The grand chess­board:

On March 2, 1919, the Pol­ish gov­ern­ment de­cided to pol­o­nize and colo­nial­ize Volyn­hia, as the Volyn re­gion of Ukraine was then known

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Svi­atoslav Ly­povet­skiy

How Poland’s cam­paign to col­o­nize Volyn be­gan

The World War I dra­mat­i­cally changed the map of Europe, in­clud­ing the emer­gence of a Pol­ish state, which had been carved among three em­pires at the end of the 18th cen­tury and now would be talked about by all sides in the con­flict. The Aus­trian and Ger­man em­per­ors is­sued sep­a­rate procla­ma­tions in Novem­ber 1916 with prom­ises to re­store Poland, the Rus­sian tsar be­gan his Christ­mas greet­ing for 1917 with the same prom­ise, while even Woodrow Wil­son men­tioned the Poles from the other side of the At­lantic. As the war drew to a close, there was no doubt that Rzecz­post­polita II would ap­pear. The main is­sue was sim­ply where the bor­ders of this new coun­try should be, given that it had been one of the largest states in Europe prior to be­ing dis­mem­bered.


The out­line of the post-war world would be drawn up by the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, Woodrow Wil­son, who men­tioned the es­tab­lish­ment of “an in­de­pen­dent Pol­ish state...on the ter­ri­to­ries in­hab­ited by in­dis­putably Pol­ish pop­u­la­tions” in his fa­mous 14 Points. The last was largely thanks to the Pol­ish states­man and com­poser, Ig­nacy Jan Paderewski, who had ef­fec­tively switched from pi­ano to diplo­macy in the United States.

Pol­ish lead­ers found Wil­son’s word­ing both en­cour­ag­ing and dis­heart­en­ing. In Au­gust 1918, Ro­man Dmowski, the leader of the right-wing Na­tional Democ­racy camp re­ferred to as NDs in Pol­ish, trav­eled to the US. There, he met with the pres­i­dent and af­ter­wards sent a mem­o­ran­dum on the is­sue of the bor­ders. Rec­og­niz­ing that only 25% of the pop­u­la­tion of Ha­ly­chyna, then known as Gali­cia, was eth­nic Pol­ish, Dmowski de­clared that the Ukrainian peo­ple were not ca­pa­ble of self-or­ga­ni­za­tion and run­ning a state as they lacked a suf­fi­cient in­tel­lec­tual class of their own.

“Thus in the near fu­ture, at least, a Pol­ish ad­min­is­tra­tion is the only con­ceiv­able one for a nor­mal de­vel­op­ment and progress,” he wrote to Wil­son. “As long as the level of Ruthe­nian in­tel­lec­tual life is too low to pro­duce a pro­gres­sive mod­ern gov­ern­ment to be con­ducted by Ruthe­ni­ans, East­ern Gali­cia should form an in­te­gral part of the Pol­ish State.”

Iron­i­cally, Ha­ly­chyna’s Ukraini­ans or Ruthe­ni­ans as they were called in the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian Em­pire, had been strug­gling with the Poles for half a cen­tury to es­tab­lish their own na­tional in­sti­tu­tions. Ever since Ha­ly­chyna had been granted au­ton­o­mous sta­tus within the Hab­s­burg Em­pire

back in 1867, the gov­ern­ment con­tin­ued to be in Pol­ish hands. In­ci­den­tally, Dmowski him­self, among oth­ers, was a deputy in the Rus­sian Duma and had signed a pact with of­fi­cials from the Rus­sian Em­pire in 1908 com­mit­ting the Poles to sup­press the de­vel­op­ment of the Ukrainian com­mu­nity in Ha­ly­chyna.

Dur­ing the war, Dmowski or­ga­nized the Pol­ish Na­tional Com­mit­tee (PNC) and also in­flu­enced the for­ma­tion of the POW and vol­un­teer Blue Army, also known as Haller’s Army, un­der Gen. Joszef Haller in France. Where the PNC was ori­ented to­wards the En­tente, Joszef Pil­sud­ski, head of the Pol­ish So­cial­ist Party, was set­ting vol­un­teer Pol­ish Le­gions that fought on the side of the Quadru­ple Al­liance. Dur­ing the fi­nal year of WWI, the le­gion­naires re­fused to swear al­le­giance to the Kaiser. They were dis­banded and Pil­sud­ski was ar­rested.

On the last day of WWI, Novem­ber 11, 1918, Pil­sud­ski was re­leased and re­turned in tri­umph to Poland. At this point, Poland’s po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship was split be­tween the PNC, which was op­er­at­ing in ex­ile and was rec­og­nized by the En­tente, and the tem­po­rary head of state, Pil­sud­ski, who was ac­tu­ally run­ning the coun­try. Po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ence re­quired some kind of com­pro­mise. The re­sult was the for­ma­tion of a coali­tion gov­ern­ment led

by Paderewski, while the PNC, now in­clud­ing Pil­sud­ski’s peo­ple, be­came the of­fi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Pol­ish Gov­ern­ment at the Paris Peace Con­fer­ence. And that was where the bor­ders of post­war Europe were de­cided.


