If we ask how the war influenced Ukraine, and whether it was a fundamentally new experience for Ukrainians, the answer can only be that the influence was tremendous and extremely significant. Ukraine considerably extended its borders, increased its territory and population, and became a founding member of the United Nations Organization. At the same time, together with Poland and Belarus, Ukraine shares a sad primacy in population losses. Irrevocable losses claimed every sixth inhabitant of the country. There is no family that did not suffer in one way or another during the war. Thus, every family has its own experience and memory of the war: Soviet and German (Romanian) occupation, collaboration and resistance to totalitarian regimes, evacuation behind the Soviet lines and forced labor in Germany, service in the Wehrmacht or in the Red Army, struggle in the ranks of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), emigration, deportation, Stalinist and Hitlerite concentration camps, and much else.
Political processes also left their mark on the experience of war. Against the background of a broad spectrum of alternative political models proposed to Ukrainians at the time, differences of world view deepened between supporters and opponents of the communist regime, sympathizers of the “Soviet project” or of an independent Ukrainian state. The writer Vasyl Barka noted that “Hitler discredited the idea of liberation from Bolshevism.” But victory in the war strengthened Stalinism in Ukraine. It seemed all-powerful, omnipresent, and invincible, with no conceivable alternative.
Ukraine became more ethnically homogeneous. The landscape of memory narrowed: Jews, Poles, Germans, Crimean Tatars and their tragedies disappeared from it. Hundreds of thousands of Russians migrated to Ukraine after the war, bringing with them a model of war memory quite different from that of Ukraine. The influence of the war on identity can be characterized as ambivalent: it accelerated Russification while simultaneously helping to strengthen Ukrainian national consciousness.
On the general canvas of war memory, Ukraine played many roles, some of them diametrically opposed: it was the victim of both Stalinist and Hitlerite occupation; a land of resistance to two totalitarian regimes; both a collaborationist and a victor that cofounded the UN; as well as a country that lost a second battle for independence and national statehood.
Such a plethora of roles currently makes Ukraine a microcosm for the interaction of collective memories of the war and its legacy, as well as a strategic arena of identity conflict. In this plethora, one can distinguish (with certain modifications) two basic contending models of historical memory – Ukrainian sovereigntist and Soviet “little Russian”. (This represents a “contest between victors,” so two speak, for both communists and nationalists consider themselves victors—theformer over Hitler, the latter in historical perspective.)
From Stalin to Perestroika and Glasnost: Myth about Great Patriotic war as legitimating factor
Generally speaking, it is countries vanquished in wars that occupy themselves with identity correction – something went wrong and needs to be set right. The Soviet Union, however, was the only country among the victors that aspired to make use of the war to remake its identity. The revolutionary myth of the Great October Socialist Revolution was replaced by the myth of the Great Patriotic War (GPW), with a generous admixture of Russian patriotism/nationalism. The values formed by this myth were by no means democratic. The principles of liberty were replaced by the heroism and sacrifice of the Soviet people. Even the terrible human losses, for which the Soviet military and political leadership itself was by no means the least to blame, were at first hushed up and then became an object of particular pride – we suffered the world’s greatest losses. There were panegyrics to the rebirth of the power and grandeur of the Soviet Union and the infallibility of Stalin himself. The memory of the war did not become the bearer of democratic antifascist values, as in the West, but of traditional nationalist values embellished with socialist rhetoric. It was the paradox of victory that Stalin exploited it in order to strengthen his regime, while the triumphant struggle of the Soviet people against the fascists led, ironically enough, to even greater suppression of freedom in the USSR. The Russian writer Vasilii Grossman justly termed the great victory “Stalin’s victory over his own people.” Soviet memory of the war became inextricably associated with Stalinism ever after, and the link between freedom and oppression became just as inextricable.
What is notable about the myth of the GPW is that it was formed from above at the initiative of the authorities who were returning to power and exploited the myth to legitimize that return. The first priority in the creation of the Soviet myth was to cover up negative memories of the war – disloyalty to the Soviet authorities in 1941, mass surrender, desertion, collaboration with the Germans during the years of occupation, the struggle of the UPA, and the like – that had accumulated over the years of warfare.
It is no accident that the authorities began their purposeful campaign of commemoration and memorialization of the war precisely in Ukraine, where the level of disloyalty was perhaps the highest.
