Article co-written with Laurent Geslin, published in the December issue of Le Monde Diplomatique English
The Kiev city council announced in July that Moscow Avenue was to be renamed ‘Stepan Bandera Avenue’ after the nationalist ‘hero’ of the struggle against the Soviet Union. Bandera was briefly a prisoner of the Nazis, though also their ally in June 1941 and in 1944. The renaming, under ‘decommunisation’ laws adopted in Ukraine in 2015, aims to distance the Soviet heritage and the shadow of Russia.
In Poland, it brings back unpleasant memories. This July the Polish parliament voted overwhelmingly to adopt a law referring to massacres in Volhynia in 1943 as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’. In that region, now part of Western Ukraine, 40-100,000 Poles were killed during the second world war, ‘brutally murdered by Ukrainian nationalists’ according to the Polish parliament. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), founded by Stepan Bandera, did the killing. Today the UPA is celebrated in Ukraine for its fight for national independence. It also massacred Jews and Poles, and for a time collaborated with Nazi Germany.
Despite the convergence of Polish and Ukrainian strategic interests with those of Russia, these votes signal ‘the end of the Polish-Ukrainian honeymoon’ according to Vasyl Rasevych, a historian at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, western Ukraine. Disputes between the countries are not new, but recent legislative initiatives confirm the failure to establish a shared vision of the past. Volodymyr Vyatrovich of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory (UINM) says: ‘History should be left to historians, and politicians should be prevented from imposing their own interpretations on it.’ Rasevych says developing an official version of history is just what UINM is trying to do.
Vyatrovich is a leading promoter of the four anticommunist laws adopted by the Ukrainian parliament in May 2015. They criminalise the promotion of ‘communist and Nazi totalitarian ideologies’; order the dismantling of statues and changing of place names linked to the Soviet (…)