Krakow, Poland – January 1st marked the 114th birthday of Ukrainian nationalist chief and militant Stepan Bandera. This yr, the official commemoration of his legacy in Ukraine provoked contemporary criticism from the Polish authorities at the same time as the 2 nations have drawn nearer collectively.

While a nationwide hero to many Ukrainians, in Poland, Bandera is seen as a Nazi collaborator who performed a key position within the genocide of ethnic Poles and Jews throughout World War II. 

Treading calmly

This pressure rapidly got here out into the open as Ukraine’s parliament acknowledged the day with a tweet juxtaposing Bandera and Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine’s present commander-in-chief of the armed forces. This tweet was adopted up by related statements making use of Bandera’s phrases to Ukraine’s present battle towards Russia.

These doubtlessly controversial posts have been rapidly eliminated, however not earlier than they have been registered by the Polish authorities and media.

Polish MP, and influential member of the Law and Justice celebration (PiS), Radosław Fogiel, promptly responded, saying that “the commemoration of Stepan Bandera, liable for the mass homicide of the Polish inhabitants within the japanese territories of the Second Polish Republic, on the profile of the Supreme Council of Ukraine should elevate objections. This must be made clear, particularly to mates. The extra in order that Ukraine has new, true heroes right this moment.”

This protest was then adopted up by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Łukasz Yasina, stating that “our perspective in direction of the crimes dedicated by the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army)  stays unchanged, we hope that the rapprochement of the Polish and Ukrainian nations will result in a greater understanding of our frequent historical past.”

While no official Ukrainian response to this incident was forthcoming apart from eradicating the tweets, a comparability may be drawn to an analogous controversy which emerged earlier in June 2022. In this case, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany Andrii Melnyk downplayed Bandera’s half within the genocide through the Second World War. After protests by the Israeli and Polish governments, Ukraine’s overseas ministry distanced itself from the ambassador’s statements.

Who was Stepan Bandera?

The historic context of Bandera helps to clarify why this legacy has develop into such a persistent sticking level in Polish-Ukrainian relations. 

He emerged as a political determine within the tumult of the interwar interval and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The creation of the brief lived West Ukrainian People’s Republic and its struggles with the nascent Polish state over the areas of East Galicia and Volhynia galvanised the nationalistic battle that will outline Bandera’s legacy.

An excessive amount of the controversy arises with Bandera’s dominant place within the OUN-B (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists – Bandera), which might go on to kind the UPA. From right here critics word Bandera’s cooperation with Nazi occupation forces, although Bandera’s insistence on Ukrainian independence would finally place him within the Sachsenhausen focus camp as a political prisoner. 

Towards the tip of the struggle. it was Bandera’s faction of the OUN-B and the UPA which might be accused of “ethnic cleaning” within the disputed border areas, or what would develop into often known as the “Volyn Tragedy” or the “Volyn Massacres.” These massacres account for the deaths of anyplace between 50,000 and 100,000 Poles and different minority teams.

Conflicted reminiscence

The subject of Stepan Bandera and ethnic battle within the borderlands and the Volyn Massacre has lengthy been a contentious concern in Polish-Ukrainian relations. The legacy of imperialism and of shifting political and ethnic boundaries continues to affect nationwide tradition, and leaves a lot to be resolved. 

In 2016, the discharge of the Polish movie Wołyn (Hatred in English), which addressed massacres linked to Bandera’s motion, sparked related tensions, which neatly summarised the bigger historic and cultural battle. From each the Ukrainian and Polish views, the movie laid naked stereotypes together with these perpetuated by Russian propaganda (the preliminary Russian invasion of Ukraine had already occurred) and people of Poland’s historic imperialist strategy to the so-called Kresy or “borderlands.”

The impact of this movie and of subsequent diplomatic incidents, reveals the nonetheless unstable nature of historic interpretation within the area. Yet Poland and Ukraine, present occasions have solid the 2 as pure allies certain collectively by shared expertise, displaying that as simply as historical past may be seen as the basis of battle, it might additionally function the idea for cooperation.

With reminiscences of overseas occupation, colonisation and oppression nonetheless contemporary within the minds of many, and with Ukraine’s ongoing battle towards Russian imperialism, the affect of historic expertise can’t be dismissed. While Bandera’s legacy can stay an underlying explanation for rancour between the 2 nations, in the meanwhile pragmatic pursuits are served finest by discovering the frequent historic floor.

By Nathan Alan-Lee

Nathan is a analysis assistant working with the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and a PhD pupil on the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies. He accomplished his Masters diploma in European research on the Jagiellonian University, specializing in celebration politics in Central and Eastern Europe. Currently, he’s pursuing a research of politicisation and partisan affect in society, emphasising reminiscence and historic revisionism.

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