In the period between the wars, the Bolsheviks failed to form a homogeneous society with a single Soviet identity in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Neither the constant purges of enemies which often included entire ethnic and social groups in Ukraine, nor the formation of a nationally colored Soviet patriotism, were very successful in achieving this goal. Ukraine was mostly peasant in its social composition. In the 1930-s, Ukraine suffered a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe – Great Famine. Atleast 3,5 millionpeoplefellvictimtoit. Thus, Ukraine remained a potentially “weak link” in Stalin’s empire. The addition of the Western Ukrainian territories to the USSR on the eve of the Nazi invasion only added more problems for the Soviet authorities.
The wartime victory created new conditions for the legitimization of the communist regime. The war, with its many realistic and mythical manifestations of heroism and sacrifice, turned out to be wonderful material for the creation of patriotic symbols and models of collective memory. Moreover, the common fight of the Soviet nations with the enemy made it possible to emphasize rather then ignore local specific circumstances, creating a model of common patriotism – of a common Soviet identity. Thus, the myth of the Great Patriotic War was based upon the ideologems of a moral-political society, the leading role of the Communist Party, the unity of the party and people, of the front lines and the rear, of fervent Soviet patriotism and collective heroism, of the friendship of the nations of the USSR, etc. and was summoned to play a special role in the consolidation of Soviet society.
Aimed at integrating the entire population of the USSR into a single Soviet people, the myth of the war created common enemies and common heroes. Meanwhile, every national republic and every Soviet ethnos created its own small myths, which were totally in harmony with this colossal historical structure.
The leaders of the Ukrainian republic started the creation of the Ukrainian Soviet myth already during the war. They used every element typical of the official culture of the war memory: certain interpretation of history, the erection of military pantheons and memorials, and the introduction of new holidays and memorial dates. In his speeches and reports the First Communist of the republic, Nikita Khruschev, did not only present the ideological basis for the role and place of Ukraine and her communist party in the Second World War, but also established the foundation for the commemoration of the memory of the war in pantheons and memorials. At Khruschev’s request and with Stalin’s personal permission, soon after the liberation of Kiev the heroes of the defense of the Ukrainian capital – Generals Kirponos, Potapov, and Tupikov were buried in Kiev. (In 1957, they were reburied in the Park of Glory that was built for this very purpose; the Park was turned into a ritual place of worship, with an Eternal Flame and a Grave of the Unknown Soldier in it). Later, another hero of the liberation of Kiev was buried there, General Nikolay Vatutin, who died in the spring of 1944 as a result of a wound received in a clash with Ukrainian nationalists. (Prior to the collapse of the USSR, the reasons behind the death of the Commander of the First Ukrainian Front were kept silent; today, some right-wing radicals have their own specific interpretation of the inscription on his monument – “To General Vatutin From the Ukrainian People”).
During the war Khruschev also initiated the establishment of the “national official holidays of the Ukrainian people”: Liberation of Kiev Day (November 6) and Liberation of Ukraine Day (October 14), which are still celebrated as memorial dates. I should also note that among the non-Russian peoples, Ukrainians were the only nation who was permitted to deviate from a standard Soviet rule – they were allowed to have their own “national medal” in honor of a historical hero of the Ukrainian nation, Bogdan Khmelnytsky.
In his capacity as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in 1961, Nikita Khruschev achieved one of his goals and Kiev was awarded the title of “hero city”. This title of honor was introduced in 1945 and awarded only to Leningrad, Sevastopol, Volgograd-Stalingrad, and Odessa for their heroic defense efforts during the Second World War. For a number reasons, this was not an easy step for Khruschev because former Stalin marshals associated the defense of Kiev with the largest encirclement in the history of the war, when around half a million Soviet soldiers were captured. Another unpleasant factor was the fact that the command of the defense of the Ukrainian capital belonged to General Andrey Vlasov – the future traitor #1 in Stalin’s empire.
The Party’s claims for leadership of Soviet society were seriously undermined by the catastrophe of 1941, which placed a certain taboo on discussions of the events of the initial period in the official memory culture of the war. Thus, in the fall of 1945, deputy commissioner of the Soviet People’s Committee of the USSR for protection of military secrets in the press, terminated the distribution of the journal “Ukrainska Literatura”, issues № 4-5 of 1945. After some thorough checking, Zinoviy Teteryuk’s novel “Notes of a Prisoner of War” was taken out of print. The novel depicted the sufferings of a former Red Army commander who voluntarily surrendered and signed up to clear mines laid down by the Red Army. After numerous escapes from concentration camps and 13 months of wandering around in occupied territory, the main hero of the novel crossed the front line and returned to “his own”. The author’s problems were caused by his “overly realistic” description of the events of the initial period of the war. The scenes of Red Army soldiers surrendering, the liberal attitude of the Germans to their prisoners of war, who were often released, the lack of descriptions of the “heroic struggle of the Soviet people and their Red Army with the fascists invaders” and the absence of even hints of partisan activities – the hero of the novel failed to find any partisans – caused indignation among the censors. They argued that the publication was a “serious mistake of the editorial board and a politically harmful work”.
