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Zelensky and decommunization: What would happen to Ukraine’s Institute of National Remembrance

Author : Natalia Lebed

Would Ukraine's state remembrance body with an annual budget of 4,88 million USD be closed after elections?
09:00, 25 June 2019

112 Agency

Employees of Ukraine’s Institute of National Remembrance are waiting for the decision of their own fate, that is, the completion of early parliamentary elections and forming of the Cabinet. The government will appoint the new head of the institute. Our sources say: Volodymyr Viatrovych, the current head of Institute of National Remembrance, will leave his post, and, obviously, most of his team will go.

President Zelensky (most likely) will not interfere in the institute as such, but will willingly part with its current leader, replacing Vyatrovych with a more neutral figure. That is exactly what Viktor Yanukovych did during his presidency – he appointed historian Valeriy Soldatenko, who led the institute in 2010 -2014. Under Yanukovych, however, the entire institute changed its status, “central executive body” became the “research institution”. After Maidan, Institute of National Remembrance again became the “power” with a 4,88 million USD annual budget.

Related: Institute of National Remembrance head Viatrovych says he has no ties with Zelensky's Office

"I had my eye on the president"

Two Volodymyrs - Vyatrovych and Zelensky - are familiar only in absentia. At least the first assures about this. He adds that he is following the president’s humanitarian work closely enough. “I don’t have any relations (with Zelensky’s team),” Vyatrovych says. “There is correspondence communication via Facebook. For any head of state, his position concerning humanitarian policy is important. I have followed this during Poroshenko’s, Yanukovych’s, and Yushchenko’s rule. I tried to influence this humanitarian policy. I believe Poroshenko succeeded quite well. Obviously, after electing a new president, I had my eye on his steps in humanitarian policy even when he was a candidate."

“What really worried me,” Viatrovych continues, “is keeping silence on different issues. We understand that Zelensky became president due to his silence: he did not give an answer to key questions. Journalists have almost questioned him, and he said that he allegedly had nothing against decommunization. With difficulty, he said that Bandera is a hero to him."

Related: Anti-banderite act impedes historic discussions with Ukrainians in Poland, - Viatrovych

Viatrovych says that he has nothing against staying at his current position, but “there should be no attempts to change what the institute has been doing for the past five years.” However, now the director of the institute is running for the Verkhovna Rada as number 25 of Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party. His parliamentary career is almost secured. But what would happen to his undertakings as head of the institute?

Especially when the presidential representative in the Verkhovna Rada Ruslan Stefanchuk makes mutually exclusive statements. Once he eliminated the rollback in the decommunization issue, then he asked not to give provocative names to the streets.

"Speaking about the decommunization laws, they work, but I have not substantively studied their implementation. I’m sure that we need to change our point of view a little. Everything that’s done is great. If we need to do something more, I’m sure that Zelensky, as a patriot of Ukraine, will make every effort to do this. But we must not look for problems in the past, as with the same Poles or Hungarians, but work out ways of rapprochement, reconciliation, and understanding each other,” Stefanchuk noted.

Demolition of the bust of Zhukov case

The first moment, because of which the Institute of National Remembrance and the team of President Zelensky fell out, is connected with the Kharkiv monument to Zhukov. Actually, at that time, when this material was written, skirmishes near the building continued, although the conflict had been going on for the third week. One monument is now left from the monument - the Soviet marshal was demolished from his familiar place on June 2, while the city mayor Hennadiy Kernes immediately promised to restore the monument.

Related: Viatrovych offers Poland condition for lifting of moratorium on exhumation

Zelensky’s official representative Yulia Mendel liked this idea, she said that "now the mayor of Kharkiv should take responsibility as the chief arbiter." She also added that the law on de-communization provides for the demolition of monuments to Soviet leaders, but at the same time there are points according to which the exceptions are figures who contributed to the de-occupation of Ukraine from the Nazis.

"This concerns not only the monument to Zhukov, but also Zhukov Lane (...).Zelensky urges Kharkiv authorities to clarify the legal conflict because there should be clear discussions with the public," Mendel noted. She stressed that the current situation in Kharkiv is an example of an ill-conceived humanitarian policy that has been going on for the past few years.

Related: Demolishing of Zhukov bust in Kharkiv: police hold searches

The words of the presidential press secretary and her appeal to Kernes extremely outraged the Institute of National Remembrance. “The mayor of Kharkiv cannot be an arbiter in the situation with Zhukov. He provoked an aggravation without fulfilling the law,” Viatrovych responded.

On June 3, that is, the day after the notorious case in Kharkiv, the institute issued a statement that the law does not provide for any exceptions for Zhukov and that the monument to this leader should be demolished in full compliance with the law on decommunization. “There is no conflict here. The exceptions mentioned by the President’s Speaker cannot be applied to this situation,” Serhiy Ryabenko, a lawyer of the institute, claimed.

