Monuments in Canada memorializing Ukrainian Nazi SS divisions have raised questions about the nature of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists and their history in Canada. Writer and researcher Moss Robeson joins Team Advantage to explore a range of questions: who was Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera, and what is the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists? What role have Ukrainian ultra-nationalists played in Canada, and how do their activities contribute to Canada’s current foreign policy commitments in the Ukraine?
Follow Moss Robeson on Twitter @mossrobeson__, and subscribe to his substack at banderalobby.substack.com. Read his work in Passage, Canadian Support For Ukrainian Nazi Collaborators Goes Beyond Statues, and The Grayzone, How a network of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists penetrated Canada’s Conservative Party to lobby for military conflict.
A full transcript follows the break.
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Kate: Hello, and welcome to The Alberta Advantage. I’m your host, Kate Jacobson, and joining Team Advantage today we have Brendan —
Kate: And Tyler.
Kate: Joining us today from New York is writer and researcher Moss Robeson. Moss has authored several pieces, including a recent Substack piece titled The Canadian Bandera Network, an article in Passage titled Canadian Support for Ukrainian Nazi Collaborators goes Beyond Statues, and a piece for the Grayzone, How A Network of Ukrainian Ultra-nationalists Penetrated Canada’s Conservative Party to Lobby for Military Conflict. Moss, welcome to Team Advantage.
Moss: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.
Kate: So, let’s start off, maybe, with getting a little bit into Stepan Bandera, because the topic for this episode is going to be examining the quite strange relationship that has developed between far-right forces in Ukraine and Canada. And, at first glance, it does seem like an unlikely pairing, but recent events regarding memorials to Ukrainian Nazi SS divisions in Canada, as well as some troubling issues about Canada’s deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, have prompted us to take a bit of a closer look at this issue. What we’re going to is: we’re going to start with a bit of history about Ukraine and some of its national myths, and a key figure in this national narrative is Stepan Bandera. So, who was he, what did he do, and why should we be concerned about his statues in Ukraine in our current day and age or, perhaps, about his statues and status elsewhere in the world as well?
Moss: Well, for starters, he was a fascist, a terrorist, and a Nazi collaborator. And, not to downplay any of those things, but he was also a product of the time and place that he was born, which is January 1st, 1909 in what is now Western Ukraine but historically known as the region of Galicia (which technically doesn’t exist anymore), but that was the northeastern part of the Austrian empire — so, Bandera was born a subject of the Austrian empire, and World War I started when he was five years old and ended when he was nine. So, we can assume his first memories are of World War I, and lot of the fighting happened in Galicia, and, of course, it was this unprecedented bloodshed, and others of his generation soaked in all this nationalism. But, also, this region of Austria, the Ukrainians in Austria, had a much higher, you could say, national consciousness than those in the Russian empire but then, also, had a very ingrained positive — the Ukrainians were some of the most loyal subjects of the Austrian empire, and so there was this ingrained pro-German view and then very, also, anti-Polish — what is now Western Ukraine, before it was part of Austria, and then, afterwards, in the inter-war period, was the southeastern part of Poland. And so you have this very anti-Polish, but then also pro-German, Austrian movement of Ukrainians that becomes radicalized and also drifts increasingly towards fascism and Nazism and antisemitism and all of those things. And so Bandera — the organization of Ukrainian nationalists was created in 1929, and that was spearheaded by something called the Ukrainian Military Organization, which was created — I want to say — 1920, ‘21, and the Ukrainian Military Organization was a terrorist organization that was mostly targeting the Polish landlords and was kind of geared towards trying to keep — they also would assassinate Ukrainians who cooperated with the Polish authorities and wanted to — I guess who they saw as assimilationists. And so the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists was formed by this merger of the Military Organization with some smaller groups including — I think it was called the League of Ukrainian Fascists and other far-right groups. And so Bandera was a young founding member of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (or OUN) and, pretty quickly, rose in the ranks til the point where he became kind of seen as — he was like the leader of his rising generation of Ukrainian nationalists who were radical than the generation of World War I veterans who, for the most part, fought on the side of Austria in World War I. And so there eventually came to be this mostly-generational struggle within the OUN, and, in 1940, it splits; and so then you have the Bandera wing and what was called the Melnyk wing for the leader of the OUN at that time, Andriy Melnyk. And so that’s how you get the OUN-B and the OUN-M. Both wind up active in Canada after the war, but the OUN-B network is the one that’s still going strong today, although both still exist in Ukraine and are a force to be reckoned with. And so the glorification of Bandera is something that unites pretty much all the far-right Ukrainians, and so the rehabilitation of Bandera’s memory, or glorifying him, kind of plays hand in hand with the rise of the far right in Ukraine. Which, I guess, that would be kind of the short answer.
Kate: So, looking at Bandera during World War II, what is his relationship with the Nazis and with the Nazi regime in Eastern Europe?
Moss: So, today, apologists and supporters of Bandera would say that this was totally just a strategic thing, but the fact is that they were very much ideologically — or, at least, became so by the time that World War II started, that the OUN was ideologically aligned with Nazi Germany. Just to give one example — one of the leaders of the OUN, which, he goes over to the OUN-M camp, but, regardless — in the fall of 1938, he was in Canada, and he’s saying the world is divided into two different camps: one led by, quote, “the communist international Moscow under the control of international Jews,” and the other is the nationalist camp, including fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. And he even says, in 1938, “Our Canadian-Ukrainian democrats are afraid that Hitler will invade the Ukraine and that the Ukrainian fascists are in close alliance with Germany and Hitler. Actually, we Ukrainian nationalists will ally ourselves not only with Germany, but with the Devil himself as long as the Devil will help us.” And so Hitler was that Devil that they were perfectly willing to go along with. If the whole thing was to be strategic, that doesn’t really make sense because, obviously, Hitler had no intentions to liberate Ukraine, and there were signs of that at the time.
