A Posthumous Award That Found (And Lost) a “Hero”

Ten years ago, on January 20th 2010, Viktor Yushchenko, who had already lost the presidential election but still retained his powers until February 25th, awarded Stepan Bandera the title of hero of Ukraine (posthumously).

Yushchenko, despite all his fixations on bees and Tripoli pottery, fully understood all the odium for this decision. That is why the decree on awarding the title of hero to Bandera was issued three years later than the similar decree for his partner Shukhevych, who received the hero of Ukraine in 2007. Even Shukhevych, wearing the German uniform, was less of an irritant to Ukrainian society and the world community than Stepan Bandera. Eventually, all numerous factions and groups of Ukrainian nationalists remained in people’s memory as “Banderists”. Simply because the latter were the most violent and most odious “builders of independent Ukraine”.

Even an inadequate Yushchenko dared to sign a decree on Bandera only when his personal political fate had already been decided – he lost the presidency and went directly to the political trash heap.

Even the cautious Yanukovych, who did not dare to repeal the decrees on Bandera and Shukhevych personally (as being non-constitutional, because both were never citizens of Ukraine and did not live in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic), still instantly formalised this by court decisions (in a lawsuit filed formally by an independent lawyer).

However, a number of Ukrainian politicians, including Yuliya Tymoshenko and Leonid Kravchuk, expressed indignation at the de-heroisation of Bandera. Today, although the stars of the heroes have not been returned to them, Bandera and Shukhevych are officially recognised by the authorities as heroes of Ukraine. Monuments to them (especially Bandera) are rapidly multiplying on Ukrainian soil, and the government, with perseverance worthy of better application, actively snaps in response to regular comments by its EU partners about the impracticability of glorifying collaborators, Nazi accomplices, and war criminals – organisers of the mass killing of civilians.

I note that if Yushchenko was still afraid of the negative reaction of Europe and the entire world community to the glorification of Bandera and his henchmen (which is why he awarded Bandera the title of hero already almost not being president), the current Ukrainian authorities, being many times more dependent on the same Europe in political, economic, and financial terms, are more radical in defending their right to “have their heroes”. At the same time, the heroes marked by stars under Yushchenko Bandera, and Shukhevych were awarded much less official honours than now, when they are deprived of awards.

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It is obvious that, in shaping its policy of “monument propaganda”, the current Ukrainian government (like Yushchenko in his time) takes into account the domestic political situation much more than the indignation of foreign partners. Under Yushchenko, Bandera’s award of the title of hero of Ukraine did not cause mass protests, and the deaf murmur of a part of society quickly subsided. Firstly, public attention quickly shifted to the work of the new government (Yanukovych-Azarov government). Secondly, the possible dissatisfaction was quickly stopped by the deprivation of Bandera and Shukhevych’s ranks of heroes, albeit through the court.

The monuments installed by Banderists today are regularly defaced (including in Western Ukraine), despite the fact that Banderist power has been formally established in the country. I.e., society provides resistance, albeit passive, to the glorification of Nazi criminals.

The question arises: why, knowing the negative attitude of a large part of Ukrainian society towards the glorification of Bandera, and constantly facing problems in this regard at the international level, does the Ukrainian government, nevertheless, persistently promote this unpopular and discrediting idea?

Concerning the position of Ukrainian society, since Yushchenko’s decrees on Bandera and Shukhevych, the authorities have been able to make sure that the resentment of a large part of society will not result in mass protests. In turn, neo-Banderists are ready to actively defend their “heroes” on the streets of Ukrainian cities. If in 2005-10 (under the presidency of Yushchenko) there was a relatively democratic system in the country and disregard for the position of the majority of the population led to defeat in elections, then now the government cannot be re-elected. It was formed as a result of an armed coup and is propped up by a sluggish civil war. Power taken by weapons is not given away in elections. Unless as Soviet — 70 years later, when the generation that seized power in October 1917 completely died out.

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Thus, Bandera’s glorification cannot damage the electoral prospects of the current regime – it is simply not interested in elections. During electoral campaigns, presidents and prime ministers, and the composition of the Verkhovna Rada and the government may change, but the essence of the regime cannot change. In any case, the main beneficiaries of the coup – Ukrainian oligarchs – retain control over power. Ukrainian neo-Nazis (neo-Banderists) are the main resource of physical force of the oligarchic republic. The toppling of Yanukovych showed that the Ukrainian oligarchic republic is no longer able (due to lack of resources) to exist as a quasi-democratic state. The system is only able to extend its agony in the form of a terroristic regime (sometimes covered by formal democratic structures, sometimes, as it was in spring-summer 2014, open). Therefore, the beneficiaries of the system cannot oppose the ideological basis of their support in the form of physical force.

Formally, the oligarchs don’t care if monuments dedicated to Churchill, Hitler, Bandera, or Piłsudski are erected. But their “death squads” prefer Bandera, so monuments dedicated to Bandera will be built.

In addition, the Ukrainian oligarchy is interested in maximising the existence of the Ukrainian state as its feeding trough. The Ukrainian oligarchy is uncompetitive outside the system it created in Ukraine. Only in conditions of total lawlessness, when the law is the violent will of a particular Ukrainian oligarch, can the local political and financial-economic elite protect their interests from the competition of American, European, Russian, Chinese (and any other) businesses. By strictly observing the rules of the game (whatever they are and whoever wrote them), the Ukrainian oligarchy loses almost instantly.

Being deeply interested in the Ukrainian (ethnocratic in form, oligarchic in content) state, Ukrainian oligarchs are forced to look in previous history for crystal (unclouded) Ukrainian supporters of a powerful state. It turns out that, apart from Bandera, Shukhevych, and Petliura a bit, there are none. They have to focus on what there is That is why monuments dedicated to them are erected, and that’s why they ignore the dissatisfaction of both a large part of their own people (whose mouths have been securely shut) and the world community (whose mouths will not shut, therefore it is necessary to snap at them).

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Concerning the actual stars of heroes, it is an artefact of the absolutely Soviet past. It is no coincidence that in all post-Soviet states, at the first stage of their existence, when the process of maximum distance from the Soviet past was underway, the titles and stars of heroes were canceled. They began to reappear a few years later. The reason for this was the habit of the elite that the highest award is the star of the hero of the USSR. Ambitious nonentities who failed to become heroes in the USSR fought for the return of stars to the national award systems in order to decorate themselves with them first and foremost.

But if in the Russian award system the star of the Hero of Russia looks no less organic than the Order of St Andrew the Apostle, because Moscow does not deny its continuity from both the USSR and the Russian Empire, in the system of awards of Ukraine the star of the hero is an anachronism. I am sure that both Bandera and Shukhevych, if they were alive, would be very offended if they learned that independent Ukraine awarded them the Golden Star, not the Iron Cross.

Therefore, there is a chance that for the second time two Nazi swines will not receive the title of heroes of Ukraine. But the actual glorification of them will not stop. It will only gain momentum, despite the opinion of the world community. And it will continue as long as Ukraine exists. For such a country, such are the heroes.


Rostislav Ishchenko

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