Tag Archives: Poland

Moscow Unveils Ukrainian Nationalist Monument in Response to Poland’s Removal of Soviet Memorials

MOSCOW- A 10-meter tall statue of the nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA in Ukrainian) leader Roman Shukhevych was unveiled in Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin on Monday. According to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the new monument is just one of the many “asymmetrical measures” his government promised in response to the Polish government, which recently announced its intention to remove Soviet WWII memorials on Polish territory.

“The Polish Second Republic, which occupied Ukrainian territory prior to the war, oppressed its ethnic minorities,” Lavrov said at a press briefing in the Foreign Ministry in Moscow.

“This monument shows our respect for a resistance leader who stood up to Polish chauvinism, the same way we are now standing up to Polish chauvinism today.”

However, critics say the move is controversial, pointing out that Roman Shukhevych served Nazi Germany’s military from 1941 till 1943, first in an army battalion known as “Nachtigal” and later in an Auxiliary Police battalion engaged in anti-partisan warfare in Belarus. Both units have been accused of committing atrocities against Jews and other civilians in occupied territory. In 1943 the UPA engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Poles from the region of Volyn. Shukhevych was nominally in command of the insurgent movement at the time, and the event has been a source of controversy between Poland and Ukraine in recent years.

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Roman Shukhevych, commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)

Lavrov responded to critics of the new monument by dismissing all accusations against Shukhevych and his men as “Soviet propaganda,” and alleging the existence of a decades-long international conspiracy to slander Roman Shukhevych and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, of which he was a member.

“I believe every people has a right to its own heroes,” Lavrov told reporters.

“Brutal times called for brutal measures. I won’t get into specifics of what those brutal measures were, but if anyone does they’re probably lying and repeating Soviet propaganda. Also what about Jozef Pilsudski, Michael Collins, or Menachem Begin? Were they angels? I don’t think so.”

Lavrov also dismissed the issue of Shukhevych’s collaboration with Nazi Germany by pointing out that the Soviet Union had signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact, which he called an alliance between the two states. When one reporter pointed out that unlike Shukhevych’s movement, the USSR had a history of opposing Nazi Germany with force prior to the pact and after the German invasion it went on to destroy the Third Reich, Lavrov said such details were “Ukrainophobic” and called the reporter a “sovok.”

Reactions in Ukraine have been noticeably sparse, although the move was greeted with great enthusiasm from the head of Ukraine’s Institute of National Memory, Volodymyr Viatrovych.

“This shows that Russia has finally broken with its Soviet past,” Viatrovych said.

“Russia has long insisted, like I do, that all Ukrainians idolize Shukhevych and the UPA. On that we were always in agreement, but until now the Russians had never given my- er…our heroes the respect they deserve.”

Viatrovych said that he was most pleased with the size of the monument, noting that Ukraine has nothing comparable. He also added that every attempt to memorialize Shukhevych and other Ukrainian nationalist leaders in Ukraine has typically been met with controversy and opposition. By contrast, the decision to erect a monument was made within a few days, by President Vladimir Putin’s personal decree. According to Viatrovych, this shows the Russian president’s system is far more efficient.

“I now see the wisdom and true leadership ability of Vladimir Putin, I recognize the superiority of the Russian World, and I will assist in any way that I can,” Viatrovych said.

When asked why he would embrace the nation that annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and started a war that has so far killed over 10,000 Ukrainian citizens, Viatrovych said such questions were “Ukrainophobic.”

So far the Polish Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on the new memorial. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov promised that his country’s retaliatory measures would continue until Poland halts its destruction of Soviet WWII memorials.

“This is only the beginning,” Lavrov said. “We’re already talking about renaming Tverskoy Boulevard after Stepan Bandera, and we might even name one of our upcoming metro stations after Roman Shukhevych as well. We’ve even got a monument to the Ukrainian Insurgent Navy planned for St. Petersburg. GLORY TO UKRAINE! GLORY TO THE HEROES!”

However, when Lavrov was asked if he felt any solidarity with authorities in Kyiv who recently proposed renaming a major street after Roman Shukhevych, he strongly condemned the move and said that Ukraine was under the control of “Nazis.”

A step in the right…er..correct direction

It’s rare one finds good news coming out of Ukraine these days. Minsk II is a sick joke, corruption is still rampant, and the transfer bus from Boryspil no doubt still sucks. But lo! It appears that some folks in Ukraine, among them former presidents and other important public figures, have taken a bold step towards bringing the country into the 21st century.

A proposal has been put forth from the Ukrainian side to create a joint day of remembrance for the victims of the “Volyn tragedy.” To be sure, the word “tragedy” is a bit euphemistic. “Genocide” would be more appropriate to describe what the OUN-UPA committed starting in 1943 against the largely defenseless Polish population. But seeing as how the consistent tactic of the Bandera cult going all the way back to 1945 has been to outright deny any war crimes or atrocities of the OUN and UPA, this a major step forward.

There are a few key things to note about the proposal. Firstly, it may not be met with open arms by many Poles, especially considering the rise of the right-wing Law and Justice Party, which has hitherto demonstrated a propensity for whitewashing history. The “patriotic” Polish narrative of WWII generally portrays Poland as a wholly innocent and blameless victim of virtually all sides. More radical renditions posit Poland as a “savior” of Europe. As it pertains to Ukrainians, Polish nationalist have tended to deny the persecution of Ukrainians and other minorities during the interwar era of the Second Republic, as well as the murder of around 20,000 Ukrainians in areas outside of UPA control by forces such as the AK (Polish Home Army).

