Hardly any European Parliament’s document had ever made such a fuss in Ukraine as its resolution of 25 February 2010 on the situation in the country, specifically its paragraph 20, which stated out that the EP “deeply deplores the decision by the outgoing President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, posthumously to award Stepan Bandera, a leader of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) which collaborated with Nazi Germany, the title of 'National Hero of Ukraine'; hopes, in this regard, that the new Ukrainian leadership will reconsider such decisions and will maintain its commitment to European values.”
Thousands of Ukrainians responded to the EP with a petition claiming its decision “historically groundlesss and based on disinformation,” “insulting to millions of Ukrainians who were killed or otherwise repressed for their commitment to freedom and independence,” and discrediting “the very idea of European integration among its Ukrainian supporters.”
“On June 30, 1941,” they argued, “Stepan Bandera and his colleagues announced the renewal of independent Ukrainian statehood in Lviv against the will of Hitler’s Germany. For this they were killed or incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps. Bandera himself was a prisoner of the Sachsenhausen camp. His brothers Oleksandr and Vasyl were killed in the infamous Auschwitz camp. The national liberation movement headed by Bandera fought for the independent statehood of Ukraine against the Bolshevik and Nazi occupants. Neither OUN headed by Bandera nor the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) are mentioned in the verdicts of Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.”
Borys Tarasiuk, a former minister of foreign affairs and the incumbent head of Ukraine’s Narodny Rukh party, expressed a deep concern in an open letter to the EP president Jerzy Buzek: “The European Parliament, unfortunately, was led by biased information, which, after all, caused the given misunderstanding. Still worse, the newly-elected president Victor Yanukovych, who is far from the ideals and principles of European democracy, now can ‘cover’ himself with the parliament’s decision in order to justify his anti-Ukrainian steps and rescind the presidential decree regarding Bandera.”
President Yushchenko has been also defiant. He accused the EP, by the same token, in a “historical bias” and in a failure to look at history “through the eyes of the present" rather than obsolete lenses of Soviet propaganda. He suggested that there was "an active side that initiated and [provoked] them [MEPs] in every way possible," but he declined to specify which side it was.
Other commentators, however, wrote openly about “Polish betrayal”. “For years,” alleged one of them, “they pretended to be friends of Ukraine and now they showed up their true face.”
Some authors went even so far in conspiratorial speculations that implied a kind of exchange between Poles and Russians: concession on the Katyn and official commemorations for lobbying an anti-Ukrainian resolution in the European Parliament.
Ukrainian liberals found themselves, in this situation, between the rock and a hard place. On one hand, they could barely embrace Yushchenko’s opportunistic decision as well as the dubious or at least ambiguous and ambivalent legacy of Bandera, OUN, and UPA. On the other hand, they could not but see all the implications of the MEP’s oversimplified and irresponsible interference in complex matters they had little knowledge of, and even less comprehension. A prominent Ukrainian historian Yaroslav Hrytsak expressed this profound bitterness and disappointment in a few words: “It is worse than a crime. It’s stupidity.”
He meant primarily Polish MPs who supported the document, – even though they were actually the only members of the EP who should have been competent enough of the complexity of the problem and aware of the peculiar political context of today’s Ukraine. Yet, all the other MPs should probably not be spared from blame for splashing thoughtlessly oil into the flames of the Ukrainian domestic conflict.
“Gazeta wyborcza”, a leading Polish liberal newspaper, expressed a regret over Yushchenko’s decree but also suggested that the harm for Polish-Ukrainian relations would have been much smaller if everything ended up with the ill-fated decision of the cornered, defeated, and outgoing Ukrainian president. Instead, the newspaper argues, Polish members of the EP initiated even more untimely and misplaced document. “Our MEPs have involved irresponsibly the EU into the Polish-Ukrainian dialogue over the past, employed the language of ultimatums, and pushed the Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation back to the pre-1989 level. Ultimately, they played in hands of Russia and pro-Russian forces in Ukraine”.
