In Documents, Nazism and World War Two

The OUN, the UPA and the Holocaust: A Study in the Manufacturing of Historical Myths

By Per A. Rudling, published by the Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, #2107, November 2011, 38 pages, plus extensive footnotes

Per A. Rudling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald, Germany. His research interests include memory, identity, and nationalism in the Polish-Belarusian-Ukrainian borderlands.

During the past decade, particularly under the presidency of the third Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko (2005–2010) there have been repeated attempts to turn the leading fi gures of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its armed wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) into national heroes. As these fascist organizations collaborated with the Nazi Germany, carried out ethnic cleansing and mass murder on a massive scale, they are problematic symbols for an aspiring democracy with the stated ambition to join the European Union. Under Yushchenko, several institutes of memory management and myth making were organized, a key function of which was to deny or downplay OUN-UPA atrocities. Unlike many other former Soviet republics, the Ukrainian government did not need to develop new national myths from scratch, but imported ready concepts developed in the Ukrainian diaspora. Yushchenko’s legitimizing historians presented the OUN and UPA as pluralistic and inclusive organizations, which not only rescued Jews during the Holocaust, but invited them into their ranks to fight shoulder to shoulder against Hitler and Stalin. This mythical narrative relied partly on the OUN’s own post-war forgeries, aimed at cover up the organization’s problematic past. As employees of the Ukrainian security services, working out of the offi ces of the old KGB, the legitimizing historians ironically dismissed scholarly criticism as Soviet myths. The present study deals with the myth-making around the OUN, the UPA, and the Holocaust, tracing their diaspora roots and following their migration back and forth across the Atlantic.

Brought to power by the so-called Orange Revolution, the administration of Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko (2005–2010) expressed a clear ambition to orient Ukraine away from Russia and toward the EU, NATO, and the Western world. One step in this direction was the reassessment of modern Ukrainian history. Old Soviet heroes were reexamined, and the anti-Soviet nationalist resistance to Soviet rule reinterpreted in heroic terms. This is all part of a long and painful process of nation building and national consolidation, as Ukraine moves away from Soviet historiography into nation-based history writing.1 Following independence, and particularly after the Orange Revolution, nationalist and diaspora historical interpretations were adopted as the basis for new national myths. This essay addresses one particularly sensitive and delicate part of this mythology, the relation of Ukrainian nationalists— the Bandera wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, the OUN(b), and its armed forces, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the UPA—to the Jews, a polarizing topic which has come to have important political connotations. The purpose here is not to restore one single historical “truth.” Rather, it is to study the political use of history, the manipulations of the historical record, by tracing the genealogy of a set of historical myths, circling key mythmakers, their choice of material, and its potential for political mobilization, impact and political consequences.

The first part of this essay considers the legacy of the OUN and the UPA, their political ideology, goals, and political orientation. The second part is the story of the manufacturing of the legends of these organizations and the genealogy of these myths as they have migrated from Ukraine, developed within the diaspora community, and, after the fall of communism, been reimported to Ukraine. The third part examines the apologetic narrative of the myth-makers, the impact of the myths on Ukrainian society and on its neighbors after they were elevated to state ideology and promoted by the state security organs and government propaganda agencies. The essay concludes with an assessment of, and refl ection upon, the consequence of the legitimizing narrative and its role in the rise of the far right in Western Ukraine following Yushchenko’s defeat in 2010.

Full document at the weblink above.


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