Related: Historical negotiations: Polish Culture Ministry calls Viatrovych "irresponsible"

Viatrovych vs Dobkin?

We interviewed experts and asked them to describe the future of both the Institute of National Remembrance and Volodymyr Viatrovych, and de-communization as a whole. And that's what they answered.

“Zelensky has not formed a final conviction of whether decommunization is necessary. He is much more dependent on public opinion than Petro Poroshenko. But public opinion is always conservative, and many people oppose any changes, whatever they may be," Bohdan Petrenko, deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute of Research of Extremism, says.

“But speaking about decommunization again. It has already been implemented in our country, so the only question is whether there can be a turn back, as is happening now with the bust to Zhukov in Kharkiv. In such conflict situations, Zelensky would just let the situation go; so that the responsibility would belong to the communities and they themselves understand whether they need Soviet names and monuments, or not,” he adds.

As for the institute, everything will be alright with it, because “there’s still a lot of patriotic people among Zelensky’s fans because he has a fairly wide range of electorate, and today he hasn’t decided on his official bet. But Viatrovych is likely to be replaced by someone else - someone closer to Zelensky’s team. Perhaps the body will even be left with the current funding. But the institute will no longer be aimed at decommunization, but, perhaps, aimed at the search for any kind of sightseeing objects. It is not so much about the institute as such, but about a person who heads it,” the expert is convinced.  He adds that Ukraine needs a person who “would not bend the Ukrainians across his knee, but struggle with their conservative consciousness.”

 

Related: 19 police officers hospitalized after clashes with far-right in Cherkasy

Ukraine’s Institute of National Remembrance "will quietly exist and attract minimum attention. It would be inappropriate to liquidate the Institute, it would only add hype to the nationalist forces - Poroshenko, Vakarchuk, and his other opponents," Vadym Karasiov, director of the Institute of Global Strategies, assures.

“Viatrovych had a lot of ideologization, although he is a consistent person. But his whole ideology is more suitable for Galicia than for the whole of Ukraine,” he says.

"Decommunization will continue, but to a different extent, and the opposition will descend from the national to the regional level. But while the law on decommunization still exists, the process can continue. Issues of language, faith, history will be resolved at a lower level than the presidential one, and would rather mark the regional policy," Ruslan Bortnyk, director of the Ukrainian Institute for Policy Analysis and Management, commented.

The expert agrees with the two previous speakers: it is not profitable for Zelensky to destroy everything gained by the previous government.

"Funding will depend on the functions of the institute. If they are smaller, then there will be less funding. This institution has now become a purely political entity; there are almost no functions of government in it. All the things it is now engaged should be dealt with by the ministries of culture and justice, regional authorities, the newly created service on freedom of conscience… I think that in this case Institutions should be eliminated and their functions transferred to relevant ministries and departments. Another reason is that now the number of officials in Ukraine is ten times higher than in 1991, and this despite the fact that the population has decreased by almost half, ” expert notes.

Andriy Zolotariov, head of the Third Sector center, responds even more sharply. “Decommunization is a change in public relations, not a change of names and a war with monuments. And in terms of social relations, Viatrovych’s activities reminds of communist times. That is, intolerance to the opinions of the others, ignoring opinions of society. Therefore, I would wish Mr. Zelensky to decommunize decommunizers," he mocks.

But he also notes that “Mr. Zelensky pursues a reference policy, that is, he tries to please everyone. He will not deepen decommunization, but he will not cancel anything.” As for Viatrovych, Zolotariov is calm for him. “Viatrovych’s sweet life is coming to an end, but he will not disappear from politics. There is a specific request for the ideas that he articulates. Viatrovych will be reborn as a parliamentarian and will apparently fight with Dobkin at the parliamentary the rostrum,” the expert says.

Afterword

In anticipation of this spectacle, let us add that on the proposal of 46 MPs, the Constitutional Court is now considering the conformity of decommunization to the Fundamental Law of Ukraine. Although the word "considers" here is not entirely appropriate. Constitutional Court started considering this case a month ago, on May 20, and it was announced that the meeting would be held behind the closed doors.

The regime was so closed that to this day it is not known how the hearings on decommunization are progressing. Political analyst Oleksiy Yakubin argues that in reality, the Constitutional Court is not considering this matter (like a number of others, for example, "church laws", that is, the formation of an Orthodox Church of Ukraine). Judges are focused on one thing - how to get out of a difficult and unpleasant conflict for them related to early elections. “If the verdict is such that elections cannot be held, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine itself will become a victim of public discontent: it will be transferred from the Parliament to the court,” Yakubin predicts.

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