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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Lenin monument on Shevchenko Boulevard: Is there anything wrong?

<I>The Day</I>’s experts speak on the difference between hooliganism and spontaneous decommunization
7 July, 2009 - 00:00
Photo by Kostiantyn HRYSHYN, The Day

Early in the morning on June 30 some members of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists publicly vandalized the statue of Lenin in downtown Kyiv. This event caused much more stir in the media than, say, similar destructions in Luhansk oblast, Sumy, and other regions of Ukraine. At the same time, although very different people launched these “attacks” on the proletariat leader, their frequency prompts one to seek logic in the actions of young people who are bursting to damage Soviet-era symbols.

As the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (KUN) members, who vandalized the monument in Kyiv, did not hide from eyewitnesses, the police caught them very quickly. Criminal proceedings were instituted against them under Article 296, Part 2, (hooliganism) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. A number of organizations have voiced their support for the young people.

Viacheslav Kyrylenko, leader of the For Ukraine civic movement, said that all governmental bodies should do their utmost to have monuments to organizers of the totalitarian regime and mass-scale killings removed from the streets of Ukrainian cities. At the same time, the Kyiv Administration has resolved to dismantle the monument. It is now up to the Cabinet of Ministers to decide whether it will return to its place after repairs.

Meanwhile, The Day keeps receiving letters from its readers who give their own assessment of the young nationalists’ actions. For example, our regular reader Oleksandr Prokhorenko suggested that The Day hold a debate on the attitude to Soviet-era monuments. So we asked our experts: how should one classify vandalizing the Lenin statue — as ordinary hooliganism or as spontaneous grassroots-level decommunization?

Yurii SHVEDA, political scientist, associate professor, Ivan Franko Lviv National University:

“To be able to characterize this event, one must know two things: 1) the mentality and psyche of young people: it is defined, above all, by maximalism and straightforward perception of certain things, especially falsehood and lies; and 2) the motives of the people who committed this act.

“These are the young people whose characters were shaped in the years of independence. If we imagine ourselves in their place, we will see that what they did is a reaction to the existing situation. Still, I would not say that it is only a show of youth-style maximalism and a deliberate attempt of the young people to get rid of the idols of the past right now.

“I do not think young people are too much concerned about historical problems and want to solve them by ruining monuments. I think it is, rather, a form of social protest against the situation in which youth have found themselves.

“You will agree that today’s youth is a social group left to its own devices, because the state and all its governing institutions do not care about them; they have neither the past nor the present, and their future is unclear.

“Therefore, those who say that by ruining communist monuments the politically conscious young people are protesting against the communist past are mistaken. In my opinion, the recent act of vandalism in Kyiv is the first warning that youth are discontent with their present-day plight. While today young people are solving their problems by ruining communist-era monuments, the next generation may come out — perhaps even sooner than we think — not so much against communist idols as against the creators of today’s situation, which does not satisfy young people.”

Viktor RADCHUK, historian, political scientist, Zhytomyr:

“Damaging the statue of Lenin in Kyiv may seem, at first glance, a trivial event, and some classify it as hooliganism. In reality, this is a controversial fact that symbolizes the complexity of certain spiritual trends in Ukrainian society. It is, above all, decommunization which began spontaneously in this country in the late 1980s but never came to a logical end. This process never materialized in a systemic way, although some attempts have been made, especially during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko.

“There may be a lot of reasons why, but what played perhaps the most negative role was the passivity of the national democratic parties that obviously failed to do their best in this matter.

“Regarding the incident with the Lenin statue in Kyiv, I do not consider it an act of hooliganism, although it really looks like one. By doing so, the initiators sought to draw attention to a really existing problem. The impression is that the pendulum of public opinion has swung again, and many seem to be willing to accept an idea of a communist or otherwise totalitarian nature. There are ample grounds in Ukraine to be wary of this, so the incident is a warning that the ‘communist hydra’ is still living and there is a danger of new totalitarianism.

“This danger is not in the past: it still exists and perhaps will exist in the future. For example, Zhytomyr recently saw the publication of a series of clamorous articles on the 90th anniversary of the Leninist Young Communist League of Ukraine (LKSMU), which extolled what they claimed glorious date, and some ex-secretaries of the regional LKSMU committee held a press conference. This means the right-wing guys who smashed Lenin’s left hand committed a high-profile and newsworthy action. So it would be illogical and even primitive to dub it as hooliganism.

