The Ukrainian government is under fire after President Petro Poroshenko signed a bill that bans all Communism and Nazi symbols. He also signed a law that honors and recognizes militias that worked with the Germans in World War II. The United States Holocaust Museum lashed out at the decision.
The museum is “deeply concerned” because the new laws “attempt to legislate how the history of Ukraine should be discussed and written, especially regarding the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA),” both of which fought with Nazis. From their press release:
Ukraine from 1917 to 1991, under Soviet, German, and renewed Soviet control, was the setting of enormous suffering inflicted upon Ukrainians and many minorities, especially Jews and Poles, and of varying degrees of complicity from segments of the population with these totalitarian regimes. During this period, ruling authorities dictated the narrative of Ukrainian history solely according to their propagandistic goals…
As Ukraine advances on its difficult road to full democracy, we strongly urge the nation’s government to refrain from any measure that preempts or censors discussion and politicizes the study of history. Ukrainian democracy must continue on the path of unfettered scholarly research and open debate on all aspects of the national past.
The Ukrainian Embassy in Tel Aviv said OUN chief Stepan Bandera and his people did fight with the Germans, but the Nazis imprisoned them in concentration camps after OUN changed sides to fight for Ukrainian independence against Germany. But OUN participated in the ethnic cleansing of Volhynia, which killed over 100,000 Poles, including children. After WWII, German documents said people within OUN did not deeply care about the Jews. Anyone within the group would be willing to kill a Jew just as quickly as help one depending on their political goals. Some believe OUN slaughtered over 6,000 Jews in Lviv after the Nazis captured the town.
Over 40 historians in the West sent a letter to Poroshenko about his decision:
The potential consequences of both these laws are disturbing. Not only would it be a crime to question the legitimacy of an organization (UPA) that slaughtered tens of thousands of Poles in one of the most heinous acts of ethnic cleansing in the history of Ukraine, but also it would exempt from criticism the OUN, one of the most extreme political groups in Western Ukraine between the wars, and one which collaborated with Nazi Germany at the outset of the Soviet invasion in 1941. It also took part in anti-Jewish pogroms in Ukraine and, in the case of the Melnyk faction, remained allied with the occupation regime throughout the war.
However noble the intent, the wholesale condemnation of the entire Soviet period as one of occupation of Ukraine will have unjust and incongruous consequences. Anyone calling attention to the development of Ukrainian culture and language in the 1920s could find himself or herself condemned. The same applies to those who regard the Gorbachev period as a progressive period of change to the benefit of Ukrainian civil society, informal groups, and political parties, including the Movement for Perestroika (Rukh).
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is also disturbed that the pro-Europe government would pass a censorship law.
“Broadly and vaguely defined language that restricts individuals from expressing views on past events and people, could easily lead to suppression of political, provocative and critical speech, especially in the media,” claimed Dunja Mijatovic, an OSCE representative on freedom of the media.
Money doesn’t seem to be a worry with the new laws, especially concerning the Communism symbols. Former Tax Minister Oleksandr Klimenko believes construction will cost the cash-strapped country $236 million. From Bloomberg View:
Big regional centers such as Dnipropetrovsk (named after Grigory Petrovsky, who ran Ukraine in the 1920s and 1930s) and Kirovograd (bearing the name of Sergei Kirov, a Bolshevik leader whose popularity rivaled Stalin’s, causing the latter to have him killed), as well as dozens of smaller towns, will need new names. Lots of towns have streets named after Lenin and Soviet saints, and these will also be erased in the next few months, creating lots of confusion for anyone using old maps (or Google maps, for that matter). Soviet emblems will be removed from buildings and bridges, murals in the subway will be altered.
“The ‘decommunization’ laws are not only pointless, they also show the chasm that still separates Ukraine from its goal of joining the Western world,” wrote Leonid Bershidsky at Bloomberg View.