Framing the context
There were at least three peculiarities of Ukrainian political situation that, indeed, should have been comprehended wisely and carefully to avoid the consequences that come essentially against the EP’s intentions.
First, Ukraine is not just a postcommunist but also a postcolonial country shared nearly equally by the ‘aboriginal’ and ‘settler’ communities, with their own myths, symbols, historical narratives, heroes, cultures, and languages. The numerical preponderance of aborigines is counter-balanced by a socially higher status of settlers determined historically by their mostly urban character, better access to culture and education, economic resources, and social networks, as well as by overt and covert imperial policies of privileging one group against the other. There is also a huge swing group of aborigines assimilated historically, to different degrees, into the dominant Creole-type culture, and a much smaller but still important group of settlers who opted for a ‘dancing-with-wolves’ identification with aborigines. The presence of swing groups as well as cultural and linguistic proximity between the aborigines and settlers substantially mitigate the intergroup tensions making Ukraine a country “divided but not split.” At the same time, the balance is very delicate, poorly institutionalized (with virtually no rule of law anywhere), and therefore highly susceptible to both external and internal bifurcations.
Secondly, one should note that the Bandera- and OUN-bashing is an important part of the traditional ‘anti-nationalist’ and, essentially, anti-Ukrainian discourse in both the Soviet Empire and today’s Russia. The dominant imperial view of Ukrainians has always been as of a subgroup of Russians, and their assimilation into Russian language and culture has been averred and promoted officially as a ‘historically progressive’, positive and inevitable. Any questioning of this process, let alone resistance to it, had been qualified as a ‘bourgeois nationalism’ which, exactly like ‘Zionism’, was a criminal accusation, an effective witch-hammer that helped to silence any attempts of marginalized groups to defend their cultural, or linguistic, or other rights. Fighting Ukrainian (and any other, except for Russian, of course) ‘bourgeois nationalism’ had been a crucial joint venture of secret police and propaganda bodies that meant in particular discrediting all things Ukrainian which did not fit the official model of eternal Ukrainian-Russian friendship and of Ukrainians’ primordial desire for ‘reunification’ and ultimate merge with the ‘older brother’. All the historical cases of armed resistance to such a ‘reunification’ had been especially smeared, so little surprise that Bandera and OUN, all their complexity notwithstanding, became demonic examples of Ukrainian ‘bourgeois nationalism’ in its worst – as bloodthirsty murderers and Nazi collaborators. In the dominant discourse, they are still represented as a symbolic pathology, an extreme deviation from the officially approved norm. And the ‘norm’ here is not a self-confident, European, liberal democratic and civic Ukrainian – as a viable and desirable alternative to a nationalistic and authoritarian Banderite but, rather, an obedient pro-Russian loyalist eager to sacrifice his identity, dignity, and probably independence for the sake of the mythical, Russia-led, East Slavonic brotherhood. Any disobedient Ukrainian is labeled within this discourse a ‘nationalist’ and a ‘Banderite’, and effectively excluded from the ‘normality’ into the sphere of obsession and deviation. And, since this crypto-Soviet discourse remains dominant in both today’s Russia and major part of Ukraine, one may easily guess how the European Parliament’s condemnation of ‘Banderites’ is perceived by the local Creoles and aborigines.
