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A Terrorist as "Hero of Ukraine"

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An award given by Viktor Yushchenko, the lame-duck President of Ukraine, of "Hero of Ukraine" title to Stepan Bandera honors a leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) implicated in terrorism and mass murder, and it is likely to further divide Ukraine before the crucial second round of the presidential elections. Stepan Bandera headed a faction of the OUN, a terrorist organization that was involved in mass murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians and POWs. Yushchenko by his another decree on January 29, 2010 honored the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) that was created by the Bandera faction of the OUN (OUN-B) in Spring 1943 as fighters for independence of Ukraine.

Viktor Yushchenko, suffered a defeat in the presidential elections this month winning 5.5 percent of the national vote and taking fifth place, but he won more than a quarter of the votes and became a close second in three regions of Galicia in Western Ukraine. This former Austro-Hungarian province is the only region in Ukraine in which a majority of the respondents of a 2009 national survey, which was commissioned by the author and conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, have positive perceptions of the Bandera faction of the OUN and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

The Ukrainian auxiliary police, a large part of which was under influence of the OUN-B and joined the UPA in Volhynia following orders from the Bandera faction of the OUN, assisted in implementing Nazi-led genocide of Jews, Ukrainians, Russians and other civilians and POWs. The OUN-B, by means of its control over the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, masterminded a campaign of ethnic cleansing of Poles in Volhynia during World War II and mounted an anti-Soviet terror campaign in Western Ukraine after the war. In Poland in the 1930s, Stepan Bandera was convicted for his leading role in an assassination of a Polish Minister of Internal Affairs. Archival documents that I located at the Roosevelt Presidential Library indicate that Stepan Bandera and other OUN leaders were involved in a Nazi-led plot to assassinate president Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941. The US intelligence documents reveal that a Gestapo agent, working under cover of a German press attachà in Buenos Aires, recruited, with help of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, the Polish minister's assassin and other OUN members with a terrorist mission to kill President Roosevelt.

Ukrainians in other regions have much more negative attitudes, compared to the respondents in Galicia, towards the OUN-B and the UPA. Only 6 percent of the respondents in Ukraine as the whole express very positive, and 8 percent mostly positive, attitudes towards the Bandera faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. Forty percent of the respondents believe that the OUN-B and the UPA were involved in mass murder of Ukrainians, Jews, and Poles in the 1940s, while only 14 percent, mostly in Galicia, deny such an involvement.

In all presidential and parliamentary elections held since Ukraine became independent in 1991, Western regions, especially Galicia, have backed nationalist parties and politicians, while historically Eastern regions have tended to vote for pro-Russian and pro-Communist parties and politicians. Surveys of public opinion conducted since 1991 demonstrated a similar divide on many political issues, such as Ukraine's membership in NATO and relations with Russia. Since the first round of the presidential elections in Ukraine on January 17, 2010 produced a deeply divided electorate along regional lines, Ukraine faces a possibility that results of the final round will not be accepted by a losing candidate, and Ukraine would end up with three presidents recognized in different regions where they enjoy support. Yulia Tymoshenko, who gained most of her vote in Western and Central regions, already claimed that the final vote would be falsified in favor of Viktor Yanukovych who currently leads in the polls, but whose support is mostly confined to Eastern and Southern Ukraine.

Under such a scenario Viktor Yushchenko might attempt to cling to presidential power beyond his legal term, as Roman Bezsmertny, a deputy head of his election campaign and a deputy of the head of the Presidential Secretariat, stated publicly. Another possibility is that Yushchenko intends to mobilize the nationalist vote to get a seat in the parliament and immunity from prosecution in the likely snap presidential elections. This is one of the reasons why Viktor Yushchenko strives to gain back his popularity in Galicia by making a Galician leader of a radical nationalist organization involved in terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and Nazi genocide, a "Hero of Ukraine" and alienating the rest of Ukraine.

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Ivan Katchanovski teaches at the Conflict Studies and Human Rights Program and the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa. He was a Visiting Scholar at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, a (more...)
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