Historical revisionism makes things worse in Ukraine.
Frank Golczewski is a Professor of Eastern European history at the University of Hamburg.
1. What is your view on the institutionalization of historical revisionism aimed at political rehabilitation and heroization of the OUN and the UPA? Do you see substantial risks for Ukraine’s image abroad and political stability inside the country?
This law is a sign of the absolute absence of any morality in Ukrainian politics. UVO (Ukrainian Military Organization) was a terrorist organization, responsible for the killing of Poles and Ukrainians, especially those who sought cooperation between these nationalities. OUN continued its work and became worse in joining the Germans in World War II, before having the responsibility for the Western Ukraine pogroms of the summer of 1941, to mention a few.
UPA killed Poles and other people (among them hidden Jews) in Volhynia and Galicia in 1944-45 and cooperated with the Germans against the Red Army in 1944. Though a faction of OUN opted for what they understood under democracy in 1943, others (like Bandera) did not do even that and intended to create an authoritarian ethnically homogeneous state modeled on that of the Italian fascists.
To endorse these organizations puts Ukraine on the level with the rightist parties of Europe, to address these groups as fighters for Ukrainian independence only shows that the Ukrainian politicians who voted for this law and the president who signed it are blind.
2. What is your opinion on de-communization in Ukraine? Has it been a failure or success?
All in all, it is not wrong to depart from the communist past. However, one should do so by cooperating with the locals. Kirovohrad, for example, was renamed against the proposals of the city organs. Krasnoarmijsk in the not very religious Donbas was renamed Pokrovsk, whereas there was the former neutral name of Grishino. And to a certain measure, one has to take into account that some Ukrainians are communist, and not all communists were criminals. As far as Germany is concerned, there are still many streets named after Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, Trier honors its citizen Karl Marx, and Hamburg has a square named after Ernst Thälmann. After all, they are important historical persons.
3. Is there a chance for Ukraine and Poland to reconcile as to the past?
Germany is an excellent example of how reconciliation is possible, but only if one repents and does not hide past crimes committed by members of their own people. The Ukrainian law on honor to the independence fighters and Poland’s law on the IPN in defense “of the good name of Poland,” denying participation in the German atrocities, do not show the way in this direction. Pilsudski’s treason towards Petliura in 1920/21, Akcja Wisla, and the Volhynian massacres (which were not a “tragedy,” but a war crime) are some of the points that could be clearly admitted as such (and not only blamed on the other).
4. What memory politics should a new Ukrainian government pursue?
The Ukrainian leaders should refrain from the Soviet practice to say that the own policy was always excellent, and no mistakes and crimes of the own people are to be admitted. I am no supporter of Yanukovych, but to say that the artificial hunger was a Soviet crime (again not a “tragedy”) is the correct interpretation. Because it had consequences both in Ukraine, the Volga area (for example, among the Volga Germans who were against collectivization), and Kazakhstan, to mention some of the areas. But Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union - it was peracted not only by Russians but also by locals – i. e. in the Ukrainian case, Ukrainians. Just check the latest scholarly research publications of Serhii Plokhy to learn that there were different areas, even in Ukraine. Therefore I consider it a misinterpretation to “nationalize” the Holodomor.
As far as OUN and other Ukrainian political entities are concerned, it is only a part of the game to see them as “independence fighters.” They wanted a Ukrainian state, but what kind of state? It was supposed to be homoethnic, authoritarian, and undemocratic. Lenin does not deserve monuments, but do they? There are better traditions in the Ukrainian past to be found and propagated.
5. What lessons can Ukraine learn from its past to build a better future? What mistakes should it avoid?
When Germany had hostile relations with her neighbors, it resulted in destruction, loss of territory, and forced migrations. It took a lot of efforts (from both sides) and a lot of money to reconcile with the “hereditary enemy” France. But it paid off. Today, there is no visible frontier on the Rhine, which gave one of the “reasons” for at least three wars.
For every economic gain, there has to be an investment beforehand. The same holds true for non-economic issues. Good relations with other states have to be worked for. There is no need to admire nationalists (like Bandera or Stecko) whose only objective was to separate from all others.
I see that the voting of the Ukrainians goes in that direction as they voted for Zelensky because no Ukrainian political professional could be trusted anymore. But Poroshenko had also “employed” foreigners for the same reason. However, when they started to be effective, all of them were kicked out one way or the other. Now, this is the fourth round as hopes put in Kuchma, Yushchenko, and Poroshenko withered away after their first year. Corruption and all other evils remained the same. One should not rely on foreign help, but try to make order in one’s own country. It does not concern Ukraine only as it is essential for all countries, including Germany.