Only little was changed in future years. In 1971, after the journal “Vitchyzna” published the novel of the partisan and author Yury Zbanatsky “We Are Not From A Legend”, twice Hero of the Soviet Union and partisan Alexey Fedorov lashed out against an author who had dared to doubt the massive nature of the partisan movement and described some difficulties in its formation in 1941.
It was the large-scale defeat of the Soviets in the beginning of the war, and lack of loyalty to the Stalin regime among the mostly peasant population of Ukraine, that led to this permanent exaggeration of the subject of the partisan struggle in Soviet Ukrainian historiography. The memoirs and novels of participants in the partisan movement such as Sidor Kovpak, Alexey Fedorov, Petr Vershigora and others were published and were regularly reprinted in the republic in huge publication runs. Gradually, the partisan struggle during the war grew into another Soviet myth, that of the “national resistance in the rear of the German troops in the occupied territory of Ukraine”. The number of Ukrainian partisans was constantly on the rise. Nikita Khruschev told the 16th Congress of the Communist Party of Ukraine that there 220 thousand individuals participated in the partisan movement. Soon, however, this figure no longer suited the new Ukrainian leaders because in comparison with Belarus, where the number of partisans was almost twice as large, Ukraine did not look very good. Revisions were made on the eve of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Victory, and a new, absolutely fantastic figure was presented: 501,000 Ukrainian partisans and 100,000 underground fighters. Meanwhile, the authorities avoided focusing attention on the ethnic composition of the partisan units because the proportion of ethnic Ukrainians in these units was much smaller than their share in the general ethnic composition of the republic.
Keeping silence about the ethnic composition of these units was a typical feature of the pseudo-internationalist historical-ideological concept of the “friendship of nations”, which was intended to facilitate the formation of a single Soviet identity. Problems of ethnic minorities and ethnic relations during the war were also a taboo subject. The deportation of Crimean Tatars and the Germans of Ukraine, the Ukrainian-Polish slaughter in Volyn – these remained a closely monitored blank spot – just like the tragedy of the Holocaust for that cause. The elimination of the memory of the Holocaust of the Jewish people was a typical aspect of the Soviet historical memory of the war. Thus, the novel of Kiev author Victor Kuznetsov “Babiy Yar” was first published in 1966 but soon it was forbidden. The reason why this topic was silenced is closely linked to the problem of loyalty. The authorities were afraid that any emphasis on the Jews as the main victims of the Nazis could activate in the mind of the masses the old anti-Semitic myth of the times of the Civil War – that “Soviet power is Jewish power” – which corresponded to the Nazi myth that they “came to liberate the Ukrainians from Jewish Bolshevism”. Therefore, the authorities preferred to describe the numerous burial places of the Jewish people as the graves of “Soviet civilians, victims of the German fascist occupation regime”. In 1945, the Soviet People’s Committee of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic decided to erect a monument in honor of those killed in Babiy Yar. ThisresolutionhoweverdidnotmentiontheJews. In 1976, when the monument was finally erected, the ethnic background of the 100,000 victims was not mentioned at all. It was only during Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost that the subject of the Holocaust began to receive adequate attention. It was disclosed then that hundreds of Ukrainian nationalists who were shot by the Germans were also buried in Babiy Yar, along with Jews.
What made the Ukrainian historical memory of the war so peculiar was its initially divided character. The national-liberation movement dominating Ukraine’s western regions during the years of the Nazi occupation and which reached its peak when Stalin’s regime returned, created during the war a whole system of local national myths with its own heroes and symbols, pantheons and holidays based upon the idea of the sacrificial combat of Ukrainian nationalists “against two imperialisms – those of Stalin and Hitler – for an independent Ukrainian state”. It was thus no accident that immediately after its return to Ukraine, Soviet power tried hard to eliminate everything that could remind the local population of this struggle. Nikita Khruschev suggested that the burial mounds piled up by Ukrainian nationalists to commemorate the memory of their heroes be transformed into monuments to Soviet soldiers. For this purpose, all wooden crosses and national symbols on these mounds were destroyed, and little pyramids with red stars were erected on them.
The topic of enemies and traitors occupied a special place in the Ukrainian Soviet wartime myth. In addition to the aggressors (the Nazi and their satellites), the enemies included all the nationalist anti-Soviet movements of the war period that were of an anti-imperial, national-liberation nature and that proclaimed the idea of the development of their nations outside Soviet borders. Failing to provide even a superficial analysis of the political and ideological bases of the activation of Ukrainian nationalism during the war, Soviet historiography presented this large-scale national movement as a bunch of collaborators, homeland traitors, and criminal elements. For almost 50 years, Communist propaganda created the image of a “Ukrainian-German bourgeois nationalist, a fascist collaborator” in Ukraine.