Kate: I think you’re bringing up something really interesting here, Moss, is that Bandera and his followers and, now, people who are apologists for him or who are trying to rehabilitate his image really try and paint this alliance with the Third Reich as tactical, as “We were just pitting the Nazis against the Soviet Union, trying to pit two totalitarians against one another,” but, when you really start to look into it, you see that this alliance was quite deep-rooted and quite ideological, as you make note of. And Bandera really envisioned Ukraine as a one-party state with himself in the role of Hitler, and he wanted to organize Ukraine in the model of Nazi Germany. And he sort of expected that the OUN-B would be able to mould and shape a Ukraine in the model of, say, Jozef Tiso’s fascist regime in Slovakia or the Pavelić regime in Croatia under the Ustaše. So, there was really an expectation that Ukraine would exist in the same model as Nazi Germany, which means even if there were tactical considerations — and I’m being really charitable; let’s say that there were — I think it shows that that was definitely not the only thing that was happening. Because, like you point out, they share the Nazi belief that communism and the Soviet Union was an expression of Jewish power in Europe and that Jewish people were agents of communism. And this is a lie in Europe that was so dangerous and pernicious and deadly at the time that it is the bedrock of the Holocaust.
Moss: It gets worse when you consider that, about a week after Nazi Germany invades the Soviet Union and OUN-B tries to declare its own independent state without Germany’s permission and Germany — the Gestapo — arrests Bandera and his first deputy, Yaroslav Stetsko, and brings them to Berlin. And the thing is, there’s this myth that, because they refused to retract their declaration of independence, they wound up in a concentration camp. That doesn’t happen for months, until the end of the summer — Bandera and Stetsko are initially placed under house arrest, and then they’re allowed, actually, that’s even loosened and they’re just restricted to Berlin. So there’s this sort of ambiguous relationship over that summer, and the militias that the OUN-B created, that they thought would be the nucleus of this revolutionary army or whatever, ends up becoming subordinated to the SS and plays a serious role in the mass shooting of Jews that summer as the Nazis push east into the Soviet Union and, particularly, Soviet Ukraine. And so it’s actyually only after the OUN-B assassinates two key OUN-M leaders just before the Nazis reach Kyiv that, I think it’s Heydrich orders, as a result of this assassination of these rival OUN leaders, that the Nazis actually now finally come down pretty hard on the OUN-B. And yet the leaders of the OUN-B, Bandera and Stetsko and others who wind up in concentration camps, are treated as political prisoners, as are — I think there was a similar thing with Romanians and, essentially, these other Nazi collaborators who got a little out of hand and were put in these concentration camps as privileged political prisoners. And then, in the case of the OUN-B and other OUN leaders, they’re released in the autumn of 1944. So, it’s all part of this myth that the OUN (and, particularly, the OUN-B) only briefly had the strategic alliance with Nazi Germany, but then, once it became clear that the Nazis weren’t going to support them, that they launched this big anti-Nazi resistance. And it’s just simply not true because, even when Bandera is under arrest in Germany (or held under, basically, de facto arrest), he’s still encouraging his followers to collaborate with Nazi Germany. The more you look into it, the more you can see that these myths about the OUN-B being an anti-Nazi resistance movement is just patently wrong.
Brendan: So, from a certain standpoint, the relationship between these groups and Nazis is complicated, just from a standpoint of maximum historical precision — it’s not at all complicated in the way that apologists want it to be. It’s not complicated in any way that makes it inaccurate to characterize these groups as fascist and Nazi collaborationist.
Kate: I think a really good example is: it’s complicated the same way there are historical debates over the Holocaust. It’s just, if anyone’s saying, “Look, we can debate this,” what they really mean is, “I’m a Holocaust denier,” just like anyone who is nuance-mongering about this topic is really saying, “I’m a fascist sympathizer. I have sympathies with Stepan Bandera,” not really that they are truly interested in the complexity of this historical time.
Brendan: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So, with that in mind, Moss: can you tell us a little bit more about some of what Bandera’s followers were doing in Ukraine during the war? And we can talk about the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, because that group has come up in the debates that have gone on in Canada around the memorialization. So, can you tell us about that?
Moss: First, leading up to that — with Bandera and Stetsko, for the most part, out of the picture, a guy named Mykola Lebed becomes, at first, the de facto leader of the OUN-B in Ukraine. And, over the course of — I think, at the same time, he’s able to have a — I forget exactly how, but he’s able to get word from Bandera to — say, late 1941 or so — to not resist the Germans but to either try to mend that relationship or infiltrate. And so what they do, over the course of, say, 1942, is to infiltrate these auxiliary police units, particularly in Western Ukraine, that are at the front lines of what people call “The Holocaust By Bullets.” Because a lot of people, when they think of the Holocaust, they think of the concentration camps, and yet, in Ukraine, many of the Jews who died in the Holocaust weren’t gassed to death, they were shot and killed with machine guns, the most famous being the Babi Yar Massacre in Kyiv in very late September of 1941. Of course, the German surrender at Stalingrad is pretty much the turning point of the war, so, pretty soon after that, the OUN-B — finally seeing that Germany, at the very least, is not going to win the war — starts to begin this pivot that I think is twofold because, also, once they invade the Soviet Union with the Nazis, they realize that there’s a big difference between these Galician or Austrian-Polish Ukrainians (however you want to classify them, Western Ukrainians) and the Soviet Ukrainians. And so, in order to pivot towards winning support from some Eastern Ukrainians, but then also with the view to the future that they’re going to need other western allies — and, particularly, the Western allies — to continue the war against the Soviet Union, they start to pivot towards rebranding as democratic and anti-fascist. So, the OUN-B, up until this point, had — their official salute, when they would say, “Slava Ukrayini” and “Heroyam slava,” or “Glory to Ukraine,” and that’s answered, “Glory to the heroes,” it was done with a fascist or Nazi salute. And so, early 1943, they abandon this, they officially abandon the Fuhrer principle of leadership and create a triumvirate led by — but, really, dominated by this one guy, Roman Shukhevych, who had led an auxiliary police battalion that, in all likelihood, did participate in the massacre of Jews. And, so, a lot of these Banderites who had infiltrated these auxiliary police units in Western Ukraine defected en masse to create what was then called the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. And so, at the point that they’re beginning this rebranding. Well, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, this is this myth that it was anti-Nazi and anti-Soviet but that, even going a step further, that it started, initially, as an anti-Nazi force. And what that’s really referring to is the fact that these Ukrainians defected from the German formations, and that was a large chunk of the actual conflict they had; they, in truth, did not prioritize fighting Nazis or the Soviets — they let them duke it out themselves — what they prioritized was this mass ethnic cleansing campaign against Poles in Western Ukraine. And, in that time, they were also massacring any Jews they could find. And so, over the course of 1943, as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army — or, it’s Ukrainian acronym is the UPA — is pivoting towards being so-called “democratic” and whatnot, it’s also massacring, by some of the most brutal ethnic cleansing campaign that was going on in Europe, and it’s massacring Jews and, also, any Ukrainians who stand in its way. So, if you go by resolutions or whatever that are passed at conventions or conferences, yeah — on paper, maybe, it’s an anti-Nazi force. But, in actually, if you judge it by its action, it’s still clearly this fascist, basically genocidal, group. And then they reconcile with the Germans at the end of the war, and, as the Germans are retreating, there’s this deal where the Germans leave arms to the UPA. And part of the deal of this reconciliation is that Bandera and the others are released from these concentration camps. There is some, as you all have said, complicated thing, but, by the end of the war, they’ve sorted it all out. And so they started the war as Nazi collaborators, and they ended the war as Nazi collaborators.