The former, after their candidate’s victory in the recent presidential elections, strive to fully ensure political, cultural, and economic dominance over the country, monopolizing both central and regional power by all possible means. And this is the third peculiarity of today’s Ukraine that the members of the European Parliament missed unfortunately. If they were, like Yushchenko, looking for the worst time for a wrong decision, they found it. They boosted successfully all the revengeful feelings of the victorious Party of Regions that tries to re-launch Soviet-style Russification policies and abolish or emasculate all the institutions, measures and regulations established by predecessors to promote Ukrainian culture, language, and identity. The new government got an excellent political present from the European Parliament. Now, they can suitably represent its ill-thought resolution as an international condemnation of allegedly nationalistic policies of their predecessors and, accordingly, as an approval of anti-nationalistic (anti-Ukrainian, in fact) measures of the new rulers. Still worse, the symbolical meaning of the EP’s resolution is interpreted so broadly that seems to indulge the ‘anti-nationalistic’ regime from the most outrageous and vicious violations of constitution. Suffice to mention the illegal decision to postpone indefinitely local elections due in May, or the parliamentary coup d’etat and creation of the government in absolutely illegitimate way. (This usurpation of power has been recently approved by the Constitutional Court amid broad accusations in bribery and intimidation of judges. Remarkably, the same Court examined exactly the same issue a year ago and adopted then the opposite decision!)
In the propagandistic discourse of Yanukovych’s team, a ‘civilized Europe’ appeared granting them a carte-blanche (“political ammunition”, in Tarasiuk’s words) to dismantle the legacy of the Orange revolution, which includes not only official glorification of Bandera and OUN (as the members of the European Parliament seem to believe) and not only mild attempts at regeneration of Ukrainian language and culture, but also political pluralism, freedom of speech, of media, of elections, of public meetings, and many more things that are gradually, day by day, disappearing in post-Orange Ukraine while the Party of Regions with Communists are rescuing “European values” from Yushchenko and his ‘Banderites’ with an odd blessing from both the Kremlin and the EU.
It was certainly not what the EP intended by its resolution but this is exactly how the new Ukrainian government interprets it to legitimize their dubious policies and, ironically, how their defeated Orange opponents perceive the EU’s stance: “The Bandera condemnation contains a lot of shocking things. The date of its release, Feb. 25, was the day of the new president’s inauguration. Also shocking is the contrast with the failed resolution condemning persecutions of the Poles in Belarus. It was shocking that Point 20 of the resolution on Bandera was authored by the Poles. In this case, Poland looks more like a prosecutor of Ukraine rather than its advocate. Nobody can persuade me now that European leaders did not want Yanukovych as president. They must have wanted him to make sure that nothing stands on the way of their licking Russia’s natural gas pipes. When I say “nothing,” I mean Ukraine here. … I am trying to remain an optimist. But at the same time I realize that a successful, effective and modern Ukrainian state is only in the interests of Ukraine itself. We’re on our own.”
Resentments are bad advisers in politics, and crying wolf might look premature in the first weeks of the new government, but a Russia-style authoritarianism really looms large in Ukraine, and the EU would certainly do better job by protecting the praised “European values” from incoming Mr Yanukovych and his associates rather than from dismissed Mr Yushchenko and his obsolete decrees.
Polish politicians, to their credit, seem to be first who came to understand that exorcising demonic Ukrainian nationalism should be barely an EU priority in post-Orange Ukraine. Poland’s ambassador Jacek Kluczkowski in his March 24 interview to Ukraine’s UNIAN Information Agency partly retreated from a tough stance of his government and the EU on Yushchenko’s unfortunate decree: “It is of course untrue that Bandera was a German collaborator and one shouldn’t accuse him of collaboration. But are Bandera’s slogans adequate for a modern democratic state? Can such a very disputed figure be a modern exemplar for a people aspiring to move toward European integration? That is why we were disturbed by this award. But the decision to confer or not to confer titles is Ukraine’s matter.”
Pawel Kowal, a Polish deputy to EP, made another reconciliatory gesture in his interview to a popular Ukrainian web-site: “I believe it is not a European Parliament’s business to assess historical policies of either members or neighbors of the EU. … It is Ukraine's internal affair. Ukraine should not be an object of pressure of other countries. It is fully eligible to make sovereign political decisions. ... But we, the Poles and Ukrainians, should openly discuss our history. I feel we can do this, even if we would certainly disagree on many issues. We should carry out the dialogue.” And, with a clear intention to encourage Ukrainians, to sweeten a bitter pill, Pawel Kowal suggested not to exaggerate the weight of the paragraph 20. There are more important points, he said. “Document discusses the legal aspects of Ukraine’s possible accession in the EU. European Parliament is the only institution that, since the Orange revolution, states out clearly: Ukraine should be in Europe.”
