Ukraine über Alles
The New year begins in Ukraine with some 15 thousands of people marching through the streets of Kyiv. Though they brandish the blue flags of an opposition party and ultimately protest against the government and their president Viktor Yanukvich, their march passes far from the squares of Euromaidan.
- Thursday, 09 January 2014
A matter of point of view
Activists and supporters of the Svoboda party commemorated their leader, Stepan Bandera, whose 105th birthday would have coincided with the New Year’s Day. Saying that Bandera is a divisive figure in Ukraine is an euphemism. In western Ukraine his name is synonym of freedom fight against any non-Ukrainian occupant, streets and squares are dedicated to him and statues have been erected in recent years, in place where Lenin and other communist leaders were standing. But in eastern and southern Ukraine Bandera is seen as a war criminal who helped the Nazis invading the country and perpetrate their brutality during World War II. Moreover, the latter point of view is the most common in the rest of Europe. Just as an example, recently the Fifa put OUN-UPA symbols in the list of discriminatory signs, banning their use from all international matches.
Understanding Ukrainian’s attitude towards Bandera and what he represented for the history of the country, helps to better understand the country itself and even who is behind the Euromaidan movement.
A hero and a traitor
Bandera was the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the founder of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in the 1930s and 1940s. At the head of his irregular army he fought alongside Nazi soldiers against the Soviets, seeing in Hitler the way to the independence of Ukraine, before being sent to a concentration camp himself.
The most controversial part of the story is related to the UPA involvement in ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of Poles, Hungarians and Jews, all numerous minorities living in Western Ukraine at that time. Bandera died in Munich in 1959, killed by order of KGB.
Fifty years after his death, he was decorated with the Hero of Ukraine award by the then president Viktor Yushchenko, less than a month before his term expired. After protests by Jewish and Russian lobbies, the award was annulled by a court in January 2011, under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych.
The party Svoboda is one of the major forces behind the Euromaidan protests. Furthermore, other opposition parties distanced themselves from Wednesday’s march, saying that it was unrelated to the ongoing pro-European demonstrations in central Kiev.
The marchers carried torches that lit the darkness of Kievian night with a trembling light, wore the uniform of a Ukrainian division of the German army during World War II, and chanted "Ukraine über Alles".
And that is one of the biggest paradoxes of Euromaidan and the way it is seen from the rest of Europe, that the rallies, which are viewed as the most genuine form of people’s democracy, are strongly promoted by an ultranationalist party tainted with xenophobia, homophobia and negationism. To Svoboda, which gained the majority of votes in cities like Lviv, the proximity to Europe is seen as nationalist and anti-Russian in scope, and has little to do with values and principles that the EU represents. Even one more divisive element in a country affected by strabismus.