Thursday, May 6, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Closing Soviet-Era Archives, Yanukovich Aide Insists ‘Ukrainians Know All They Need to Know about Their Past’

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 6 – The decision of new Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to declare that the terror famine was a mass murder in which Ukrainian peasants suffered alongside Russian and Belarusian ones rather than a Moscow-orchestrated genocide directed against the Ukrainian nation has attracted a great deal of attention in Ukraine, Russia and the West.
But a far more serious development is the decision of one of the Ukrainian leader’s aides to re-close Soviet-era archives because in his words, “that truth which it was necessary to bring to the Ukrainian people has already been brought to its attention,” a policy and a statement with much more far-reaching consequences (
In a comment posted online today, Roman Kabachiy, the editor of the history section of Kyiv’s “Ukrains’kiy tizhden’,” says that this action by Valery Khoroshkovsky, the new head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), means that “the memory [of the Ukrainian people has been again] stolen.”
According to Kabachiy, “Soviet archives again are returning to their customary status – closed to outsiders. One can understand the new head of the SBU: the popularization of history cannot be the basic direction of the work of that organization. But if earlier there existed a small chance of state enlightenment in the historical sphere, now it will be blocked.”
“More than that,” the historian says, “the de-sovietization [of the history of Ukraine] will be changed in the direction of the so-called ‘fatherland’ one, that is, the Soviet vision of history,” yet another example of the way in which Ukraine like many other post-Soviet states shifts direction after each change in power rather than continuing to develop as a national school.
The internal contradictions of that approach, Kabachiy continues, can be seen in the names of streets and squares in Kyiv itself. Thus, a half-kilometer from the monument to Mikhail Hrushevsky is a monument to Vladimir Lenin who wanted to destroy the state Hrushevsky sought to build.
Moreover, a street named for Simon Petlyura, the ataman of that state, “ends at a monument to Nikolay Shchors,” the Soviet commander of that time who fought against him. And while a large central square in the Ukrainian capital is named for Russian writer Lev Tolstoy, the small one named for Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko is on the northern edge of the city.
Thus it can be seen, he says, that “the Ukrainian powers that be have sought to support a compromise not wishing to appear especially radical as has been the case in Latvia and Estonia.” But “the paradox is that even such small steps in the direction of the de-Sovietization of the history [of Ukraine] has infuriated Moscow and its fifth column in Ukraine.”
As a result, Kabachiy says, “now, when Viktor Yanukovich and his command achieve power, those small achievements which Ukraine’s humanitarian policy had achieved will be liquidated in rapid fashion.” Indeed, the historian says, the current and future disasters themselves reflect the mistakes of Viktor Yushchenko and Yuliya Timoshenko.”
That can be seen in the history of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, a body that took its name from the Polish analogue but that was fundamentally different. The Polish institution took possession of and processed thousands of feet of archival materials; the Ukrainian one remained dependent on the SBU and did not secure a law to protect itself.
Consequently, immediately after Yanukovich’s election, the new vice prime minister for humanitarian questions, Vladimir Seminozhenko called for defining new rules for “the future function” of this institution and its subordination to the State Archives Committee, which was headed by a representative of the Communist Party of Ukraine.
Volodymyr Vyatrovich, who headed the archive of the institute under Yushchenko, says that he and his colleagues backed the idea of the creation by the Council of Ministers of an Archive of National Memory. But that did not happen because then-Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko decided not to offend the communists in the parliament.
Another historian, Roman Krutsik, points out that politics has dominated archival policy in Ukraine. The former head of the Ukrainian Memorial and founder of the Ukrainian Museum of the Soviet Occupation, Krutsik warns that it is possible that his museum won’t survive under Yanukovich. Reportedly, he says, “Putin [earlier] called Yushchenko and asked to close [it].”
Closing the archives and closing such institutions will do far more damage to Ukraine and its future than even Yanukovich’s declarations about the events of 1932-33. After all, the new Ukrainian leader does concede that a Moscow-sponsored mass murder took place then, even if that horror does not meet the definition of genocide.
But if Ukrainians cannot research their history in directions the current powers that be in Moscow do not like, then the future of that country is truly bleak -- all the more so if Western scholars and governments do not denounce this transparent effort to push the tragic twentieth century history of Ukraine down an Orwellian memory hole.

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