On January 22, when Ukraine was commemorating Unity Day, an expected and yet astounding event occurred. Viktor Yushchenko announced that he was conferring the title of Hero of Ukraine to Stepan Bandera. Judging by the succession of policies that Yushchenko has been pursuing in the course of his presidency, this is quite a logical step. Incidentally, he also awarded the same title to Roman Shukhevych in 2007, in spite of trenchant criticism. Yet the apparent logic is seen as faulty in the eyes of a vast majority of historians and experts, who say that this decision was made at the wrong moment. Opinions on the significance of this action differ. Some regard this as a “farewell gift” from Yushchenko, a part of his legacy, as Bandera will remain a Hero of Ukraine for the generations to come. Others consider it a pragmatic and political decision. For example, in an interview with Radio Liberty’s Russian bureau, Savik Shuster mentioned this event in the context of a Russian-Ukrainian diplomatic war: according to him it is a response to the official nomination of Russia’s new ambassador, Mikhail Zurabov, whom Moscow has been keeping ready for several months already. This seems to be an exaggeration. The Ukrainian president is hardly inclined to exchange important Ukrainian historical figures (even if Ukrainians themselves have not yet finally understood their importance) for punches in petty neighborhood quarrels.
Therefore, the president’s intent in the official knighting of Stepan Bandera still remains a puzzle. It has led to a proliferation of rumors and further questions, focusing mainly on two issues. Firstly, why was it done just now and not, for example, in 2009, the year of the 100th anniversary of Bandera’s birth, as in the case of Shukhevych? Secondly, is Ukrainian society ready for such a nomination, and will it accept it? The official proclamation of Bandera as a Hero of Ukraine (if indeed it is more than just a mere symbolic or political gesture, but an attempt to restore historical justice and unite the country) could have been preceded by some public out-reach programs, such as making dozens of documentaries and feature films, writing both historical and more mass-oriented books based on the true history, and launching a broad-based, serious, and hot-heated debate in the mass media. In all probability, Yushchenko would say that that is not the job of a president. This may be true, but does the president’s opinion matter so little in this country, despite the fact that it is a parliamentary-presidential republic?
Speaking of the media, it is interesting to note that the first overtly Ukrainian TV serial, was The Birthday of a Bourgeois, with roles patterned on exalted figures rather than “the Mob,” being soap opera characters in the very first years of independent Ukraine.
So the presidential decision has no firm ground to stand on: it is based on an informational void and pointlessness, capturing this decision's spirit, as if it were a house without the foundation. One must also consider the 'Heroes of Ukraine' nominated by previous presidential edicts. For instance, the last Hero of Ukraine during the Kuchma presidency was none other than Volodymyr Lytvyn.
At least from that perspective Ukraine is undergoing evolution, not degradation.