To the President of Ukraine, Petro O. Poroshenko, and to the Chairman of Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada, Volodymyr B. Hroysman:
We, the undersigned, appeal to you not to sign into law the draft laws (no. 2538-1 and 2558)1 adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on April 9, 2015. As scholars and experts long committed to Ukraine’s regeneration and freedom, we regard these laws with the deepest foreboding. Their content and spirit contradicts one of the most fundamental political rights: the right to freedom of speech. Their adoption would raise serious questions about Ukraine’s commitment to the principles of the Council of Europe and the OSCE, along with a number of treaties and solemn declarations adopted since Ukraine regained its independence in 1991. Their impact on Ukraine’s image and reputation in Europe and North America would be profound. Not least of all, the laws would provide comfort and support to those who seek to enfeeble and divide Ukraine.
We also are troubled by the fact that the laws passed without serious debate, without dissenting votes and with large numbers of deputies declining to take part.[W.Z. Since 1991, these self-proclaimed scholars and experts have been promoting Utopian policies that have little to do with the reality of Russian subversion and corruption within Ukrainian society (as well as within Europe and North America). At best, despite thousands of visits and speeches, they have failed miserably in helping Ukraine; at worst, they have provided aid and comfort to (and even colluded with) Ukraine's enemies. To speak of "image and reputation", when Ukraine is desperately fighting for its very existence, is the height of delusion.]
In particular we are concerned about the following:
The potential consequences of both these laws are disturbing. Not only would it be a crime to question the legitimacy of an organization (UPA) that slaughtered tens of thousands of Poles in one of the most heinous acts of ethnic cleansing in the history of Ukraine, but also it would exempt from criticism the OUN, one of the most extreme political groups in Western Ukraine between the wars, and one which collaborated with Nazi Germany at the outset of the Soviet invasion in 1941. It also took part in anti-Jewish pogroms in Ukraine and, in the case of the Melnyk faction, remained allied with the occupation regime throughout the war.[W.Z. In reading this paragraph, one wonders if the authors are really worried about Ukraine and the wellbeing of Ukrainian citizens or if they are more worried about their own careers and wellbeing, since many of them have spent their lives trying to delegitimize Ukraine's independence movement. Does this so-called "ethnic cleansing" compare in magnitude to Stalin's deportation of Poles during the first 1939-1941 occupation? Or Operation Vistula (Akcja Wisla in Polish) in 1947? Or the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944? Were not the millions of Ukrainians who were deported to Germany as Ostarbeiter ethnically cleansed? What about the banishment of the Zaporizhian Cossacks several centuries ago? How does it compare with "ethnic cleansings" around the world over the centuries?]
However noble the intent, the wholesale condemnation of the entire Soviet period as one of occupation of Ukraine will have unjust and incongruous consequences. Anyone calling attention to the development of Ukrainian culture and language in the 1920s could find himself or herself condemned. The same applies to those who regard the Gorbachev period as a progressive period of change to the benefit of Ukrainian civil society, informal groups, and political parties, including the Movement for Perestroika (Rukh).[W.Z. Are some authors nostalgic Marxists? Or perhaps Russian chauvinists and imperialists?]
Over the past 15 years, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has invested enormous resources in the politicization of history. It would be ruinous if Ukraine went down the same road, however partially or tentatively. Any legal or ‘administrative’ distortion of history is an assault on the most basic purpose of scholarly inquiry: pursuit of truth. Any official attack on historical memory is unjust. Difficult and contentious issues must remain matters of debate. The 1.5 million Ukrainians who died fighting the Nazis in the Red Army are entitled to respect, as are those who fought the Red Army and NKVD. Those who regard victory over Nazi Germany as a pivotal historical event should neither feel intimidated nor excluded from the nation.
Since 1991, Ukraine has been a tolerant and inclusive state, a state (in the words of the Constitution) for ‘citizens of Ukraine of all nationalities’. If signed, the laws of April 9, 2015 will be a gift to those who wish to turn Ukraine against itself. They will alienate many Ukrainians who now find themselves under de facto occupation. They will divide and dishearten Ukraine’s friends. In short, they will damage Ukraine’s national security, and for this reason above all, we urge you to reject them.
