EDITORIAL: A Ticket to Europe

In the epilogue to Postwar Tony Judt (1946–2010) recalled this famous saying of Heinrich Heine that baptism was the entry ticket to Europe for the Jews. Judt would not be himself—master of rhetorical abbreviation lined with sarcastic wit—if he would not have remarked that almost 200 years later, acknowledging shared responsibility for the Holocaust became a European entry ticket for post-Soviet countries such as Poland.

That is how the British historian interpreted the speech of President Aleksander Kwasniewski during the anniversary celebrations in 2004 in Jedwabne. In his opinion the speech was meant to close a painful chapter in the history of Poland, and at the same time it served as a symbolic expression of the return of his country, after half a century of Communism, among the nations of United Europe. So it was a kind of political exorcism— from that moment on, discussions about the past where to remain an exclusive domain of historians, while politicians were supposed to preoccupy themselves with building a bright European future.

I remember how we were arguing about this fragment of the book when we saw each other—as it later turned out—for the last time. This suggestive analogy is obviously false. The reverse was true: it was only after Poland successfully realized its fundamental national interest by joining NATO and the European Union that the Polish head of state was able to confess Polish crimes against the Jews. President Kwasniewski made his address not before, but after 1st May 2004.

In view of this the historical speech of the Ukrainian president in Polish parliament in December 2014 is even more remarkable. Petro Poroshenko did not wait for the invitation to the EU or NATO to apologize for the mass murders on Poles committed during Second World War in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia by Ukrainian nationalists. This is what he said: “We are inspired by the leaders of our Churches, who after the very tragic chapters of our common history said: `we forgive and ask for forgiveness.’ Our history includes shared victories over our enemies, but also things you would not even want to remember. We all remember the words of John Paul II, who even before the 60th anniversary of the tragedy in Volhynia said: ‘If God forgives us in Christ, people who believe in him should also forgive each other and ask for forgiveness.’ It is very important to look for historical truth without politicizing these difficult chapters of history. We cannot build our politics on graves, for such politics has no future.”

Those who still demand that Ukrainians show their “European entry ticket” do not actually want to see them among the nations of United Europe.

Aleksander Kaczorowski

Aleksander Kaczorowski is an editor-in-chief of Aspen Review Central Europe, a Polish bohemist, journalist and author. His recent books include biographies of Václav Havel, Bohumil Hrabal, Ota Pavel and Isaac Babel. He won the Václav Burian Prize for cultural contribution to the Central European dialogue (2016).

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