A recent incident in Kyiv involving police officers when one of them yelled “On the ground, Bandera!” while beating up activists showed how far the law enforcers’ behavior still is from expectations of Ukrainians amid the ongoing police reform. For many, what they saw in a footage showing anti-riot police slam on protesters, forcing them on the ground and beating those already lying down reminded them of the notorious “Berkut” units during the Maidan events in 2013. Besides, that “On the ground, Bandera!” episode added even more parallel lines.
“Bandera” is a word that has been and is being used toward Ukrainians as a derogative or insulting term, primarily by the Russians. To Russians, Bandera is someone opposing their actions.
If that cop used the word “Bandera” in this precise connotation, it is obvious that he, at least subconsciously, positions himself as a representative of the pro-Russian camp rather than that of Ukrainian law enforcement.
Changing the image of Bandera in the minds of Ukrainians is undoubtedly a complex task that requires serious work on the part of both historians and artists
In my opinion, this is exactly what infuriated Ukrainians in that incident, sparking a sharp public response. At the same time, I was pleased to see that police officials had got the point and immediately apologized, launching a flash mob campaign “I am a Banderite”, to show that they, law enforcers, also relate.
What should be done to fix the issue and discourage certain members of society, in particular, certain law-enforcers, from dismissing Stepan Bandera? Changing the image of Bandera in the minds of Ukrainians is undoubtedly a complex task that requires serious work on the part of both historians and artists. Historians must continue their research, show and explain Bandera’s role and place in Ukrainian history. In their turn, artists must channel to the people the true story of Stepan Bandera, using all artistic forms and means available.
There are many myths around Bandera’s figure that have been shaped up by Soviet propaganda. And these myths are now actively being used by Russian propaganda. Given how long such a terrible and negative image of Bandera was being shaped (we’re talking decades!), it is obvious that it will take much more than a few years to succeed with the complete deconstruction of these myths. But I am convinced that the process has already been launched, even judging by the sharp public reaction to the mentioned phrase yelled by a law enforcer. This suggests that most Ukrainians already understand who Stepan Bandera was – a symbol of the struggle for independence.
If someone condemns certain Ukrainian historical figures, it is we who has to do this, and for the actions that we believe were wrong, from our own perspective
For me, this situation is very important and interesting including because it shows that Bandera is turning into a certain an indicator of how self-sufficient we are, how ready we are to defend our history, without looking back at our neighbors, who might not like it. And they certainly might not like it – there’s nothing unnatural about that. Similarly, we must be prepared to perceive as heroes those who are heroes to us, despite the fact that others don’t like them. If someone condemns certain Ukrainian historical figures, it is we who has to do this, and for the actions that we believe were wrong, from our own perspective. We shouldn’t condemn them just because someone in Russia, Poland or Israel doesn’t like them.
Now, as I already mentioned, the police launched a flash mob “I am a Banderite”. In addition, a law enforcer who shouted “On the ground, Bandera!” was charged in court. What will this change? Are such actions purely decorative measures aimed at calming down the public, removing indignation? We could have suggested so had the police limited themselves to an apology and a flash mob. But if this important campaign is accompanied by moves aimed at bringing the perpetrator to justice, this is an adequate reaction. This shows a real desire to look into the issue and fix it, as well as prevent such incidents from repeating.
Volodymyr Viatrovych is a Ukrainian historian, head of Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance