The unapprehended evil of communism in contemporary Ukraine

By Oleksandr MUZYCHKO, Ph.D. (History),
Senior Research Fellow, Regional Branch of the National Institute of Strategic Studies in Odesa

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

ODESA — On Nov. 7 representatives of right-wing forces held a rally on Mykhailivska Ploshcha, demanding a ban on the Communist Party of Ukraine, the removal of all symbols of the communist regime and monuments to its leaders from the territory of Ukraine, and the recognition of the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation, with compensation paid to its victims by the Russian Federation.

“On the strength of the Resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of Jan. 25, 2006, we demand that the Supreme Court of Ukraine ban the Communist Party of Ukraine as a direct successor of the CPSU. With this goal and acting on behalf of the Ukrainian people, we are bringing legal action against the CPU to the Supreme Court of Ukraine,” read the message carried by the rally participants. Below The Day offers the views of historian Oleksandr MUZYCHKO on the necessity to decommunize Ukraine.

At first glance there is nothing in common between the dates of Nov. 7 and Nov. 21. On Nov. 25, 1917 (New Style: Nov. 7) troops supporting the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (Bolsheviks) overthrew the Provisional Government in Petrograd and seized power. In 1917-1922, the Bolsheviks blazed a bloody trail through nearly the entire former Russian empire, including Ukraine, to assert their rule. In doing so, the Bolshevist communists skillfully exploited the basest mob instincts, relied on criminal elements, and applied the tactic of terror. During the existence of the USSR the victors’ truth reigned supreme. The “Great October Socialist Revolution” played the leading role, having allegedly made many peoples happy, but failing to make the rest of mankind happy only because of the resistance of evil forces. Therefore, the history of the Soviet communist state began on Nov. 7.

The main crimes perpetrated by the communist regime against Ukraine are there for all to see:

(1) Suppression of the Ukrainian national democratic revolution in 1918;

(2) Terror against the Ukrainian peasantry in 1919-1921 (“military communism”);

(3) Annihilation of the Ukrainian intelligentsia in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s;

(4) Mass terror against ordinary citizens in the 1930s;

(5) Three Holodomors targeting the Ukrainian peasantry: 1921-1923, 1932-1933, and 1946-1947;

(6) Assassinations of Ukrainian emigre leaders (Petliura, Konovalets, Bandera, Rebet, etc.) which was a manifestation of international terrorism;

(7) Terror against the population of Eastern Ukraine in 1944-1945;

(8) Terror against the population of Western Ukraine in 1939-1941 and 1944 through the 1950s;

(9) Liquidation of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army;

(10) Persecution of the Ukrainian intelligentsia in the 1950s-1980s;

(11) Condemning many Ukrainians to death in Afghanistan in the 1970s- 1980s;

(12) Persecution of the Ukrainian Church almost throughout the entire existence of the USSR;

(13) Instigation of a rift between Ukrainians in the Ukrainian SSR and the Diaspora;

(14) Isolation of Ukrainian studies in the humanities from the best works the world had to offer.

This far from complete list of communist crimes in Ukraine does not end in 1991. The communists, together with other related parties, are splitting Ukrainian society along the fictitious East-West line, and are still seeking to establish control over Ukrainian historical memory and culture.

Many people associate the true destruction of the communist system with the events on the Maidan, which began on Nov. 21, 2004. One of the leading Maidan ideas was “lustration,” which in the broader sense means cleansing the political system of old functionaries whose mentality was formed in the Soviet period, and rejuvenating personnel on all levels.

However, after the Maidan the president and his associates embarked on the road of all-forgiveness. Today it is clear that they moved in the wrong direction. The old cadres have not understood or learned anything new. Gaining their revenge, once again they are dragging Ukraine into the Soviet stables as a “fraternal” country while hating all things truly Ukrainian, national, and new. Thus, the ultimate end of the Soviet epoch is being postponed indefinitely.

The paradox is that the greatest manifestation of civic activity and democracy in Ukraine’s latter-day history ended with the communists returning to power. The revenge gained by the anti-Ukrainian forces, among them the heirs of Lenin’s idea, is complicating the task of cleansing this country of communist relicts. Even in noncommunist quarters they are still trying to measure the balance between positive and negative things about communism, while similar discussions about Nazism are considered seditious.

However, this was a victory that one twin scored over the other, and it reaffirmed the oppressed status of the peoples within the USSR. Our citizens, even patriotic-minded ones, have still not recognized communism as evil incarnate, the consequences of which surpass those of Hitler’s Nazism.

On Nov. 6, 2006, at 7:00 p.m. two hosts on the New Odesa Channel (which claims to be this city’s number-one intellectual channel) did their best to demonstrate a tolerant attitude to people who still consider Nov. 7 a holiday, the anniversary of that Great October Socialist Revolution. In fact, they failed to demonstrate intelligence, good manners, tolerance, or even basic knowledge of history, civic consciousness, or patriotism. This is in fact what modern exponents of Soviet ideology lack.

The female host commiserated with those individuals who have been deprived by the state of the opportunity to celebrate Nov. 7 on the national level. The other host called for understanding these people the way people who profess different religions can understand each other. Both arrived at the conclusion that it is a holiday for seniors, as though no old people were ever opposed to the Bolshevik heritage; as though there were no significant anticommunist tradition in the history of Ukraine.

The other Odesa TV channels and other media in southern and eastern Ukraine most likely interpreted the historical significance of Nov. 7 along the same lines. Few people will recall that for true Ukrainians Nov. 7 is the day of remembrance of the victims of communist repressions.

The Odesa TV program reflects the mentality of many Ukrainian citizens whose concepts of Soviet realities are derived from films and stories recounted by war veterans (mostly those who served the regime). Worst of all, these concepts are not rooted in Ukrainian centrism, i.e., reflections on what communism has brought Ukrainians, but in the general Russian attitude. The television program also reflects the state of the Odesa media and their cultivation among viewers of superficial, often Ukrainophobic, perceptions of important pages from the history of Ukraine.

When we hear commiserations every year about elderly people being deprived of May 9 and Nov. 7, we cannot help wondering: who are these people? What roads in life did they take? Were they involved in the mass repressions of the Stalinist era or in the web of secret collaborators under Brezhnev? Does one have to love and respect them a priori simply because they are old? What about the victims of communist repressions and their moods?

What is the cause of the phenomenon of failing “to recognize the communist evil, and not only in Ukraine but elsewhere in the world? Among other reasons, the French scholar Alain Besancon names the following factors:

1. Nazism is better known than communism because the Allies opened the doors of all the closets with skeletons and because many European nations knew about it from their own experience. Here it should be noted that many contemporary Ukrainian nationals, mostly of Russian parentage, were resettled in Ukraine in the second half of the 20th century. On the one hand, this resulted in their having no historical memory about events in Ukraine; they did not suffer from communism as much as Ukrainians did. On the other hand, they benefited from the communist system to a degree, so they cannot join an anticommunist alliance with Ukrainians.

2. By linking democratic countries and the Soviet Union in a military alliance, the war weakened the West’s immunity to the communist idea, which was very strong at the time of the Hitler-Stalin pact, and created a certain intellectual stupor.

3. One of the main achievements of the Soviet regime is that it could spread and gradually impose its own ideological classification of contemporary political regimes. The specific features of Nazism were being obliterated. At the same time, it was assigned its place on the right, casting its sinister shadow on all right-wing forces. It was becoming the absolute on the right, whereas the USSR was becoming the absolute on the left. In Ukrainian conditions we are witnessing Vitrenko’s manipulations of the term “fascism”; she calls all her enemies fascists, from Americans to Ukrainian national democratic forces, although in reality it is the pro-Russia extremist forces that best fit this definition.

