Ukraine: Erasing Communism?

  • May 28, 2015 - 11:27 pm
  • Ukraine
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By Maryna Polataiko for

the shadow of the communism

Ukraine’s recent past has been anything but calm. Two fresh revolutions under its belt, a presidential ousting, and the Russian conflict in Crimea and the Donbas. The common thread among these events? Ukraine’s Soviet legacy, which the country is trying to eradicate, and prevent it from coming back for a round two. Recently, Ukraine took a legislative measure to fight against its Soviet past.

While the passing of a bill may not be as gripping a maneuver against Russia compared to mass protests, the Verhovna Rada’s decision to ban communist and Nazi propaganda and symbols is a quantum step in (re)claiming history, national memory, and public space from the grip of Russian imperial master narratives. This was not the first of measures taken to reclaim public space. Activists across the country have been participating in ‘Lenin-O-Fall’—the demolition of Lenin statues. A debate on whether or not to remove Soviet military commander Nikolai Vatutin’s monument in Kyiv is now taking place, and the hammer and sickle have been replaced with the iconic Ukrainian Tryzub (Trident) on the gates of Ukraine’s parliamentary building.

With Ukraine’s new law, any organizations (political, media, etc.) charged with the propagation of communism or Nazism will be shut down and investigated, with the results made available to the public.

After the law was passed, Ukrainian activists in the city of Dnipropetrovsk brought down another statue of Lenin. Two days after the law was passed, a series of statues in Kharkiv were destroyed—including a sculpture of Russian hero Nikolay Rudnev, made by Soviet sculptor Viktor Volovik.

In response to the ban on communist and Nazi propaganda, Russia’s foreign ministry stated that the law would lead to “rewriting history” and advance “nationalist ideology.” However, Alexander J. Motyl, professor of political science at Rutgers University, states that according to a study by the Moscow-based Institute of Demography, Ukraine “suffered close to 15 million ‘excess deaths’ between 1914 and 1948. Of that total, about 7.5 million were attributed to Soviet policies and 6.5 million to the Nazis,” concluding that de-Nazification and decommunization are both crucial; the latter allowing Ukraine to overcome its totalitarian past and move along a pro-Western trajectory.

From this angle, the former Soviet republic is reclaiming its history, free of colonial dogmas of Soviet, Russian, and neo-Soviet ideologies. Irrespective of value judgments, Ukraine is indeed rewriting the narrative by reclaiming its public spaces.


Alexander J. Motyl. “Kiev’s Purge: Behind the New Legislation to Decommunize Ukraine.” Foreign Affairs, April 28, 2015. Accessed May 1, 2015.

Volodymyr Viatrovych. “’Decommunization’ and Academic Discussion.” Krytyka, May 2015. Accessed May 3, 2015.

“Ukraine Bans Communist and Nazi Regime Propaganda.” UT: Ukraine Today, April 10, 2015. Accessed April 12, 2015.

Nolan Peterson. “Ukraine Purges Symbols of Its Communist Past.” Newsweek, April 10, 2015. Accessed April 12, 2015.

Lily Hyde. “Ukraine to Rewrite Soviet History with Controversial ‘Decommunization” Laws.” The Guardian, April 20, 2015. Accessed April 20, 2015.

“Dispute Rages Over Soviet General’s Grave in Ukraine.” Big News Network, April 12, 2015. Accessed April 12, 2015.

“Soviet Symbol on Verkhovna Rada’s Gates Replaced by the Coats of Arms of Ukraine.” UT: Ukraine Today, April 3, 2015. Accessed April 5, 2015.

Henri Neuendorf. “Soviet Art Smashed in Ukraine After Controversial New Law Bans Nazi and Communist Symbols.” ArtnetNews, April 13, 2015. Accessed April 14, 2015.