May 17, 2021

Ukraine reopens historic debate on nationalist leader Stepan Bandera

Ukraine reopens historic debate on nationalist leader Stepan Bandera

More than half a century after the death of the nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, in Ukraine the debate has reopened on the place that one of the most controversial figures in the history of the country should occupy in the collective memory.

The Ukrainians have celebrated for the first time this year as a national holiday the anniversary of the birth of Bandera, considered a hero, but at the same time has been accused of various crimes.

The Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine officially declared January 1 as the day commemorating the birth of Bandera, honored for his role as promoter of the independence movement and national liberation against the occupying regimes during the Second World War.

"Bandera was a fan of the idea of ​​Ukrainian independence and fought for it with all the means available at that time, obviously his methods were not democratic," Ukrainian historian and journalist Grigory Lugovsky told Efe.

Born on January 1, 1909, Bandera was one of the founders of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) -the military branch of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-, which led the armed resistance against Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union.

Despite being a contradictory figure in Ukraine – accompanied by descriptions that oscillate between patriot and fascist – has received the decoration of the Government posthumously as a national hero and thousands of people pay tribute every year.

In recent years, several commemorative statues have been erected in different cities of Ukraine, while in the capital an important street was renamed as Stepan Avenue.

Various historians, as well as politicians from Russia and Poland have condemned his glorification and have labeled him a radical nationalist or terrorist for his alleged collaboration with the Nazis to fight against the anti-Hitler coalition.

According to Lugovsky, the cooperation of Bandera with the Germans only took place in the initial stage of the war with the aim of attacking the Soviet Army, and it is because he saw Germany as a temporary ally to free Ukraine from the dictatorship of Stalin.

"The Ukrainian nationalists had illusions about the possibility of creating their own State under the protectorate of Germany, but very quickly these illusions were dissipated by the actions of the occupying regime," said the historian.

And in 1941 Bandera declared the independence of Ukraine, but Hitler refused to grant him sovereignty and ordered his arrest in the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen, where the nationalist leader remained practically until the end of the war.

As political scientist Román Solomoniuk points out, although Bandera spent a lot of time in jail, under his leadership the UPA fought Germans, Soviets and Poles. All this under a changing strategy that pursued its own political benefits and that is summarized in the phrase "The enemy of my enemy is my friend".

"At that time the USSR was a much bigger enemy for the Ukrainians than the Third Reich (of Hitler)," he told Efe Solomoniuk, who recalled that during the first years of the war the Soviet regime deported more than 300,000 Ukrainians, great part of which were shot.

From 1943 the Ukrainian Insurgent Army carried out large-scale battles against the German troops, but also committed terrorist actions against Russians and Poles, which, in their opinion, were "a kind of reprisal" for the execution of thousands of Ukrainian civilians for both states before and during the war.

The UPA was accused of the murder of Polish Interior Minister Bronislaw Peratsky and the subsequent killing of Poles in the Ukrainian city of Volhynia.

Solomoniuk also alleges that Bandera was also a victim of fascism, since his two brothers were killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943 and his parents were executed by the Soviet secret police, as confirmed by files recently published by the CIA.

After the end of the war, Stepan Bandera continued to fight for the independence of Ukraine until in 1959 he was killed by a Russian KGB agent in the German city of Munich.

Now, 60 years after his death, the debate about the place it should occupy in the collective memory not only remains open, but has spread to a broader one that uses the cult of Bandera as a way to defend an independent and sovereign Ukraine , free from the sphere of Soviet and Russian influence.


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