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Poland/Ukraine: Declaration Of Reconciliation Near

Prague, 20 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Poland and Ukraine are on the verge of signing a landmark declaration of friendship and reconciliation. The declaration is designed to lay to rest the long history of conflicts between the two and to provide a framework for cooperation in the future.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski today is going to Kyiv, where he and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma are to sign the document.

Kwasniewski and Kuchma are also to sign several cultural and economic agreements. The Polish president will speak to Ukraine's Supreme Council, visit the southern city of Odessa and make a special trip to the town of Zhitomir, the site of a large ethnic Polish community. But the signing of the reconciliation declaration is the focus of Kwasniewski's visit.

The declaration was negotiated in the course of many months. Its completion capped long-standing efforts by both countries to lay down lasting foundations for friendly and cooperative relations.

The two countries have established harmonious relations during recent years. Formal bilateral relations developed soon after July 1990, when the Ukrainian parliament passed the declaration of state sovereignty. On December 2, 1991 Poland became the first country formally to recognize Ukraine as an independent state. Since that time, there have been numerous exchanges involving parliamentarians and scientists, figures in the arts and education, and many ordinary citizens.

Poland has supported Ukraine's efforts to integrate into major Western institutions, such as the Council of Europe. Warsaw has also brought Ukraine into the Central European Free Trade Agreement.

Ukraine joined NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program, as did Poland. Kyiv has approved NATO's plans to expand in the East, and has hinted that it might eventually join the Alliance as well.

For Ukraine, smooth relations with Poland have meant an easier opening toward the West. Ukrainian officials have frequently declared that for their country "the road to the West leads through Poland."

For Poland, which has a long common border with Ukraine, friendly cooperation with Kyiv is the political priority. Warsaw officials have repeatedly emphasized that a friendly cooperation with Ukraine would play a major stabilizing role in Eastern and Central Europe by providing an example of the peaceful resolutions of long-standing conflicts and differences

Both countries have a common history of conflicts, mistrust and discord. These go back to the seventeenth century, when Cossacks and Ukrainian peasants successfully rebelled against the Polish landlords and kings only to fall under Russia's imperial control.

The conflicts acquired a new intensity during armed clashes between Ukrainians and Poles in 1918 and 1919, when the two sides fought over what is now Western Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia's collapse.

And from 1943 to 1947 Ukrainian nationalists first used the uncertainty caused by World War II to rout Poles from the eastern part of prewar Polish territories in a cruel campaign of ethnic cleansing only to be forcefully removed after the war by Polish communist authorities from eastern part of the current Polish state.

The clashes during and immediately after World War II were particularly sharp, causing large number of casualties on both sides and leading to widespread forced relocations of huge numbers of people.

The public's memory of those events is still alive in both countries, fostering mutual popular distrust and making it difficult for each government to arrive at generally acceptable solutions.

The declaration of reconciliation constitute an attempt to relegate to the past this long history of bitter enmity and discord.