Reconciliation in Ukraine

At the conference “Ukrainian Reconciliation Projects and the Future of Europe”, 21/22 April in Kiev, Frans Hoppenbrouwers of Communicantes remembered how he visited the Stepan Bandera Historical Memorial Museum in Kalush in 2003 (see picture). The then recently opened museum had been financed by German millionaire and newspaper editor Gerhard Frey, who was the founder of the right-wing Deutsche Volksunion (DVU). The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishop Sofron Mudry of Ivano-Frankivsk added his Church’s approval by attending the 1997 ceremony of laying the foundation stone. Several years ago, the DVU was disbanded and is now – o tempora, o mores – part of the pro-Putin Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD).
At the Kiev conference, Hoppenbrouwers argued that Ukraine needs to come to terms with its own history first, before dealing with its present enemies.
There are two main motives. Of course, there is an important pragmatic reason to do so. The fascism-paradigm that is currently being deployed by Russian propaganda is in part the result of 25 years not dealing with history in a proper way. Both state and Church have done a bad job, notably former President Viktor Yushchenko and, whereas Western Ukraine is concerned, the Greek Catholic Church. See the above mentioned Bandera Museum.
But this coming to terms with history is, above all, a matter of moral integrity as well as historical justice. Hoppenbrouwers referred to the twisted and brutal history of Western Ukraine, 1920-1945, involving Ukrainians (not only fighting communists and Nazis but also among themselves) and the forgotten, barely or ill-remembered Poles and Jews, who have disappeared from local and regional history almost completely… They have been deleted from common memory. Entire villages have been wiped out (by Germans with Ukrainian aid or by Ukrainians themselves) and only monuments for Ukrainian nationalist partisans (UPA) exist. Like communism this history left a scar on society, which still hurts today.
People then (Ukrainians) were by and large indifferent when their neighbours were deported and/or killed, perhaps even happy. Did they miss them after the war? Sometimes after 1990 and by mere coincidence, villagers would discover in their parish records that they lived in a half-Polish village, a thing that nobody remembered or wanted to remember. Entire families got divided along political and ethnic lines: one brother would enter the Ukrainian SS, another UPA, yet another the Soviet or Polish armies. In a context of lawlessness, disputes among neighbours ended in violent murder. After the war, most Ukrainians accommodated to communism and forgot about the past. When in the 1990s the nationalists came back from Siberia, they started fighting with the other nationalist who had remained in Western Ukraine. It was about a plot of land, a house, a barn which was taken from them. That is the/a unheroic historic reality.
Ukraine needs a democratic history, Tufts University’s associate professor Oxana Shevel argues. The Ukrainian political scientist opposes, quite rightly, a top-bottom, explicit pro- or anti-Ukrainian (us-them/good-bad) or forcefully schematic history of Ukraine as a necessary or to be deleted (by)product of history. Ukraine needs a history which derives from real life experiences (many unhappy ones, unfortunately). What the country doesn’t need is ideology driven history from which stories are being deleted, because they are part of the narrative that does not fit in, because they are less heroic, entirely unheroic, just very nasty or produced by opposing parties. Shevel wrote an interesting article about this subject in Slavic Review 70 (2011). A first draft is available for free on a Tufts website.