On 22 January 2010, during the ceremonies marking Ukrainian Unity Day, Yushchenko conferred the rank of a Ukrainian Hero to Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN, Bandera’s branch). President said that the high rank had been conferred to Bandera for “defending national ideas and battling for an independent Ukrainian state”.
Stepan Bandera (1909–1959) was one of the most notorious Ukrainian fascists, terrorists and Nazi collaborators, who was responsible for deaths of hundreds (if not thousands) of Poles, Russians, Jews and Ukrainians. He played a key role in the terrorist activities against the authorities of Poland and other countries (see more info on the OUN's attempt at assassinating Franklin Roosevelt). In 1934 Polish authorities even sentenced him to death for terrorism but eventually the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment: Bandera was freed in 1939 by the German troops after they had occupied Poland.
Bandera has been one of the few Ukrainian Nationalists mentioned in the proceedings of the Nuremberg Trial of German Major War Criminals. On 25 December 1945, former Colonel of the German Army Erwin Stolze testified –
“In carrying out the above-mentioned instructions of Keitel [General Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel] and Jodl [General Colonel Alfred Jodl], I contacted Ukrainian Nationalists who were in the German Intelligence Service and other members of the Nationalist Fascist groups, whom I enlisted in to carry out the tasks as set out above [subversive activities in the territory of the USSR]. In particular, instructions were given by me personally to the leaders of the Ukrainian Nationalists, the German Agents Myelnik (code name ‘Consul I’) and Bandara [Stepan Bandera] to organise, immediately upon Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union, and to provoke demonstrations in the Ukraine, in order to disrupt the immediate rear of the Soviet Armies”.
On 30 June 1941, after Nazi Germany had levied war on the USSR, Bandera was proclaimed a leader of independent Ukraine. Article 3 of the Act of Ukraine’s Independence read as follows –
“The newly formed Ukrainian state will work closely with the National-Socialist Greater Germany, under the leadership of its leader Adolf Hitler which is forming a new order in Europe and the world and is helping the Ukrainian People to free itself from Muscovite occupation.
The Ukrainian National Revolutionary Army which has been formed on the Ukrainian lands, will continue to fight with the Allied German Army against Muscovite occupation for a sovereign and united State and a new order in the whole world.
Long live the Ukrainian Sovereign United Ukraine! Long live the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists! Long live the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian people – Stepan Bandera”.
Of course, Bandera’s priority was an independent Ukraine, and that was where Bandera’s and Nazis’ plans differed. Where they did not differ, however, was both German and Ukrainian fascists’ vision of the “new world order”.
Yushchenko is right in one thing: Bandera did “battle for an independent Ukrainian state”. But what Ukraine would it have been? Article 1 of Constitution of Ukraine, the principles of which Yushchenko swore to defend after the victorious “Orange revolution”, unequivocally states that “Ukraine is a sovereign and independent, democratic, social, law-based state”. What does Bandera’s vision of Ukraine have to do with the democratic, social and law-based Ukraine? Absolutely nothing, I believe, and the majority of Ukrainian citizens think likewise. Does President of a democratic state have a right to legitimise Bandera’s fascist Ukraine on the only ground that it would have been an independent Ukraine? No, they do not. Small wonder that Yushchenko decided to make Bandera a Hero of Ukraine after he had ignominiously lost the presidential elections: he had nothing to lose.
But we do have something very important to lose. With Bandera being a Hero of (democratic!) Ukraine, we are losing confidence that extreme nationalism and fascism of different strains have been driven out to the margins of genuine democratic politics. Can we expect response to this outrageous act of Yushchenko's from two major presidential candidates, Viktor Yanukovych and Yuliya Tymoshenko? I think we should expect because they must clearly state their positions, before the second round of the presidential elections to be held on 07 February. At the moment we have responses from Yanukovych's (Party of Regions) and Tymoshenko's (BYuT) parties, but the presidential candidates must express their opinions themselves.