The way in which many in Russia and elsewhere view Stepan Bandera and his anti-Soviet movement during World War II is “an example of the big lie of the Soviet system” and its influence in post-Soviet times, according to Andrey Zubov, the MGIMO historian who was dismissed from his post for opposing Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
In fact, he told Anastasiya Ringis of “Ukrainska Pravda,” any dispassionate analysis would show that Bandera was the leader of a typical national liberation movement and that Stalin, the head of the system against which he fought “was a greater fascist than [he was] or even than Mussolini.”
Unfortunately, under the Soviets, “the technology of creating myths was developed to the highest degree,” Zubov says. Indeed, even now, history is viewed in Russia “not as a science one must study and only then make use of but as an ideology which must be created” to serve this or that political end.
Bandera and his movement fell victim to this, to the need Moscow had to describe any opposition to it during World War II as fascist. In fact, the Russian historian says, the Banderites were “a typical nationalist organization of a war period with their own army and their own terrorist wing.”
There were many such groups at the time, and some of them were attracted to corporatism. But that did not make them fascist either absolutely or relatively. Stalin was more a fascist than Bandera for as Mussolini himself pointed out, Joseph Stalin was “his very best student.”
“Any nationalism is a horrible thing,” Zubov says, “especially when it is armed. But Bandera was a hundred times less cruel than the NKVD of Beriya or Abakumov who fought with the Banderites.” And it should be remembered that Bandera “fought not with Ukraine but with the totalitarian Soviet system which destroyed all citizens for any difference of opinion.”
Consequently, the historian says, “any attempt to liberate them from this state already was an element of justice. And in this sense, the Bandra movement was move justified from a moral point of view than was the Stalinist Soviet state.”
Anti-Bandera propaganda now fills the Moscow media, the result of the current needs of the Kremlin which like its Soviet predecessors bends history to fit its needs and of the presence of many heirs to the tradition of the NKVD and its brutal campaigns against Ukrainians during World War II
Zubov says that he is not disturbed by those in Ukraine who shout “Glory to Ukraine” today because “now Tatars and Jews and Russians who live on the territory of Ukraine also call themselves Ukrainians.” That is a great achievement of the Ukrainian revolution, the historian says.
Another great achievement of the Ukrainian revolution of 2013-2014 is “the liberation of Ukraine from the thieving Soviet regime.” That gives Ukraine the chance to move toward Europe and should be “an example” for Russians as well. “There is no alternative to the European path,” Zubov says.
The current system in Russia, in contrast, is not socialist but rather recalls “the regime of a fascist state where private corporations were set up under state control. It is no accident that the fascist state was called corporatist. And corporatist capitalism is now being built in Russia,” the historian says.
Putin may succeed for a time, but he will not be able to build a fascist state in Russia, Zubov argues. The international context is completely different from when fascism spread across Europe. Moreover, people in most places no longer view the state and nation as supreme over the individual in all things. Unfortunately in Russia, many still do.
The reason for Russia’s lag in that regard, Zubov continues, is that “a de-totalitarianization of consciousness was not carried out,” unlike in the former fascist countries of Europe and unlike with the process of de-communization in the Baltic countries and much of the former Soviet bloc.
Russia has had nothing like this, Zubov says. “And so we have remained bearers of a soviet mentality. That which the world condemns, we still do not consider even a bad thing. And that affects our conception of reality.” Russia needs de-communization if it is to move forward and join the rest of the world. To do so, it must study the experience of Eastern Europe.
Pulling down statues of Lenin isn’t enough. Lustration is needed and not just of those who committed crimes under Yanukovych. It must extend to “those who committed crimes before 1990.” Moreover, Ukraine must face up to the issue of restoration of property seized by the communists.
Russia at present is moving in the opposite direction, the historian points out, and its leaders are terrified by what has been happening in Ukraine because it is extremely dangerous for them to have a state like Ukraine which is seeking democratic legitimacy and a move toward Europe to be right next door. After all, Ukraine is “the other Russia.”
This “other Russia is more European and cultured.” Ukraine was in fashion in Russia in the 17th century, and “now there could be a repetition of that.” The very possibility is something the Kremlin fears and will try to block, especially as the process of transforming Ukraine will not be quick or easy.
But Ukraine is making real progress, and five years from now, Ukrainians will be able to say when looking back, “’We built a new Ukraine,’” Zubov says. When Russians look back at that point if the country’s current course doesn’t change, then they will have to admit that they have “built nothing” at all.