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Moscow must be destroyed. Bandera would approve

Tuesday, 17 January 2023, 08:00

National heroes are honoured not for their actions, but for the image of those actions that is known to a specific generation. If you have a good understanding of what historical figures actually did, the desire to idolise them largely fades away. The debate about Stepan Bandera is a political and ideological one, part of the nation-building process. It’s something we have to go through. And most importantly, Moscow must be destroyed. Bandera would approve.

Editor’s note: Several articles about Stepan Bandera have recently been published in the French newspaper Le Monde. Ukrainian historians such as Yaroslav Hrytsak and Volodymyr Viatrovych have also been commenting to the press. Yaroslav Hrytsak's published remarks were met with anger from regional politicians and nationalist historians.

A column by Yaroslav Hrytsak, How I swam in the Zbruch river with Yurii Andruhovych and smeared Bandera's name, with an interpretation of the situation, has been published on our website, as has Volodymyr Viatrovich's response On Hrytsak, Bandera and the difficulties of translation.


Now we are publishing a piece by Vakhtang Kipiani, editor-in-chief of Historical Pravda. We hope that the debate will continue, without going beyond the boundaries of common sense and ethics.

Point 1. National heroes are honoured not for their actions, but for the image of those actions that is known to a specific generation.

Broadly speaking, we don’t know precisely what the real Bandera did (copies of books about the leader of the OUN, for example, during all the years of independence number no more than a few tens of thousands, and in my opinion there is no proper ideologically unbiased academic biography of him). [The Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) was established in Vienna in 1929, uniting the Ukrainian Military Organisation with smaller, mainly youth, radical nationalist right-wing groups – ed.]

But Bandera’s image, constructed by literature, cinema, communist and nationalist propaganda, oral memory and mass culture, gives many of us positive power, and we are using this power to beat the enemy.

And that's fine – it's like that everywhere in the world.

Point 2. If you have a good understanding of what historical figures actually did, the desire to idolise them largely fades away.

People don’t know the real Bandera (or the real OUN). They don’t know about the dispute between Metropolitan Andrii Sheptytskyi and the OUN over the political murders in the 1930s.

They don’t know about the dispute between the two OUNs in 1940 [when it split into Andrii Melnyk’s more moderate OUN-M and Bandera’s more radical OUN-B] and the fratricide that followed. They know nothing about the activities of the Security Service during the war (try looking up what Vasyl Kuk, the last leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), had to say about "Smok", for example). [Mykola Kozak, alias Smok, the head of the OUN’s Security Service in Volhynia, ruthlessly executed almost every suspect who came under investigation. Kuk was highly critical of Smok’s brutal interrogations and use of forced confessions – ed.]

They don’t want to know the real consequences of the Ukrainian-Polish war and the disaster in Volhynia. They know nothing of the political scandals, infighting and, yes, murders again in the late 1940s in the Displaced Persons camps.

They know nothing about the split in 1954. They know nothing about the struggle between the OUN-B [Bandera’s faction] and the environment of the Government of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in exile which united all the other political parties of the diaspora. And so on.

Of course, some people do know and they’re OK with it, but if all these stories are told and explained, then the number of people who think that it’s all OK and there are no questions to be asked about this movement will diminish.

And that doesn’t just apply to nationalists, but to anyone and anything. The more you know, the more you question and the less you admire. That’s obvious.

Point 3. Society really does have a very short memory. As recently as 2010, a collection of fifty articles entitled Passions over Bandera was published.

It doesn’t even get a mention in the current debate, and it was published not a hundred but a mere twelve years ago! And all the key historians and columnists are there, debating with each other in great depth, and with a vast amount of material.

Today, thousands of newbies are starting from scratch, which is both funny and sad, and even stupid.

Point 4. The debate about Bandera is a political and ideological one, part of the process of nation-building. It’s something we have to go through.

Bandera is a fascinating and important historical figure. The phenomenon of resistance today cannot be understood without him and his movement. The heroism of the OUN and the UPA gives great strength to those who are destroying the occupiers today.

The anthem of Ukrainian nationalists, "Zrodylys my velykoi hodyny" (We were born in a great hour), has become the anthem of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and the nationalist greeting "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!" is now part of our national culture.

The nationalist myth about Bandera is appealing because it’s about a hero who loved Ukraine above all else and gave his life for Ukraine. We all sing along to "Batko nash Bandera" (Our father’s Bandera, Ukraine is our mother) because we hate his killers and enjoy trolling them.

But criticism and discussion of real actions, sifting out the mythology in academic debate, is the norm; it’s what distinguishes us from Russia. And so you have to keep a cool head and, of course, not think people are your enemies just because they don't agree with a particular view of our national hero.

But here we must remember that Moscow, Warsaw and others besides have invested considerable resources in discrediting Bandera, and some of these, in the form of thousand-page volumes, look pretty respectable.

And the narratives embedded therein become one of the available "points of view".

Point 5. This "isn’t the right time". For many people, it is never the right time to speak the truth. We are fighting this war for freedom, and in particular, for the right to say things that provoke anger and shock at first. Because the loss of illusions is always painful.

I believe that there is no contradiction between the glorification of the national hero Stepan Bandera by some people in society, and calm academic study of all aspects of his life and activities sine ira et studio - without fear or favour. We should each do our own thing.

And most importantly, Moscow must be destroyed. Bandera would approve.

Disclaimer: Articles reflect their author’s point of view and do not claim to be objective or to explore every aspect of the issues they discuss. The Ukrainska Pravda editorial board does not bear any responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided, or its interpretation, and acts solely as a publisher. The point of view of the Ukrainska Pravda editorial board may not coincide with the point of view of the article’s author.

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