- Who’s Afraid of Ukrainian Nationalism?
With Ukraine and its prospects recently in the news, its dramatic, often tragic past has also come to the fore. One of its contentious aspects is the history of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Throughout the Cold War, the Ukrainian nationalist movement of the first half of the 20th century was vigorously defended by diaspora scholars in North America and the West more generally, while it was the subject of consistent and often hyperbolic denunciation in the Soviet press and literature. 1Since 1991, more discursive space and archives [End Page 647]in Ukraine have opened to allow for a reevaluation of various aspects of the movement, including its theoretical underpinnings, especially in relation to right-wing radicalism and fascism in interwar Europe; its cooperation with Nazi Germany; the use of violence against Ukraine’s minorities and even other Ukrainians; the relationship with US intelligence after the war; and biographical studies of the movement’s leaders and thinkers. A number of scholars have produced new and integrative works in the past five to ten years that tackle an array of issues on Ukrainian nationalism. 2At the same time, there has also been a tendency to define the debate within the crude parameters of the Cold War era: for example, whether the OUN and the UPA were protectors of Ukrainians or mass-murdering fascists. 3Therefore this reevaluation of Ukrainian nationalism is very much a work in progress.
In this context, the three new books under review discuss different aspects of Ukrainian nationalism from diverging perspectives. These are Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe’s biography of Stepan Bandera, the most influential nationalist leader; Myroslav Shkandrij’s history of Ukrainian nationalist writers and ideologues; and Volodymyr V˝iatrovych’s polemical publication on mass violence between Ukrainians and Poles during World War II. Two books are by established scholars, Myroslav Shkandrij and Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe, the third by Ukraine’s most influential national-memory activist, who has a degree in history and is now the head of its Institute of National Memory, Volodymyr V˝iatrovych. It is necessary to situate their works within the contexts from which they have emerged, consisting of debates about both the history and the memory of Ukrainian nationalism. [End Page 648]
Recently, a leading Ukrainian historian, Yaroslav Hrytsak, has remarked that in 25 years of independence, “Ukrainian historians have not managed to write a single good biography” of Stepan Bandera, a “topic of such great interest in both Ukraine and Russia.” 4Indeed, it may speak to the lasting explosiveness of Bandera in contemporary debates that the first historian to do so was not a Ukrainian but a Polish historian trained in Germany, Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe. 5The author in his voluminous study reveals why Ukrainian society, including much of its scholarly community, seems reluctant to face the full legacy of the most famous and notorious Ukrainian nationalist of the 20th century. Rossoliński-Liebe not only provides Bandera’s biography, focusing on his ideas and politics, but also examines the historical context of Ukrainian nationalism, in particular, of the OUN and the UPA. Furthermore, he discusses Bandera’s legacy since his death in 1959, tracing his cult in the West and its export to post-Soviet Ukraine after 1991. Rossoliński-Liebe has used a staggering array of sources, including newspapers, journals, and films, documents from 32 archives, and interviews. He examines not only Ukrainian nationalist records but also “archives of silence”—that is, the testimonies of the victims of nationalist mass violence that rarely make an appearance in Ukrainian history, especially in...