|Myths and Stereotypes
Bandera’s ideology was fascist and totalitarian.
According to contemporary scholarship, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) professed integral nationalism—a radical ideology of national liberation based on the notion of creating an independent, strong national state on its own ethnic territory.
The OUN remained an illegal movement that fought against three countries: Poland, Germany and the USSR. It did not establish a state driven by certain expansionist or repressive policies based on “fascism” or “totalitarianism.” The OUN was a radical movement of resistance established by a discriminated ethnic group— the Ukrainians. Therefore, instead of vague ideological stereotypes, a different methodological approach is required in assessing such a movement.
Radicalism came about as a response to the tragic situation which Ukrainian society found itself in following World War I, particularly Stalinist terror in the USSR and the discriminatory policies of Poland and Romania. The bitterness brought about by the demise of the 1917–1921 national revolution by the Ukrainian socio-democratic forces leads to the discrediting of democratic ideals, which the youth of Western Ukraine now begin to view as a sign of weakness and compromise. Neither the USSR, Poland, or Romania could boast of free societies. Foreign pressure was met by resistance from Ukrainian society. This resistance was not deliberately “civil” in nature— it simply strived for its own freedom of choice.
Tangible democratic means for guaranteeing the interests of Ukrainians were non-existent in the USSR, Poland or Romania. In the USSR, Ukrainians become involuntary participants of an even more extreme social experiment based on a powerful repressive political machine that produces millions of victims. In Poland and Romania, Ukrainians as a national minority suffer harsh discrimination.
Ukrainian nationalism and “fascism” (defining these phenomena succinctly falls outside the scope of this brief) can be understood as two distinct types of a single, generally European phenomenon of that era—integral nationalism. The term “integral” suggests the domination of a nation’s values and principles over other qualities, such as the rights of the individual. The individual should forsake his/her interests for the benefit of the nation’s interests. If we add the term “race” to the equation, then what we get is “Nazism” (“Were the followers of Bandera (Banderites) Nazis?”). However, the “Ukrainian race” is an ambiguous concept, and moreover, it is certainly not Nordic in nature. Positioning the interests of the nation/country/people above personal interest can be considered banal patriotism, for example, during wartime. In fact, such behavior is based on a broad spectrum of the positive social values and principles of any country. For this reason, there is no need to rush with a “negative” assessment of “nationalism.
Fascism is an expansionist ideology of nation-states, whereas Ukrainian nationalism was a national liberation movement of a stateless nation. As a movement lacking in resources and without its own repressive state regime, nationalism was incapable of developing and fulfilling its potential. How would have nationalism reached its potential? In what year? Under what circumstances?
Theoretically, anyone can assume that “if” Ukrainian nationalists had established their own state in the 1920s–1930s, then it would have resembled Mussolini’s Italy, Stalin’s Soviet Union or Franco’s Spain. However, these are only hypotheses, supplemented by theoretical ambiguities and stereotypes. Or perhaps something positive could have resulted from the situation of those times? Such speculation underscores the importance of keeping to the facts.
The OUN engaged in an underground struggle against the states that occupied its homeland while it lacked a state of its own. OUN is an extremist organization, but it lacked resources necessary for its very survival. It did benefit from the support of the local Ukrainian population. But the notion of OUN “fascism” is as appropriate as Irish Republican Army “fascism” would be in the 1960s. Similarly, the Zionist organization “Hagana” will not be deemed fascist just because it engaged in terrorist activities. Many different paths were taken towards the establishment of a democratic Israel; perhaps not every inter-ethnic conflict produces only fascism.
Regarding “totalitarianism” and the OUN, any underground organization persecuted by the state would have some totalitarian nature. Such an organization’s security is dependent on the hierarchy of the entity as well as on subordination, discipline, commitment and trust in the leader. At the same time according to social science, any definitive criteria of totalitarianism are based on the policies of a specific state regime. And the OUN did not possess a state regime. Therefore, from the scholarly point of view (and disregarding propaganda), the OUN can only promulgate non- democratic ideology and did so up to 1943 (see: “Banderites were Nazis?”).
The Ukrainian historian Oleksander Zaitsev proposes to consider OUN ideology and activity as a variant of Ustashism (from the title of the Croatian Ustaše), i.e., “a special type of integral revolutionary nationalism, which appears as a result of the absence of a national state and which strives to establish and maintain such a polity by all possible means, even terror” (see Zaitsev, O. “Ukrainian Integral Nationalism (1920s-1930s): Essays in IntellectualHistory,” Kyiv, Krytyka, 2013, pp. 426–27).
Ukrainian integral nationalism of the 1920s-1930s comprised a number of variants: Dmytro Dontsov’s “active (“effective”) nationalism,” the OUN’s “organizational nationalism” and the “creative nationalism” of the Front of National Unity (FNU). However, like any ideological systems, these variants require such an approach from researchers that when an individual who commits a particular act, he/she can then declare: “I chose to do this, based on the ideals of such and such a version of Ukrainian nationalism.” Ideology requires a clearly defined system of thought and a strict set of values, but it is not obligatory for the followers of a particular ideology to be well-versed in its principles; more than likely the proponents of a certain ideology would sooner use the principles simply in the form of a brash title or slogan. The latter is often contributed by historians or propaganda experts.
Despite Dontsov’s significant ideological influence on many members of the OUN, it would be unwarranted to equate Dontsov’s “active nationalism” with the type professed by his ideological brethren. If Dontsov’s version represented an assemblage of emotional slogans and critical political essays exemplifying the notable talent of its author, then the OUN’s “organizational nationalism” proposed a certain political doctrine and included features of a systematic outlook (see “The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and The Ukrainian Insurgent Army: Historical essays,” National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine; Institute of History of Ukraine, S. Kulchytsky ed., Kyiv, Naukova Dumka, 2005, pp. 456-60). It was by no means an accident when Dontsov rejected numerous offers to become the OUN’s official ideologue. Despite this decision, his authoritative reputation among OUN members remained very high. During Dontsov’s years in exile, the OUN-B provided him with financial support till the end of his life. The fact of the matter is that Dontsov’s emotionally charged writings coupled with the underground organizational experience of the active OUN together with the harsh realities of war and social aspect of everyday life, including the changes of political regimes and occupations, have all concocted a mixture of “Ukrainian nationalism,” which has baffled scholars for quite some time.For all intents and purposes, this was plainly an experience of Ukrainian life during a particular era and in a defined location. Furthermore, it was an experience filled with blessings and tragedies, dependent more often than not, unfortunately, on global political processes. See also: “Ukrainian nationalism of the “Banderites” ̶ an inhumane ideology which has no place in the 21st century?”.