An Enlightened Liberation Movement                             

  • 2010-05-20
  • By Askold S. Lozynskyj

The recent Bandera/Shukhevych/OUN/UPA debate has evoked a panoply of positions. Its gamut ranges from glorification to opprobrium. Somewhere in between there have been a number of academic and non-academic papers stating that Bandera, etc., were heroes, not Nazi collaborators,  potential but frustrated German allies with a non-democratic and often fascist ideology.

On the subject of alliances, the OUN was never reticent about its loyalty. As early as June 4, 1935, OUN leader Yevhen Konovalets presented a memorandum to the British   seeking support for the Ukrainian cause: “We…are fighting for the total independence of Ukraine…we are actively challenging all foreign occupiers of Ukrainian lands, and although we consider Russia to be the main occupier, we shall…challenge unilateral attempts of any foreign invader to solve the affairs of Eastern Europe without the participation, or against the will, of the Ukrainian people.” Similarly, on the eve of the Nazi invasion on June 15, 1941, the new OUN leader Stepan Bandera reiterated essentially that position in a memorandum presented to the Germans: “Even if the German troops were welcomed as liberators upon their arrival in Ukraine, this attitude can soon change if Germany shows no intention of restoring the Ukrainian State…”

The OUN and the UPA were not a form of government but a liberation political movement and an army. The concept of such formations being entirely democratic is ridiculous and certainly has no examples in history. Still, the leader of the OUN was elected through a representative democracy at a clandestine convention. Once elected, he, like any commander in chief, was the ultimate authority. Since the purpose of the movement and the army was to liberate occupied Ukraine, the OUN was responsible for a number of targeted political assassinations and the UPA was responsible for waging an armed struggle against the occupying Polish, German, Hungarian, Romanian and Soviet  armies and partisans. Certainly there were civilian casualties. Regrettably,  even some completely innocent civilians die in wars.

The OUN was founded on its own set of ten commandments entitled the “Decalogue,” adopted at its first gathering in Vienna in 1929. There is absolutely nothing within those ten precepts that can be considered fascist. They are heroic and revolutionary, perhaps best exemplified by the first commandment which states: “You will achieve a Ukrainian state, or die in the struggle for it.” Some of the more extreme are, “Do not be afraid to carry out the most dangerous act if such is necessary for the good of the cause….You will meet your enemies with disdain and unconditional fight…” Interestingly the OUN never embraced integral nationalism (devotion to one’s nation to the exclusion of all other nations) even though there were many adherents of that ideology throughout the world as well as in Ukraine at that time.

The issue, however, remains whether the OUN was undemocratic and fascist as far as its ideology or view of a world order and the Ukrainian state within that order.

While the OUN was a clandestine organization, its basic founding documents, resolutions and manifestations are readily available for review to anyone interested in the subject. In fact, one need not go into German, Soviet or any other archives. Today, OUN documents are bound in books available for purchase by the general public. Precisely for that reason I am somewhat confused by the “scholars” who, on one hand have defended the OUN-UPA and their leaders, yet, on the other perpetuate the anti-democratic and fascist diatribe. However, these scholars fail to produce evidence of such an ideology.

Fascism is defined as “1. the doctrines, methods, or movement of the Fascisti. 2. a system of government characterized by rigid one-party dictatorship, forcible suppression of the opposition (unions, other, especially leftist, parties, minority groups, etc.), the retention of private ownership of the means of production under centralized governmental control, belligerent nationalism and racism, glorification of war.”

In December 1940, not long before the German invasion into Soviet territory and when Germany’s intentions were relatively clear, the OUN issued a Manifesto. It set out a “new, just world order” after “dismantling the appalling prison of nations - the Russian empire.” The liberation of Ukraine was not the only first item on the agenda, but of “all nations enslaved by Moscow.” The OUN declared itself to be “the bearers of freedom for all nations subjugated by Russia, so that they can live freely in accordance with their own will.”

The 1940 Manifesto outlined the OUN’s social program as being against: “the degradation of the individual at work and at home, …deprivation of the individual’s happiness in life,…the general impoverishment of the citizens,… the oppression of women…” The OUN stated that it was fighting for: “dignity and freedom of the individual, …the right to freely express one’s beliefs,…freedom of religion,…freedom of conscience, …right of workers to freely express their political beliefs in word and print,…the right to free assembly,…the right to form political, social, and professional organizations..” 

These positions can in no way be related to fascism. They are clearly democratic and enlightened for that time. OUN’s ideology was at odds with much of that era’s totalitarian Europe. It was, in fact, a liberation movement directed against that very totalitarianism.

The liberation struggle waged by the Ukrainian people before, during and after World War 2, under the auspices of the OUN-UPA led by Bandera and Shukkevych, deserve genuine attention and study. Ostensibly defending the struggle but mischaracterizing it, even in good faith, is offensive and irresponsible.

April 29, 2010


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