Assessing the Prolog Legacy

John-Paul Himka

As Taras Kuzio mentions in his critique of Per Anders Rudling’s paper (, I cooperated with Prolog. This was in the 1970s and 1980s. I subscribed to its journal Suchasnist’, in which I particularly loved to read Ivan Lysiak Rudnytsky’s pieces. I was thrilled when Prolog brought out a whole book of his essays in 1973 (Mizh istoriieiu i politykoiu). Rudnytsky’s essay “V oboroni intelektu,” published first in Suchasnist’ and reprinted in the essay volume, was crucial in my intellectual development. (He criticized “the deeply rooted fear in our [Ukrainian Diaspora] society of any unorthodox thought and the inclination to fight such thought by authoritarian methods instead of through open, rational discussion.”) I felt honored in 1974 when Suchasnist’ accepted an article I wrote, one of my first pieces composed in Ukrainian. In the 1980s, as a member of the Diialoh group, I smuggled Prolog publications into Eastern Europe, including Ukraine (as did the young Taras Kuzio).

I did understand in the 1970s and 1980s that Prolog was CIA funded. Although I was politically on the left and active in the antiwar movement, my thinking on Prolog was the same as that of the rest of my Ukrainian left milieu: better that the CIA expend its resources on Ukrainian liberation than on overthrowing progressive regimes in Latin America. And today I am still not much bothered by the CIA connection.

There has been considerable continuity in my views on Prolog from the 1970s-80s to today, except for one significant change. In the 1970s and 1980s I did not comprehend to what extent Prolog had hidden the dark past of OUN and UPA and propagated a legendary version of nationalist history. Like others in my milieu, I accepted a heroic narrative: In desperate struggle against Polish and Soviet oppression and to establish a Ukrainian state, OUN allied itself with Nazi Germany. But within weeks it discarded the illusion that the Germans were bringing liberation. It went underground, into opposition, and was savagely persecuted. Later it took advantage of the widespread discontent the Germans had provoked to establish the Ukrainian Insurgent Army to fight a partisan war against them. In the meantime, OUN activists who had travelled throughout Ukraine in expeditionary groups underwent an ideological evolution. They realized that a purely nationalistic program, with a fascist veneer, could not appeal to the population of Ukraine, especially in the old Soviet territories. So they combined nationalism with democratic politics and progressive social policy into a new and attractive ideological amalgam. This political transformation was instantiated at the third extraordinary OUN congress and in the formation of the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council. As the Red Army advanced eastward, OUN fought on two fronts, against both Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism. After the Germans were expelled from Ukraine and the Soviets reoccupied it, UPA waged a protracted guerilla war against the communist regime, finally defeated only in the early 1950s.

There was quite a bit missing from this story, something I learned slowly from the end of the 1980s until I had more or less figured things out twenty years later. It was long before I realized that UPA had initiated an ethnic cleansing of the minority populations in Volhynia in 1943, that UPA killed many more Poles than Germans and Soviets combined. It took even longer to understand that cooperation with the Germans entailed deep involvement in the Holocaust. I learned that OUN was anti-Semitic even before the wartime alliance; that OUN infiltrated the Ukrainian police in German service, which was a major implementer of the Holocaust; that about 5,000 of these policemen formed the core and set the tone of UPA at the outset; and that UPA killed Jews on its own initiative. Scholars in North America, Germany, France, Poland, Sweden, and Ukraine have been arriving at the same conclusions.

Prolog’s promotion of the immaculate nationalist myth is one of the reasons it is so painful even for relatively liberal and educated Ukrainians in the Diaspora to accept the findings of the new, critical research on nationalism. It has thus helped create the unhealthy situation in which scholars who work on nationalism are vilified and discussion among varying viewpoints is almost impossible. On the other hand, Prolog for many opened up the possibility of a more intelligent way of being Ukrainian. It tolerated debate, informed about developments in Ukraine, and showcased a higher Ukrainian culture. It did both of these things, and its legacy thus calls for a critical ambivalence.

I have written this reflection in the spirit of dialogue, which Kuzio evokes at the end of his essay. Dialogue requires a willingness to listen to more than one side. It is not facilitated by publishing criticism in the Ukrainian Weekly, which allows no responses from those who engage in critical research on nationalism and nationalist memory. The Ukrainian Weekly in this regard is like a sniper’s nest: easy to attack from, hard to reply to. And there are elements of Kuzio’s piece that are certainly characteristic of an attack rather than a discussion, such as the very terminology of Democratic Centrists vs. Revolutionary Revisionists. What is so democratic and centrist about scholars and community leaders who in the conferences and publications they sponsor bar any criticism of a far-right nationalist organization that killed tens of thousands of Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish civilians?

John-Paul Himka is a professor of history at the University of Alberta. This is the second article in the Open Forum series.



Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta

One comment

  1. Pingback: Obama’s Ukraine | Ronald Thomas West

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