The second point to note is who is absent on this list of figures who support the proposal. We don’t see Volodymyr Viatrovych, for example, in spite of his being head of the Institute of National Memory. Perhaps that’s because rather than preserve and study national memory, Viatrovych seems to have spent his entire career whitewashing and distorting the legacy of Bandera and the OUN. A large part of that has involved transforming the ethnic cleansing of Poles in Volyn into a two-sided “war.”

This is a small step, but an important one, and while I’m cautious I must admit these days I’ll take any good news I can get. One last thing about this proposal that everyone should keep in mind is that while it is good that Ukraine collectively examines this event in a critical and proper way, this is not a question of Ukraine’s collective guilt. The overwhelming majority of Ukrainians did not support the OUN or UPA. A considerable number of those Ukrainians who did joint the insurgent army did so under duress. Another large portion joined, again sometimes under duress, long after these crimes had been committed. It bears keeping in mind that historically there have been two factions who have resolutely insisted on associating Ukrainians and Ukrainian culture with Bandera and his radical right-wing movement. The first is naturally the descendants of the Ukrainian right-wing nationalist movement, and those they have duped with their fairy tales about a heroic revolutionary struggle against the Nazis and Soviets. The other side is the Kremlin and its minions.

 

Denial

Anyone who has seriously tried to study the real (i.e. international consensus) history of Stepan Bandera and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists knows the kind of reaction one gets from Bandera fans when you question their hero. First you’ll be accused of being a member of the vast Russian conspiracy that spans decades and stretched its tentacles into the most unlikely organizations (such as the Cold War-era CIA). If not that, you’ll be accused of working for the other evil empire seeking to keep Ukraine down- Poland. Yes, Poland, whose Second Republic obviously joined in the Soviet’s anti-OUN propaganda campaign even though both nations appeared to be bitter enemies. Poland, whose post-1989 state also apparently insists on fabricating a defamatory narrative of the heroic Bandera and the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army). Occasionally, less PR-savvy OUN fanboys will accuse you of being one of those other “conspirators” who have allegedly long sought to oppress Ukraine and malign their heroes like Bandera and Shukhevych.

As for myself, I tend to get the Polish accusation a lot, and to be fair my “Ukrainian” heritage may just as well be Polish or part Polish given my fuzzy family history on that side. Of course while I condemn the UPA’s deliberate attempted extermination of Polish people in Volyn during the war, this has nothing to do with my heritage. Nor do I approve of Poland’s interwar policies toward Ukrainians as the typical Ukrainian nationalist whataboutist argument goes. Fortunately for them, Poland’s new right-wing government has given us a perfect example of a state trying to rewrite history using the force of law, showing Ukraine exactly what not to do.

The media has been somewhat captivated by the disturbing actions of Poland’s ruling “Law and Justice” party for some time now, but this mess started when a Holocaust expert was threatened with having a state award revoked because his work pointed out the Polish complicity in some anti-Jewish massacres that occurred under Nazi occupation. As such, he’s been accused of violating laws that prohibit “defamation of Poland.” Apparently facts and accountability don’t matter.

If only that were the end of the matter. The new right-wing government is introducing a law that would make it a criminal offense to imply that Poland had anything to do with Nazi crimes, including those committed on its own territory. In this sense the law is very similar to that introduced in Ukraine, which makes it illegal to “defame” fighters for Ukrainian independence. While such a law could theoretically make it illegal to defame leftists like Hrushevsky or even Marxist revolutionaries like Lesya Ukrainka, it’s perfectly obvious that the legislation was designed to defend the OUN and the UPA.

As in the case with the Ukrainian law, passed nearly unanimously by its “pro-European” government, the Polish law seems unconcerned with actual historical facts. I’m terribly sorry, but Poles did sometimes collaborate with Germans in the commission of various crimes, and the Polish government collaborated with Nazi Germany in giving away Czechoslovakia to the latter, eventually taking a piece of the country as a reward. Interestingly enough, though that particular episode occurred  while Poland and Nazi Germany had a non-aggression pact, we do not hear about the two countries being “allies” who carved up Czechoslovakia as we do in the case of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. But I digress.

Unfortunately whether it is Russia, Ukraine, or Poland, we Slavs often have an infantile worldview where we refuse to take responsibility for the actions of our often manufactured “heroes.” Ukraine is probably the strangest case, if only because Bandera and the OUN didn’t really represent Ukraine or Ukrainian people,  regardless of their claims to the contrary. Rarely do these national cheerleaders realize that virtually every country in Europe contributed to the Holocaust and the rise of Nazi Germany in one way or another. America refused entry to thousands of Jewish refugees. American companies conducted lucrative trade with Nazi Germany, some of which helped build the German war machine. Britain and France enabled Germany and Italy to intervene in the Spanish Civil War so as to crush the legally elected Republican government. Later Britain handed Hitler Czechoslovakia on a silver platter and then tried to save face by making a half-hearted guarantee to Poland that they never intended to actually make good on. And of course the Soviet Union traded with Nazi Germany during the days of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, supplying it with grain, oil, and other resources necessary to run its war machine in the early years of the conflict.

If we go deeper than the state level, we see that virtually every European nation had people who collaborated for various reasons. The worst, of course, were ideological collaborators who supported fascist ideals. Others did so out of fear. Acknowledging this doesn’t put the nation in question on par with Nazi Germany.

Poland’s Law and Justice Party is engaging in that Slavic infantilism, whereby “national” values and childish fairy tale narratives of national history replace real policy in times of crisis. It is no different from what we see with “patriotism” in Russia and Ukraine- politicians inventing heroes and a sanitized version of the nation’s history while they rob and run their country into the ground.

So there, “patriots of Ukraine”, you can rest assured that I don’t work for Polish intelligence, which of course is but a branch of the great Russian conspiracy to defame Ukraine’s “heroes.”