David Albanese, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Soviet and Russian History, Northeastern University, USA
Tarik Cyril Amar, Assistant Professor of History, Columbia University, USA
Dominique Arel, Chair of Ukrainian Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada
Martin Aust, Visiting Professor of History, University of Basel, Switzerland
Mark R. Baker, Assistant Professor, Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey
Omer Bartov, John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of History and Professor of German Studies, Brown University, USA
Harald Binder, Ph.D., Founding President, Center for Urban History of East Central Europe, Lviv, Ukraine
Marko Bojcun, Director of the Ukraine Centre, London Metropolitan University, UK
Uilleam Blacker, Lecturer in Comparative East European Culture, University College London, UK
Jeffrey Burds, Associate Professor of Russian and Soviet History, Northeastern University, USA
Marco Carynnyk, Independent Scholar, Toronto, Canada
Heather J. Coleman, Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor, Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta, Canada
Markian Dobczansky, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, Stanford University, USA
Sofia Dyak, Director, Centre for Urban History of East Central Europe, Lviv, Ukraine
Evgeny Finkel, Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University, USA
Rory Finnin, University Senior Lecturer in Ukrainian Studies, University of Cambridge, UK
Christopher Ford, Lecturer in Trade Union Education, WEA London, UK
J. Arch Getty, Distinguished Professor of History University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), USA
Christopher Gilley, Research Fellow, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
Frank Golczewski, Professor in the Program in History, University of Hamburg, Germany
Mark von Hagen, Professor of History, School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, Arizona State University, USA
André Härtel, Lecturer in International Relations, Department of Political Science, University of Jena, Germany
Guido Hausmann, Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich, Germany
John-Paul Himka, Professor Emeritus, Department of History & Classics, University of Alberta, Canada
Adrian Ivakhiv, Professor of Environmental Thought and Culture, University of Vermont, USA
Kerstin S. Jobst, Professor of East European History, University of Vienna, Austria
Tom Junes, PhD (historian) - Imre Kertész Kolleg, Jena, Germany
Andreas Kappeler, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Vienna, Austria
Ivan Katchanovski, Adjunct Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada
Padraic Kenney, Professor of History, Indiana University, USA
Olesya Khromeychuk, Teaching Fellow, University College London, UK
Oleh Kotsyuba, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University, USA
Matthew Kott, Researcher at Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Uppsala University, Sweden
Mark Kramer, Program Director for Cold War Studies, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University, USA
Nadiya Kravets, Postdoctoral Fellow, Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University, USA
Olga Kucherenko, Independent Scholar, Cambridge, UK
John J. Kulczycki, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA
Victor Hugo Lane, York College, City University of New York, USA
Yurii Latysh, Taras Shevchenko National University, Kyiv, Ukraine
David R. Marples, Distinguished University Professor, Department of History & Classics, University of Alberta, Canada
Jared McBride, Visiting Assistant Professor of History, Columbia University, USA
Brendan McGeever, Early Career Research Fellow, Birkbeck, University of London
Javier Morales, Lecturer in International Relations, European University of Madrid, Spain
Tanja Penter, Professor of Eastern European History, Heidelberg University, Germany
Olena Petrenko, Ph.D. Student, Department of East European History, Ruhr University Bochum, Germany
Simon Pirani, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, and Lecturer on Russian and Soviet History, Canterbury Christ Church University, UK
Yuri Radchenko, Senior Lecturer, Kharkiv Collegium Institute of Oriental Studies and International Relations, and Director of Center for Inter-ethnic Relations in Eastern Europe, Kharkiv, Ukraine
William Risch, Associate Professor of History, Georgia College, USA
Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe, Research Fellow, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany
Blair Ruble, Political Scientist, Washington, DC, USA
Per Anders Rudling, Associate Professor of History, Lund University, Sweden
Martin Schulze Wessel, Chair of Eastern European History, Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich, Germany
Steven Seegel, Associate Professor of History, University of Northern Colorado, USA
Anton Shekhovtsov, Visiting Senior Fellow, Legatum Institute, London, UK
James Sherr, Associate Fellow, Chatham House, London, UK
Volodymyr Sklokin, Researcher, Center for Urban History of East-Central Europe, Lviv, Ukraine
Iryna Sklokina, Researcher, Center for Urban History of East-Central Europe, Lviv, Ukraine
Yegor Stadny, Ph.D. Student, Department of History, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Ukraine
Andreas Umland, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Kyiv, Ukraine
Ricarda Vulpius, Research Fellow, Department for the History of East- and Southeastern Europe, Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich, Germany
Lucan Way, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto, Canada
Zenon Wasyliw, Professor of History, Ithaca College, USA
Anna Veronika Wendland, Research Coordinator, The Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe, Marburg, Germany
Frank Wolff, Assistant Professor of History and Migration Studies, Osnabrück University, Germany
Christine Worobec, Professor Emerita, Northern Illinois University, USA
Serhy Yekelchyk, Professor of Slavic Studies and History, University of Victoria, Canada
Tanya Zaharchenko, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Historical Research, Higher School of Economics, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Sergei Zhuk, Associate Professor of History, Ball State University, Indiana, USA
After the Ukrainian parliament adopted the laws on decommunization, a number of myths have appeared that are rather distant from the text of the laws themselves. Some of them came about from a careless reading of these legal documents, and others from the critics’ desire to delegitmize the laws themselves. The maelstrom of struggle against the non-existent dangers of decommunization even pulled in Ukrainianists from abroad, who recently appealed to the President to veto the laws.
