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The Power Vertical

Podcast: Goodbye, Lenin

Breaking with the past or dividing the future?
Breaking with the past or dividing the future?

When Ukrainians began toppling statues of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin at the height of the Euromaidan revolution, it seemed almost retro. As if we had gone back in time to 1991.

And in some ways we had.

Because to many of its supporters, last year's Ukrainian uprising represented reviving the dashed hopes and promise of that heady time. Hopes for a truly independent Ukraine that had broken from its Soviet past -- and was free from Russian domination in its present.

But as Ukraine's pro-Western rulers are now learning, putting these hopes into practice is a lot trickier than knocking down a monument.

On the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we look at a series of anticommunist laws recently passed by the Ukrainian parliament and the controversy they have generated.

Joining me are Natalia Churikova, senior editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and host of the program European Connect; Taras Kuzio, a senior research associate for the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta; and Lucan Way of the Center for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto.

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast -- 24 March 2015
Power Vertical Podcast: Goodbye, Lenini
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Tags: Ukraine,Russia,Power Vertical podcast

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by: Peter
April 24, 2015 21:53
Excellent discussion. Thank you Brian, for covering this important topic.

The only specific historical occurrences the signatories of the “Open Letter” to President Poroshenko cited to support their argument against the laws were: 1) OUN and UPA attacks against Poles during WW2 and 2) development of Ukrainian culture and language in the Ukrainian SSR during the 1920s.

Natalia Churikova addressed the second point perfectly when she compared the 1920s to lunch-break in a prison. Just because Ukraine enjoyed a brief period of autonomy and cultural development does not mean that the Soviet Union’s crimes against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people (including genocide!) are justified or exonerated.

As to the first point, Taras Kuzio touched on it but I think more needs to be said. One of Lucan Way’s arguments against the law went that, the legislation of a particular, nationalist, historical narrative for Ukrainian history will divide Ukraine at a time when Ukrainians need to remain united. As Kuzio said, the letter includes no mention of the Ukrainian National Republic, Ukrainian State, or their leading figures, no mention of the Holodomor, and no mention of dissidents apart from Rukh. I’ll add, there is no mention of Chernobyl, no mention of pro-independence movements in the diaspora such as the Ukrainian Military Organization or Ukrainian National Council, no mention of independence or cultural movements prior to WW1. The only actual historical occurrences and personages the letter’s signatories provide to support their argument are those associated with the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Ukrainian Insurgent Army during WW2, and those associated with Ukrainization during the 1920s.

The OUN and UPA are not the alpha and omega of the Ukrainian independence movement, much less all of Ukrainian history! Opposing the laws on the “pragmatic” basis that they will irreconcilably divide Ukrainians over the SPECIFIC topics of the OUN, UPA, and Ukrainization during a time of war is ridiculous. If some Ukrainians are so opposed to legal recognition of the OUN’s and UPA’s achievements and efforts towards Ukrainian independence that they would now oppose the Ukrainian state, as Lucan Way seems to suggest, or if some Ukrainians believe that Ukrainization in the 1920s was so beneficial that any law declaring the Soviet regime criminal is too much to bear, than Ukraine frankly does not have much hope.

I think Lucan Way has created a group of “straw men”, hypothetical Sovietized Russified Ukrainian patriots who love their homeland but hate the “nationalist” narrative imposed in the new laws. This group of Straw Men, according to Way’s argument, will now actively or passively disrupt Ukrainian unity at a time when Ukraine can least afford it, and their sudden cognizance of “anti-nationalism” is prompted by the new laws and thus entirely the Rada’s fault. Way is clearly just another individual monumentalizing the importance and scale of the OUN and UPA, either their achievements or crimes, as well as their significance and relation to independent Ukraine. If these laws are really so divisive as Way insists, and the division they cause is so deep and harmful as Way insists, then Ukraine will not survive and Putin will be in Kyiv in two weeks like he boasted. In that case, argument against the laws is moot.

If, on the other hand, the laws and the “nationalist” narrative the laws “impose” is NOT as divisive or harmful as Way claims, then his arguments against the laws are baseless. I expect that this is and will remain the true case. Ukrainians, the past year has shown, for all their internal divisions and differences, are more patriotic and cohesive than most foreigners give them credit for.

by: Leonid Cechmistro from: Montreal Qc
April 25, 2015 23:51
Another great podcast! Being of Ukrainian descent it was important to me.i think that I am somewhere in the middle. Eastern European history in general is a powder keg of contention.
Nonetheless I believe that not one Ukrainian family living in Europe regardless of background was affected by WW2. All were, and in order to move forward history in general has to be discussed. To do it in the middle of a war just complicates the situation even more.
Unfortunately Russia see's things quite differently, without a doubt it was the republic most decimated by the soviet period, and maybe for that reason it can no longer orient itself in the new world.
I found this latest podcast wonderful but confusing, then again for the 70 odd million Ukrainians of the world to find one coherent thread in history is an adventure in and of itself.
. Regards, Leonid

by: STEPHEH LUKESH from: SWOYERSVILLE, PA, USA
April 26, 2015 03:43
Brian, I have become very interested in the situation in Ukraine and Russia and with this podcast you opened my eyes to a larger and extremely important and interesting topic on which I will do some research, And that is the former Soviet Republics now trying to free themselves of Soviet residue, and the situation of these countries fighting for the USSR against Nazi Germany in WW2. They were caught fighting for one enemy against another. And as you said this is a stiuation that will not soon go away. Thank you for that. I might add a question regarding the quality of sound of your guests who are not with you in the studio. Is it possible to get better sound quality for the guest who call in or are on the Skype line? I'm sure you are aware of it. I find it difficult to follow their comments.

by: Observer from: United States
April 26, 2015 15:38
It is important for the supporters of OUN/UPA to come clean regarding the 1943 murders of Polish inhabitants of the Volhynia area in particular. In Poland today scores of books are being published on that subject and sooner or later the horrors will seep into world discourse. If Ukrainians do not address the issue now, they will look like Turks who insist that Armenians were merely "expelled."
What needs to be done is a frank admission that over a hundred thousand Polish men, women, and children were murdered in unspeakable ways, and that one Roman Szuchevych (after whom streets are named in today's Ukraine) famously said that "one Pole killed, one more square yard of space for Ukrainians." Ukrainians must publicly say that this was a great mistake and a great wrong. Poles are generally very sympathetic to Ukrainian independence and give contemporary Ukraine as much support as they can. This one issue, stubbornly denied by Ukraine's intellectuals and politicians, must however be addressed in history books and in popular media. It is up to the Ukrainians to address the issue squarely and honestly. Otherwise they will join the Turks who pretend that Armenian genocide did not happen.
In Response

by: Drago from: Germany
April 30, 2015 12:14
Hi observer, it is good advice that Ukraine has to cope with its past of radical groups. But was the violence against Poles not a reaction of former Polish attacks against Ukrainians who liver on Polish territory? Violence happened on both sides and both have to excuse! See http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hpcws/comment13.htm
In Response

by: Observer from: United States
April 30, 2015 14:34
Drago, how many Ukrainians did Poles torture to death between 1919-1939? These things are incomparable. What happened in Volhynia was that entire Polish villages were razed. People were burnt alive by the hundreds, people were sawed in half by UPA soldiers, people were killed with spades and pitchforks. Please read again Szuchewych's statement above. It has nothing to do with "violence on both sides." It is a diabolical plan to kill one ethnicity so that the other will have Lebensraum. Acknowledge it in Ukrainian history textbooks (Poles have acknowledged their guilt before Ukrainians) and let us move on to good Polish-Ukrainian relations in the future.

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or