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04.08.2009 | Halya Coynash

The Pernicious Allure of Misleading Headlines

   

More than sufficient grounds for personal paranoia, and when it seems that fears are being deliberately fuelled, then terror takes over. Or anger.

On 28 July an article by Bohdan Chervak appeared on the website “Ukrainska Pravda” with a disturbing headline: “Will they ban the Ukrainian word in Poland?” There is, admittedly, a question mark however it’s somewhat unusual to ask a question about a possible threat only to triumphantly prove that there is no such threat. if you’re looking for a job it’s undesirable to give a list in your resume of crimes you have never committed, while if there is no ban of freedom of speech, why ask the question?

The threat of closure is indeed hanging over the only nationwide television programme about Ukrainians and in their language in Poland {“Telenowyny”). In honesty the author’s indignation at the lack of reaction in Ukraine is not entirely comprehensible when this begs the question of whether there are similar programmes for the Polish minority on Ukrainian national channels. There are none. This in no way suggests that the broadcasts should be stopped in Poland and it is well-worth supporting the protests by Polish Ukrainians. This is not the first time they have had to assert their right to the programme. They were heeded then and this time every signature will help.

Does the planned cancellation of the programme “Telenowyny” stretch to a ban on the Ukrainian language in Poland? It would hardly seem so, and yet the article was reposted on a number of sites, and judging from the rather aggressive suggestions from Yevhen Bilonozhko on “Ukrainska Pravda” as to how Ukrainians should protect their interests, some were clearly convinced that such a threat was real.

One reason probably lies in certain habits when reading. We remember the headline and conclusions, and do not always notice perplexing hiccups with logic. The author, for example, describes a far from tragic situation in Poland where “there are active Ukrainian civic organizations. A Ukrainian language newspaper “Nashe Slovo” [“Our Word”] comes out and there are Ukrainian Studies faculties in higher educational institutions”. Yet this all for some reason compels him to state that “in other words the Ukrainian community in Poland is deprived of the most popular means of communication and the opportunity to give coverage of their social and cultural life”. He goes even further in his daring conclusions.

It is doubtless worth fighting against the closure of this programme however the ideas which are stubbornly foisted are of concern. Even the fact that this is the only such programme in Poland can be viewed in different ways. Other national minorities have only programmes at regional level, while it is Ukrainians, widely dispersed  throughout the country who alone have broadcasting time on national television. The suspiciousness regarding motives also seems unwarranted. Perhaps 14 thousand zloty (over 4 thousand USD) is not a huge amount for a television channel however it is hardly some spare change. And this is when the programme is watched regularly by less then a third of the 400 thousand Ukrainians in the country, and broadcasting time on a nationwide channel is precious. They most certainly can find the money and there is a good chance that they will rethink their stance especially given that the programme has been defended not only by the Polish Commission on National and Ethnic Minorities, but also by some deputies of the Sejm.[parliament].

 Why therefore so many scary words and hints about discrimination? The author directly states that “given the traditionally difficult relations between Ukrainians and Poles which have deep historical roots, it is not hard to predict that the cancellation of the Ukrainian language “Telenowyny” could open “old wounds” and cause a worsening in inter-State relations between Ukraine and Poland”. Up till this point, it seemed remotely conceivable that Bohdan Chervak was writing as a private individual and did not therefore feel the need to mention that he is, among other things, a member of the board of the far rightwing party VO “Svoboda” [“Freedom Party”]. However, here the position of this publicist cum political activist and the policy of his party entirely coincide.

We saw this policy at play in February when supporters of VO “Svoboda” did all that they could to disrupt a meeting between the Polish and Ukrainian Presidents at a ceremony of remembrance for the Poles who were killed 65 years ago in the village of Huta Peniacka, near Lviv. Historians are in no doubt that at least some Ukrainians were implicated in this crime organized by the Nazis, yet on 28 February there was no question of presenting accusations or establishing who suffered most or inflicted the greatest suffering. They were honouring the memory of the victims in a spirit of reconciliation which clearly did not suit VO “Svoboda” supporters who organized “the honouring of Ukrainians who were butchered by Polish chauvinists and Soviet partisans in the Brodovsk district”.

We are now talking about the great grandchildren of Ukrainians and Poles who lived during those terrible times. It seems unlikely that “old wounds” will so easily come to the fore again, and yet supporters of VO “Svoboda” are clearly intent on opening them.

Crimes were doubtless committed by both Poles and Ukrainians which cannot be explained away as mere Soviet propaganda or biased historians. There are honest historians these days prepared to delve to reach the truth, and there is nothing in the slightest terrible about this. Except of course for those who have nothing else to offer and therefore perpetuate simplistic clichés about “heroes” and “villains” and set people against one another. So that nobody pays attention to that painfully obvious fact that one crime can in no way cancel out guilt for another. They have no need for reconciliation which would oblige them to do more than rehash old grievances and push the image of Ukrainians as beleaguered victims.

The party needs “enemies” who are supposedly making ethnic Ukrainians suffer. They tried that on in Odessa against pro-Russian “activists, and recently against Armenians  who are permanent resident in Marganets (Dnipropetrovsk region. Nor does the impression seem unfounded that they are competing with the Kremlin to see who can make the most “mileage” out of the Second World War.

In the article in question Bohdan Chervak only mentions “deep historical roots” and “old wounds”, and clearly we cannot say with certainty how he views specific actions by supporters of the party. Nonetheless he holds a fairly high position in the leadership of VO “Svoboda” and even without the unexpected conclusions about Ukrainians in Poland being deprived of their rights  it would seem desirable to inform the read that the author of the text is directly linked to a political party. And anyway, why should he hide it?

It will at least be clearer how he makes such staggering leaps from fact to supposition. Another question is considerably harder to answer. We often run up against various fabricated or totally inflated scandals where the reader may simply not realize that he or she is being conned. Here the readers have almost all the information at their disposal and it remains unfathomable why on those websites which rushed to repost the article, they did not ask themselves whether the alluringly eye-catching headline bore any relation whatsoever to the text.

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