“This should not be equated with the acts of vandalism against monuments to Komsomol members, particularly, to Zoya Kosmodemianskaya, committed in Kharkiv a few days before. City Mayor Dobkin immediately called it the handiwork of nationalists and fascists who were inspired by the ideas of Viktor Yushchenko. In Kharkiv this was done secretly, without anybody claiming responsibility. In other words, it was a glaring provocation. But in Kyiv the guys and men, who were smashing the statue of Lenin, were doing it openly, without hiding, and then officially claimed responsibility for this. Their actions were not provocative: they committed a political act.

“It is not ruled out, though, that politicians, first of all, those of the Communists Party and the Party of Regions, such as Dmytro Tabachnyk, will be linking this with the Kharkiv incident. They will use these facts in what is going to be a very dirty presidential election campaign. They are sure to falsify and actively play on the historical past. This may also be timed with the anniversary of the victory of the Ukrainian Cossack Army over the Muscovite troops in the Battle of Konotop.

“In the same line are also the attempts of the Party of Regions parliamentarians to dismiss Education and Science Minister Ivan Vakarchuk, the most consistent promoter of Ukrainian values among governmental officials, for he has managed to do very much in this field.

“Another example: some unidentified persons have secretly defaced the statue of Lesia Ukrainka in Lutsk. This is also a provocation, a challenge to public opinion, as is the Kharkiv act.”

Oleksandr NEMCHENKO, culture researcher, Odesa:

“The very fact of defacing memorials is always a sign of publicly condemned radical behavior. And, from this viewpoint, it does not matter what has been damaged — Jewish tombstones or communist monuments. It is hooliganism pure and simple, no matter whether or not there is a political subtext in it. In any case, the subtext of this phenomenon shows a radical nature of the motives of those who did it. And, obviously, the political nature of this kind of behavior is far more dangerous than ordinary hooliganism devoid of the ideological component.

“While these facts show that communist ideas are on the wane, they also show the opposite: the fascist element of society’s political identity is on the rise. For it is typical of this kind of persuasions to destroy monuments, books, and people. It does not really matter now under what slogans this factor disguises itself. There may be any kind of wrapping. And the question ‘What is more terrible — to daub a swastika or a red star on the tombstone?’ sounds like the question ‘Who was worse — Stalin or Hitler?’”

Liudmyla NESTERENKO, Ph.D. in History, Associate Professor, head of the Department of Worldwide History and International Relations, Zaporizhia National University:

“In my view, what happened to the statue of Lenin in Kyiv is hooliganism pure and simple, which does the Ukrainian national movement no honor. We should, undoubtedly, get rid of the odious legacy of our past, but we should do it in a civilized way — as it was done, for example, in Spain (the monument to General Franco in Madrid was dismantled with due account of public opinion) and in other countries of the European Union.”

Aider EMIROV, director, Ismail Gasprynsky Crimean Tatar Library:

“An attempt to damage a monument is hooliganism, but in Ukraine it is a special kind of hooliganism: it is a protest against our communist past. On the one hand, all of us do not like, to a varying extent, the worst features of our past, which are embodied in communist symbols. This means that President Viktor Yushchenko’s instruction to remove symbols of the communist totalitarian past from cities and villages should be, naturally, fulfilled. This would meet people’s expectations, but the point is this must be done in a cultured and lawful way.

“However, since we have some political forces that are dragging us into the past and trying to thwart or at least to put off the impending decommunization, the people’s protest against this fact will sooner or later turn into carefully-orchestrated, rather than spontaneous, decommunization and an all-out war against monuments to the hated past and symbols of totalitarianism.

“So life itself shows that, as long as the populace itself has not yet torn down all the Lenin monuments, governmental bodies should make a clear-cut decision on this matter and, naturally, the monuments of the past, which are associated with people’s woes and are not objects of art, must be demolished on lawful grounds.

“This does not apply to the monuments that have been recognized as objects of art. Firstly, this is only the job of a special commission of competent art experts rather than that of administrative bodies. Secondly, I do not think there are many of them. In many countries, one can see different-era monuments standing next to each other, which is really symbolic, but in this country many statues of leaders are primitive stone idols — when making them, their authors did not even set themselves a goal to create a masterpiece.

“I would not say that the statue of Lenin in Kyiv, opposite the Bessarabsky market, which had its nose chipped off, is really a piece of art, although it is slightly better than the others. Yes, it was made from expensive material, but workmanship was quite plain, and there is no art here at all. Therefore, its demolition will not be a loss.”

By Valerii KOSTIUKEVYCH, The Day; Olena YAKHNO, The Day; Bohdan DYMOVSKY, Odesa; Andrii HAIDAI, Zaporizhia; Tetiana KOZYRIEVA, Lviv; Mykyta KASIANENKO, Simferopol