Friday, May 28, 2010

In Lviv, Jewish prayers over Nazi graves

Discussions are also heating up over many other divisive issues. Those include whether elevating the status of nationalist leader Stepan Bandera (1909-1959) helps or hurts the cause of unifying Ukraine’s diverse regions. Debate is also flaring over the extent to which western Ukrainians were responsible for the demise of the region’s Jewish community during World War II, and why Ukrainians from the east do not appear ready to support the version of Ukrainian nationalism their western counterparts frequently offer.

The advent of a new pro-Russian government in Kyiv that looks ready to revise Ukrainian history in a way that is more acceptable to Moscow and often maligns western Ukraine has added urgency to this reassessment. There is a feeling that if western Ukrainians don’t soon come to terms with their own regional history, it will be too late to counter the theses forwarded by a less-friendly Kyiv.

One of the most widely debated topics these days is how western Ukrainians see Bandera, the man who led the more radical wing of the Organization for Ukrainian Nationalists. The movement was founded in 1929 with the goal of uniting territorially divided Ukraine and establishing it as an independent nation.

“Yushchenko, of course, acted very badly in that he accented historical memory (during his presidency) [concerning Bandera]. It is necessary to take a more serious stance toward history. ”

- Yaroslav Hrytsak, a leading historian who heads the humanities department at Lviv’s Ukrainian Catholic University.

While many western Ukrainians admire Bandera for leading a movement that was able to withstand Soviet repression for more than two decades, not everyone agrees with the decision former President Viktor Yushchenko made earlier this year to bestow Bandera with the nation’s highest honor, the Hero of Ukraine award. They are concerned that the recognition was bestowed on the eve of the Jan. 17 presidential election – a vote that Yushchenko lost by a landslide, as predicted. The award has since divided Ukraine and allowed the region’s history and its historical figures to become objects of political manipulation.

“If you want to have a discussion in Ukraine, throw in Bandera and you will have soon it,” Yaroslav Hrytsak, a leading historian who heads the humanities department at Lviv’s Ukrainian Catholic University told an audience on May 11 during a discussion about World War II.

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