The Bandera controversy would certainly not disappear from Ukrainian life whatever decisions are adopted by the European Parliament and whatever measures are undertaken by the Yanukovych's regime. Because it is not about history, politics, or ideology, but about identity.
Bandera, like OUN/UPA, is just a metonym of two different legacies that had been historically inseparable but diverged today radically in two different discourses and informed two different controversies that are often, deliberately and indeliberately, confused making thereby the whole problem highly ambiguous. One of them is a legacy of political violence, terror, authoritarianism, integral nationalism, xenophobia, and intolerance. Some inveterate anti-OUN crusaders like a prominent Canadian-Ukrainian historian John-Paul Himka and his less talented but more active colleague Wiktor Poliszczuk denounce Banderites also in collaboration and anti-Semitism, even though both claims are rather disputable. Alexander Motyl argues that collaborators are “individuals or groups who abandon their sovereign aspirations and serve another power’s goals”, while “individuals or groups who retain their sovereign aspirations and align with some power in pursuit of their own goals—even nondemocratic ones—are generally called allies”.
By this logic, Stalin who cooperated with Hitler in 1939-1940 was his ally but not a collaborator. And Brits and Americans who eventually cooperated with Stalin, had been situational allies of the communist totalitarianship but not Stalin's collaborators.
Until July 1941, Bandera and his OUN would have liked to ally themselves with the Germans with a hope to gain the national independence which they considered the top priority. But the Nazis wanted them to be only collaborators, not allies. So, when Ukrainians proclaimed independence in Lviv on June 30, 1941, after Germans invaded the Soviet Union, Nazis did not accept this as a fait accompli. In a sense, as Motyl sardonically comments, Germans saved inadvertently the nationalists from a collaborationist and possibly fascist fate. They cracked down on the OUN in mid-1941, imprisoned Bandera in Sachsenhausen and two of his brothers in Auschwitz, and assigned gestapo to eradicate all the nationalist network. “The Bandera nationalists then went underground and eventually came to lead a massive popular resistance movement that fought both the Germans and, eventually, the Soviets. German documents amply illustrate the degree to which the Nazi authorities regarded the Banderabewegung as a serious, anti-German force”.
The OUN alleged anti-Semitism is even more complicated and ambiguous story since, on one hand, anti-Jewish resentment or even hostility was a common phenomenon among many Ukrainian nationalists, yet, on the other hand, they did not consider Jews as the main, heavily demonized and primordial enemies but, rather, treated them (or most of them) instrumentally as opportunistic allies of Poles and Soviets who were deemed real foes. This anti-Jewish bias had certainly faciliated involvement of some nationalists in anti-Jewish excesses but, on the other hand, its non-programmatic, non-ideological character left a substantial room for ccoperation with those Jews who were considered 'ours', i.e. loyal to the Ukrainian cause. Hence, quite a few Jews were rescued by nationalists, and some of them even joined UPA to fight both the Nazis and Soviets.
From the normative point of view, neither politics nor ideology of Bandera and OUN look acceptable nowadays and adobtable for any practical purposes. This is definitely that part of their legacy that should be abandoned since it “makes little ethical sense today”
or, as another historian rightly put it, “in the 21st century [such] views seem archaic and dangerous”.
But there is one more part of the UPA legacy that is hardly so obsolete in contemporary Ukraine. “It is this legacy of sacrifice that many in western Ukraine today associate with Bandera, and do not wish to be forgotten. … As everyone who is interested in the history of Soviet Ukraine knows, … partisans fighting under Bandera’s name resisted the imposition of Stalinist rule with enormous determination. Thus there seems to be a certain binary political logic to Yushchenko’s decision: to glorify Bandera is to reject Stalin and to reject any pretension from Moscow to power over Ukraine”.