The letter, however, does not analyze the circumstances under which the Ukrainian parliament approved the “decommunization package,” nor does it analyze the international and internal Ukrainian context. The letter does not mention that similar laws were adopted by other Eastern European countries in order to overcome the totalitarian legacy of Communism. These steps were an integral element of democratic transformations, along with reforms in the economic and political realms.
The lack of a decommunization policy in Ukraine after its declaration of independence in 1991 was in part responsible for the revanchist neo-Soviet regime of Yanukovych. The persistent totalitarian past still stands in the way of Ukraine's development as a European, democratic state. It is precisely on this island of “Sovietness,” which for historic reasons remained strongest in the Donbas and in Crimea, that Putin’s aggression against Ukraine is taking place. The bearers of Soviet values (and not ethnic Russians or Russophones, as Russian propaganda would have it) are today the main source of manpower for the terrorist bands of the so-called DNR and LNR.1 For this reason, the question of the decommunization of Ukraine is today not only related to social policy, but to security policy.
This is the reason the four laws were adopted with clear majorities. This is why pro-Russian deputies from the Opposition Bloc did not vote for them. The authors of the letter to the President referred to these deputies as deputies with “dissenting votes,” but they did not indicate that this position was born not out of their respect for free speech, which was supposedly limited by these laws.
The absolute majority of those who did not vote on April 9, 2015 confidently hit the “yes” button on January 16, 2014, pushing Ukraine into the arms of a pro-Russian dictatorship.2 It is thus strange that the signatories of this letter, who regard themselves as defenders of freedom, are alarmed that these people did not vote.
It is also strange that the experts' warnings regard two laws, which are directly tied to defending the values of freedom: the first [law draft 2538-1 - Ed.] pays respect to participants of the struggle for independence, and the second [law draft 2558 - Ed.] condemns Communist totalitarianism, one of the most striking personifications of unfreedom in the past century.
Let us now turn directly to an analysis of the criticisms. What disturbs the appeal’s authors most (as this is noted in point no. 1), is that the law on recognizing fighters for independence implements criminal responsibility for not recognizing the legitimacy of “the struggle for the independence of Ukraine in the 20th century."
Perhaps an adequate knowledge of the Ukrainian language was lacking, even among respected Ukrainianists who speak other languages, such that they could not read the text of the Law of Ukraine “On the Legal Status and Commemoration of Fighters for the Independence of Ukraine in the 20th century” carefully enough to notice that the phrase “criminal responsibility” does not appear in the text being criticized.3
Likewise, in the other law being criticized -- on condemning the Communist and Nazi regimes -- the ban on the use of their symbols does not extend to academic research. Because of this, the laws adopted by Ukrainian parliamentarians will not in any way influence academic discourse.4
Only one of the laws of the “decommunization package" can influence academic life -- that on opening the KGB archives.5 I am sure that the effect of this law will be exclusively positive, as it will allow a number of extraordinarily interesting facts to enter the discussion, facts that were previously inaccessible. But the signatories of the letter did not analyze this law, adopted along with the other three.
So, as we see, the concern about the possible interference of politicians in academic discussions, which was one of the main reasons behind the letter, is unnecessary.
Another motive of the authors is the desire not to allow Ukraine’s recognition of members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the soldiers of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) as participants in the struggle for independence.
In their opinion, the UPA “slaughtered tens of thousands of Poles in one of the most heinous acts of ethnic cleansing in the history of Ukraine,” while the OUN is “one of the most extreme political groups in Western Ukraine between the wars,” and an organization that “took part in anti-Jewish pogroms in Ukraine."
Of course, this characterization of the Ukrainian nationalist underground is present in discussions about its place and role in history. But this is only one of the opinions that has the right to exist.
As do other theses that argue that the image of UPA soldiers as xenophobes and anti-Semites was masterfully created over the decades by Soviet propaganda; and that this stereotype unfortunately still has a significant influence on historiography, although its influence is decreasing as previously secret archives are opened.
The authors of the letter are for some reason convinced that granting the legal status of fighters for independence to members of the OUN and the UPA will harm further research into the history of these structures. But an analogous status for participants of anticommunist movements in the Baltic countries and in Eastern Europe has not harmed research.
This list included, specifically, participants of underground organizations and partisan units from World War II, and also those who participated in the struggle with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). This law requires “a deeply respectful attitude” towards combatants and victims of repression.
