Why are Batkivshchyna and UDAR leaders celebrating a Ukrainian tragedy?
For several decades now, the same thing has been repeated in Ukraine and a greater part of post-Soviet space on May 9: the Red Army is glorified as the liberating force; praise is heaped on Stalin’s marshals and generals; and the idea is inculcated that absolute good overcame absolute evil. The heroism of combatants, both surviving and killed in action, is lauded. But the familiar shadow of Stalin is still lurking in the background. His portraits are beginning to be seen in Ukrainian cities during celebratory rallies. Step by step, the leader of one of the bloodiest totalitarian regimes in the history of mankind is being rehabilitated, and Victory Day takes the shape of a kind of abyss into which Ukraine is falling, going back into the distant past, to before the 20th CPSU Congress where Stalin’s personality cult was exposed. Indefatigable government and party propagandists emphasize the “fortunate rescue”, “liberation”, “fruits of the victory” and so on. Such discourse is understandable in Russia, because a great national mission was indeed completed there in 1945: the Russian empire stretching from one ocean to another was preserved, securing the status of a dominant nation for the Russian people. This was affirmed by Stalin in his famous speech on the occasion of the victory over Nazi Germany in which he called the Russians “the most distinguished of all nations in the Soviet Union” and a “leading people”.
But it is quite surprising to still be hearing such things in Ukraine. Did Ukraine become a free, independent state after 1945? Did it start taking steps into the future on its own, without the watchful eye of its Kremlin supervisors? Did democracy and freedom of expression begin to reign supreme on its territory? Were human rights guaranteed? Did any opportunities for shaping Ukrainian identity arise? Was it the end of collective farm servitude, something Russian journalist Yuriy Chernichenko aptly called AGRO-GULAG? None of this happened. Moreover, just as before the “liberation”, one reckless word could earn any Ukrainian a term with white bears or behind barbed wire in any of the hundreds of concentration camps scattered across Siberia, the Far East and Russia’s North.
The “liberation” did not keep the regime from continuing its merciless destructive war against the Western Ukrainian population for a further eight years, using the whole array of Cheka-SS atrocities, the sadism of punitive squads and special “instructional” measures such as captured OUN and UPA members being executed in public, on the initiative of Nikita Khrushchev, who is still considered to be “humanist” and “liberal” by some Ukrainian intellectuals. Their corpses were not allowed to be buried according to Christian rites for a long time, again, for “educational purposes”. To top it all, the “liberation” was also marked by a famine in 1946-47 which again took the lives of a million Ukrainians. This is the price they paid for bringing pro-Russian communist “popular democratic” regimes to power in East European countries. Their population had to be fed, especially against the backdrop of the generous Marshall Plan for Western Europe. Stalin strictly forbade Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria to accept this American aid. The Kremlin once again solved its political problems at the expense of Ukrainian peasants. Ukrainians lost a large part of their population during mass repressions and the genocidal Holodomor (Famine) of 1932-33, while survivors became Stalin’s cannon fodder in the Second World War, which he provoked together with Hitler. Through it, the two dictators decided to settle the question of hegemony in Europe and the world as a whole. Stalin won and rescued the Russian-Soviet empire from collapse, with Ukrainians, among others, paying the price. He used Holodomor survivors as expendable material to achieve his imperial goals. So how is it possible to talk about Stalin’s “liberation” of Ukraine or the “liberation” mission of Stalin’s army in Europe? The Russian journal Voprosy filosofiyi (Issues of Philosophy) made a valid point in a 1995 article: “To this day, our veterans have the invariable feeling of bitterness and fail to comprehend why their personal heroism, sacrifice and sincerity, as well as their exploits, did not arouse the expected feelings in the population of the countries they liberated. The reason lay, no doubt, not in the personal qualities of the Russians, but in the attitude to the type of state which the Soviet Union represented and which was associated with the Russians. True, Russians fought valiantly for their Fatherland and liberated it from aggressors. But they were simply unable to liberate anyone else. A state that is not free itself could not bring freedom. And this is what differentiated us from our partners in the anti-Nazi coalition.” Indeed, Russian soldiers could only bring the things to Poles, Czechs and Hungarians, that they themselves had, i.e., slavery, disregard for human rights and communist dictatorship. This is the reason why East European nations celebrated their true liberation in 1989 when Soviet troops withdrew from their countries to the USSR.
So considering the return of the NKVD, terror and total surveillance to post-war Ukraine to be liberation signifies having an utterly perverse notion of freedom and imposing these unhealthy views on society. It is inadmissible to recognize Stalin’s regime as liberating. Anne Applebaum wrote in her famous book Gulag: A History (2003): “Stalin killed more Ukrainians than Hitler murdered Jews.” Incidentally, Raphael Lemkin, the American lawyer of Polish-Jewish background who introduced the concept of genocide, which was legitimized by the UN General Assembly in a document on the crime of genocide, wrote an article entitled “Soviet genocide in Ukraine” in which he said that everything that had taken place in Ukraine from 1918 until the 1950s fell into this category.
