16 February 2010
Battle over Bandera
On 22 January, in one of his last acts as President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko declared Stepan Bandera, leader of the wartime Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, a 'Hero of Ukraine.' The bestowal of the honour upon this controversial historical figure -- national freedom fighter according to some, terrorist and Nazi collaborator according to others -- has provoked fallout at home and in Poland and Russia. (For more on Bandera in our contemporary context, see David Marples's Heroes and Villians: Creating National History in Contemporary Ukraine.) Yesterday Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, in a sit-down with President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbaev, commented directly on these developments, characterising Yushchenko's decision as 'essentially spit[ting] in the face of his political sponsors' (по сути, «плюнуло в лицо» своим политическим спонсорам). He proceeded to say that he hoped that 'this difficult period in the life of the Ukrainian people, brothers to us all, has passed' (этот тяжелый период в жизни братского нам всем украинского народа позади; emphasis mine).
Incoming Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, while he disagrees with Yushchenko's decision, has indicated that he will not revoke Bandera's 'hero' status. In a press conference today, Yushchenko in effect responded to both Putin and Yanukovych by saying that 'without Bandera, there would be no Yanukovych. Yanukovych would not have become president of an independent country' (Якби не було Бандери, не було б Януковича. Янукович би не став президентом незалежної країни).
The photos of strikingly similar representations of Bandera and Lenin in the collage above are taken from Gazeta.ua.