4. The insignificance of groups capable of preserving memories about communism. Nazism lasted 12 years, while European communism existed between 50 and 70 years in various countries. Duration has the effect of automatic amnesty. Indeed, over this long period of time civil society was scattered, and one after another elites were destroyed, replaced, and re-educated. Everyone, or nearly everyone, from top to bottom, adjusted, capitulated, and became morally degraded. Worse, the majority of people who were capable of thinking were deprived of knowledge about their own history and lost the ability to analyze. This is especially true of Ukraine, inasmuch as the great majority of those who could potentially help condemn communism were part of the system.

The Black Book of Communism (Le Livre noir du communisme: Crimes, terreur, repression) by the French historian Dr. Stephane Courtois (1997), which is well known in the West but little known in Ukraine, proves that communism claimed some 100 million lives all over the world and is the most criminal system that has ever existed. Among other things, Ukrainians should pay particular attention to one of the French author’s statements: “The death of a Ukrainian child from a ‘kulak’ family, purposefully condemned to death by starvation by Stalin’s regime, is as heinous a crime as the death of a Jewish child in the Warsaw ghetto, who became a victim of a famine engineered by the Nazi regime.”

The condemnations of communism in the USSR, including Ukraine, heard both in the West and here, lack a broad treatment of the concept of “crimes of communism.” These are mostly associated with the period of Stalinism (e.g., Levko Lukianenko’s Nuremberg-2, Kyiv, 2001). Of course, communist crimes in Ukraine look especially self-evident in the 1930s-1950s.

However, the main criminal manifestation of communism was its ideology and the propaganda machine that generated it. That ideology grew the longest roots and brought about the most tragic consequence, the Soviet individual, known as sovok. The presence of this new type of man in contemporary Ukraine is the main deterrent to its sociopolitical and cultural progress. The sovok is incapable of perceiving anything new; he hates those who think differently; he has a manifest herd instinct and is prone to blindly follow the leader.

The process of breeding this human type lasted as long as the USSR existed, starting in 1917. The communist regime is guilty of discrediting the idea of Ukrainian nationalism, and this has created one of the biggest obstacles to Ukraine’s national development. Fearing a national awakening in Ukraine, the Soviet regime did its utmost to push Ukrainian national culture backwards, especially the language. The Ukrainian language was pushed to the sidelines and reduced to a minor status, so that it would gradually die within the internationalist embrace.

The communist ideology was the link between Ukraine and Russia; it did not allow Ukrainian independence as the main prerequisite of progress for the Ukrainian nation. Among the social crimes of communism I should mention the herding of the bulk of the population into all those communal flats and the lack of the most basic commodities, all the while militarizing the economy. Communist ideology cherished egalitarianism, mediocrity, and dumb obedience to the upper caste, the party functionaries.

It is unlikely that most Ukrainian politicians today, even those who are rigged out in patriotic garb, are capable of perceiving one of the biggest problems of contemporary Ukraine: our country’s need to be decommunized. Indeed, almost all these politicians were born in the USSR. The ideas of Nuremberg-2 and lustration serve rather as propaganda slogans, campaign stunts.

Unfortunately, hope for an imminent and genuine decommunization is illusory, and, as always, is linked to the change of generations. By means of profound reflections and a thorough study of sources, young people should realize that there is no statute of limitations on these crimes, and therefore condemnation of communist ideology and practice will always be topical.

Ukraine must declare in no uncertain words that it is not a legal successor to the Ukrainian SSR but its antipode. Painful surgery is required — the realization that your forefathers were wrong and that you must not blindly follow in their footsteps. This is difficult, but it is the only way to cleanse oneself.

The Ukrainian intelligentsia is once again at a crossroads: it can either submit to the latest change of conjuncture and smooth over the rough edges in its treatment of communism, or despite this conjuncture convey to the younger generation a clear concept of the communist system as evil. As always, the choice is essentially an individual matter.

36, Tuesday, 14 November 2006