MPs observe a minute's silence on Friday in Poland's lower house of parliament (Sejm), in tribute to victims of the Volhynia massacres. Photo: PAP/Jakub Kaminski
The resolution, which followed a minute's silence marking the 70th anniversary of the Volhynia massacres, was backed by 263 MPs, while 146 abstained and 13 voted against.
Earlier this morning, MPs threw out a more radical amendment that would have branded the killings as plain “genocide” in what was a tightly contested vote (as many as 212 voted for the amendment, and 222 voted against, with 3 abstentions).
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of conservative opposition party Law and Justice, had been vocal in his support of the more radical version.
“Was Auschwitz genocide? Was Majdanek genocide? What is the difference?” he said at a press conference prior to the votes, as cited by the Polish Press Agency (PAP).
“Unless this a case of a certain hierarchy of nations, with the term ‘genocide’ being applied to the mass killings of some nations but not to the killings of Poles,” he reflected.
However, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski had urged MPs to back the less extreme version in his parliamentary speech today.
“Historians have already spoken on this issue,” he said.
“In their judgments it was ethnic cleansing with the hallmarks of genocide."
Poland's lower house of parliament had previously passed resolutions describing two tragedies as genocide, The Great Famine in Soviet Ukraine of the 1930s, which took the lives of 7 million people, and the deaths of Armenians at the beginning of World War I under the Ottoman Empire, when 1.2 million people were killed.
Sikorski today noted the smaller number of deaths, in comparision with the afore-mentioned tragedies.
It is estimated that about 60,000 ethnic Poles were killed by Ukrainians in the German Nazi-occupied region of Volhynia (which had been divided between Poland and the Soviet Union prior to the war).
Several thousand more were killed when fighting spread west, to other parts of occupied southern Poland. The highest estimates of combined figures are about 100,000.
Attacks were orchestrated by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a nationalistic guerilla force, that desired Ukrainian independence.
Poles fought back, and it is estimated that about 2000-3000 Ukrainians were killed in Volhynia, and about 20,000 more when the fighting spread to other areas of south east Poland (1944-1947).
Late last month, Polish and Ukrainian bishops signed an appeal for reconciliation.
Today's vote uses the same wording as a resolution passed by the senate a fortnight ago. (nh/mk)