The apotheosis of the creation of the Soviet myth coincided with the period of high stagnation, which saw the triumph of a completely deformed model of memory created by party ideologues and their acolytes in the arts and sciences. In its final form, the myth of the GPW was a mixture of half-truths, lies, and gapping blank spots. It is this very legacy that is invoked by present-day sympathizers of the Soviet model of memory.
During the period of perestroika and glasnost, watching the destruction of many Soviet myths and the radical changes in public opinion caused by this destruction, the Communist authorities made desperate attempts to preserve its last ideological bastion – the myth of the Great Patriotic War. It’s clear why they wanted to do so. Against the background of revelatory materials on the crimes of the communist regime, the “Great Victory of the Party and the People” in the war against “Nazi Germany” was almost the sole remaining argument in favor of preservation of the existing system of power.
In Western Ukraine, at the beginning of the 1990s, the re-elected local authorities consisted mostly of national democrats who initiated the legalization of national symbols, the renaming of streets in honor of national heroes, and the erection and restoration of monuments and graves to “those who fell in the fight for independent Ukraine during the Second World War”. Local communists, with the assistance of military and KGB structures, tried to stop this process, at times engaging in acts of terrorism. In June 1991, the city council of Chervonograd directly accused the communists of a number of crimes: blowing up a monument to Stepan Bandera, the demolition of signs on streets named in his memory, and blowing up a memorial sign in honor of those who died in the Second World War fighting in Brody. Here soldiers of the 14th Grenadier Waffen SS Division “Galichina” received its baptism of fire, fighting against the Red Army.
It would be hard to overlook the role of the Diaspora in the creation of alternatives to the Soviet models. On the one hand, anticommunist visions of the war reflected a bipolar world and were an integral part of superpower rivalry. Nevertheless, the anticommunism and anti-Stalinism of the Ukrainian Diaspora model of memory was not so much a product of political conjuncture. It was shaped from below by individual and group models of memory preserved among those who had fought against Stalinism during the war and did not accept its ideological myths. The Kyivan Fedir Pigido-Pravoberezhny, who wrote one of the best Ukrainian memoirs, Velyka vitchyzniana viina (The Great Patriotic War), brought the very name of the war into question. Vasyl Barka, a former Red Army soldier, wrote in his novel Rai (Paradise) about the equal criminality of the Stalinist and Hitlerite regimes with regard to Ukrainians. Dokiia Humenna was the first Ukrainian writer to describe Kyiv during the occupation and the tragedy of Babyn Yar, while the Volhynian writer Ulas Samchuk was the first to describe the struggle of the UPA. Ukrainian writers in the Diaspora recreated a Ukrainian memory of the war that was completely at odds with Soviet memory. “Perhaps the war will strike like steel or flint until the sparks fly and burn the eyes of those who gaze indifferently at the struggle; they will fall into every corner, forcing people to choose: which side are you on? Whom does your soul serve, heaven or hell? And here’s the rub: it is hard to choose, for the two boots, those of Moscow and Berlin, make a pair. Any Ukrainian who fights the red death will be right; one who fights the black death will also be right, as will the one who fights both. Only the one who proclaims ‘I am not involved’ as the summit of earthly wisdom will be wrong” (Barka, Rai).
Despite the presence of elements of ethnophobia and anticommunism in the postwar Diaspora milieu, this was a memory that underwent continual change and transformation, unlike the petrified Soviet myth. It was influenced not only by Ukrainian nationalism but also by Western liberal democracy. It was the works of historians from the Diaspora – Bohdan Krawchenko, Orest Subtelny, Paul R. Magocsi, and others – that became the quintessence of models of this memory. It was these works that set the tone for Ukrainian research, especially on the Second World War. From the previous model of sacrificial Ukrainian struggle on two fronts against totalitarian empires, which was devoid of any self-critical or negative narrative about oneself, it evolved in the direction of a democratic, sovereigntist, and simultaneously multicultural and polyethnic model.
Ukrainian memory was greatly activated at the moment when the Ukrainian state came into being. It was, indeed, historical memory itself that emerged as a powerful weapon in the struggle for independence. As soon as the influence of the communist rule weakened during the period of perestroika and glasnost, alternative models became apparent. The struggle between the old Soviet or post-Soviet models and various national ones, both democratic and undemocratic, has been going on ever since.
