Is Tiahnybok a Patriot? How the Spread of Banderite Slogans and Symbols Undermines Ukrainian Nation-Building

by Andreas Umland

January 1, 2014

Writing about the various implications of Ukraine’s divided historical memory for the conduct of her post-Soviet politics is a thankless task. Ukraine’s nationalist intelligentsia’s response to voicing the most elementary facts on and assessments of the corroding role of the promotion of World War II themes for Ukrainian state-building is always the same: Kill the messenger! It is less important what is said and for what purpose. The person who dares to point out even widely known trivialities and makes all too evident conclusions related to the ambivalent meaning of a heroization of war-time nationalists will be lectured or defamed, or both. The analyst and not the matter of the issue will be questioned – if necessary through wild allegations, far-going accusations, and outright libel. The reason and justification for such far-reaching denunciations will be the attacker’s strong patriotism and love of Ukraine. But is mainstreaming symbols, slogans, and ideas related to the so-called Bandera movement really patriotic when soberly considering the socio-political realities of post-Soviet Ukraine?

The Ethno-Centrist Slant of Ukraine’s Third Post-Soviet Mass Rebellion

The current uprising is the third such popular insurgence following the Granite Revolution of 1990 and Orange Revolution of 2004. While these earlier revolts had also nationalist undertones, the current insurrection is different regarding the prominent role that supposedly “national” themes play in it. Above all, it is characterized by the far more notable presence, than in 1990 and 2004, of slogans, symbols and followers implicitly or explicitly heroizing Stepan Bandera’s war-time Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. This discourse is promoted, first and foremost, by the nationalist party “Svoboda” led by Oleh Tiahnybok, but has been willingly taken up by other political and civil actors, too. In spite of the minor role of right-wing extremists in the protests, some leitmotifs historically associated with, but today not any longer perceived as representing, Ukrainian war-time ultra-nationalism are now characteristic of the entire protest movement. This may be a remarkable success for Ukraine’s post-Soviet neo-Banderite ethno-nationalists; yet it is bad news for the future of Ukrainian political nation-building.

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