torch-paradeToday is Stepan Bandera’s birthday. A Ukrainian nationalist, he is both much-loved and much-hated. Loved by those who want to see the resurrection of Ukraine as a nation, and hated by those who deny the right of Ukraine to exist.

Bandera was born 108 years ago Western Ukraine and assassinated by a KGB agent 58 years ago in West Germany. At different times the Ukrainians struggling for their independence (and, consequently, for the rights to know their history, to develop their culture, to speak their language, to have their own church) were named after their national leaders: “vyhovtsi” (after Ivan Vyhovskyi, in the 17th century), “mazepyntsi” (after Ivan Mazepa in the 18th century), “makhnovtsi” and “petliurivtsi” (after Nestor Makhno and Symon Petliura, in the 1920s). Since the 1940s the name has been “banderivtsi.” Interestingly, though the name, as it was coined in KGB offices, was meant to be pejorative, it is now used by ardent adherents of the Ukrainian cause with much pride, which reminds me of how the term “Christian” was used: originally the name was negative in ancient Rome, but later, with the spread of Christianity, the meaning turned to be positive, or, as linguists say, “elevated.”

However, in the popular Russian usage the word “banderovets” (it may be roughly translated into English as “Banderavite”) has extended its meaning and is generally referred to everyone who advocates their Ukrainian identity. A Ukrainian who is nothing but an immigrant worker in Moscow, goes as “khokhol” among Muscovites, but the one who emphasizes his Ukrainian background, and is principled, say, in using the Ukrainian language in the Russian surroundings will sooner be called “banderovets.”

It has become a recent tradition that annually, on January 1, young nationalists arrange torchlit processions in Kyiv and other major cities of Ukraine to honor Stepan Bandera. The Russian media do their utmost to demonize such manifestations. The same is done by some of the Western media which view the events in Ukraine through Russian eyes. “The man in the street” and the pro-Russian sympathizers are scared. I’m not. In their majority, the Ukrainians are fairly tolerant, and there’s absolutely no danger that they may fall into political or any other kind of zealotry. Sooner, the opposite may take place: Ukraine gained its independence rather late, and it may be swallowed and digested by such monsters as globalization, liberal thinking, political correctness, etc. The torchlit demonstrations are an antidote against this threat. Without the “Bandera spirit,” Ukraine would have long ago dissolved in the swamp of incurable Russian ills –servility, lawlessness, isolationism, xenophobia, chauvinism, laziness and aggressiveness.

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