A recent article by Mark Ames in The Nation sheds some interesting light on former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. Yushchenko, who was swept into office on the wave of the Orange Revolution in 2004, had spent a great deal of energy revitalizing nationalist sentiments in the country. The most glaring example is the way he has rehabilitated the reputation of Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist partisan active between the 1930s and 1950s. On January 22, Yushchenko posthumously honored Bandera, designating him as a Hero of Ukraine. This for a man who led the mass killing of Poles, Jews, and Russians for some twenty years. As the article states:
“In the 1930s, when the western part of Ukraine (known as “eastern Galicia”) was under Polish control, Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) terrorized Polish officials and families with assassinations. Bandera’s guerrillas grew increasingly successfu, thanks to German military training and support. The 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact handed the Ukrainian-dominated eastern part of Galicia over to Soviet control, making Russia the main enemy for Bandera and the OUN. When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Bandera’s forces fought alongside the Wehrmacht. Jewish Holocaust scholars, among others, say that Bandera’s forces participated in the mass killings of Jews in L’viv and other parts of Western Ukraine where Jews once thrived.”
With Bandera’s reputation improving in the country, Ukraine’s relations with both Poland and Russia have taken a turn for the worst. This situation once again shows that the legacy of the Second World War still remains a very contentious issue, particularly in Eastern Europe, where numerous ethnicities became the targets of systematic massacres. Seventy years later, the historical legacy of this event continues to be argued over and contended by all sides, each assuming a righteous stance of victimhood.
As we have seen Stalin’s reputation take a turn for the better in Russia today, so are lesser figures like Bandera likely to become appropriated by the authorities as rallying points in their respective countries. As national identity becomes an increasingly troublesome question for Europeans (not only in the East, but also in Western Europe due to the influx of Muslim immigrants), are we likely to see a turning away from the cosmopolitan ideal of integration that has been pursued on the continent for the last twenty five years?