Life without Lenin - Ukraine is parting with its Soviet heritage

Author : Serhiy Zhadan

Source : 112 Ukraine

Serhiy Zhadan: After almost 100 years of Soviet-Russian rule and Maidan (2014), Ukraine today succeeds in building its own independent state. Decolonization of consciousness is in progress
11:47, 25 October 2017

Read the original text at Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

Open source

My father was a member of the Communist Party. In the season of my youth, this formal fact provoked controversy between my parents and us, the children. Being high school student of a usual Soviet school, I was inspired by the idea of an independent Ukrainian state, and my father was afraid of the changes. I was interested in the history of Ukraine, my father believed in Soviet propaganda. I considered him to be a yesmen, he called me a little simpleton.

Which of us was right? In whose direction did the pendulum of truth swing? I think that each of us in a certain sense was wrong, father with his relativism, and me with my radicalism. Was he really a yesman? I think no. At the very least, he was not a conscious conformist: he was not a party functionary, he had just no idea of Marxism. His membership in the Communist Party was more the result of an unconstrained adaptation: everyone joined in, and so did he. That is, his conformism - if so called - was neither malicious nor rational.

The post-Soviet swamp

26 years ago, in 1991, he was deprived of a vital basis: the Soviet Union collapsed, and Ukrainian state was created. And I exuberated. Although this triumph was unreasonable: after many years of political instability, a severe economic crisis followed, my parents lost their jobs and had just miserable existence in independent Ukraine.

It was especially bitter that in reality everything turned different with sovereignty: Soviet political, social and cultural realities have ingrained like rust into the new face of the country of our dreams. Lenin did not disappear. He lost his monopolized position, but his political levers still remained alive. In subsequent years, politicians constantly re-played a map of nostalgia for the Soviet past.

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For a long time the country was mired in a viscous swamp of the post-Soviet reality. While other former Eastern bloc countries were engaged in a rigorous purge and got rid of Soviet legacy with undisguised malevolence, Ukraine worked hard on an absurd model that (in terms of geopolitical realities and economic demands) in the most unthinkable way united wolf capitalism (we called it "barbaric capitalism "), medieval oligarchic structures, and vestiges of the old communist structural relations.

The Orthodox faith was strangely associated with Marxism, and liberal values - with nationalism. Internal social, economic and political contradictions were testing the country out. However, the most acute were ideological contradictions. One part of the country lived in the past, with which the other part of the country fought. Either way, the past was an obstacle, it did not allow to legalize anything and blocked any movement forward. The leaders of the Ukrainian state tried to squeeze between the Scylla of Marxism and the free market Charybdis. But this did not result in anything. Taxmen lacked practice and conscience. The past was too substantial to slip through it unharmed.

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In winter of 2014, a revolution began in Kyiv. The starting point was an association agreement with the European Union, but the protest quickly spread to the main themes. It became clear that one part of the Ukrainians not only advocated integration into the European space, but also questioned the dominant political system with its geopolitical and ideological outrage. One part of the Ukrainians rebelled against the status of a post-Soviet colony that had been imposed on them for many years, in which there was an obvious historical dependence on the Soviet-imperial past. There was definitely no room for Lenin in the system of values, supported by Maidan. As well as for Putin's neo-Soviet revanchism. But if everything is rather complicated about Putin, Lenin had no chances: the removal of the communist heritage, called decommunization, began already on the Maidan.

Related: Last remaining Lenin statue in Odesa is dismantled

The concept of decommunization does not sufficiently describe what is currently happening in our country. The destruction of the communist heritage is only one facet of comprehensive change in values that Ukrainians are now experiencing. I would better call it decolonization, an attempt to get free from the influence of the northern neighbor. Since autumn of 2014, Russia has been controlling not only the foreign policy of sovereign Ukraine, but also its media and cultural landscape.

What does it mean? It is, among other things, about a network of bookstores that sold books almost exclusively in Russian, about tour programs that were in the hands of Russian managers. Ukrainian culture always stood in Ukraine in second place, and the whole world considered it normal. Church, history, language, culture: the Russian side interfered in everything. Under such conditions, question of sovereignty could not even emerge. The refusal to sign an association agreement was only an impetus to change. Ukraine has long wanted to get out of the shadow of its northern neighbor that has been long trying to bring the Soviet empire back to life. It was not about Lenin, although it was impossible to do without Lenin.

