Will 2017 be the year of decolonization of Ukraine?

Author : Serhiy Hrabovsky

Source :

Decommunisation is not enough for Ukraine. We also need the decolonization, and this thing is much more complicated, especially because Ukrainian lands were colonies much longer than the constituents of the Soviet Union
21:45, 9 January 2017

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Despite all the unresolved issues and social dramas, 2016 for Ukraine was a year of breakthrough in several directions. Among them – the plans of implementation of legally binding measures in the field of decommunisation. Not all of them have been carefully thought out, not all have been competently performed - but at least at symbolic level, especially at toponymy, the Bolshevik SSR was seriously outstripped. And at the same time Soviet legacy is losing its positions at the level of mass consciousness and subconscious.

The first wave of decommunisation appeared in Ukraine in 1990-92 years, mainly in the west and partly in the center of the state, the second wave has risen since the end of 2013, when the “main Lenin of the country” fell in capital notifying those inevitable fall of Yanukovych regime and fundamental changes of values of many Ukrainians. Now we became the witnesses of the process, enshrined in law, which paves the ideological platform for the creation of Ukrainian (and thus - European) Ukraine, when its citizens can become themselves, a free civic nation, not someone's "faithful servants" and "younger brothers".

But just carrying out decommunisation is not enough. For this purpose we also need the decolonization, and this thing is much more complicated, especially because Ukrainian lands were colonies much longer than the constituents of the Soviet Union. In addition, a certain period - from early 1930s until the end of 1980s - Soviet Ukraine was clearly the colony of European type in the Soviet empire, other words, factors of Russian imperialism and Russian Bolshevism acted in unison, mutually reinforcing each other.

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It is no accident that during the "Russian spring" its followers held a mass meeting near the Lenin monument, shrouded in Russian (i.e. White Guard) national flags, and members of pro-Russian demonstrations often held alongside portraits of Stalin and Nikolai II. And it is no coincidence that Viktor Pinchuk - a typical representative of the comprador oligarchy, which is closely associated with the metropolis both economically and spiritually – published an article in The Wall Street Journal with the program of actual returning of Ukraine under the leadership of metropolis.

Could it be that Ukrainians were masters of empire?

Ironically, Ukraine colonial past (hence the post-colonial present and need for decolonization) was denied not only by pro-Russian politicians - from left to right wing - but by dozens of scientists and journalists, including the well-known names. Some believe that Ukraine was a "Slavic republic" with “special status", others - that it was one of the co-creator of the Soviet Union, but not a colony.

These scientists and journalists are ready to recognize the need of decommunisation but not decolonization. Their books, articles and speeches were reiterated, have found its readers (including those in political circles), and therefore they significantly affect the formation of the Ukrainian state political course, which can’t ignore its past. And it is dangerous: one case is a reform in independent state or in the recent self-governing protectorate, another - in the former colony. Not least because the quality of management and business elite in these cases is significantly different, as well as the structure of the economy. In the early 1990s the share of the final product in industrial output of Ukraine amounted to 1/3, so there was no integrated national economy, while there was a system of supplying metropolis with components, parts and labor for the "five-year plans".

As economist Mykhailo Volobuyev demonstrated on the example of Ukraine in the mid-1920s, the colony's economy (along with infrastructure, science, education) developed not in the interests of people of this country, but in the interests of metropolis. Volobuyev showed that the Bolshevik plans were structured in the way to develop Soviet Ukraine not to meet the needs of Ukrainians but for exploitation by the metropolis. That times he called on to develop Ukraine as a holistic economic organism, but was accused of nationalism...

But the opponents of ideology and practice of decolonization do not pay attention to this. They say: Ukrainians actively built the Russian empire, so it is also their own empire! Ukrainians have relatives with representatives of all the peoples of the empire - and so they were equal people! Ukrainians fought on the side of Russia, so the imperial military glory - that is their glory!

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Well, the participating in building empires is a general characteristic of all the "colonies of European type" of past centuries - Ireland, Poland, Finland and others. And not only them - say, one time India made an invaluable contribution in creating the powerful British Empire; Indian infantry units in the British army, recruited from Gurkhas and Sikhs, were considered one of the best Marines of World War II (but those were separate Indian units, they were not dissolved in the total mass and gained fame for themselves and were responsible for their actions – Ukrainians couldn’t do this in Stalin’s times).

Overcoming the legacy of colonialism in ourselves

What is interesting: the definition of colonies actually coincide in Soviet encyclopaedia of the early 1980s, and sophisticated English-language Wikipedia. In both cases we are talking about the country or territory that is under the power of a foreign state (metropolis), devoid of political and economic independence and guided on the basis of a special regime. To this "Wikipedia" adds: "Unlike puppet state or satellite state, a colony has no independent international representation, and its top-level administration is under the direct control of metropolis."

And is this all typical for the "sovereign Soviet Ukraine"?  What about the top-level Ukrainian administration from Moscow? Hasn’t economy of the republic received directives "from above"? Have we heard that before 1953 at least one ethnic Ukrainian - even loyal to Moscow as a dog - headed the local branch of the All-Union Communist Party? And what about the aphorism that characterized the "special treatment" for Ukraine, "When in Moscow they cut nails, in Kyiv we cut fingers"?

Thus decolonization is necessary - in the economic sphere where the impact of comprador capital and Russian monopolies should be minimized in the field of both culture and art, and in politics. Until now a significant part of Ukrainians, figuratively speaking, are weighing their virtues on the scales, manufactured in the metropolis. Isn’t it enough? Isn’t it the time for us to be ourselves?

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