Independent Ukraine: Myth of the War and War of Myths
After the proclamation of the independence of Ukraine in August 1991 the problem of OUN-UPA not only remained on the agenda, it grew into an open political conflict. The whole society began to debate the nature of the main and determining struggle in the history of Ukraine’s statehood – was it the struggle of those Ukrainians who fought under red banners or those who were inspired by blue-and-yellow banners. The polar differences inherent in these evaluations were reflected in the widespread popularity of clichés such as “Soviet veterans are occupants, a lost generation, and enemies of Ukraine’s independence”, while members of OUN-UPA were accused of “collaboration with the Nazis, betrayal of the Ukrainian people, and helping the fascists”. On the eve of and during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the creation of UPA in 1992, a number of regional and district councils of Ukraine’s western regions turned to the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) with a request that participants in the national-liberation struggle of the 1920-1950-s be officially recognized.
Battles of this kind continue in various “seats of war” – in parliamentary halls, in rallies, in the mass media, in academic and other conferences, and at the level of local authorities.
From time to time, the right-wing radical mass media express doubts concerning the suitability of using the term “Great Patriotic War” in Ukraine. They even suggest that Victory Day celebrations be cancelled in our country. The nationalists agree, at best, to commemorate this day as a Day of Mourning for the victims of the war and the lessons of Ukrainian statehood. They consider it a “violation of Ukrainian independence” to “celebrate the jubilees of the Soviet occupation of Ukraine”.
Veterans of the Red Army and of UPA have long since been celebrating very different holidays: the Soviet veterans celebrate May 9 as Victory Day, while UPA members celebrate October 14 as Ukrainian National Army Day. Sometimes these celebrations turn into open conflicts as was the case, for example, in May 1997 during the celebration of Victory Day in Lviv, which ended in fighting. EventheSovietwarveteranmovementisdivided.
As far as the authorities are concerned, they have found themselves between a hammer and anvil in the matter of OUN-UPA. Having no clear concept of the formation of a national ideology, with a communist majority in the parliament and with the country divided between East and West, the authorities did not dare, until recently, make public statements concerning the OUN-UPA problem.
The formation of the politics of memory in independent Ukraine has proceeded in stages that are clearly associated with the specifics of presidential rule. After being elected President Leonid Kravchuk, who used to be a communist ideologist active in fighting against “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists”, openly spoke of his participation in the national-liberation struggle in Western Ukraine. During a TV program, in an attempt to emphasize the national nature of that struggle, he mentioned that, as a child during the war, he helped supply Ukrainian nationalists with food. Kravchuk, however, did not dare extend official recognition to OUN and UPA as equals of the veterans of the Soviet Armed Forces.
His tactic was the original one of “running between the raindrops” so as to avoid getting wet – that is, keeping his distance from the extremes of communism and nationalism, as well as trying to avoid painful subjects that might upset the northern neighbor, the communist parliament, or the divided society. Both the semi centenary of the UPA and the sixtieth anniversary of the Great Famine were practically ignored by the president and parliament.
Leonid Kuchma replaced Kravchuk in the presidential office in July 1994. He took advantage of the dissatisfaction of the Russian-speaking electorate with the «extremes of nationalism», and unlike Leonid Kravchuk, who was born in Western Ukraine, Kuchma was never sentimental about the Ukrainian national movement.
The period of Kuchma’s rule was characterized by attempts to preserve the Soviet historical memory, with some minor changes being made to the old myth of the Great Patriotic War. In 2000, during the pompous celebration of the 55th anniversary of the Victory, the Verkhovna Rada adopted the Law “On Commemoration of Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945” which was initiated by the Organization of War Veterans of Ukraine. Victory Day became an official state holiday of Ukraine, designed to preserve Soviet ritual symbols. Playing in two fields of historical memory became typical for this regime. It gave equal credit to both the nationalist and Soviet dates and jubilees. Moreover, the authorities even learned to time these holidays to coincide with their specific interests. For example, during the celebration of the proclamation of Carpathian Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma signed a decree awarding the title of Hero of Ukraine to the First President of the Carpathian Ukraine, Avgustin Voloshin, who died in 1945 in a NKVD prison. At the same time, Leonid Kuchma bravely instituted a Day of Partisan Glory, which in fact contradicted the Soviet tradition of never making distinctions among Soviet soldiers, partisans, and underground fighters. In this case, however, celebration of the Day of Partisan Glory on September 22 in modern-day Ukraine became another concession to the leftist electorate for it was designed to contrast the Soviet partisans to UPA members, who marked their memory day three weeks later. On February 18, 2002, the President also signed a resolution “On Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Creation of the Underground Youth Organization “Molodaya Gvardia”. He personally attended these celebrations, while ignoring the 60th anniversary of UPA that was widely celebrated at the level of public organizations of Ukraine in 2002.