Tyler: It seems like, by “anti-Nazi force,” it means they are the “anti-being-called-Nazi force.” That seems like a more accurate title for them.
Moss: Yeah. There was some clashes, but it was largely out of necessity, too, because they were running low on weapons and ammunition or — I feel like the short answer is that these Ukrainian nationalists were not anti-Nazi; the Nazis were just anti-Ukrainian.
Kate: I think that’s a really good, succinct way of putting it. I also think it’s important to note that fascists have conflict with each other all of the time. There is a very rich history (in Europe, particularly, but also elsewhere) of fascists having very intense political disagreements with each other even up to and including violence, like we see in this case. So, certainly, having conflict with a fascist power does not in and of itself make you anti-fascist, or it certainly does not mean you have good politics or are somehow worthy of being emulated. So, that all kind of gives us a sense of the roots of Ukrainian nationalism, but one thing I’d kind of like to pivot towards is the politics that Ukrainians in Canada have and had. We know, for example, that some Ukrainians built labour temples that have “Workers of the world, unite!” emblazoned on the front of them, like the ones that some of us have visited in Winnipeg, but we also know that some Ukrainians in Canada built monuments to Ukrainian Nazi SS divisions, like the one that recently got media coverage in Oakville.
Brendan: There’s a sort of very sad historical irony here in the fact that, most of the time, when we today talk about Ukrainian Canadian diasporic politics, we are talking about these absolutely horrible forms of reaction, because historically, in fact, Ukrainian Canadians were one of the bedrocks of support for the Left. One of the organizations that was an immediate predecessor to the Communist Party of Canada was a group that existed in the 1910s called the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party of North America or of Canada. (And, of course, “social democratic,” at the time, meant “Marxist.”) And so those were people who had been active in the revolutionary movement either in Austria and Galicia or in the Russian Empire and had come to Canada, and many of these radical Ukrainians were termed as “enemy aliens” during the war because Canada was at war with Austria-Hungary. It was also a convenient way to imprison labour militants who were fighting in the centres of the extractive industries in northern and western Canada. And so, many of those people entered into the Communist Party of Canada when it was formed in 1921. And, in its early years, the Communist Party was overwhelmingly made up of immigrants from Eastern Europe, and there were three main groups: there were Eastern European Jews, there were Finns, and there were Ukrainians. And there was a mass organization in all of these national communities that — until something happens with communist organization, that’s kind of beyond the scope here — originally, members of these fraternal organizations were automatically members of the Communist Party, and there were organizations in Ukrainian communities across the country that tried to cultivate Ukrainian culture, where you could have your kids given a Ukrainian language education and so on, with the political ethos of it was communist. And they would promote the progress of development in Soviet Ukraine and so on. And, eventually, the language groups are reorganized, the Party tries to become more cohesive — but, still, all throughout the 1920s and ‘30s, when the Communist Part of Canada is strongest, a huge portion of its members are Ukrainian, and some of its centres of support are in areas with large Eastern European populations like the North End in Winnipeg. And then, later on, there’s a new sort of organizational expression of that that’s the Ukrainian Farmer Labour Temple that has been referred to. That all lasts until the Second World War. There was controversy in the 1930s over what was going on in the Soviet Ukraine, but, on the whole, the organized left wing Ukrainian community in Canada remained quite strong until in 1940, because the Communist Party of Canada, at that time, opposed Canada’s involvement in the Second World War, they were once again declared to be an illegal, subversive organization. And many Communists were put in internment camps, and all of these community organizations, national organizations that kind of orbited the Party, were repressed by the Canadian government. And that sets the stage for what happens after the Second World War when some of the folks that we’ve been talking about previously ended up in Canada and were able to start to influence the community here.
Moss: It seems like a lot of it is based on — well, there’s multiple waves of emigration, and it’s really post-World War II emigration that is dominated by these Western Ukrainians, and they’re, generally speaking, far-right, and all these right wingers really start to take over the organized Ukrainian communities in Canada and elsewhere. But, as I understand it, the government played a role in the creation of what becomes the Ukrainian Canadian Congress around the time that they outlawed the Communist Party, and two of the key groups within that — I think it was the Ukrainian Canadian Committee, is the affiliate of the OUN (which still exists, the Ukrainian National Federation), and then ends up allied with the OUN-M. But then there’s also the United Hetman Organization that seems even more pro-Nazi than the OUN was, and they wanted to create this pro-Nazi Ukrainian monarchy.
