Stepan Bandera, Spiritus Rector of the Maidan Protests
The often quoted Arab adage that the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’, is surely far from being a mindset that is peculiar only to Arabs. Indeed, the art of the ‘unholy alliance’; that unlikely meeting of minds between two sets of nations or interests which may ostensibly be set against each other is as old as history itself.
While the description may also be attributed to alliances encompassing agreements between groups with like-minded interests which may be scorned by the majority, it is the consensus reached between apparent diametric opposites in philosophies that have arguably tended to catch the eye.
The infamous Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 wherein Hitler and Stalin reached an agreement to carve up Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe under the pretext of an assurance of peaceful co-existence comes to mind.
But in such alliances we see man’s incurable capacity for pursuing the course of expediency; the end quite frequently is viewed as justifying the means utilised in attaining it.
For example, it was Stalin’s predecessor as Soviet Vohzd, Vladimir Lenin, the quintessential exponent of this philosophic creed, who claimed that he would ally with the devil himself if the devil was opposed to British imperialism; the same Lenin who during the First World War claimed while ‘stranded’ in Zurich that he would make a deal with the devil to get back to Russia.
There are of course moral implications involved when pursuing such courses of action to their logical conclusions. If, for instance, the goal of a people is to attain their emancipation from colonial servitude, can seeking the assistance of or reaching an accommodation with a party who may be considered a force of evil be a justified means for attaining the goal of independence?
What also to make of the nation which in the quest of purportedly freeing other nations from the grip of tyranny itself utilises forces which will themselves likely impose their own brand of tyranny?
The difficulties in assessing the moral correctness of such policies are apparent; regardless of whether such appraisal is undertaken from either consequentialist or deontological standpoints.
It can be argued that the goal, if attained, may be enduringly tarnished. The bargain may often leave the party compromised in the judgement of history.
The prompting of these ruminations emanate from events currently taking place in the eastern part of Europe where the time-forgotten figure of Stepan Bandera has seemingly been resurrected so far as the rest of the world is concerned.
The image of the Ukrainian nationalist leader who was apparently assassinated by a Soviet agent in 1959 adorned Maidan Square, scene of the protests which eventually led to the deposing of the elected president, Viktor Yanukovych back in February.
These protests were presented by much of the Western media as mass gatherings of a democratically-minded people wanting to break free from the dictates of the Russian state to which the media attributes the qualities of that of an overbearing, neo-colonial overlord.
But this narrative is one that is capable of been subjected to stern, if not devastating criticism. It is not merely the case that a great deal of evidence already in the public domain points to the Maidan protests and the subsequent putsch as having been the handiwork of Western governments acting covertly to prise the Ukraine away from the Russian sphere of influence, other disturbing factors abound.
Central among these are the character and philosophy of Bandera himself and the very nature of Ukrainian nationalism as represented by those at the heart of the agitations at Maidan for which Bandera served as spiritus rector.
Bandera poses a problem because the historical record shows him to have been a collaborator with the Nazis; albeit that the justification given for this by his supporters was that such association was predicated on the ultimate goal of freeing the Ukrainian people from the yoke of Bolshevik domination.
Yet, such is the odour that seemingly irresistibly attaches to those who are seen to have officially or unofficially cooperated with the Third Reich that Bandera’s action in declaring for the second time in history a Ukrainian state and in soliciting an alliance with the Nazi state as the Wehrmacht advanced into the Soviet Union after the commencement of Fall Barbarossa, irreparably damages him as one who could meaningfully serve as the figurehead for a movement espousing democratic values.
Hans Frank’s famous words before he met his fate at the gallows that “a thousand years will pass and the guilt of Germany will still not have been erased”, still resonate. They underscore the taint that accrues to those who entered or sought to enter into deals with Hitler’s government.
The policy of accommodation with the Nazi regime which was pursued by key Western European states in the prelude to the outbreak of the Second World War, of which the Munich Agreement of 1939 stands out, is now derided as a fruitless quest for ‘appeasement’.
Also disparaged is the Reich Concordant reached between the Catholic Church and the Hitlerian state in 1933 wherein the Church foreswore to withdraw from political life in return for the imposition of the Code of Canon Law and freedom in running Catholic education institutions.
This agreement is held out as the device through which the Church effectively neutralised its capability of challenging the immoral policies that would later be pursued by the newly formed Nazi government.
This stands in stark contrast to the robust methods of opposition employed by the Church as it resisted anti-Church edicts imposed by the KulturKampf during the era of Bismarck.
The coming of the Second World War provided the means through which some political groups seeking independence from the British Empire would solicit the assistance of the German Reich.
Subhas Chandra Bose, an Indian nationalist contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi was one. In contrast to Gandhi’s creed of passive resistance, Chandra Bose had advocated a pathway to independence based on a violent revolution.
He escaped from British house arrest and made a circuitous journey to Berlin where he made nightly anti-British speeches on the airwaves; hoping to stir up a revolt in his homeland.
Additional to the establishment of Free India Radio, he created the Free India Legion which was made up of 3,000 Indians who had been captured by Rommel’s Afrika Korps. The intention was that they would assist in the hoped for German invasion of India.
