#IamBanderite: How Ukrainian Police Officers took to social media after a far-right protest

Some weeks ago I found a news article on the website of RFE/RL (Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty). It told the story of how Ukrainian police officers and law enforcement officials started a social media campaign using the hashtag #ЯБандерівець (I am a Banderite). For example on Facebook: 

(Oleksiy Biloshytskiy, 2019)
(Сергій Князєв, 2019)

“I apologize, I’m also a Banderite! Glory to Ukraine! #ябандерівець” by Serhiy Knyazev (Chief of the Ukrainian National Police).

“I am Bandera and am a police officer! I serve the Ukrainian people!” by Oleksiy Biloshytskyi (First Deputy Head of the Department of Patrol Police). 

“I work in the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.This is my office. I am also a Bandera and I am proud of that! Bandera my Hero! I am categorically against the calls: “Lay, Bandera!” – this is a shame and it is unacceptable!…” by Zoryan Shkiryak (Advisor to the head of the Minister of internal Affairs).

 

(Зорян Шкиряк, 2019)

Bit puzzled after seeing this posts, I started looking into it. The campaign was apparently caused by a protest in Kiev that took place a day before, on 10 February 2019. The protest was organised by ultra-nationalists. Soon after the protest, videos started to circulate. The videos show police officers throwing protesters to the ground. One can hear an officer even saying “On the ground, Banderite”. This one sentence caused controversy, but why?

#IamBanderite

The word “Banderite” apparently refers to Stepan Bandera. Bandera is seen by many as a hero who fought against both the Soviet occupation as the Nazi forces. The police officer in the video used the word “Banderite” however in a negative way. Many people on social media criticised him for this. To correct this, senior law enforcement officials and police officers went on a so-called “social media apology tour”, as one can see in the photos above. These posts sparked outrage as well.  As others do not see Bandera as a hero, but accuse him of having carried out campaigns killing thousands of Poles and Jews.

Relevance

So it turns out that one sentence, has opened up a complex matter. A protest that went too far, went online and caused a social media controversy within certain circles. In some parts of Ukraine, the word Bandera is used to describe a positive person whereas in other parts it has a rather negative connotation. That said, the campaign was not widespread and known by many Ukrainians, and can be perceived as one of the many upheavals just before the upcoming national elections in Ukraine. Still I decided to write this article, as it shows another way of how social media and protests can and are related. Social media are not only used to gather people or spread information. This campaign has shown that offline protests can continue online in unexpected ways. 

Interested in more stories of protests from former Soviet Union countries? Check out my other articles on protests in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

                          

5 Comments

  1. Chiara Casati

    That’s a very interesting piece, Julianne! It made me reflect on how, social media, could be used also as a mean to create a collective (virtual) identity, to reinforce already existing divergencies withing a society.
    On another note, I liked the fact that you remarked the different perceptions that, across different countries, there are on the same individual, Bandera. Although I do not know much about the context, it might showcase how history has been selectively and subjectively narrated within communities, reason why Bandera might be perceived differently. Do you think that this could be an explanation or it has to do with mere political ideologies?

    • Julianne Lindner

      Thank you very much for your comment. You are right about the selectivity of history, but it is indeed a little bit more complex as politics also play a role. In Ukraine, perceptions between native Ukrainian and native Russian speakers can differ significantly. One can also see this reflected in the Bandera issue. It is further also really dependent how close to the Polish border, one lives in Ukraine.

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