During his second term as President and especially after the “tape scandal” that was related to the murder of journalist George Gongadze, Kuchma’s regime found itself in international isolation. This circumstance had a significant impact on further strengthening the inclination of Ukraine’s higher authorities to orient themselves towards Russia.
The promotion of the image of Russian-Ukrainian military comradeship during the war, and placing an emphasis on the common Soviet past, became routine. Many observers considered the revival of the former Soviet Army Day on February 23, which in the new Ukrainian interpretation was called the Day of Homeland Defender, not only a domestic political PR action timed to coincide with the presidential elections of 1999, but also a demonstration of Ukraine’s good will towards Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Ukraine in the fall of 2004, during the presidential election campaign, to attend the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of liberation of Ukraine from the fascists, became the epitome of this policy.
One should note however that despite all this, supporters of the Soviet myths have practically lost their battle for the historical memory of the new generation. All the Soviet clichés have long since been removed from school books. The Education Ministry of Ukraine legitimated the subject of OUN-UPA back in the first years of independence. The entire generation of participants in the Orange Revolution was brought up using these new textbooks. These new books present Stalin and Hitler under one category – as totalitarian dictators who are equally responsible for unleashing the Second World War. Most school and college textbooks no longer speak of the “Great Patriotic War”, having replaced it with the neutral and less emotional “Second World War” or the “German-Soviet War”. The deviation from the Soviet model of the war can be also seen in the replacement of old heroic symbols by new ones. Old Soviet heroes – Maresyev, Gastello, Matrosov, Kosmodemyanskaya, and others – have been replaced by heroes of the national-liberation struggle in Ukrainian textbooks. Many schoolbooks include the portraits of UPA Commander Roman Shukhevich and OUN leader Stepan Bandera.
On the whole, today’s Ukraine, which declares its adherence to democratic principles, is characterized by pluralism in historiography, although some polarization of political positions, rather than academic opinions, can still be found here. On the one hand, attempts have been made to modify the old Soviet model of the Great Patriotic War, and even its fundamental myth, so that it can be accommodated into the “Ukraine-centrist” framework. On the other hand, an integral nationalist concept opposes this model; its supporters try to eliminate all Soviet elements from the memory of the war and replace them with the heroism of OUN and UPA. A somewhat neutral model tries to reconcile the rightists and the leftists, emphasizing the “heroism and sacrifice” of all Ukrainians who fought during the war, both in the Red Army and in the UPA, as a result of opportunities which were created to gain independence for Ukraine. New post-Soviet and nationalistic myths have ultimately replaced the old Soviet myth of the war.
In 2004, Ukrainian society showed itself prepared to mobilize on the basis of regional, national, and sociocultural identities. The slogan of the Orange Revolution and Independence Square, where, in the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski, “nationalism embraced democracy,” was “to give Ukraine its first Ukrainian president.” Evident in this formulation was an appeal to revive Ukrainian historical memory.
At the same time the 2004 presidential elections demonstrated once again the existing political and civilizational division in the Ukrainian society, including in the respect to the memory of the war. To take advantage of prevailing sentiments in the Russified East of Ukraine, the electoral bloc of Yuschenko, “Nasha Ukraina” was given the label of “nashism”. This was explicitly done in order to discredit this bloc. Fascist symbols accompanied the label. Billboards depicting Victor Yuschenko in SS uniform were erected around Donetsk, while a video clip including scenes from the Second World War and a song by a popular singer prophesied that if Yuschenko wins the elections, Ukraine is doomed to a civil war.
Under President Yushchenko, the politics of memory has not only been considerably activated but has taken on features of a systemic nature. The frequency of the president’s historical references is greater than that of his predecessors, and his repertoire of events, facts, and personalities is broader. He has stressed more than once that: “For the first time we have taken a systematic approach to the national revival; we are speaking of the renewal of our historical memory…. In a united state, in independent Ukraine we must remember everyone who brought our independence closer at various times…. The Ukrainian state arises against the background of this history….”
An emphasis on the activity of the national-liberation movement became the defining feature of the new model of historical memory, with the OUN and UPA as one of its most characteristic representatives. Yushchenko was the first to greet the country with the sixty-third anniversary of the UPA. In this context, the logic of establishing the Museum of the Soviet Occupation in Kyiv and of creating the Museum of the Liberation Struggle in Lviv becomes apparent. This list can be continued with such events as the Ukrainian parliament’s acknowledgment of the Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people; the mounting of an exhibition devoted to the UPA, “The Army of the Unvanquished,” by the Archives of the Security Service of Ukraine. On May 31, 2006 Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance was established and so on.