Alexander Motyl has outlined the problem even more acutely:
“Contemporary Ukrainians who regard Bandera as a hero lionize his and his movement’s implacable opposition to the Soviet Union in 1939-1955. No one regards the nationalists’ violence against Poles and Jews as laudable, but few regard it as central to what Bandera and the nationalists represent: a rejection of all things Soviet, a repudiation of anti-Ukrainian slurs, and unconditional devotion to Ukrainian independence. Bandera and the nationalists are also seen as the polar opposites of the corrupt, incompetent, and venal Ukrainian elites who have misruled Ukraine for the last twenty years. Of course, this popular reading of Ukrainian history is one-sided, and a full account would entail both the good and the bad things Bandera and the nationalists did. But one-sided historical readings are not unusual, especially among insecure nations struggling to retain their new-found independence”.
The last point is particularly important. It suggests that Ukraine is not just a 'normal' nation, with firm identity and secure statehood, that chooses presumably between authoritarianism and democracy, i.e., in this case, between crypto-fascist legacy examplified by Bandera and OUN and liberal-democratic values promoted by the EU. The reality is quite different. Neither Ukrainian statehood and sovereignty are secure enough vis-a-vis growing Russian 'assertiveness', nor Ukrainian 'aboriginal' identity is unthreatened under cultural and linguistic pressure of politically and economically dominant 'Creoles' and their Moscow allies.
So, for Ukrainians, the real choice is not between OUN-style nationalistic dictatorship and EU-style liberal democracy. Most of them made this choice long ago, and virtualy nobody but a few marginals praise the former today, and deny the latter. The real choice is to either defend the national sovereignty, dignity, and identity, or give them away to Russia and/or its 'Creole' subsidiaries. Under these circumstances, the second part of Bandera's legacy remains relevant – that of patriotism, national solidarity, self-sacrifice, idealistic commitment to common goals and values.
Remarkably, this is exactly that part of Bandera's and OUN/UPA's legacy that has been primarily targeted by the Soviets, as Alexander Motyl aptly reminds us: “Soviet propaganda always demonized the nationalists, not for their violations of human rights—after all, who were the Soviets to care about human rights after inventing the Gulag?—but because of their opposition to Stalinist rule. The nationalists suffered over 150,000 casualties, while inflicting over 30,000 on Soviet troops and police units in the period between 1944 and 1955. Hundreds of thousands of nationalist sympathizers were also deported or imprisoned in the Gulag. The post-war nationalist resistance movement enjoyed vast support among the Ukrainian population of Western Ukraine precisely because it stood for opposition to Stalinism and its genocidal aspirations. Over the years, as Soviet rule became more entrenched, active popular support dwindled, but the Bandera nationalists continued to symbolize the cause of national liberation”.
This might be a good answer John-Paul Himka's question “Why would anyone want to embrace the heritage of that [OUN] group? ... Shouldn’t we put paid to their legacy?”
This might be also an apt explanation which part of Bandera's legacy – and why – is so heatedly hated in both today's Russia and Yanukovych's Ukraine: “Soviet demonization of the nationalists promoted and created a deeply rooted image of them as savage cutthroats with no political or ideological agenda except for death and destruction. This image took root in, above all, the heavily Sovietized parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, which had served as strongholds of Communist Party rule. Russians and Russian speakers picked up on official cues and frequently insulted nationally conscious Ukrainians who dared to speak their own language by referring to them as “Banderas.” … What Russian chauvinists had used as a term of opprobrium—Bandera—became a term of praise, much in the way that African Americans appropriated the 'N word'...”