But the ambivalent nature of the support which he received from Hitler and the turning of the tide losses suffered by the Wehrmacht in 1943 convinced him to travel to the Far East theatre of war where under the auspices of his Japanese hosts, he formed the Azad Hind Fauj or Indian National Army.
The Indian National Army was a 50,000-strong force composed of Indian soldiers serving in the British Empire Army who had been captured by Japanese forces in 1942.
They aided the Japanese attack on India but this was halted and its members suffered huge casualties. Chandra Bose is officially claimed to have died from burns suffered in a plane crash in August of 1945 when leaving Taiwan and embarked on another circuitous journey which is believed would have taken him to the Soviet Union.
A twin objective of achieving an independent state of Palestine and an end to continued Jewish immigration to Palestine formed the basis of Muhammad Amin al-Husayni’s wartime collaboration with Nazi Germany. In employing the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” logic, Husayni, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, is said to have assured Hitler that the Arabs were Germany’s natural allies because they had the same enemies: the English, the Jews and the Communists.
He pinned his hopes on a realignment of world power in which victories by German and Italian armies in North Africa and the Middle East would displace the British and the French.
During the war, he made radio broadcasts in Germany directed towards the Arab lands and also helped form a Waffen-SS unit composed of Bosnian Muslims.
It is however pertinent to note that factions within the community most often identified as the preeminent victims of the race-based Nazi policy of murder and cruelty were not without a record of having reached an accord with or sought to secure an accord with the Nazi state.
In the overriding quest to create a homeland in Palestine for the Jewish Diaspora, elements within the Zionist movement would in the 1930s enter into what was termed the Transfer Agreement with Nazi Germany.
The basis of the agreement may not in one sense be as preposterous as it sounds given the Nationalist Socialists intended policy of removing the Jews from the midst of their ‘Aryan hosts’ and the Zionist aim of persuading the Jews to leave. Indeed, the SS leader Reinhard Heydrich was wont to remark to intimates what he perceived to be an inexorable logic:
As a National Socialist, I am a Zionist.
Designed with the express purpose of facilitating the emigration of German Jewry to Palestine, this pact which came to be known as the Ha’avara Agreement broadly observed the following modus operandi: A German Jew would deposit money into a specific account in a German bank. The money would then be used to buy German goods for export usually to Palestine. The Jewish émigrés to Palestine would then receive payment for the goods which they had previously purchased after their final sale.
While the majority of world Jewry embarked upon a trade boycott against the Nazi regime on its assumption of power, the Zionist-Nazi trade agreement arguably served to undermine the economic sanctions.
It has to be said that the Transfer Agreement was vehemently opposed by others in the Zionist movement and in the generality of world Jewry so much so that one of its key instigators, Chaim Arlosoroff, was in 1933 assassinated on his return to Tel Aviv from negotiations in Germany.
But there is much to be said about the early constructions of the Zionist mentality as being one which subscribed to the futility of assimilation, the inevitability of anti-Semitism and a resignation to a perception that it could not be challenged. The solution had to be a Jewish state, an end to which they were prepared to go to almost any means to achieve.
Theodor Hertzl, the acknowledged founding father of modern Zionism, himself parlayed with Vyacheslav von Plevhe the Tsarist minister of the interior who is said to have been the brainchild behind the pogrom at Kishenev in Bessarabia during the Easter of 1903.
Hertzl wanted to convince Russia’s influential ministers to use the taxes collected from Jews to fund emigration to Palestine and to finance any forms of negotiation with the Ottoman Empire over the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
He even sought an expansion of the Pale of Settlement, the large land mass to which most of the Jews of the Russian Empire were restricted, and use whatever influence he had in curtailing agitation among Jewish radicals and malcontents residing in the empire.
The use of Bandera as an icon of modern Ukrainian nationalism is of particular concern given the historical fate of the Jews at the hands of Ukrainian nationalists in the two initial instances of the creation of Ukrainian states.
Jews were massacred in 1941 by Bandera’s followers both as a gesture of solidarity towards the German Reich as well as to serve to remove a group largely perceived as been pro-Bolshevik.
Moreover, the streak of xenophobia, a prominent feature in many nationalist creeds, was and still remains a crucial feature of Ukrainian nationalism which has consistently maintained a severe animus toward Russians, Poles and Jews.
In 1919, anti-Jewish pogroms occurred under the regime of Symon Petlura after the nascent Ukrainian state suffered a first defeat at the hands of the Bolsheviks. Yet, one of the key figures in Zionist history, Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky was prepared to enter into an agreement with Petlura.
Jabotinsky’s Ukrainian Pact of 1921 involved him meeting Maxim Slavinsky, the ambassador of the pogromist Petlura in Prague. Petlura’s Ukrainian state, created via the indispensible efforts of the German High Command headed by Field Marshall von Hindenburg and General Ludendorff, was fast disintegrating due to the military incursions made by Polish and Bolshevik forces.