We make our choice

What is happening to us? What are we refusing from? What are we opposing? To what extent is this legacy – the Soviet Union, Lenin, the red banner – significant to us? To what extent do we have the moral right to protest against this heritage? You always hear from “yesterday lovers:” this is our story, we can not refuse it. I grew up in the Soviet Union. I was a pioneer and member of Komsomol – this was also a kind of adaptation: everyone joined in, so did I. That is, here I can recall my own experience. And, of course, I have the right to dissociate myself from this experience.

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It has no less influence on me than my parents. Even more: it depends on me whether our children will also face this Soviet experience. In my opinion, many thousands of Ukrainians think so. They intuitively feel that the foundation for the future of Ukrainian society is being laid today. And we decide on the nature of this society - oligarchic, post-colonial and post-traumatic or open and democratic. Not bureaucrats in the European Union. Not senators in the US. Not Putin, and it is clear. We decide.

There are many things that are not directly related to decommunization, but still began with the demolition of monuments to Lenin. Restrictions on the supply of Russian printed products (especially anti-Ukrainian texts). The ban on entry of the Russian artists, who welcomed the annexation of Crimea. The introduction of quotas for Ukrainian music on the radio. At first glance, these things are only about the culture, but they largely change the perception of their own space and their country. And if someone is bothered with this active protection from Russian cultural expansion, I am more hampered by literature that is hostile towards Ukraine, which in recent years has filled the shelves of Russian bookshops.

Related: Communists held a rally in honor of Lenin's birthday in Sevastopol

I am outraged not by the attitude of Russian pop stars to the annexation of Crimea. I am indignant at the very fact. In the fourth year of the Ukrainian-Russian war, you do not even need to ask how acceptable is the cultural model of modern Russia by the Ukrainian society. Especially when you think about Russian weapons and Russian soldiers on the territory of the Ukrainian state.

Related: Law on language quotas on TV comes into force in Ukraine

Dangerous mix

Of course, this is not about Lenin. That is not only about Lenin. The process, which is called decommunization, is only partially related to the rejection of memories of the Soviet era. It is more about memories in general. About traumatic, hidden memories. About memories, which take away the right to objectivity. The memories of millions of Ukrainians, the stories about the famine of 1933 and Stalin's repressions, told b their ancestors are opposed to official attempts to at least partially rehabilitate Soviet times.

Ukraine’s past is not easy. The past is toxic - it poisons not only supporters of Marxism, equally it poisons those for whom the rejection of Marxism is a central issue. The opposites are similar, and the attempt to get rid of the old communist cargo resembles a witch hunt in which one old ideology is replaced by another, new one.

Related: Largest monument to Lenin in Ukraine demounted in Zaporizhia

If we move away from these extreme examples, we will see that Ukraine is currently undergoing a complex transformation that will determine the direction of development for a long time. It is not just a matter of replacing one ideological structure with another, first of all it is a serious study of our own history, our own past. With real and fictitious violations and complexes. This process is extremely painful, but useful. There will be no progress if you look back all the time. Namely, in recent years, Ukraine has it. Lenin had to be demolished, because he was just standing on the way and interfering with the movement.

Painful process

And although here we are talking about fundamental and philosophical issues, society reacts quite calmly. No one organizes demonstrations demanding the restoration of monuments to Marxist leaders, no one is annoyed by the limited import of Russian printed products or the absence of concerts of artists close to the Kremlin. Many things are greatly re-estimated, people are able to follow their own priorities and values, especially in culture.

Related: Largest monument to Lenin in Ukraine demounted in Zaporizhia

At present, Ukraine resembles a large construction site. In a couple of years, we will see what this painful process would result into. I do not know how much the destruction of the communist heritage and the general turn from the Russian-Soviet past will change us in the future, how fundamental this change will be. But example of my father is very significant for me here. A man who once was a member of the Communist Party. Who was irritated by all the attempts to abandon the Soviet system of values. Who did not understand the Maidan.

Only in the spring of 2014, when Russian soldiers entered Donbas and Crimea, something has changed in his attitude. It was his personal decommunization, suddenly he revised many things. He suddenly realized that the picture of the world shown by Russian television was false, and he needed at least some relativization. He suddenly comprehended that he had to make a decision: either to call a pikestaff a pikestaff, or to become a part of this lie. This decision is not easy. But it is important for the survival. My father made a decision. And I am very grateful to him.

Related: Grandpa Lenin painted with the colours of Ukrainian flag

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