“We forgive and ask forgiveness” – these are the simple words with which Polish bishops addressed the German archbishops 20 years after the war. They, of all people, put an end to a war between the neighboring nations. This sincerity laid the foundation for a new Europe rather than the one Hitler and Stalin (who has now been proclaimed “an efficient manager” by Russian leaders) dreamed about. The ability to return good for evil and feel someone else’s pain as one’s own and carry the burden of other people’s woes means being human. After all, this, rather than coal and steel concerns, made Europeans who they are. If the Poles had not reconciled themselves with the Germans and the latter with the French, the Old World would still be divided by miles of barbed wire.
A lively discussion in social networks and on television demonstrates that Ukrainians are ready to talk about repentance. The cause was the anniversary of the tragedy in Babyn Yar. The idea was voiced with increased intensity that Ukrainians, and in a number of cases Ukraine as a state, should apologize to the Jewish people for complicity in the killing of Jews during the Holocaust and the collaboration of a part of the local population with the Nazis. The latest instalment of Savik Shuster’s show addressed this topic, and most viewers in the studio who participated in the poll supported the idea.
Naturally, the topic drowned in a sea of anti-Semitic and Ukrainophobic comments. I am not going to engage in an argument with paid agents and all sorts of xenophobes, but will instead formulate several questions.
1. What should we apologize for? For the tragedy of the Holocaust, the two million of the shot, gassed and killed? Here is a question: Was there a “Ukrainian” dimension of the Holocaust? Ukrainians did not have their own state at the time. Nor did they have a regular army, law enforcement system, judiciary, etc. There was auxiliary police and nothing else. The police were the bodies of the Nazi authorities in which people of various nationalities – Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, Crimean Tatars, etc. – served. Anyone who wanted to and was "lucky enough" to be recruited. It would be absurd for an entire nation to have to assume responsibility for the tragedy and crime of collaborationism.
We should not forget who started the war. There is never a bad time to remind people about that. Nazism and communism, Nazi Germany and the USSR are to blame for this catastrophe. Passing the buck to war victims is unfair. One thing that should definitely be written is a new, non-Soviet and propaganda-free history of the Second World War.
A corpus of documents pertaining to all the sensitive pages of our national history has been declassified and made public, but works like an academic history of the OUN or a scholarly biography of Stepan Bandera have yet to be published and discussed. Have you seen anywhere an academic work on the June 1941 events when tens of thousands of prisoners in cities from Lutsk to Lviv and from Uman to Kiev were killed by the Soviets? A work has just been published that proves that there is no Ukrainian trace in the shooting of Polish professors which has been blamed on Ukrainians for decades. So we need to have better knowledge of what really happened. This is not rhetoric — this is something without which there can be no understanding of history.
2. Who would have to apologize? The state as represented by the president, parliament and government? This is how Western and Eastern European countries did it. The Polish and Lithuanian presidents, the German chancellor and other top officials representing their nations bowed their heads in memory of WWII victims. Would an apology from Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych belong to the same category? Unlikely. Society and the world community will not believe him. A political regime that dispatches special task units to disperse harmless student protests, suspends T-shirt sales and puts people behind bars on political motives does not have the moral right to apologize for someone else’s sins. Without having authority there is no need to even try mouthing the words that can otherwise cleanse souls and close the dark pages of history.
Could a meaningful discussion and a consolidated vote in parliament perhaps save the situation? Off the mark again. There are no idealists in parliament who truly care about what happened 70 years ago in Ukraine. It would be somehow humiliating to vote for a reconciliation formula, looking at the fanciful trajectory of Mykhailo Chechetov’s hands [as he gestures to MPs ordering them to vote. – Transl.]. It would best be done by a person who has the trust of the majority of the nation’s active members. But I’m afraid we have no Havels, Stuses or Mandelas.
3. To whom do we apologize? To Ukrainian Jews – “dead, living and the unborn” – or Israeli citizens? The tragedy of Galician Jews, just like that of the Volhynian Poles, as well as Crimean Tatars, Greeks or Armenians – is an inward pain of our society. Museums, educational and TV programs could be a form of indirect recognition of responsibility for the evil committed in our lands. But we don’t have these. There is no Babyn Yar memorial in Kyiv – it was only founded a few days ago not far from where the shootings took place in September 1941.
On the other hand, it is absurd to demand an apology for Jewish NKVD officers — as Ukrainian national radicals do — from Israel, which did not exist as a state in the 1930s. Why not then demand repentance from the Poles and Belarusians for Dzerzhinsky, from the Georgians for Stalin and Beria and so on? Did these butchers really have a nationality?
The communists and Nazis – not Jews, Ukrainians, Germans or Russians – were the criminals in the 1930s and the 1940s. Each of these nations lost millions, so any expiation is out of the question.