The Pol­ish Na­tional Com­mit­tee was slated to dis­cuss the east­ern bor­ders on March 2, 1919. Two dif­fer­ent con­cepts were pre­sented: Pil­sud­ski’s and Dmowski’s and the win­ning con­cept be­came the ba­sis for state pol­icy and the Pol­ish po­si­tion dur­ing in­ter­na­tional talks.

Pil­sud­ski floated the con­cept of a fed­er­a­tion of Poland, Lithua­nia and Ukraine, an ide­al­ized no­tion that had echoed down the cen­turies from the early years of the Rzecz­post­polita, but it was not out­lined se­ri­ously, look­ing more like a utopian idea. It was op­posed by the NDs, whose own po­si­tion was more dif­fi­cult: the Pol­ish state could be strong if its pop­u­la­tion con­sisted of more than 75% eth­nic Poles. Dmowski’s ar­gu­ment was sim­ple: “We can­not get caught up in the idea that the Sejm will have at least 75% Pol­ish MPs, be­cause, even if there are only 25% non-Poles, it seems ob­vi­ous that it will al­ways be pos­si­ble to find 25% Poles who will have the am­bi­tion to co­op­er­ate with them...”

Dmowski sup­ported his propo­si­tion with the ex­am­ple of Rus­sia: “One fea­ture of the Rus­sian state was that its eyes were al­ways big­ger than its stom­ach. It swal­lowed a lot but it couldn’t di­gest it all. I know that we have ap­petites of our own, but we are clearly a western na­tion and should be able to con­trol them.”

It was fool­ish to think that the NDs would limit them­selves to only eth­nic Pol­ish lands. What’s more, the mem­o­ran­dum to Wil­son openly talked about an­nex­ing Ha­ly­chyna. Dmowski thought that this Ukrainian re­gion, and part of Lithua­nia, needed to be­come those bits that Poland could and wanted to “di­gest” to the east.

“Kresy Wschod­nie [mean­ing east­ern ter­ri­to­ries] are our colonies,” Count Zoltowski told the Com­mit­tee. “They have al­ways pretty much been so and they should re­main so.” Not will­ing to go as far as an­nex­ing the ter­ri­to­ries, which could then be­come a prob­lem, the Pol­ish Na­tional Com­mit­tee looked for those ter­ri­to­ries to the east that could be col­o­nized with the least ef­fort and pol­o­nized. They de­cided on Volyn­hia where, ac­cord­ing to the 1897 cen­sus, 70% of the res­i­dents were eth­nic Ukrainian and 6% were eth­nic Pol­ish. Even in the towns, the Poles were a smaller mi­nor­ity than Ukraini­ans, Jews or Rus­sians.

“When it comes to Be­larus, it’s hard to even talk about it as a na­tion,” said Pil­sud­ski so­cial­ist Medard Dow­narow­icz. “It hasn’t even crys­tal­lized. Dur­ing the war, this ter­ri­tory was ter­ri­bly de­pop­u­lated, and Volyn­hia even more so. We could move our east­ern bor­ders in this di­rec­tion. I think our ex­pan­sion, our em­i­gra­tion, could very quickly pen­e­trate to the east and these ter­ri­to­ries will very eas­ily be­come Pol­ish.”

“Pan [Dow­narow­icz] him­self said that we can move to­wards Volyn­hia,” con­cluded the meet­ing’s chair, Ro­man Dmowski.

Thus was the meet­ing of the Pol­ish Na­tional Com­mit­tee, where a vote of 10 to 4 against con­firmed the ter­ri­to­rial pro­pos­als and es­tab­lished the ba­sis for Poland’s east­ern pol­icy. “Let’s re­mem­ber that we can­not present to Congress the kinds of ar­gu­ments that we have stated here,” the min­utes of the PNC meet­ing read. “This ter­ri­tory is needed for us to ex­pand, but we can­not say this at the Congress.”

So the is­sue was trans­ferred to the walls of the Ver­sailles, where the lead­ers of the vic­to­ri­ous coun­tries would de­cide.


In his mem­oirs, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Lloyd Ge­orge was to write years later: “Drunk with the new wine of lib­erty sup­plied to her by the Al­lies, she [Poland] fan­cied it­self once more as the re­sist­less mis­tress of Cen­tral Europe. Self-de­ter­mi­na­tion did not suit her am­bi­tions. She cov­eted Gali­cia, the Ukraine, Lithua­nia, and parts of White Rus­sia [Be­larus]. A vote of the in­hab­i­tants would have em­phat­i­cally re­pu­di­ated her do­min­ion.”

But not every­one agreed with him. Among those who fa­vored the Poles was US Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son. Al­though the Poles largely ig­nored the prin­ci­ple of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion of peo­ples, the Amer­i­cans had their own in­ter­ests in this case: there was a large and ac­tive Pol­ish com­mu­nity in the US that rep­re­sented sub­stan­tial num­bers of vot­ers. The French were also keen, as they wanted to weaken Ger­many at all costs and this led to the for­mula that was then ap­plied: “Sev­eral mil­lions of Ukraini­ans, Lithua­ni­ans and Be­laru­sians in­cluded in Poland means a cor­re­spond­ing strength­en­ing of France’s east­ern bor­ders.”


