Stepan Bandera — As Ukrainians have been arguing (in vain) for 70 years

“On June 30, 1941, the Germans entered the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. Bandera’s nationalists joined Nazi Einsatzgruppen in carrying out pogroms against the city’s Jews, along with political prisoners and opposition members. (Bandera himself was in Krakow.) The same day, the OUN declared an independent Ukrainian state; when Hitler refused to acknowledge the state, Bandera was imprisoned for refusing to rescind the declaration, and he spent the rest of the war in Sachsenhausen. His brothers were sent to Auschwitz, where they died. In 1944, Bandera was released, but as Timothy Snyder has written, his fellow nationalists told him not to return to Ukraine out of fear for his life. “Thousands of Ukrainians died fighting for independence under his name,” Snyder wrote in 2010. “It is this legacy of sacrifice that many in western Ukraine today associate with Bandera, and do not wish to be forgotten.”

So while Bandera and his men were responsible for killing Jews, their ideology wasn’t fundamentally anti-Semitic; rather, it was pro-Ukrainian, and anti- everyone who appeared to be in the way of that, which included the pro-Soviet Jews. “For the Nazis, anti-Semitism was an unconditional core belief, and Nazi anti-Semitism was an all-or-nothing proposition that was both immutable and immune to circumstances,” explained Alexander John Motyl, a professor of political science at Rutgers, in an email. “For the Ukrainian nationalists, their attitude toward Jews depended on political circumstances.” The primary enemy of the OUN was Poland and then the Soviet Union—or, rather, Poles and Russians. Jews were a “problem” because they weren’t Ukrainian, and because they were implicated, or believed to be implicated, in helping the Soviets take over Ukrainian territory. Indeed, Motyl noted, the resolutions of the Second Great OUN Congress, held in Krakow in April 1941, on the eve of the German invasion, specifically cautioned Ukrainians against anti-Jewish activity and pogroms. Of the 63 attempted and actual assassinations carried out by Ukrainian nationalists in the interwar period, only one was directed against a Jew. Compare this with 36 Ukrainians, 25 Poles, and a Russian. . . .

Bandera, who never returned to Ukraine, was killed in Munich in 1959, probably by the KGB—making him the ultimate martyr to the Ukrainian cause, and the ultimate bugaboo for Soviet propagandists, who began referred to Ukrainian nationalists as banderovtsi.”

With this recent crises, Jews have been very vocal in formal and informal channels, arguing that there is no serious anti-semitism in Ukraine. I’ve been posting about this, including an interview with Kyiv’s head rabbi and an official statement of Ukraine’s Jewish community.

This seems like a recent change in rhetoric.

Until fairly recently, there was still a struggle over history. For example, a Sixty-Minutes show in the late 1980s pretty much argued that all Ukrainians were Nazis.

My hunch is that the media was trying to cover up Soviet crimes by portraying all dissenters as Nazis.

Don’t get my wrong. I’m relieved that history is being corrected. I just think the suddenness of the change in historical interpretation is worth noting.