Nationalism, Ethnic Cleansing, and Genocide

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 11:10 AM
Columbia 11 (Washington Hilton)
Omer Bartov, Brown University
The relationship between nationalism, ethnic cleansing, and genocide can be illustrated from the perspective of Eastern Galicia, a multiethnic and multi-religious region populated for 400 years by Poles, Ruthenian, and Jews, which was transformed by the advent of nationalism from a society of never harmonious but rarely violent interethnic co-existence into one of extreme violence.

Annexed by the Habsburg Empire in 1772, the region was subjected to Austrian practices of demographic categorizing and characterizing, censuses and statistical surveys, facilitating thereby the growth of local nationalism. Polish autonomy since 1867 only accentuated Polish anxieties about Ruthenian numerical preponderance and increased Ruthenian desire to separate from Polish dominance. Yet both groups also considered Jews as foreign to the region, even as Jews veered toward Zionism.

In the wake of World War I Poles and Ukrainians fought bitterly over Galicia, which eventually became part of interwar Poland and the site of intensive Polish colonization and suppression, increasingly militant Ukrainian mobilization, especially by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), and progressive Jewish isolation and impoverishment. While many Ukrainians and Jews initially welcomed the Soviet annexation in 1939, the massive deportations of Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians, and the mass killing of imprisoned Ukrainian nationalists, both decapitated Galician society and catalyzed the large-scale pogroms that accompanied the arrival of the Germans.

Making use of local national animosities, small numbers of German security forces, aided by large contingents of Ukrainian policemen, murdered most Galician Jews by summer 1943, following which the OUN unleashed an anti-Polish ethnic cleansing campaign. After the return of the Red Army in summer 1944 the Soviet Polish-Ukrainian population exchange ensured that by 1947 Western Ukraine had become almost entirely ethnically homogeneous, with each group subsequently presenting this story of violent ethnic “unmixing” as a narrative of its own victimization by its neighbors.