Poland was rep­re­sented at Ver­sailles by Dmowski and Paderewski, and they were very suc­cess­ful in this. Their fi­nal ar­gu­ment for an­nex­ing the “Kresy Wschod­nie” was the joint 600year his­tory of Poles co­hab­it­ing with such “prim­i­tive peo­ples as Lithua­ni­ans, Ruthe­ni­ans and even Ukraini­ans [sic]” who sup­pos­edly not only did not lose their self-iden­tity but, with Pol­ish help, had de­vel­oped it.

But Poland re­solved the is­sue of its bor­ders not only on the diplo­matic front but also in fact. “The Gali­cian prob­lem gave us no end of trou­ble. The trou­ble how­ever did not come from Bol­she­viks but from Pol­ish ag­gres­sion,” wrote Lloyd Ge­orge. The strug­gle for the young Western Ukrainian Na­tional Re­pub­lic (ZUNR) took place on many lev­els and one of them was get­ting the well-armed 100,000-strong Haller Army in­volved on the east­ern front. This was against all the agree­ments and even France was forced to con­demn the move harshly. But Pil­sud­ski was a risky and overly ex­pe­ri­enced player who pre­ferred a pol­icy of fait ac­com­pli.

At this point, Paderewski would tell Ver­sailles that they were un­able to stop the whirl­wind of 20-year-olds who were cov­er­ing 35-40 kilo­me­ters a day with­out meet­ing any re­sis­tance. The lo­cal pop­u­la­tion was greet­ing them pos­i­tively and all this cam­paign would cost the Poles less than 100 ca­su­al­ties.

“They [the Poles] are claim­ing three mil­lion and a half of Gali­cians,” said Lloyd Ge­orge. “The only claim put for­ward is that in a read­just­ment you should not ab­sorb into Poland pop­u­la­tions which are not Pol­ish and which do not wish to be­come Pol­ish… The Poles had not the slight­est hope of get­ting free­dom, and they have only got their free­dom be­cause there are mil­lion and a half of French­men dead, very nearly a mil­lion Bri­tish, half a mil­lion Ital­ians, and I for­got how many Amer­i­cans.” He went on to call Poland a big­ger im­pe­ri­al­ist than Eng­land, France or the US.

Paderewski then brought out the fi­nal ar­gu­ment to stop the de­bate: “On the day I left War­saw a boy came to see me, a boy about 13 or 14 years old, with four fin­gers miss­ing on this hand. He was in uni­form, shot twice through the leg, once through the lungs, and with a deep wound in his skull. He was one of the de­fend­ers of Lem­berg [Lviv]. Do you think that chil­dren of thir­teen are fight­ing for an­nex­a­tion, for im­pe­ri­al­ists?”

As some­one once wrote about the heroic myth cre­ated by Hen­ryk Sienkiewicz that had cap­ti­vated Poles: “Heads and hands are be­ing chopped off, moun­tains of corpses grow, but the blood is not real blood. It’s just beet juice.” This was un­der­stood in Ver­sailles, so Lloyd Ge­orge re­sponded, “this charm­ing artist be­guiled the Coun­cil of Four.”

But the oc­cu­pa­tion of Ha­ly­chyna proved to be a fait ac­com­pli and in June 1919 it was of­fi­cially rec­og­nized in Paris. Poland was the first coun­try to sign the Lit­tle Treaty of Ver­sailles, in which it com­mit­ted it­self to re­spect the rights of eth­nic mi­nori­ties. The sig­na­tures were Dmowski and Paderewski.

By 1934, the sec­ond Pol­ish re­pub­lic uni­lat­er­ally re­nounced the agree­ment on eth­nic mi­nori­ties. Nor was the promised au­ton­omy of Ha­ly­chyna es­tab­lished. When Lloyd Ge­orge later listed the com­mit­ments un­ful­filled by var­i­ous sig­na­to­ries, this point took first place.

Memo­rial coin is­sued by the Na­tional Bank of Poland on the 100th an­niver­sary of the Pol­ish Na­tional Com­mit­tee. Both sides in­clude im­ages of his­tor­i­cal pho­tos: mem­bers of the PNC in Paris and the oath of al­le­giance of the Haller Army. Both en­ti­ties—the...

The new bor­ders. The map ap­proved by the Pol­ish Na­tional Com­mit­tee for the Paris Peace Con­fer­ence on March 2, 1919, sug­gest­ing the out­line for Poland’s fron­tiers

US Pres­i­dent Wil­son giv­ing the Dove of Peace an olive branch la­beled “League of Na­tions”. The Dove says “Of course I want to”. The 1919 car­i­ca­ture sug­gests that the Ver­sailles sys­tem con­structed by Wil­son would not en­sure a just or­der and long-term...

Mem­bers of the PNC of­fi­cially trans­fer the com­mand of Gen­eral Haller’s Blue Army. Paris, 1917

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