The operation began at 4AM on April 28, 1947. The result was that over a period of roughly three months some 20,000 soldiers of the Polish People’s Army, the Internal Security Corps, and special personnel of the police Milicija Obywatelska and the Security Service Urzad Bezpieszenstwa forcibly cleansed the ethnic composition of the southeastern regions of Poland, relocating some 150,000 Ukrainians to the Northwest. Many died during the roughshod process. The authorities were discriminate enough to single out intellectuals and clergy who were then incarcerated in the Jawozno concentration camp. Many were tortured and later died in the camp. The resettlement directives for the general Ukrainian populace was very specific: no more than a 10% concentration of Ukrainians could constitute the population of any urban or rural location.
Some Poles even recently have tried to justify “Akciya Visla” as retribution for the Ukrainian-Polish massacres in Volyn in 1943. Others have pointed to the ethnographic Ukrainian lands such as Lemkivschyna and others, which were made a part of Communist Poland and continue as part of the Polish Republic today, serving as the main base of operation for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the post WW2 period. Nevertheless, the current Republic of Poland has recognized the crimes of its predecessor state. The Polish Senate in 1990 apologized to the Ukrainian community. In 2002 Polish President Kwasniewski apologized as did President Kaczynski in 2007. However, the Polish parliament (Sejm) and its governments headed by its many Prime Ministers since independence have remained silent. The more significant problem is that little or no tangible effort has been made by Poland to liquidate the effects of Akciya Visla or provide restitution, except for minor gestures such as permitting a return to once occupied lands after more than half a century, the return of the Ukrainian home to the Ukrainian community in Przemysl.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1948 and entered into force on January 12, 1951. Article 2 of the Convention defined genocide as an act committed with intent to destroy, in whole of in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such, by “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Both effect and motive of “Akciya Visla” are clear. In 1947, just prior to “Akciya Visla” there were one half million Ukrainians in Poland. According to the last census there are currently 37,000 Ukrainians. The intent is transparent from the directives of resettlement and its manner: the no more than a 10% concentration of Ukrainians directive and special directives depleting the nation of intellectuals and clergy, whose torture, confinement in a concentration which was a part of the notorious Nazi camp at Auschwitz and ultimate death ensured its dearth.
The organized Ukrainian community in Poland has sought rehabilitation through liquidation of the lasting negative effects of “Akciya Visla”. It has pursued many options, administrative and judicial inside Poland, all to no avail. Finally on March 19, 2010 it filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights seeking redress from the current Republic of Poland for declining substantive action meant to rehabilitate the Ukrainian minority in Poland. On February 16, 2012 the European Court notified the Union of Ukrainians in Poland that this matter did not fall within its jurisdiction. There are no avenues of appeal. Legally the European Court is correct since “Akciya Visla” took place several years before the European Court had come into existence.
The current Republic of Poland, irrespective of governments or party affiliation, has been one of the staunchest supporters of an independent and democratic Ukraine, perhaps most importantly advocating bringing Ukraine into the European Union and NATO. Together the two countries will be hosting the European Cup this June. These manifestations of a good neighbor policy has been laudable. True, some cynics and I am one of them, insist that Poland’s affability towards Ukraine has been less altruistic and more strategic, seeing a strong and democratic Ukraine as a buffer between itself and Russia. On historical issues, frankly, Poland has been unyielding. This in spite of the fact that historically the Poles invaded Ukrainian territory three times. Ukrainians never once occupied Polish territory. There is no legal mandate that Poland admit its transgressions against Ukrainians and work towards genuine reconciliation, but there, certainly, may be a moral element that good willed Poles should consider.
Ukrainians should forgive Poles not only for “Akciya Visla” but for all the historical inequities. What the Poles do is besides the point. Forgiveness simply is the moral and Christian way.
While it should not involve geo-political strategy, the two sometimes are in tandem assuming good faith. However, forgiving does not mean forgetting. Not only Lemkos and Boykos, but all Ukrainians dare not forget the victims of “Akciya Visla” or any other tragedy that has befallen Ukrainians over centuries of foreign occupation and rule. We must remember for the sake of the victims because they deserve our consideration. Our ancestors suffered so much. But we must remember also for our children. Today’s problems pale by comparison with our past. We must live and work to ensure a future less tragic and more peaceful. Ensuring that future often means remembering the past, no matter how difficult that may be.
April 22, 2012 Askold S. Lozynskyj