In other words, 'Bandera' and 'Banderites' in the ideologically charged Ukrainophobic discourse of the dominant Sovietophiles became synonimic with any self-conscious, non-Russified and non-Sovietized Ukrainian – a metonym of a disobidient Friday who refuses to recognize cultural and political superioruty of a Russian Robinson. Such a Ukrainian – and the national-liberation (rather than authoritarian) part of the OUN's legacy that purportedly makes him defiant – is the main irritant for both the imperial chauvinists in Russia and their 'Creole' associates in Ukraine. To abandon this legacy in today's Ukraine would be tantamount not to acceptance of liberal democratic 'European values', as the members of the EP may believe, but rather to the acceptance of colonizers' view of Ukrainian history and identity.
To put it streight, the 'aboriginal' part of Ukrainian society would have little incentives to abandon their nationalistic symbols as long as the other part keep their own symbols of colonial conquer and dominance – all the Lenins and Stalins, Dzerzhinskys and Kirovs, Peters and Catherines arguably the Great – cherished and glorified.
Yaroslav Hrytsak is right: “We must recognize that Ukrainian historical memory is deeply divided – the fact we and our heirs will have to live with for a long time… Pact on amnesia would have been the best political solution for our country – at least for the time we complete a radical transformation… But such a pact requires a responsible elite and a reputable, trusted arbiter (in Spain, there was the king). Yet, even if some miracle has endowed us with such elite and arbiter, we [unlike Spaniards] have the neighbors – Poles, Russians, Jews – who would not allow us to forget our history… We should probably try to elaborate on an Anglo-Saxon formula that permits co-existence of different, sometimes mutually incompatible elements of historical memory to produce a national consent, e pluribus unum…”
So far, this might be a wishful thinking since today’s Russia would hardly accept any Ukrainian otherness that fall beyond the imperial paradigm. But Brussels may listen to, and so may Warsaw. They must recognize the right of small and endangered nations to have their own memory. Otherwise, Hrytsak argues, the common European memory would just be a dominance of the strongest and richest over the weakest and poorest. “Minor nations should have the right to praise inconvenient, unorthodox heroes – as long as they praise them not as symbols of violence and dominance over other people but, rather, as symbols of their own struggle for survival and dignity. In the case of Bandera, it is of little importance whether he was a fascist or not but it is really important whether people today celebrate him as a fascist or somebody else”.
National heroes are usually not impeccable. Latin American Indians may have serious reservations against Columbus, and blacks may rightly consider George Washington as a slave-owner and may reasonably reject a great number of other reputable European and American statesmen as racists to their boots, and Chechens would certainly not perceive Jacques Chirac’s conferring the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor on president Putin as just and honest, nor Palestinians would ever find anything heroic in Ben Gurion’s calls to “expel Arabs and take their places”, to “use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population”, and to “do everything to ensure they [the Palestinian refugees] never do return”.
But it also unlikely that the members of the European Parliament would ever call Israelis to rename their major airport, or urge city council of Barcelona to remove the Columbus monument, or forbid the sale and wearing the Che Guevarra T-shirts in the EU since neither totalitarian ideology nor terrorist activity of this hero comply anywhere closely with the ‘European values’.
Historical truth, in most cases, is highly complex and ambiguous, and Bandera’s story, in this regard, is no exception. It has both dark and bright pages. And none of them should be undermined or exaggerated. Even more importantly, none of them should be considered out of historical and present day contexts.
 Andrzej Eliasz, “Polska – Ukraina: niewiadoma z Rosja w tle”, Gazeta wyborcza, 27-28.03.2010, s. 22.
 Motyl, “Ukraine…”, p. 9;
 John-Paul Himka, “Should Ukrainian Studies Defend the Heritage of OUN-UPA?”, an open letter circulated on 10.02.2010.
 Hrytsak, “Klopoty...”
 Michael Bar Zohar, Ben-Gurion: the Armed Prophet, Prentice-Hall, 1967, p. 157. See also Ben Gurion and the Palestine Arabs, Oxford University Press, 1985; and David Ben Gurion to the General Staff: Ben-Gurion, A Biography, by Michael Ben-Zohar, Delacorte, New York 1978. Special thanks to Steven Velychenko for the provided bibliography.