Granting the corresponding status to participants of resistance movements or the fight against occupation regimes has not harmed research in Poland, nor in the Czech Republic, nor in Lithuania. This also includes, in particular, the actions of participants of such a struggle that may have a criminal nature.
The same holds true of the Ukrainian law, which not only does not limit similar research, but on the contrary obliges the state to ensure “the comprehensive study of the history of the struggle for the independence of Ukraine in the 20th century and its fighters” and to support the activity of non-governmental organizations and institutions, which carry out similar research activities.
After all, Article 2 of the Law of Ukraine “On the Holodomor of 1932–33 in Ukraine,” in force since 2006, recognizes public denial of the Holodomor as illegal. This does not in any way impede comprehensive study of the Holodomor.
I am convinced that the adoption of this law will become a powerful incentive for the de-politicization of the history of the OUN and the UPA. The question of their interpretation will at long last not be a matter for politicians, to be discussed during elections. This will in turn reanimate academic discussion, since a number of scholars refused to enter this discussion due to its excessive politicization.
Unfortunately, the authors of the letter, who regard themselves as experts in Ukrainian matters, did not fully realize why the recognition of these partisans is so important to today’s citizens of Ukraine. The history of the UPA, particularly its resistance to the Soviet totalitarian regime, is not simply a dramatic period of history. It is a part of Ukrainian culture. Partisan folklore includes hundreds of folk songs and is one of its richest among folklore sources -- this is evidence of how seriously their struggle has affected the consciousness of Ukrainians. It has become an integral part of the tradition of the struggle for independence all the way to our times.
As a symbol of the opposition movement to the Soviet regime or to the corrupted governments of Kuchma and Yanukovych, the red-and-black flag could be seen at all three Ukrainian Maidan protests -- in 1990, 2004, and 2013-2014. The Maidan Self-Defense divided itself into “hundreds,” named after the main tactical divisions of the UPA, and the Banderite “Glory to Ukraine!” became the official Maidan greeting. Ukrainian soldiers, who are defending Ukrainian independence and European freedom in the East, regard their struggle as a continuation of that of the partisans.
A political signal -- at the highest level -- that the Ukrainian State honors those who fought for its independence is extremely important for today’s soldiers and volunteers, because it means that they themselves will not be forgotten or dishonored.
Recognizing the criminal nature of the Communist regime is another cause for concern for the letter’s authors. In their opinion, one cannot speak about a condemnation of the entire Soviet period, because the 1920s became a time of the blossoming of Ukrainian culture.
But should this blossoming, which eventually grew into an executed renaissance in the subsequent decade, serve to justify a regime guilty in the intentional murder of millions of Ukrainians? Should the brutal reprisals against Ukrainian partisans and wealthy peasants in the 1920s remain out of the view of my colleagues?
Should successes in Hitler’s economic policies stand in the way of recognizing him as a criminal?
I deliberately raise the comparison with Nazism, because it appears that it is precisely the equation of both totalitarian regimes that disturbs the signatories.
To me, they are equally criminal, and thus all of these regimes' victims deserve remembrance and respect equally, no matter where they were killed -- in Auschwitz or in the Gulag.
Finally, the last remark in the appeal altogether reminds one of the constantly repeated theses of contemporary Russian propaganda about “the Kyiv fascist regime’s disdain for war veterans.” “Those who regard victory over Nazi Germany as a pivotal historical event should neither feel intimidated nor excluded from the nation,” the letter reads.
Perhaps the authors lacked the patience to read another one of the four decommunization laws, “On the Perpetuation of the Victory over Nazism in the Second World War,” which, among other things, declares a respectful attitude toward the memory of victory over Nazism in the Second World War, toward war veterans, toward participants of the Ukrainian liberation movement, and toward the victims of Nazism.6
Red Army veterans that fought against Nazism are among those recognized as war veterans by Ukrainian law. Monuments and memorial sites dedicated to participants and victims of the war are to be maintained and preserved.
In addition, even the adopted limits on the public use of Soviet symbols do not affect monuments connected with resistance to and expulsion of the Nazi occupiers from Ukraine, nor to gravestones and any monuments located in cemeteries.
The signatories of the letter call themselves “scholars and experts long committed to Ukraine’s regeneration and freedom.” And there truly are such people among them. But not all of them are.
The publications of certain of its authors on “primordial Ukrainian collaborationism” and “the threat of Ukrainian fascism” not only undermined understanding of social processes in Ukraine, but were also actively utilized and continue being actively used by Russian propaganda in an information war against Ukraine in recent years.
It appears that the misuse of the first group’s trust by the second group was a reason for the appearance of this appeal, which itself has already become an instrument in this war.