This plaque is a product of its time, and of complicated issues and horrific events in mid-20th century Europe. The central cause it commemorates, the Anti Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN), positioned itself in 1946 as an advocate for the freedom of the nations occupied by the USSR after World War II. In 1946, the cause was very real, and for many obviously justified. Today, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2021, it is live and vital once again.
But the ABN was open to criticism thanks to its origins in 1943 German-occupied Ukraine as a Nazi-sponsored anti-Soviet movement, and with anti-semitic overtones which lingered on until it was wound up, with the collapse of the USSR, in 1989. The Captive Nations Committee, established in 1959 and also commemorated here, was a spin-off of the ABN with local and national branches, sharing the ABN’s causes and apparent respectability.
But it too, whilst supporting the cause of the occupied countries, and endorsed by the West, was associated with the questionable views of the ABN. These aspects of both organisations were linked through Yaroslav Stetsko, President of the ABN, founder of the Committee, unveiler of this plaque, and himself an unrepentant anti-semite until his death in 1986. When it was erected, however, whilst the six nations it names were under Soviet occupation, things looked very different. Sympathy with organisations seeking these nations’ freedom, and even for Stetsko, muted any rarely-raised concerns about their past.
Now, of course, with a better understanding of the many sides to history and respect for victims of the views these organisations represented, this plaque would not be erected. But whilst neither endorsing nor commenting on any of the issues it raises, the cathedral recognises that the plaque still means many things – positive, negative, emotional, personal, patriotic and religious – to many people. It is also a reminder to us all of issues and aspects of human and political behaviour which have once again become alarmingly topical. We hope therefore that its continued presence here will encourage valuable reflection, the recognition of multiple viewpoints, and a balanced understanding of events and causes both past and present.
Gracious God, we give you thanks that all of humanity were created equal by you.
Forgive us when our words and actions fail to demonstrate this.
We continue to pray for all those who face persecution, discrimination and hatred because of their ethnicity, their religion or their beliefs.
Help us to do all we can to speak up for the oppressed and to speak out about injustice.
To seek peace in the world where ever we can and to be agents of reconciliation.