Kate: One of the things that I think is really interesting, when you look at the history of Ukrainians in Canada, is that there is a really sharp divide in terms of the politics and general outlook of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, and I think it’s exemplified really well on this back and forth handover of the Labour Temple that occurs in Toronto that friend of the podcast Doug Nesbitt went through. And so what you get is: you get a labour temple, essentially, that was originally the property of the Ukrainian Labour Farmer Temple Association. The Ukrainian Labour Farmer Temple Association becomes declared an illegal association under the Defence of Canada Regulations in 1940, as did many left-wing and otherwise communist organizations, and what happens is the hall was seized by the Custodian of Enemy Property, and it actually ends up getting sold to the rival Ukrainian National Federation for $35,000. There’s riots in front of the building — the Labour Farmer group is saying that the Ukrainian National Federation are fascists, they are saying the Labour Farmer group have communist sympathies — and, ultimately, the building does get restored to its original owners at the end of the war in 1945, and it actually adopts the new name of the Association of the United Ukrainian Canadians. But this is an obvious and illustrative example of what was a real ideological struggle taking place within Ukrainian Canadian communities at the time, and writ large, as other people have said. You can really see a big difference in the ideological outlook of Ukrainians who immigrated to Canada pre-World War II — who tended to be the general Eastern, or even regular, European immigrant to Canada, which is: generally poor workers, poor settlers, poor farmers who were moving to Canada, and they generally ended up living on the prairies, farming, working in agriculture, working in the cities, things like that — and then Ukrainians who immigrated to Canada post-Word War II, which tend to have much more right-wing politics, much more of a strident ideological outlook, particularly against communism, and many of whom had collaborated with the Nazis during the war. This is the literal exact case of Chrystia Freeland’s grandfather Michael Chomiak. But I think this case of these battles over the halls and the labour temples that were built by pre-war Ukrainians are a really neat encapsulation of this dynamic. And so, to underscore how wild this actually was, the people who were allied with the Ukrainian SS division actually bombed the Ukrainian Labour Farmer Temple in the 1950s, I believe, in Toronto. So there are domestic terrorist attacks taking place in Canada almost entirely within the Ukrainian Canadian community over the issues of politics, of communism, of Nazi collaboration. This is not a sideshow or an interesting thing that comes up now again — this is the core of what it means to be Ukrainian Canadian in Canada at that time.
Moss: I think it might be worth clarifying for listeners — because there’s often confusion about idea that Bandera was the leader of an SS unit — that the Ukrainian division of the Waffen-SS was, if anything, oriented towards this other faction, the OUN-M. I think they make up when they’re in the West, between these Ukraine SS and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, because they both realize, at the end of the day, they both have this common stake in whitewashing their history, whatever their disagreements may be.
Kate: One thing I think is really important to consider and to centre when we talk about this issue of Ukrainian fascism, of antisemitism, in the 20th century, is to really centre the idea of anti-communism. And I think this anti-communism often gets obfuscated for two reasons. One is kind of not anyone’s fault, and it’s that anti-communism is not as big of a force in our society as it used to be. Obviously, it’s still a major ideological framework, particularly in the West, but now that the Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore, this anti-communism is mostly latent, structural, kind of swimming around in the ocean of ideology that we all live in; but, because the Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore, it’s not really being met with anything or pushed up against anything. The other is much more pernicious, the reason that anti-communism isn’t centred, and that is because people don’t want to understand the history of fascism as a reaction to communism and as, itself, anti-communism, because that also implicates them who are, themselves, anticommunists. An argument that we have made on the podcast before and that I would make now is that fascism is very much a wing of liberalism — it is capitalism in crisis. It is not always the consequence of crises in capitalism, but it often is. And, once you start to understand that, you see why anti-communism gets really obfuscated in a lot of these narratives. And this was the driving force behind fascism in Europe and behind Ukrainian Canadian fascism, both within the Ukraine and once Ukrainian Canadians got to Canada. And this is actually why Ukrainian Canadians had such an easy time immigrating to Canada, was because of the anti-communism of the Canadian government.
Brendan: Part of the way that that plays out in that immediate post-war context is also to do with the labour movement and to do with communism and labour and the purges that were going on of the left wing of the labour movement in North America, and there’s some really fascinating accounts of this. I read a really fascinating ethnographic history of Timmins, Ontario at one point, and they talk about how Ukrainian fascists who had been picked out of the displaced persons camps in Western Europe after the war were brought in to break strikes. There were other instances of right-wing Eastern Europeans being used as strike breakers in Canada after the war because, I guess, they were hostile to the unions because they saw unions as part of the communist enemy that they had fought. And there were also instances where the RCMP brought these people into specific communities and actually enabled them to physically attack the left-wing Ukrainians in those communties. We talked about the conflict over the physical spaces in Toronto, and that happened in these mining communities in northern Ontario as well. That’s just one example that I know about.
Moss: The RCMP, they were monitoring these pro-Nazi Ukrainians leading up to World War II, so it seems like, if they dug through their own archives, they should know exacrtly who they were dealing with, or at least have a pretty good idea.
Brendan: Yeah. I mean, the RCMP in the ‘30s was pro-fascist, basically. There were RCMP complaining about why Canada was still a democracy, basically.
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Moss: Pretty shortly before it was discovered that this monument to the Ukrainian Waffen-SS division was graffitied with — what, “Nazi war monument?” — not even — because the memorial’s still under construction in Ottawa, isn’t it the “victims of communism” memorial, and somebody just spray-painted “communism will win” and a hammer and sickle on a sign on the fence surrounding the construction site? And this was treated, like it was the moral equivalent, as if a neo-Nazi had said “Nazism will win” and tagged the Holocaust museum or a memorial. It’s part of this whole warped equivalence between the Nazis and the Soviets, of which Ukrainian nationalists have been largely at the forefront of this narrative. And I think a lot of that is geared to obfuscate these Western Ukrainians, their role and participation in the Holocaust and cooperation with the Nazis.