The deal was that Jabotinsky, the founder of the Haganah – the precursor of the Israeli Defence Force- would organise a Zionist police force which would guard the Jewish populations found in territories the Ukrainian nationalists could manage to reclaim after counter-attacks.
As for the Ukrainian side, an incentive for entering into such bargain was that it would to serve as evidence that they had changed their ways. It was an agreement which brought the disapprobation from other members of the World Zionist Organisation.
However, an unrepentant Jabotinsky pooh-poohed his critics, declaring that he would have made a similar deal with the Bolshevik’s if they had asked him. He told them that they could write as his epitaph:
This was the man who made the pact with Petluira.
Another Zionist leader who became mired in proposing alliances with the enemies of Jewry was Avharam ‘Yair’ Stern. He was the leader of the terror group known as Lohamei Herut Yisrael meaning ‘Fighters for the Freedom of Israel’; although it is better known today by the British designation ‘The Stern Gang’.
He formed the group after his release from British custody in 1940 having broken from the main Zionist terror group in Palestine, the Irgun. While Jabotinsky suspended operations against the British for the duration of the war against Nazi Germany, Stern refused to do this unless the British recognised the claim for a Jewish state on both sides of the River Jordan; this a policy derived from the biblical reference in Genesis 15:18 which promises the Israelites a land extending “from the brook of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”
For Stern, only the defeat of the British in the Middle East by an outside power would bring about a Jewish state. To this end, he sought a pact first with fascist Italy, and after being rebuffed he pinned his hopes on forming an alliance with Nazi Germany.
He was contemptuous of liberal democracy and imbued with a volkish-like racism. The proposed pact with Nazi Germany referred to the “establishment of the historical Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis” in a new order in which there could be cooperation between the new Germany and a renewed Volkish-national Hebrium.
The 1941 document which was discovered among files in the German Embassy in Ankara, offered to “actively take part in the war on Germany’s side.”
If Bandera’s present day apologists do not use any of the aforementioned episodes in an attempt to exculpate him from having committed the sin of Nazi collaboration, some will nonetheless postulate the thesis that he operated like any other guerrilla leader who employed ruthlessness and was pragmatic about shifting allegiances and modifying policies to meet the requirements of each developing situation.
It has even been averred that he was a mixture of the likes of Michael Collins, Menachem Begin and Yassir Arafat.
But the sins of Bandera are not limited to specific terrorist outrages. They span the gamut from providing military and law enforcement services to Nazi occupiers to the execution of mass killings.
Banderites were members of specially composed Ukrainian Waffen-SS units such as the Galician, Nichtengall and Roland Divisions. They ethnically cleansed areas of Polish and Jewish communities by using civilians referred to as ‘Self Defence Groups’.
The deeds of Bandera and his followers as well as those of his predecessor of sorts, Symon Petlura, arguably present an irreparable stain on Ukrainian nationalism which venerates a cast of characters whose exploits provide the basis of a veritable bestiary.
The unholy alliance in the events which have transpired in the Ukraine is surely the use by the West of the ideological heirs of Bandera in the illegal seizure of power.
Preeminent among them are the Svoboda (Freedom) Party and Pravy Sektor (Right Sector). The former are well represented in the current interim government while the latter served as the muscle behind the core rent-a-crowd protesters who agitated for months in Kiev’s premier square.
These parties are essentially neo-Nazi in their outlook.
The policies pursued over the decades by the United States have not precluded alliances with extremists. Whether recruiting fascists in the service of ‘Gladio’ secret army units during the Cold War, or in sponsoring Islamist extremists in the Lebanon, Libya and Syria, the Americans have consistently lived up to the ‘enemy of my enemy maxim’.
However, the costs in terms of the loss of innocent lives in outrages perpetrated by Right-wing terrorists seeking to discredit the Left are incalculable, while the creation of unstable states in Iraq, Libya and Syria leave the possibility that while it is removing or weakening the leaders of the non-compliant secular Arab world, it is fomenting trouble in the future for itself and its allies by potentially creating an Islamist bastion around the Mediterranean Sea.
In the same way, the tacit approval of neo-fascists enjoying political power in Ukraine is disturbing. For all that is the known record of fascist regimes which assumed power in various parts of the European continent, the wisdom handed down by experience is that it should be strangled in the cradle.
And it is not only Western support for the avowedly Banderite fascist parties which should give cause for concern, but also the peculiar species of nationalism which is the inheritance of Ukraine.
Many of the politicians such as Yulia Tymoshenko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk who are presented to the outside world as mainstream politicians are steeped in the hatreds and prejudices of the past.
Tymoshenko, whose tenure in power was marked by terrible corruption, was caught on a wiretap offhandedly suggesting that nuclear weapons should be used to wipe out 8 million Russian speakers in the eastern part of the country.
For the United States, the aim of marginalising Russia in a modern ‘Great Game’ which threatens the peace of the world one hundred years after the outbreak of the Great War is, in the final analysis, not a justifiable risk worth taking.
(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2014)
Adeyinka Makinde is a lecturer in law with research interests in intelligence and security issues. He is based in London, England.