamentary elections and took control of the government. Meanwhile, in Ukraine, patriotism was on the rise after the 2014 Euromaidan revolution. It was a dangerous combination for relations between Warsaw and Kyiv.
Fast forward two years and the two countries still cannot agree on how to make these bilateral relations work. Conflicts are erupting over a history fraught with moments of intercommunal violence between Ukrainians and Poles.
On November 2, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told the Polish Onet news agency that Poland and Ukraine have “different concepts of reconciling [their relations].” In the same interview, he also threatened to ban everyone who has “extremely anti-Polish views” from entering the country.
These comments were a mistake and a “political mess,” says Michal Boni, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from the Warsaw region. He believes that politicians like Waszczykowski are damaging the country’s reputation.
“It's a problem with our credibility now because, if we are not [credible] as a country, our government is breaking the rule of law, [it] is making...public media [into] propaganda [rather] than information,” Boni said.
He also thinks that fake news, largely emanating from Russia, is another reason for the deterioration of Polish politics.
“I think that many, many of untrue [bits of] information also focused and related to the relations between Ukraine and Poland are established by Russian propaganda,” he said.
In reality, neither Ukrainian nor Polish people have strongly nationalistic views that could damage the other country, he added. “The only way [forward] is to discuss, explain and solve those problems, not to create a new mental war in Ukrainian and Polish people.”
Hromadske spoke to MEP Michal Boni during this last week’s Warsaw Security Forum to discuss the current state of Ukrainian-Polish relations, the impact of Russian propaganda, and what needs to be done to improve the situation.
What are the most important current trends in the relationship between Poland and Ukraine?
You know, I think that we need to have good relations because it is very important for Ukraine and it’s very important for Poland. There are mutual advantages because, on the one hand, Ukraine is our brother and defending us before Russian aggression — if I can say — symbolically. On the other hand, I think Ukraine needs us in reforming the country, in developing the country, and, on the other hand, Polish-Ukrainian relations could be a very good example for different European countries how important Ukraine is, that the Ukraine is in Europe. We are discussing future membership, but Ukraine is in Europe mentally, culturally and so on. So, all this political mess, unfortunately, done by Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs and by Polish politicians, I think that it is a political mistake. This is a political mistake if you are looking at the future and you want to create good relations between our countries.
The European Union is reforming itself. How do you see the Polish-EU relationship in view of this reform specifically?
You know, the current Polish government is against the European Union so I think that in many activities, this government is not active and is not presenting the view. It’s the problem with our credibility now because if we are not as a country, our government is breaking the rule of law, is making the impartiality of public media rather propaganda than information. If there are some new acts and legislation, which are against the independence of the judiciary system, so this is a problem not only for the European Union and our colleagues and friends from different member states, this is our problem because we are losing our position. Over 20 years we have worked very hard to create a strong position of Poland among countries of the European Union and now it’s destroyed, it was destroyed, it is destroying. So I think that this a problem and a problem not only for us, this is a problem for our colleagues and friends from this part of Europe because there is no leadership to talk with Brussels very strongly about our interests. I think we need to come back to our earlier position, so it means we need to start and come back to the full respect of the rule of law.
What is the exact role of Moscow, Russia, in disinformation about what is happening in Ukraine and Poland?
I want to come back to the first question, if you allow me, because, on the other hand, I think that we need to talk together - the Polish authorities and Ukrainian authorities. There are many difficult problems from the heritage, from the past, but the only way is to discuss, explain themselves those problems and solve those problems, not to create a new mental war in Ukrainian and Polish people. I have many friends in Ukraine, also among the young generation, there is no anti-Polish attitudes, any anti-Polish attitudes. These nationalistic movements are very weak. I think that when we are considering the situation in Poland, in Poland, the secular nationalistic organizations are no stronger than in Ukraine. I think we need to come back to a rational view on this situation. On Russia I think it is very dangerous because we are living in the time of internet, we are living under the pressure of populism mechanism in politics, we are living in the time of post-truth, and post-truth is also created by Russian cyber war - cyber war not in the meaning of attack of hacking, but with misinformation and creating fake news. I think it’s creating the mentality of people, I think that many, many of untrue information also focused and related to the relations between Ukraine and Poland are established by Russian propaganda. We need to be very cautious, we need to fight with this phenomenon, with those phenomena. Another thing I think we need to promote the real facts, which exist in Poland and Ukraine and could build our future relations.