Brendan: Another level of this relationship between anti-communism and antisemitism is that, in the last few decades, with the greater emphasis in public life in the Euro-American world on Holocaust memory and then also with the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and Eastern European political context where people are very, very urgently trying to make particular historical claims of victimhood or rightness, basically what happens is this notion of the double evil and the double genocide, in some specific cases, that supposedly exists between Nazism and the Soviet Union is essentially used as a deflection. But the only way that it logically works as a deflection — that is, the only way that whatever people in Ukraine, let’s say, or Poland, suffered under communism somehow balances out participation in the Holocaust — is if you adopt the original fascist contention that communism is Jewish and Jews are communists, right? That is the underlying premise of something that skates by in a lot of discourse in the West and is sometimes, I think, swallowed by people who don’t totally recognize that what they’re actually dealing with is not just a false moral equivalence, but a false moral equivalence that’s based on antisemitic historical revisionism and was originally one of the narratives, the concepts, that, at the time, as Kate said, was used to justify the Holocaust.
Kate: And this is one of the axes that I love to grind, so I will keep it brief, but that’s because everyone wants to remember the Holocaust, but no one really understands it. And I think the way that we are taught about the Holocaust in the West is extremely inaccurate and extremely damaging, which is that we’re taught that the Holocaust is the expression, or the implementation, of this trans-historical hatred of Jewish people that exists everywhere, around the world, all of the time, throughout history and pops up in various places at various different and is something we must always be vigilant against, rather than how I believe we should understand the Holocaust, which is as a particular expression of a reaction to modernity in the form of fascism and as an expression of anti-communism. There is no Holocaust without anti-communism. It just does not exist. The Holocaust is contingent upon the reproduction of anti-communist narratives in Europe and in inter-war Europe. And I think that’s really, really important to understand, and it’s something that, in the West in the imperial core, people are absolutely unwilling to have in their narratives of why the Holocaust happened and what we could’ve done to stop it, because they are also anti-communist and they don’t want to make that argument; so, instead, the lesson of the Holocaust is not about particular material factors or particular ideological groups or leanings in Europe, it’s about “Hatred is bad, generally, and we always have to be vigilant against antisemitism,” which appears in these narratives as almost a natural force that emerged from the woods much as rocks and water and trees do and that is always going to exist and we can never get rid of. And I think it’s a very dangerous idea that is at the bedrock of how these things are understood. This may seem like a really obscure or arcane or academic point, and you may be thinking, “Why does she keep bringing this up?”, but I truly believe that this idea is the fertile soil in which these ideas about Ukrainian fascism and our acceptance of Ukrainian fascism and Ukrainian fascist networks in Canada are allowed to take root, because they obfuscate what is really going on, and they do so on purpose.
Tyler: Yeah, so, in the research for this episode, I read one of your Substack posts, Moss, that I really enjoyed, which was very, very eye-opening and quite interesting because of — well, I guess the main point, or my main takeaway from that article, is how entwined a lot of these Banderist networks and organizations: number one, how many there are in Canada, and then how entwined they seem to be with politics in Canada. They seemingly tend to be quite connected, more explicitly, to the Conservative Party, but, certainly, there are other ways that they get around that to be connected to the Liberal Party. So, I’m wondering if you could dive into — we’ve had all this amazing background history — how is that now impacting modern day politics in Canada?
Moss: One of the defining traits of the Banderites is that they’re utter control freaks and have been infiltrating various networks for a long time, ever since, as I said before, they infiltrated these Nazi police units. And then they start infiltrating and setting up front groups abroad and in Canada, in particular. I guess, also, something I should say is: in Soviet propaganda, and even some Russian propaganda today, the word “Banderite” is used to refer to any kind of Ukrainian nationalists — but, when I’m talking about “Banderites,” I mean actual members and fellow travellers of the OUN-B itself. And so, the OUN-B today is this transnational, or international, organization, an internationally influential organization, but especially so in Canada. Something I point out, I think, in that Substack piece is that it’s only in Canada — I mean, to my knowledge, it’s only in Canada — outside of the Ukraine that these Bandera groups, their cultural centres and youth centres, that they actually hang up portraits of their fascist Nazi collaborator heroes. And I think that speaks to how comfortable they are. And not that they don’t have anything to hide, because they do have a lot that they are hiding, but they feel that they don’t have much to fear in being so open about it. And I don’t, admittedly, know as much about the history of how they’ve built up this influence in Canada — I could tell you that moreso about the situation in the United States, and I’m guessing it’s similar — but, today, the Banderites basically have succeeded in taking over the organized Ukrainian community in Canada and the United States. And so, in the United States, there was literally a coup, basically, in the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. And I don’t know exactly when they took over the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, but, at least as of 2014, it was dominated by them. The former president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Paul Grod, who was reportedly good friends with Chrystia Freeland, is now the president of the Ukrainian World Congress, and his first vice president, Stefan Romaniw of Australia, is literally the international leader of the OUN-B. We could get into all these different organizations, but there is this whole array of what are basically front groups — and, if it’s not a front group, they’re actively trying to turn it into a front group. They are especially close with the Conservative Party, but then, also, via the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, also influential with the Liberal Party.
Tyler: Yeah. And I think it’s quite interesting, too, because a lot of the figures you talk about have been by the side of Stephen Harper going to Ukraine. They’ve been advising Chrystia Freeland, as you mentioned, through the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. I believe one of them is currently an issues manager for Andrew Scheer, who —
Moss: Community relations.
Tyler: — community relations, that’s right, for Andrew Scheer, who was previously the leader of the Conservative Party. So, these aren’t just these — they’re fringe organizations to the Canadian public in the sense that most people, including myself, hadn’t heard of most of these organizations before reading this article, but the interesting pipeline that you draw out is: there’s these youth organizations, which you talk about, that have some, frankly, very creepy [laughs] practices with relation to some of these very scary, bad statues that we hate to see that get funnelled into these different organizations and then all the way up through the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, like you talk about, which seems to be the more-acknowledged organization — I don’t know if it’s right to call it “lobby group,” but it seems to be a pressure group of some kind — that helps advise Canadian politicians on what type of strategy they should take in Ukraine, which, maybe it’s worth talking about quickly, here, if anyone wants to jump in, how this has led to Canada’s involvement, or support, in Western Ukraine currently and in recent history.