Overall, the Stalinist USSR appears in President Yushchenko’s model of memory as a totalitarian empire that did considerable damage to Ukraine. Not long ago he also acknowledged the colonial status of Ukraine in that empire, characterizing it as a post-totalitarian, post-colonial, and post-genocidal country. In 2009 Yushchenko has greeted the nation with the sixty-seventh anniversary of the UPA. He visited the monument to the Kolky Republic in Volhynia, which was created under the aegis of the UPA on German-occupied territory (the so-called region of liberty). He also visited the Demianiv Laz memorial museum to the victims of Stalinist persecution, commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the reburial of their remains. He has issued a decree conferring official memorial status on the Łącki Street Prison in Lviv and Babyn Yar in Kyiv. At the same end of his terms on January 22, 2010, President Viktor Yushchenko, conferred Hero of Ukraine status on the Ukrainian nationalist, Stepan Bandera. (The last one spent years in Polish and Nazi confinement, and died in the hands of the Soviet KGB is for a lot of Ukrainians a symbol of the struggle for independence during the twentieth century.) On January 28, 2010 for the first time after 20 years of Ukrainian indepandence heofficially recognized OUN and UPA as the “participants of the struggle for independence of Ukraine”.
Against this background, the subject of the GPW becomes quite controversial. On the one hand, the ruling authorities regard the war in light of the heroic liberation struggle of the UPA, as well as through the prism of the crimes of both totalitarian regimes. Auschwitz and the GULAG, the Holocaust and the Holodomor are boldly compared. A new feature should be noted – the introduction of the Holocaust into the discourse of the war with regard to the Victory Day celebrations of 9 May. Earlier it was mentioned only at ceremonies in Babyn Yar. Moreover, in frequency of historical messages in the president’s appeals of 2006, the Holocaust took fourth place, preceded by the Second World War, the Holodomor, and Stalinist persecutions and deportations. (True, the Holocaust is never mentioned in the context of Ukrainian participation in it.) The president also mentioned of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars. Polish-Ukrainian encounters at the highest level are intended to discuss the complex problems of the Volhynian tragedy. Thus the model of historical memory promoted by Yushchenko cannot be called nationalist. This is a model of an inclusive political nation that is taking shape on the basis of multiculturalism and mutual tolerance. Accordingly, the national narrative is based on historical events meaningful to various national groups residing on the Ukrainian territory.
Even so, this Ukrainian model of memory of the Second World War remained a hybrid, since it included elements of Soviet heroic rhetoric about the GPW that were far from a rational consideration of events. Soviet myths – the name of the GPW, the 9 May holiday, the uncritical approach to the Red Army – remained in this model as birthmarks. In his Victory Day speech of May 2005 the president called Soviet veterans “fighters for freedom and democracy” and noted that “they fought for the country clearly desired by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Ivan Mazepa, Volodymyr the Great, and Yaroslav the Wise.”
In his policy on war memory, Yushchenko was following the well-trodden path of the Ukrainization of the GPW myth. This was particularly apparent in the posthumous award of the distinction of Hero of Ukraine to Oleksii Berest, a Ukrainian who took part, along with Meliton Kantariia and Mikhail Yegorov, in a dubious “first” hoisting of the victory flag above the Reichstag. (As is well known, this was a staged grouping filmed after the battle for official newsreels.) According to presidential decrees, Soviet symbols are an official component of 9 May celebrations. The St. George ribbon and Russian songs are standard accompaniments. The status of “Participant in the GPW” also remained unchanged. It is also paradoxical that the term GPW was reinstated in school textbooks after the Orange Revolution (owing to the efforts of the Socialist minister Stanislav Nikolaienko).
Yushchenko was criticized from both left and right, both for radicalism and for lack thereof in forming a model of memory of the Second World War. That formation, one should add, was taking place against the background of internal and external conflicts. The former include, above all, the conflict of various Ukrainian identities that is being exploited by Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian political forces alike. (An example of the antithesis of the rehabilitation of nationalist heroes is the erection of a monument to the victims of the UPA, “Shot in the Back,” in Simferopol. Luhansk, Yevpatoriia, and Kharkiv also want to erect something similar.) Donetsk took a different tack, erecting a monument to General Nikolai Vatutin, “killed by the Banderites.”
Objectively speaking, the politics of memory instituted by President Yushchenko was aggravating relations with Russia. An almost overt “information war” was going on between the two countries with the involvement of their foreign ministries, security services, media, etc.
