In Ukraine, Stepan Bandera is controversial, some hate him while others love him. Some believe he was a fascist, others a nationalist. In Russia he is hated. Whatever we may think of Bandera, he is hardly a unifying figure in Ukraine.
Some facts about Stepan Bandera
Stepan Bandera was born in western Ukraine on 1 January 1909 and was killed by the KGB in Munich on 15 October 1959. He studied as an Agronomist at the University of Lviv which was then part of Poland. It was here that he joined the work for an independent Ukraine. He became a member of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).
The OUN was founded by Ukrainian nationalists in Poland in 1929. At that time, a large part of western Ukraine was under Poland.
The OUN was an organization that was willing to use violence against both domestic and foreign opponents. The OUN was not for a democracy. I would describe the OUN as a fascist movement.
In 1934, the leadership of the OUN was arrested for the murder of the Polish Minister of the Interior, Bronislaw Pieracki. Stepan Bandera was sentenced to death. The death penalty was later commuted to life imprisonment.
After the German attack on Poland in 1939 and the Soviet attack in 1941, Poland lost control of the prison and Bandera managed to escape. He continued after this work for an independent Ukraine through the OUN after he escaped from prison.
The dream of an independent Ukraine
Ukraine was divided between the Soviet Union and Poland. Large parts of today’s western Ukraine were Polish territory before World War II. Historically, Ukraine had been constantly divided.
Ukrainian language and culture had been suppressed and were at times banned, even before the Russian Revolution. From the Tsar’s point of view, Ukrainian nationalism was dangerous. Attempts to “Russify” Ukraine had been made for a long time, through bans on Ukrainian culture and language.
I have previously written a blog about the great famine disaster in Ukraine called “Holodomor”. This was in 1932-33. Many millions starved and died as a result of Stalin’s genocide.
To me, it seems quite clear that Stepan Bandera was strongly influenced by the genocide. He became a member of the OUN in 1934, i.e. shortly after the terrible famine disaster against the Ukrainian population, set in motion by the Soviet dictator Stalin.
Ukrainian language and Russification
In 1804, the Ukrainian language was banned from being used in schools and universities. In 1817, Eastern Europe’s oldest university, Kyiv Mohyla, was closed. The goal was for the Ukrainian language to disappear.
The western parts of today’s Ukraine have at times been under other countries. There, the Ukrainian language lived on and was spoken in everyday speech. When we look at Ukraine geographically today, we see a difference in the spread of the Ukrainian language. The further east in Ukraine we go, the more common the Russian language becomes. This is not because there is a Russian population, but because the areas have been under stronger Russian influence for many centuries.
When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Bandera and the OUN supported the German advance with subversive actions. However, the OUN came into conflict with Germany when they declared an independent Ukrainian state on 30 June 1941. On July 6, Stepan Bandera was arrested. He was in the German concentration camp Sachsenhausen until September 1944. When the Red Army went on the offensive in Ukraine, Germany released Bandera in an attempt to get the OUN to prevent further Soviet advances. Bandera was placed in Berlin where he directed the Germans’ training of OUN soldiers. These were supposed to be sent back to Ukraine to fight the Red Army.
Opponents of Bandera have tried to place the blame on abuses committed in Ukraine against civilians and the Jewish population. Looking at the timeline here, these allegations are highly questionable. UPA a military group of the OUN fought during the war both against the Soviet Union and against Germany in Ukraine. After the war, UPA groups continued to fight against the Soviet Union until the 1950s.
The systematic extermination of the Jews started in Germany 2 days after Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. It is estimated that between 5 and 7 million Ukrainian civilians were killed during World War II. Of these, 1 million were Jews. In addition, 2.7 million ethnic Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the war for the Red Army.
The Jewish population was systematically attempted to be exterminated in Ukraine. Atrocity was mainly committed by the Germans. The extent to which the OUN was involved or supported this is unclear, but I find it likely that elements of the OUN were involved. In an assessment of Stepan Bandera, there are very different views on the extent to which he himself participated in the atrocities against the Jews, the extent to which he commissioned parts of the OUN to carry out such things or whether he actually showed what was going on. There is talk of a maximum of 6 days from the Germans’ systematic assault on the Jewish population until Bandera was arrested.
This is how I see Stepan Bandera
I said earlier that in my opinion Stepan Bandera was a fascist because he led an organization that has clear fascist features. I myself am as far from fascism as it is possible to get. But we still have to see the figure of Stepan Bandera in the light of historical events.
- The dream of a united and independent country: This dream carried most of the Ukrainian population. A country that has partly been oppressed by other countries and split into several parts.
- Preserving Ukrainian culture and language: Ukrainians felt their culture threatened through several centuries of oppression. The same applied to the Ukrainian language.
- Holodomor: The genocide perpetrated by Stalin against Ukraine and the Ukrainian peasantry in 1932-33 claimed millions of lives. This event clearly made an impression on many and the belief that a life within the Soviet Union.
Stepan Bandera a divided person
Stepan Bandera is a figure that divides Ukraine. Some people love him and see his fight for an independent Ukraine as absolutely decisive. Others hate him for the OUN’s fascist attitudes and for the atrocities against the Jewish population.
Russia uses Stepan Bandera in its anti-Ukrainian propaganda. They use him as a kind of proof that Ukraine is a fascist country where fascism is strong. Of course, today there are fascists in Ukraine as well. But they are a small group. At the last election (2019), what we can define as a fascist party (Svoboda) received 2% of the vote.
Stepan Bandera has roads named after him. Among other things, one of the main roads in Kyiv. On 1 January, many take to the streets to mark his birthday.
In the situation Ukraine is in, what Ukraine needs is not a divisive figure, but a unifying one. Anyway, a fascist leader is nothing to celebrate.
SNL: History of Ukraine – Wikipedia – Dagbladet: torchlight procession to celebrate Bandera’s birthday – Aftenposten: Here, 33,000 Jews were killed in two days – Wikipedia: OUN – Blog:Holodomor when millions starved