Brendan: Yeah. So, it is important to note that, while, obviously, it’s terrible enough that you have organizations with connections in Canadian politics and, in some cases, receiving public money for their community centres and so on, engaging in the active glorification of people who’ve participated in the Holocaust — and we’ve seen some really appalling images of children being taught that this is how to express their Ukrainian identity. As Tyler said, these groups do actually influence Canadian government policy towards Ukraine. There’s only so much detail that we can go into here, but, of course — as people probably know — the recent politics of Ukraine have been extremely tumultuous. There was sort of a mass protest movement in 2013-14 that overthrew the existing government and that led to an armed conflict breaking out where groups in the eastern part of the country broke off and, with some degree of Russian support, have been engaged in an armed conflict with the government in Kyiv ever since then, and it’s sort of been on and off. But major, major participants in that protest movement were groups that were descended from members of the OUN who returned to Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union, and they established their own wave of parties — probably the most famous of these contemporary Ukrainian fascist parties is called Svoboda — and those groups organized an armed force called — and also there was a coalition called the Right Sector. Canada and the United States were very much involved in this change of government in Ukraine. They supported this protest movement, Western government officials were involved in choosing members of cabinet in the immediate aftermath of this movement in 2013-14. And then, since then, Canada has been providing pretty extensive diplomatic and political and military support to this government in Kyiv which, itself — the most charitable thing you could say is that it has done a very, very poor job of containing these very aggressive, very dangerous armed groups of the far right that have engaged in violence against people of colour in Ukraine, that have engaged in antisemitic violence, violence against Roma people, violence against LGBT people, because they basically have the same vision that Bandera fought for of a racially pure Ukrainian nation-state. And, today, there’s more of an influence of North American white supremacy; they see themselves as being on the frontier of the white race, defending it against the Asiatic Russians and so on — although that was in the original generation of that group to some extent, as well. So, Canada provided military aid to a Ukrainian military that included a group called the Azov Battalion, which was organized by the far right, and then incorporated into the Ukrainian police, the Ukrainian National Guard. And, most of the time, I’d like to think that the Canadian government providing direct support to military units organized by actual neo-Nazis is something that would be very controversial. And I think it is controversial to the extent that people know about, but, partly, it’s been smoothed over by the fact that you have these Ukrainian Canadian organizations — that claim to speak in the name of this entire community — saying that what this policy constitutes is Canada being a good friend of Ukraine, right? And, obviously, there’s a lot of ideological slights of hand that are going on in that argument, but yeah. And it leads to some very, very disturbing associations for Canadian policy. And it’s also provocative in a region of the world that’s been very unstable for the past several years.
Kate: And the thing with so many of these organization, like the International Council in Support of Ukraine or its Canadian affiliate, the Canadian Council in Support of Ukraine, or the League of Ukrainian Canadians, or the Ukrainian Youth Association. Without this historical knowledge that we’re outlining in this episode, these appear as politically neutral, generic community organizations that might exist for nationality, religion, or ethnic group, and I think that it’s really intentional and that that is why the right wing is using it to launder their very particular brand of politics and to make it synonymous with being Ukrainian for the use of these seemingly benign and neutral organizations.
Moss: It might be worth spelling out how these things are all connected. When you go back to the 1990s in Ukraine, there’s three principal far-right groups: the OUN-B has its own apparatus, a political wing, called the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, and a paramilitary wing called the Trident. And they end up breaking apart, and so Trident, later on, is what spearheads the creation of Right Sector, which is basically just more extremist Banderites. And their politics more closely resemble the OUN-B of the 1930s or ‘40s. The diaspora-led OUN-B kind of pivots as democrats and democratic-minded and moderates, and yet they do have these ties to the far right; there’s indications that one of the chief ideologues of the Svoboda Party — which, going back to the 1990s, was explicitly a neo-Nazi party; the Social National Party as opposed to the National Socialist Party — has used a Wolfsangel swastika, which they deny is a swastika because, if you can picture it, it looks like an “N” over an “I,” but, I mean —
Kate: “Our swastika is different from all the other swastikas.”
Tyler: [laughs] Yeah, if you look at a picture of it, it looks like a swastika.
Moss: Yeah. They would claim it stands for the “idea of the nation,” and yet their idea of the nation, going back to the ‘30s, is pretty Nazi-like. There’s evidence that the OUN-B kind of has at least one major plant in the Svoboda party who was recognized as — some have called him their chief ideologue, Oleksandr Sych, and he was a member of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists in the 1990s. And so, I think, basically, these — I don’t know that they actually have cards, but you could say these card-carrying Banderites, or members of the OUN-B, they’re not neo-Nazis, per se, but they are neo-Nazi collaborators and sympathizers, which is actually very consistent with the history of the OUN because these capital-N Ukrainian Nationalists were not Ukrainian Nazis, per se, but it’s like, capital-N Nationalism for Ukrainians was basically their equivalent to capital-N Nazism for Germany or capital-F fascism for Italy. There is this kind of web, and it’s compartmentalized where, abroad, it’s the relatively more moderate OUN-B that has these connections to governments and to more reputable people, or has the connections to the diaspora, and yet it all kind of gets funnelled into — well, basically, I guess it’s just all part of this narrative that anything that makes Ukraine look bad is just Russian propaganda — or, rather, the threat of Russian propaganda being able to exploit certain issues, like the far right, is a bigger threat than the actual far right. It all goes hand in hand of the denial of the Nazi collaboration of the past, and then the sympathizing and turning a cheek to neo-Nazis and the far right today.
Tyler: One interesting — I’m going to quote, quickly, from a piece from the Ottawa Citizen, and this is with reference to the Azov Battalion, who we were speaking about before, which is one of these paramilitary organizations operating in Ukraine — Andre Dyachenko, a spokesman for the battalion, told USA Today in March that only 10-20% of the unit are Nazis. So —
Brendan: Yes, I love that.
Tyler: [laughs] Usually, if you’ve got 10-20% that your spokesperson is admitting are Nazis, that probably should be quite worrying.