So what are we celebrating today? In Europe, May 8 marks mankind’s victory over fascism and is a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation for those who lost their lives during the Second World War. For the peoples of France, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway and Denmark, the victory of the anti-Nazi alliance in WWII means the restoration of national freedom, democratic institutes, sovereignty and independence. Did Ukraine win any of these? Did it pursue a policy of its own during this period? Did it have freedom of will rather than being a cog in the imperial machine? So why is May 9 still a holiday in Ukraine, a country which found itself under Soviet occupation immediately after the end of Nazi occupation in 1945? It was on this day in 1945 that, together with the collapse of the Nazi regime on the territory of Ukraine and later in Eastern Europe, the Russian-Soviet colonial system was established. Unfortunately, in the 22 years of Ukraine’s independence, neither the government, nor most of the opposition have had any serious dialogue with the population on this topic.
The government’s inaction is no surprise, because it was post-communist with a relevant political past. It is much harder to grasp the reasons of the democratic and seemingly patriotic opposition. Tactical political considerations, no doubt, exist, but they can hardly command respect. The opposition’s actions in this area are explained by a lack of national strategy, desire and ability to work for the future and pursue higher national interests. All of its policies are focused on the here and now. Tactics, tactics and more tactics. It is all about winning (at any price, even at the cost of compromising one’s own beliefs, ideology and principles) more seats in parliament, making deals with the government about public offices and business, exchanging one thing for another and a complete lack of grand national goals. The opposition – at least as represented by Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) and UDAR, represented by Arseniy Yatseniuk, Oleksandr Turchynov and Vitaliy Klitschko – has a principled position of avoiding any principled stand. It shuns discussions on urgent, decisive issues, evidently thinking that such small ideological tricks can win more electoral points. In view of their Soviet nature, opposition forces are evidently convinced that May 9is still a holiday for most Ukrainians and hence, part of their electorate. And if they go against the flow, they will lose popular support. This is the reason why they do not have their own clear views on Ukraine’s past and are unable to offer any real alternative to Russian-Soviet imperial myths and the political propaganda of the Party of Regions and the Communists. They cannot open the eyes of those who are still held captive by these myths to the truth. In the 22 years of Ukraine’s independence, it has never been driven home to Ukrainians why the Soviet period in the country’s history was nothing but an occupation. Consequently, many of those who were born in the USSR still believe that May 9 is a holiday rather than a tragedy. Until the majority of Ukrainians realize that this day marks both a victory over fascism and Russian-Soviet colonization, the Ukrainian state will not be a reality.
Moreover, the leaders of Batkivshchyna and UDAR are following the lead of the Party of Regions and the Communist Party by participating in communist-style May 9 celebrations. By doing so, they hope to bite off a chunk of the ideological-electoral pie held by their opponents. When Yatseniuk mentioned the part played by the UPA in WWII at such rallies, in an effort to also please his electorate in western Ukraine, where most people never viewed May 9 as a holiday in Soviet times, his attempts looked lame.
By joining the Party of Regions and the Communist Party of Ukraine in historical evaluations, having none of their own, Batkivshchyna and UDAR are, in fact, contributing to the communist-imperial ideology of their political opponents and boosting their standing in the ongoing political struggle. Not to mention that such lack of an ideological stand on the part of the opposition is detrimental to national interests, because situational considerations should not bring large-scale future tasks to naught.
The proposals of some opposition figures (notably Vitaliy Klitschko) to exclude all controversial issues (language, history, national identity, culture, geopolitical education) from public discourse and focus exclusively on jobs, salaries, pensions, prices and taxes, are utopian. If the opposition is silent on these issues, the current government will write about them on its banners, but it will be a different language, history and identity – and eventually a different nation in a different state. Avoiding burning, divisive fundamental problems is a reflection of the ideological and theoretical weakness of the Ukrainian opposition, at least Batkivshchyna and UDAR, forcing one to doubt their intellectual potential and creative resources. Moreover, another question arises: Does this kind of indifference to the above issues suggest that the opposition’s leadership lacks truly principled people who can defend their views in the face of political discomfort and frenzied ideological aggression mounted by their opponents? Are we again dealing with nonchalant opposition bigwigs, a new “democratic” bureaucratic neonomenclature and people with a Soviet mentality who are quite comfortable living in the current post-Soviet space?
The Ribbon of St. George is a black and orange ribbon used in military decorations in the Russian Empire and the USSR. A widely recognized symbol of military valour in today’s Russia and post-Soviet territory associated with WWII, it has three black and two orange stripes tracing back to the Order of St. George established in the Russian Empire in 1769. Only Full Cavaliers of St. George and those awarded the Order were entitled to wearing the Ribbon as part of the decoration. Wearing the Ribbon otherwise was criminal liability. Soviet authorities abolished the Order of St. George, just like all other orders of the Russian Empire. Shortly after, though, they used black and orange interpreted as the colours of smoke and fire in the guard ribbon awarded with the Guard decoration to navy guard units and ships. The Order of Glory established in 1943 also used black and orange for the medals of Victory Over Germany, For the Capture of Berlin and more. Meanwhile, Russian units that fought on the Third Reich side were awarded St. George’s decorations, including ribbons, alongside crosses and arms.
In 2005, a public campaign started in Russia to spread symbolic ribbons for the celebration of Victory Day in WWII. From then on, it takes place every year funded by private businesses and the government. Over 2005-2009, more than 45 million ribbons were distributed in 30 countries all over the world. According to the organizers, their major goal was “to make sure that new generations remember who won the most terrible war of the past century, and at what price, whose descendants we are, whom we should be proud of, and whom we should remember.” In fact, the campaign is aimed at keeping Russian myths about WWII and the victory of Stalin’s USSR alive in the post-Soviet territory.
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