Playing With Fire
Bandera’s fascist ideas were rightfully repressed during the Soviet period, but after Ukraine’s independence in 1991, they began to attract followers anew. Although they remained largely on the political fringe, the extreme nationalists received a boost in legitimacy when former President Viktor Yuschenko (the hero of the pro-Western ‘Orange Revolution) decreed in 2010 that he be given the title ‘Hero of Ukraine’. Although this was promptly rescinded by returning President Viktor Yanukovich, the damage was already done – fascism was given legitimacy in post-independence Ukraine, and anyone who was against it was a ‘pro-Russian puppet’ like Yanukovich was accused of being.
Of course, Poland was uncomfortable with its neighbor granting its highest state award to an anti-Polish genocidal symbol like Bandera, but then again, Warsaw had up to this point unconditionally supported its proxy government in Kiev since it usurped power in 2004. Although it had no power over Yuschenko’s extreme announcement, it certainly created the fertile ground to facilitate it. After Yanukovich returned to the presidency in 2010, Poland set out to become the
‘Slavic Turkey’ of regime change next door, actively training and utilizing whatever extremist elements it thought necessary to achieve its goal, including radical Ukrainian nationalism modeled off of Stepan Bandera. As counter-productive and dangerous as this may seem to level-headed observers, it was justified by the Polish political elite in the name of the larger anti-Russian struggle that it was preparing to spearhead in the region.
While patronizing Poland may have marketed its explicit support of EuroMaidan (and covert assistance to and implicit acceptance of the Banderites) as helping Ukrainians break off the yoke of ‘Russian domination’, what it really wanted was to increase its own influence over its former Commonwealth’s territories. In this manner, it is nothing different than what was pursued during the Polish-Ukrainian and Polish-Soviet Wars. Strikingly, whenever Poland tried to interfere in Ukraine ‘for its own good’, this has led to the same result – virulent Ukrainian nationalism that backfires against it. Back then, the OUN was created in reaction to Polish policies and began carrying out terrorist attacks against the Polish state, but this time, Poland actually abetted the rise of the OUN’s spiritual successors with the intention that they would carry out terrorist attacks against the Yanukovich-led Ukrainian state (which they did, most popularly seen through the firebombing of police).
The thing is, violent Ukrainian-Banderite terrorism could not be controlled (unlike what Poland may have thought) and did not disappear with Yanukovich, but instead, it became an even stronger force in the country after the coup. Its de-facto institutionalization in Western Ukraine (specifically Eastern Galicia and Volhynia, both of which were all but cleansed of Poles because of the Banderites) now poses an obstacle for Polish plans to economically and culturally colonize the area, as history has taught Warsaw that the nationalist-fascists there will never allow Poland to impose its will on the inhabitants.
As a case in point, Poland is already beginning to feel the burn. Rossiya Segodnya reports that Ukrainian nationalists are now infiltrating into and trying to destabilize parts of Southeastern Poland that they claim as their own. There’s even talk of Galicia breaking off from the rest of Ukraine to officially form its own state, which uncomfortably seems all too plausible right now given the nationalist and civil divisions in the country. Importantly, the region actually did this back in February, when insurgents overthrew the regional governments and declared Lvov’s independence a few days before the 21 February coup. The situation was so out of control at the time that even Newsweek Magazine published an article entitled “Ukraine: Heading for Civil War”, and the National Interest took it even further by speculating upon a (then) pro-Western resurrection of the WUPR. With the Galician nationalists gaining control of the entire country a few days afterwards because of the coup, however, there was no more need for their region to secede, and the secessionist news was lost amid the flurry of talk about aftermath of Yanukvoich’s ouster.
Things are a bit different now, though, since the nationalists are not happy with the Poroshenko government for what they view as Ukraine’s surrender through the 5 September Minsk Protocol and have been threatening to overthrow him. With this in mind, the prospect that the Banderites might instead separate from Ukraine and declare an independent Galicia all their own no longer looks so farfetched. Such dynamic developments make one wonder whether these are threats that the Polish military was speaking of when it announced its recent decision to permanently reorient its military to the east of the country, and whether or not it is entertaining the idea of a conventional military intervention there.
As complicated as Polish-Ukrainian relations are, it is evident that nationalism on either side has worked to the extreme detriment of the other. Looking back at history, it is clear that interwar Polish nationalism was the impetus for its violent Ukrainian counterpart, which would then tragically go on to slaughter over 100,000 Polish civilians. In what is probably the largest twist of Eastern European irony in history, Poland then sided with those exact same forces to help overthrow the democratically elected Yanukovich government over half a century later. Now that the cat of Ukrainian-Banderite nationalism is out of the bag, it no longer wants to get back in, and it is running wild and clawing at all that get in its way.
Poland has thus fulfilled the ‘Slavic Turkey’ comparison originally made the author last February, since it, just like its Mideast NATO ally and destabilizer-in-arms, is now finally beginning to experience the blowback of its disastrous proxy policy. Whereas Turkey is confronted with the threat posed by the extreme Islamists of ISIL, which it helped create and assist all throughout the destabilization of Syria, so too is Poland confronted with the threat posed by the extreme Bandera nationalists, which it aided and abetted in destabilizing Ukraine. The comparison becomes even more pronounced and prescient when one realizes that the Eastern European Banderites, just like their Mideast counterparts ISIL, are now on the cusp of forming their own state. Before it is too late, as may already be the case for Turkey in the Mideast, Poland needs to break the ‘Slavic Turkey’ mold and take ownership for its disastrous blunder, realize that the West has misled and manipulated it as it is historically prone to do, and start genuinely working with its ‘adversary’ Russia (or in the case of Turkey, Syria) to eradicate this backfiring Black Hole threat once and for all before more people get killed.
Andrew Korybko is the American political correspondent of Voice of Russia who currently lives and studies in Moscow, exclusively for ORIENTAL REVIEW.