Kate: The Azov Battalion can have little a Nazis. As a treat.
Brendan: The Azov Battalion also used the Wolfsangel as their symbol —
Tyler: Yes, they do. On their flag.
Brendan: — and, again, I want to reiterate that the Canadian military was providing funding and training to specific units that members of the Azov Battalion had folded themselves into. It’s good and useful to talk about the second-order connections and how these things get politically worked out in that way, but there have also been a couple of recent instances where the connections are disgustingly close.
Tyler: Yeah. The last point I wanted to make with relation to this part of the conversation is: since the 2016 US election, the looming threat of Russia as this puppetmaster regime, pulling the strings around the world or influencing governments around the world — or, at least, attempting to — has been, obviously, a big part of centrist liberal media, and the interesting overlap with the timing of the 2016 election and the fallout from the events of 2013-2014 in Ukraine, I think, shouldn’t be forgotten, and that a lot of these paramilitary and political organizations that seem, on their face, very bad and that a country like Canada should obviously have nothing to with — they tend to get complicated, at least in the media, because these groups are very explicitly anti-Russian and the Cold War is over to some degree, but there is this re inflation of these types of — I don’t know if it’s necessarily nostalgia or just a new, modern form of anti-communism, anti-Russian hatred from a lot of the countries in the West. And this has worked, I would say, quite well into the hands of a lot of these Banderite groups because they, all of a sudden, are on the front lines in this fight with Russia that a lot of countries in the West, and a lot of people, self-professed liberals in the West, are quite invested in. So they get a lot of cover, I think, number one, by how, frankly, confusing a lot of their organizations are in terms of there’s a lot of them — a lot of them, especially, in Canada, as we’ve noted, do not come across as explicitly sympathetic to right-wing views, they just seem like normal cultural organizations. But all of these things funnel together to this fight that is actually actively going on, still, in the Ukraine against Russia, and it gives them a great deal of cover and, I think, also gives governments like the Canadian government a great deal of cover when they actually work alongside these groups, and it’s important to call that out and, at least, make note of the fact that these tensions seem to be very, very similar to the tensions that existed in the Cold War post-World War II.
Brendan: It also sort of plays out with the historical debates, right? Because, every time there’s a controversy — and this has happened over Chrystia Freeland’s family history, and it happens over these monuments and so on — that the historical facts here are often decried as being Russian misinformation. And it’s true that the Russian government talks a lot about fascism, both today and historically, and it does that for its own reasons, like every government in the world is pursuing its own specific interests. And the point is not necessarily to say that the Russian Federation is great or whatever, but the point is that historical truth does not change because the Russians are the ones saying it, right? And we have to try and find out what actually happened, and, if those are the sources that are pointing out certain historical facts for their own purposes, then that is what it is.
Moss: I was just going to add onto what Tyler said — to some extent, all this Russia-mania that’s become such a dominating presence in Western media is, in a way, kind of like the mainstreaming of this Ukrainian nationalist rhetoric that they’ve been saying forever, that behind every curtain is Russia, and also this priority of not just being anti-communist, but being anti-Russian because, during the Cold War, there was a lot of conflation of Russia and the Soviet Union, but, a lot like State Department, a lot of these Banderites, they considered at least the US foreign policy vine to be pro-Russian — believe it or not — because, when they were talking about the Soviet Union, they would conflate it with Russia and were not explicitly trying to advocate for the breakup of the Soviet Union. And so, to some extent, this specifically anti-Russian hatred is prioritized in that; it’s almost, to some extent, more dangerous, I think. A common Ukrainian nationalist thing is to say that communism is just a front for Russian imperialism, and anywhere communism appeared in the world was an agent of Russian imperialism. And so, for them, this anti-Russian hatred is almost more important than the anti-communism itself. And it also ties into this idea of Jewish Bolshevism, of course, too, but it’s just wild. It’s like so much of the West is now basically on board with this rhetoric, and I feel like that’s what makes — the Banderites, to some extent, they’re dying out, and yet it’s like their politics are almost seemingly increasingly in vogue today.
Kate: Moss, can you outline for us, a little bit, what the Canadian Bandera network looks like today and what the main threat is from it in Canada and in the world more generally?
Moss: Kind of the vanguard, more or less, of the Bandera network in Canada is a group you mentioned earlier, the League of Ukrainian Canadians (during the Cold War, it was known as the Canadian League for the Liberation of Ukraine), and it is the spearhead of the Canadian Conference in Support of Ukraine, which is the coalition of OUN-B-affiliated groups, or front groups, in Canada, which itself, in turn, is the spearhead of the international Coalition, which has gone by a number of names. In English, today, it’s known as the International Council in Support of Ukraine, but, in Ukrainian, it’s known as the World Conference of Ukrainian Statehood Organizations, and, before that, was the World Ukrainian State Front, and, before that, was the World Ukrainian Liberation Front, and, before that, was the Organizations of the Ukrainian Liberation Front, which is the most transparent because the Liberation Front was the OUN-B. And, so, all of those organizations that I just mentioned are currently headquartered in Toronto, as is the Ukrainian World Congress. And so, although the leader of the OUN-B today, since 2009, is Australian, otherwise, this international apparatus is very much centred in Canada, and in Toronto, specifically, and it’s particularly close with the Conservative Party. The Liberal Party gets a lot of the attention because of Chrystia Freeland, kind of like how this past Ukrainian Indenepdence Day, as has happened before, Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland said, “Slava Ukrayini” to recognize the day. Well, Erin O’Toole, the new leader of the Conservative Party, went a little bit further in, evidently, a private statement, ending his statement with “Slava Ukrayini, heroyam slava.” And I feel like that, in a way, is very simplistic, but kind of like the difference between the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party is: the Liberal Party is saying “Slava Ukrayini”, and the Conservative Party is answering, “Heroyam slava,” which is much worse because “Slava Ukrayini” is “Glory to Ukraine,” which could be seen as the equivalent of “God bless America” or “God bless