What follows is a long and updated version of a submitted letter, which was edited and run by The Moscow Times (TMT) on March 18. This is stated with the realization of how news organizations are known for shortening letters for space consideration. With this understanding, I have no objection to how TMT edited my letter. At the same time, there is more to be substantively said about the involved topics. MMA
Alexander J. Motyl’s March 11 article “Difficult Task Defining Bandera’s Historic Role” is a sugar-coated, anti-Russian/Ukrainian nationalist commentary, with several questionable views. His non-support of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s decision (when Yushchenko was president) to formally grant a “Hero” status to World War II era Galician Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, sympathizes with some core anti-Russian/Ukrainian nationalist opinions. Motyl’s emphasis on Russian qualms with Bandera comparatively understates the opposition to Bandera in the Polish and Jewish communities, as well as the European Union and a good number of Ukrainians.
In his subjectivity, Motyl is objective enough to acknowledge that a portion of his article does not offer a complete accounting, adding that “one-sided readings are not unusual, especially among insecure nations struggling to retain their newfound independence.” His acknowledgement serves to prompt a counterpoint to some of the views that he expresses.
Ukraine’s standing as an independent state is not seen by many Ukrainians as the positive result of Bandera’s activity. Were that the case, it stands to reason that the overall Ukrainian support for Bandera would be more positive.
Motyl compares Bandera and his organization to the Algerian, Palestinian and Jewish national independence movements. Another comparison comes to mind. Somewhat like American Civil War period Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Bandera is a regional figure. In parts of the American south, Lee is positively viewed in a way that is not so evident in other areas of the United States. Bandera’s main base of support is in western Ukraine – especially in the Galician region. (As is true with Motyl’s comparisons, the one with Lee and Bandera is not without differences.)
It is true that pro-Bandera advocates Yushchenko and his wife have family origins east of Galicia. Their views on this subject are not generally shared by Ukrainians from outside of western Ukraine. Furthermore, some in western Ukraine (Rusyns in particular) are not typically so fond of Bandera.
Motyl depicts extremist Russians mocking Ukrainian national identity with the “Banderas” term. That term has also been used by some Russians and Ukrainians to specifically express an opposition to anti-Russian/Ukrainian nationalists; not inclusive of intending to belittle Ukrainian national identity.
Motyl downplays the extremism within contemporary anti-Russian/Ukrainian nationalist circles. The more extreme among them have made comments like drowning the “Muscovites” in the blood of the Jews. (The Muscovite term has been derisively used to describe Russians in general, besides Moscow residents.) Some anti-Russian/Ukrainian nationalists have utilized the “sovok” term to negatively label Ukrainians, who are pro-Russian. (Sovok has been used to characterize negative attitudes attributed with the Soviet era.)
Fortunately, the majority of Russians and Ukrainians do not fall in the politically extreme category. Moreover, the polling indicates that most Ukrainians have a higher opinion of Russia than Motyl. In line with Motyl’s slant, this excerpt from his article reflects the rhetoric of the anti-Russian/Ukrainian nationalist Captive Nations Committee:
“For many Russians, the quest for historical memory meant accepting Stalin and Stalinism as qualified goods. For non-Russians, the quest for historical memory became inextricably connected to the search for an anti-Soviet identity. The former Soviet republics have focused on the violent, forced conditions under which they were incorporated into the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union, as well as the destruction they experienced under Lenin and Stalin, the repression and stagnation they experienced under Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev and the opportunity for freedom they seized under Mikhail Gorbachev.”
A noticeable number of non-Russians went along with Soviet policies. The legacy of the Russian Empire includes it having many lead individuals comprising non-Russian backgrounds. The Russian Empire’s experience was not exclusively a matter of forced incorporation, coupled by oppositionist non-Russians. Like other empires of the period, the Russian Empire had instances of support and resistance among its multiethnic inhabitants. Post-Soviet Russia formally recognizes Ukraine’s independence, inclusive of Ukraine’s Communist drawn boundaries.
Motyl provides a simplistically inaccurate depiction on how the current Russian government treats Stalin. That treatment is nowhere near the level of Yushchenko’s adulation of Bandera. Moreover, there is a good deal of Russian government and non-government criticism of Stalin. Russian views on Stalin are by no means monolithic.
There has been considerable Russian opposition to the planned ten Stalin billboards on the annual May 9 Victory Day holiday, observed in Russia and some other countries. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who expressed support for the billboards, said that they are not intended to support Stalin, but to reflect a reality of what had been evident (Stalin’s wartime position as Soviet leader). Someone communicated to me the thought that Luzhkov might have received some misguided public relations advice.
Many Russians seem to take the view that Victory Day should be about honoring the wartime heroism and patriotism of the population and not the role of the dictator in question. The United Russia political party of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin opposes the Stalin billboards.
In areas including the body politic, education and media, Russia at large is taking a critical look at Stalin and other aspects of the Soviet past. It is therefore academically irresponsible to suggest differently.
This article first appeared at Eurasia Home on April 1, 2010.