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Thursday, November 15, 2018 - 20:25

Passions Over Bandera

March 2014

Passion Over Bandera is best characterized as ‘postmodern’. It not only unites texts of very different genres (academic articles, essays and letters to the editor), but also contains the work of very different authors—from historians with varying degrees of intimacy with the issues, to public intellectuals, journalists and the OUN leader’s own grandson. The book brings together texts from discussions about Stepan Bandera, the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which took place in 2009-10 on the pages of Krytyka (see, for example, Volodymyr Kulyk’s “Neunykny Bandera” and Andriy Portnov’s “Kontekstualizatsiya Stepana Bandery,” No. 3-4, 2010), Edmonton Journal, the Western Analytical Group’s website, and the online publication Zaxid.net.

The impetus for the discussion was David Marples’ article, published in Edmonton Journal in February, 2010. It caused a stir among both Ukrainian diaspora historians—Zenon Kohut and John-Paul Himka (Krytyka introduced its readers to their dialogue in No. 3-4 and No. 7-8, 2010)—and Western scholars—Per Anders Rudling and Timothy Snyder. The latter’s piece “A Fascist Hero in Democratic Kiev” also appeared in Krytyka, No. 3-4. 

By following the exchange of arguments in the debate, one notes the reproaches that systematically remain unanswered. For example, one such problematic question is that of the voluntary participation of Jews in OUN’s structures and, consequently, the ‘ideology’ of Jewish pogroms. A serious drawback of the book’s postmodern approach is the lack of source references for the texts’ arguments, which must therefore be taken at face value. 

The book’s strength lies is in its broad spectrum of contemporary viewpoints on Bandera and the OUN-UPA—from the notion that Ukrainians must fully let go of these symbols, in acknowledging their fascist past (Himka, Snyder, Rudling); to more moderate positions, according to which Bandera, despite his crimes, is a symbol of anti-colonial struggle (Hrytsak, Riabchuk, Eliasz, Motyl, Portnov); to his glorification (Viatrovych, Kulyk, Levitsky). The issue of Jewish pogroms is at the centre of the debate, such that issues like the Volyn tragedy or the extermination of Ukrainians, by Ukrainians, are marginalized. It seems that such questions as the Ukrainian victims of the UPA or the voluntary nature of service in the Insurgent Army require further discussion and research. Remarkably, the emphases on the need to reckon with the inherent, contemporary political contexts are mostly from Ukrainian (and some Polish) intellectuals, who still clearly believe historians' work to be the protection of national interests.               

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