WWII, Ukraine. Independence movements fought Soviet power. They also collaborated, at times, with the Nazis. The government in Kiev pushes them as national heroes – challenging this narratives makes you seem like an agent of the Kremlin. Moscow calls them fascist scum. They are, in essence, the poster boys of memory war. But our lecturer today, Marta Havryshko cuts through the rhetoric with a simple question: how did they treat women?
Her focus is on gender-based violence against women by
Ukrainian nationalists, both against members of the organization itself and against civilian women. It pokes a major hole in the kinds of narratives coming out of the Ukrainian government at the present that gloss over atrocities committed during the resistance. Which makes it a difficult line of research to pursue. Powerful bodies like Ukraine's Institute of National Remembrance align themselves against this kind of critical assessment.
So doing work like this is a really big deal. Particularly because finding non-partisan ways of challenging problematic government narratives (especially from governments we support) is part of resisting polarization and bringing things back to a nuanced, middle territory. The lecture we had from Felix Ackermann
on how Polish and Lithuanian irregular fighters are used for current political purposes is another huge example of how lal this plays out.
The ongoing conflict in East Ukraine only makes things more difficult – the current government draws on the WWII resistance to create an ideological base for resisting Russia today. And if you're going to start asking questions that make the country look bad, then if you want to avoid being seen as a traitor you need to have a strong, undeniably pro-Western foundation. Like feminism for example. It helps you pass the "are you with Putin?" test.
But even with all of these politics in the air we're here for a reason and this reason is more than enough: listen to how Marta helps women of those times find their voices. They may not be around for much longer.
She started with the question of what ideas of women's sexuality & gender roles were present in the nationalist underground, and how were these ideas maintained or regulate. She argues that in a number of ways women weren't only seen as individuals but as symbols – of national purity, for example, or of honour. To defend a woman's purity was to defend the nation's purity. Their roles were often described like those of reproducers (of people and of patriotic culture), with notions of motherhood, modesty, loyalty and virginity being highly valued. A perfect feminine sexuality was a passive one, needing an active man, and they were to bear sons that would fight for the nation and win its freedom.
A woman was only supposed to make herself available to a man who was sympathetic to the underground. Fraternization with the enemy was a transgression, and women who broke these rules could be labeled as traitors of the nation. So, Marta says, women's sexuality became a matter of national interest. And romance was regulated by the community.
The label of 'enemy' wasn't limited to Russians, the Soviets or their supporters – anyone who didn't actively support the underground was considered dangerous.