In actual fact, the opposition to the Ukrainian president’s politics of memory was not intellectually powerful. The communists employ nothing but the old Soviet rhetoric, as does the Party of Regions. The latter celebrate the heroic epos of the triumph of good over evil (in their scenario, Stalinism is good) and offer no critique of totalitarianism/Stalinism. “Counter-memory” in Ukraine (i.e., the “Anti-Orange” Internet sites) plays a destructive role and does not act as a Foucauldian defender of freedom but as a breeding ground for the creation of negative stereotypes and social confrontation.
As for reaction to Yushchenko’s politics of memory in Ukrainian society, we have the results of recent (summer 2009) sociological surveys. They indicate that change has occurred where purposeful work has been accomplished. By the same token, nothing has changed where nothing has been done. Thus, Yushchenko has made no effort to displace the GPW narrative, and nothing has happened in that regard. In recent years, there has been practically no change of attitude to Victory Day and the term GPW. More than half the population of Ukraine supports that term and holiday. But there has been change with regard to the UPA. More than half of those interviewed are no longer hostile to it. With regard to the Holocaust, there has been a growth of awareness, 39, 4% call it Genocide and 39,3% Genocide of Jewish people.
It is not news – and this was again confirmed by the surveys – that eastern and southern Ukraine, which is under the influence of Russian media and the Party of Regions, does not accept the new model of war memory proposed by the president Yushchenko.
In Search of the Model of Historical Memory of WWII for Ukraine
It thus remains an open question which model of war memory Ukraine should choose. At the most general level, I see three approaches or models for the formation of a concept of war memory in Europe.
The first – let us call it East European (Baltic) – entails equal condemnation of the crimes of Hitlerite and Stalinist totalitarianism, a radical renunciation of the Soviet legacy, and liberal nationalism.
The second or West European (German) model comes down to repentance and the denunciation of war and nationalism as such, with the Holocaust at the epicenter of the model. (The assertion that Germany lost the war but won the war for memory, looks attractive but remains contentious, as it is hardly likely that this model can be imposed on Europe as a whole.)
The third or post-Soviet model is now being actively exploited by the authoritarian regimes in Russia and Belarus. It comes down to the nationalization of the GPW myth, with very little, if any, space for the acknowledgment of Stalinist crimes, and it highlights imperial values (victory fanfares, military parades, excessive heroization, panegyrics to victory and sacrifice, a cult of chieftains, great states, and the like).
Which of these models applies to Ukraine? Despite Yushchenko’s radical measures, the Ukrainian model remains somewhere between those of Russia and Eastern Europe, and very far from that of Western Europe.
The basic questions to be raised in creating a model of historical memory are these: What do we want to remember and forget; what are to be the building blocks of our memory? With what values are we to infuse the commemoration and memorialization of the war? It is my firm opinion that these should not be the values of the old Soviet empire. Ukrainians are not its heirs. This (neo-Stalinist) model must be completely eliminated. For Ukraine, the creation of its own model of memory is not just a question of reviving national identity, as well as democratizing and humanizing society It is also a question of solving the problem of escaping from under the influence of Russia, for which the GPW is a powerful means of exerting pressure on Ukraine and keeping it within its own geopolitical space.
In my opinion, a combination of the Baltic and German models might prove most useful to Ukraine. From the first one we have already borrowed condemnation of Stalinist and Hitlerite totalitarianism and the maintenance of a cultured, “civilized nationalism”, and now, from the West European model, Ukraine should take the concept of repentance, humanism, seeking mutual understanding between former enemies and allies, honoring all who perished, and condemning the heroization of the war as such. The foundations of this new model should be the values of freedom and democracy, which have never been part of the Stalinist myth, past or present, and the value of human life, which Stalinism disregarded.
A principled rejection of the Stalinist legacy and of excessive heroization does not by any means entail forgetting and ignoring the memory of those who won the victory. But all this should be balanced by sorrow for the victims of Stalinism and denunciation of the crimes committed by the Red Army itself, including its crimes in Ukraine. This is the important aspect missing in our culture of memory. The path from triumph to trauma is one that every nation must walk by itself. Demythologizing and deheroizing of warfare is not a simple matter of replacing holidays, names, and the like. A fundamental rethinking of the whole war narrative is required.
The conception of equal responsibility of the two totalitarian regimes must be balanced by repentance for crimes committed by Ukrainians who fought on behalf of those regimes, as well as in the ranks of a third force, the UPA.
But on this way there are now a lot of obstacles. In 2010 anti-orange politician Viktor Yanukovich was elected the new president of Ukraine. There are not any doubts he will try to radically change previous memory politics and to return it to the post-Soviet model.