With his days as Ukrainian president quickly coming to a close, Viktor Yushchenko has made one of his most controversial decisions yet. Yushchenko has awarded posthumously the "Hero of Ukraine" title to Stepan Bandera, a Ukranian nationalist leader. Bandera is a hot-button issue for sure. For many Ukrainians, he was a brave fighter who struggled for their country's independence during World War Two and years after until he was assassinated by the KGB in Munich in 1959. For others, Bandera was a Nazi collaborator and murderer, and needs to be pilloried not praised. Beyond that debate is another issue rarely examined in the West. Many of those within the Soviet Union who fought Soviet troops also had embarrassing ties to the Nazis.
Bandera was a leader of Ukraine's nationalist movement, which included an insurgent army that sided with Nazi Germany during part of World War II.
In the United States, the Wiesenthal Center went ballistic over Yushchenko's decision.
In a press release, the watchdog group also faulted Yushchenko for poor timing, noting he announced the award on Jan. 26, just one day before International Holocaust Day.
"It is surely a travesty when such an honor is granted right at the period when the world pauses to remember the victims of the Holocaust on Jan. 27," Mark Weitzman, the Wiesenthal Center's director of government affairs, wrote in a letter to Ukraine's Ambassador to the United States.
It's not the first time, Jewish groups have reacted with alarm to Ukraine honoring its partisan fighters.
Moscow was outraged as well, with the Foreign Ministry calling the decision "odious."
"Russia Today" is hardly an objective purveyor of news, especially when it comes to Ukraine. This report from 2008, however, gives a 'flavor' of Russian thinking on Bandera, who also fought Soviet troops in World War II, therefore making him persona non grata amongst Russians.
Since gaining independence in 1991, ethnic Ukrainian elites have been busy resurrecting the country's culture and history. In particular, the Ukranian Insurgent Army, (UPA), long vilified in Soviet history books, was reexamined, and Ukrainian historians emphasized the positive it did for the Ukrainian cause.
The campaign has resulted in concrete steps as well. In Oct. 1993, then President Leonid Kuchma signed a law 'on the status of and social security guarantees for war veterans.' The law spelled out people who were to be defined as wartime participants, and included "combatants of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army."
However, time may have fogged Ukrainians' memories of the UPA, or its political wing, the Organization of Ukranian Nationalists, (OUN).
According to Christopher Simpson in his spelling-binding book, "Blowback", most Ukrainians had turned their backs on the 'freedom fighters' after the war, as disgust with the UPA's 'terrorist tactics', and anti-Semitism had reached a boiling point.
"The OUN's collaboration with the Nazis during the war, as well as the organization's own bloody history, had fatally severed the insurgents from the large majority of the Ukrainian people they claimed to represent. This was apparently true even among villagers who were opposed to the new Soviet regime.
Despited the know fascist ties, the CIA was keen on supporting the UPA, hoping they would cause Soviet authorities troubles in the Carpathians.
As Simpson notes, beginning in 1949, the CIA airlifted in Ukrainian guerrillas who had been trained in Germany. Most were snatched up by the Soviet police, however, interrogated then shot.
Interestingly, Simpson notes the "Ukrainian guerrilla option became the prototype for hundreds of CIA operations worldwide that have attempted to exploit indigenous discontent in order to make political gains for the United States."
Ukraine is not allow in stirring controversy over whom it honors as "freedom fighters."
In the Baltic state of Latvia, veterans of Hitler's SS have marched through the capital Riga.
Like Ukraine, supporters regard the Latvians who fought in the Waffen SS as liberators from Soviet occupation. And like Ukraine, ethnic Russians there as well as Jewish organizations are outraged.
There is, however, one big difference. As far as the Informant knows, authorities in Riga have not honored or condoned the activities of the Waffen veterans. Authorities, in fact, have tried to block their parades in Riga.
In Estonia, however, the defense minister has equated that country's former Nazi soldiers with the fighters who won the country's independence in 1920.
An overarching question is whether any political movement or leader is pure, never corrupted in one way or another by expediency.
In Israel, for example, the Stern Gang and Herut, were terrorist organizations responsible for bombings including the King David hotel in 1946.
The ringleader of the bombing? Menachem Begin. Was he condemned, or punished? No. He became prime minister.
Another future prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, had a hand as a Stern Gang leader in the assassination of UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte on September 17, 1948.
As this video notes, Bernadotte, ironically, was integral in saving thousands of Jews durng World War II.
One person's terrorist, another person's freedom fighter.