Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Bandera and Ukraine: A reply from Chris Ford

Chris Ford of The Commune is an expert on all things Ukrainian. He's taken the time to write a pretty sharp critique of my post on Bandera. It's no small honour to get an expert's opinion of one's scribblings and even better if they throw in some interesting information, as Chris has. Chris's note is an appeal for a considered history of the Ukraine. He makes some interesting points which have caused me and I hope you, dear reader to think again. So here it is reproduced for your edification.

(NB: Chris refers to Khmelnytsky transliterated from the Ukrainian, whereas I spell the name Polish fashion, Chmielnicki. We are of course referring to the same historic personage, pictured above. I have kept the transliteration from Ukrainian in Chris's note.)

I do not agree with the comparison of Bandera to the revolution of 1648 at which Khmelnytsky was a leader, the events of that year were phenomenal and full of paradox. The military democracy of the Cossacks led a mass peasant revolt which overthrew the Polish colonial overlords who had introduced serfdom where it had never existed. Ukraine as a nation in many ways crystallized then, the peasants were betrayed by the elite, everything unraveled, there were vicious pogroms and it culminated in an alliance with Muscovy who slowly integrated Ukraine and turned it into a colony. Bandera was a very different phenomena and put simply without Stalinism there would have been no Bandera. In turn the movement he represented was transformed by the experience of the Nazis, the OUN of 1943 was moving in a very different direction. Bandera attacked the new turn as a concession to communism etc. Should he be made a hero of Ukraine? No. But equally the UPA should not be branded fascists; it wasn't that simple. The UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the OUP's military wing) was formed in direct reaction to fight the Nazis in West Ukraine. Ukraine is very divided over UPA; the right wing nationalists ignore the radical aspect of UPA and the Russophile Stalinists just shout about fascists. Yuschenko who has 3% in the polls has been entirely unhelpful.

The contribution on the blog about Volyn and the Poles is rubbish. It ignores the fact that the conflict in Volyn and West Ukraine with the Polish state had been going on since 1918 and arose again in the 1920s. It was similar to the conflict in Ulster. The Polish state refused to recognise this as Ukraine and even to form a united front against the common enemy in the war.
I do not think that Ukrainian nationalism is ultimately backward; there is big difference between the nationalism of a long oppressed people and that of dominant imperialists. Recall that Fanon once described anti-colonial nationalism as being itself a form of internationalism. The so-called turn to the right, which occured in West Ukraine only did so after the Stalinist famine etc. Various forces, notably Stalinists then portray all Ukrainian nationalism as Nazis etc, yet it should also be remembered that there was massive resistance against the Nazis in Ukraine.


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