January 8, 2015

Zeman criticizes historical Ukrainian leaders

Views on Bandera and Shukhevych differ but they are heroes in Ukraine

Prague, Jan 8 (ČTK) — Czech President Milos Zeman has criticized Ukrainian leaders Stepan Bandera (1909-59) and Roman Shukhevych (1907-50), saying he cannot congratulate Ukraine on such national heroes in his response to an open letter by four Ukrainian studies scholars and historians.

In their letter from late August, they blamed Zeman for using the expression “Bandera followers” and rejected the opinion that Bandera was a mass murderer. They pointed out that the communist propaganda had used the word “Bandera followers” after World War II.

“It is used in the same way today and similar to then, propaganda aims at discrediting the idea of Ukrainian independence alone, since this label is actually applied to all who disagree with Ukraine being Moscow’s vassal or satellite state,” they wrote.

They added that Bandera could not be a mass murderer since he had spent the war years in a German concentration camp.

In reaction to it, Zeman asks them at the beginning of his letter whether they know Bandera’s statement “Kill every Pole between 16 and 60 years” and whether they agree with it.

He continues saying Bandera wanted to establish a vassal German state in Ukraine.

“His idea was supported by Alfred Rosenberg [leader of the German Nazi NSDAP party’s foreign policy office], but because Hitler decided that Ukraine would be colonized exclusively by German farmers after a victorious war, this project was scrapped and Bandera was sent to a concentration camp,” Zeman writes.

“I would also like to point out that president [Viktor] Yushchenko declared Bandera the hero of the nation already and that now a similar title is being prepared for Shukhevych who became known for having let thousands of Jews be shot dead in Lviv in 1941. Unfortunately, I cannot congratulate Ukraine on such national heroes,” Zeman says in his letter.

Bandera led the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during World War II. After an attempt at declaring an independent Ukrainian state, the Nazis sent him to a concentration camp. He died in German exile in 1959, being killed by an agent of the Soviet secret service KGB.

Many Ukrainians consider Bandera a hero who fought the Soviet regime, while for Russians he is a criminal and collaborator with the Nazis. In 2010, Yushchenko bestowed the title Hero of Ukraine in memoriam on Bandera, which caused controversy abroad. A Ukrainian court cancelled Yushchenko’s decision one year later.

Neighboring Poland, thousands of whose citizens were murdered by the UPA, shares a controversial view of Bandera, political scientist Maciej Ruczaj, living in the Czech Republic, said.

“We accept it as an element of Ukrainian identity. On the other hand, we condemn the UPA’s activity and ideology and it should be condemned in the same way as Stalinism and Nazism,” he told the Czech News Agency.

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