Canada” or whatever, and I can kind of get my head wrapped around that more easily, of that being mainstreamed and purged of its fascist origins, but “Heroyam slava,” “Glory to the heroes,” are the same fascist Nazi collaborator heroes that are in the youth centre in Calgary, in Etobicoke and elsewhere in Canada and the same fascist heroes that’s uniting the far right. But, today — well, since last year — a new president of the Ukraine, he’s kind of a political wild card because he came in with no experience, started as playing the president of Ukraine. And so that’s a whole thing we could get into, but the nationalists see him as, basically, a Putin puppet — but that’s very easy; they see everyone as a Putin puppet. These Banderites are literally convinced that I’m a Russian agent. The guy who I have it on good authority is the US leader of the OUN-B recently sent an email to the former, I think, chair of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta referring to my name in scare quotes as if it’s a pseudonym for a Russian agent. And so the Bandera network — or, literally, the OUN-B network — in Ukraine is basically, more or less, working in league with the neo-Nazis. They want a new protest movement or a revolution in Ukraine. And, if they’re successful — and they very well may not be; they’ve not been able to gather anywhere near the kind of numbers that you saw in 2013, 2014, but — I think it’d be like 1941 all over again; just when they think they’re going to have their revolution, the Nazis are going to come in, shut it down, and start over. Just to re-clarify: the official Banderites — as in members and fellow travellers of the OUN-B, which is quite active in Canada today — is not a neo-Nazi network, but it is a neo-Nazi sympathizing network , and, if only through a few degrees of separation, there is a connection to be made. And I guess I’ll say, last thing, is: Chapo Trap House recently did an episode about Canada, and I guess they were joking, but I still want to respond to something they said, which — I don’t know who it was because I don’t know who’s who on the show, but — they said that Canada is basically owned by Right Sector today. And there was an affiliate of Right Sector in the US, and the key guy in it — I forget his name, but I was able to identify him as a neo-Nazi — basically, Right Sector is, essentially, the crazy cousin of the Banderites. And in a way, if you have this scale (or, “spectrum” is the word I’m looking for) of the far right in Ukraine, it’s like you’ve got the respectable nationalists on one end (which, that’s kind of where these official Banderites try to fit in) and then you’ve got the neo-Nazis, like Azov, on the other, and, for the most part, they keep some distance between each other — the neo-Nazis consider the official Bandera network to be liberals — but then you have the sort of in-between area where you’ve got Svoboda (which was a neo-Nazi party which now poses as more of a neo-nationalist party, you could say) and then you’ve got Right Sector, which grew out of the OUN-B but now has created a coalition with neo-Nazis. And so you’ve kind of got somewhat of a diverse — I mean, within the far right in Ukraine — and I feel like all this stuff gets filtered through, in a way. And you will see some — there are some direct connections to be made where someone piggy-backs over that whole thing and you see a direct tie between, for instance, Canada and neo-Nazis, but, for the most part, it is almost like this trickling down, or trickling up, or trickling right [laughs], I suppose. It is quite scary, because the Bandera side of this is directly tied in with — well, actually, here: a good example is that this group called Free People is officially a member of the International Council in Support of Ukraine, which is based in Toronto. It is what has spearheaded what is called the Capitulation Resistance Movement. Zelensky, the current president of Ukraine, basically ran on a pretty ambiguous platform except the thing he was pretty explicit about is: he wants to end the war, which is a frozen conflict today but still ongoing. And so, for these nationalists, coming to the table with Putin or the separatists in Eastern Ukraine is capitulation. And so this network that is literally tied in with the Canadian Banderites spearheads this movement which doesn’t actually have the numbers on its own, and so they are then, in turn, working with the far right — or, rather, the far right and neo-Nazis is largely who are providing the numbers for these protests that are so-called “anti-capitulation.” And so it’s really freaky because, especially with the Conservative Party which is so closely tied to the Banderites, I think it’s really dangerous because, historically speaking, the OUN-B, during the Cold War, literally referred to World War III as inevitable, by which they meant it’s a necessary evil. Free People, its Twitter page, if you look, has made multiple references to saying that Ukraine is already on the front lines of World War III, which — I don’t know how to interpret that otherwise except that they think that —
Tyler: Yeah, we hate to hear that.
Moss: If World War III has already started, essentially, what you’re saying is that you’re just trying to get everyone else involved. And so that is kind of, to me, what a big threat is, that these Banderites, who are essentially neo-Nazi enablers and, basically, a war lobby, more or less. And it’s filtered through this sham posing as moderates and —
Tyler: It’s also — and, you know, this is not your fault, Moss, but if you read your Substack post, if you love acronyms, I highly recommend checking it out, because these guys, they fucking love acronyms, man. They’ve got like 85 acronyms. [laughs]
Moss: It’s part of their whole game.
Kate: I think it is fair to say it is part of the game to make these things deliberately complex and internicene, and so it’s very difficult to even talk about these things without sounding a bit like you’ve got a tinfoil hat on — like you’re a conspiracy theorist, like you’re seeing neo-Nazis behind every community centre and every youth association — but it really is quite obvious, and the seeming complexity of it is absolutely part of their ability to continue operating. Moss, thank you so much for joining us on this episode of The Alberta Advantage. If people want to learn more about your work or follow it, where should they go?
Moss: well, I’ve got a Twitter account, which is @mossrobeson__, which is spelled like “Robeson” and then underscore, underscore. My blog, or Substack, is banderalobby.substack.com.
Kate: Thank you to all of our listeners who joined us for this episode of The Alberta Advantage. I hope you have learned something about the network of neo-Nazi enabling Bandera lobbyists that, apparently, exist in this country and are feeding domestic policy in Canada as well as foreign policy in Ukraine. Take care out there, and have a good one. Bye, folks!
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Kate: If you liked today’s episode, you should check out the Harbinger Media Network, featuring shows like 49th Parahell, where ideological influencer and Twitter titan Rob Rousseau explores the hellish nightmare world of modern reality together. Find out more about the Harbinger Media Network and the entire cross-country line of cool podcasts at harbingermedianetwork.com.
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