Memory in danger

15.12.2010, 18:17
History plays a very important role in the development of independent Ukraine. One may say that history is important for any state. That’s true, but for our state it is not only important, it is a necessary factor for the building of a democratic society. Does our current government understand this? Not yet, or at least its social policy does not show. First of all regarding the restoration of historical memory.

History plays a very important role in the development of independent Ukraine. One may say that history is important for any state. That’s true, but for our state it is not only important, it is a necessary factor for the building of a democratic society. Does our current government understand this? Not yet, or at least its social policy does not show. First of all regarding the restoration of historical memory.

Everything started with the section on the Holodomor being removed from the president’s website. It retruned there only half a year later. In addition, according to Hanna Herman, the deputy head of the presidential administration, it will not be updated. Then came the statement of Viktor Yanukovych at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, to the effect that the Holodomor of 1932-1933 was not a genocide of the Ukrainian people, but only a tragedy of the peoples of the former USSR. This went counter to the Law of Ukraine “On the Holodomor.” Moreover, today some deputies from the Party of Regions want to introduce amendments to the Law “On the Holodomor,” removing the word “genocide” from it.

The same happened to the Ukrainian National Memory Institute, established by the then President Viktor Yushchenko, and headed by the academic of the National Academy of Sciences Ihor Yukhnovsky. At first they wanted to liquidate or subordinate it to the State Archives Committee, headed by the communist Olha Hinzburg, but then, under public pressure, the institute was left alone. However, the communist Valerii Soldatenko, who tirelessly denies the Holodomor-genocide, let alone other painful pages of Ukrainian history, replaced Yukhnovsky as head of the National Memory Institute.

Recently the information has appeared that, together with other state structures, the president intends to liquidate the National Memory Institute as well. All this, according to the plan, will be called an administrative reform aiming at cutting the number of officials and getting rid of excessive double-structures. The government also justifies the reform by the fact that it will reduce the deficit. Savings are fine, but can one save on memory?

It’s true that the National Memory Institute is not needed in its current state, but that doesn’t mean it is not needed at all. How can one develop the country economically, which is supposedly one of the Party of Region’s priorities, without reviving historical memory? No one denies that our citizen’s living standards leave much to be desired, but the government risks giving people sausage and bread, while they forget their history, language, and culture. And the destruction of national memory by no means guarantees quality-of-life improvements.

There is an impression that the current Ukrainian government wants to dissociate itself from everything its predecessors did, and to stifle historical research under the pretext of “reorganization.” Hence, the only hope lies in the public. For example, the Kyiv city organization of the All-Ukrainian “Memorial” Society named after Vasyl Stus decided to establish the Social Historical Memory Institute. Over 30 well known, in Ukraine and around the world, social unions and over 20 people’s deputies supported this initiative. This institute is to become an alternative to the National Memory Institute, or, in case of its liquidation, to replace it.


Ihor YUKHNOVSKY, member of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, ex-head of the Ukrainian National Memory Institute:

“Every next president of Ukraine must build upon what the previous one did for the consolidation of the national consciousness of the Ukrainian people as the main representative of the Ukrainian statehood. In fact, Ukraine as a nation was formed owing to the proclamation of independence. The Ukrainian nation must grow, all attributes of this nation, particularly national memory, must be elaborated and developed all the time. That is what we did when I was the head of the National Memory Institute.

“Yes, during the Soviet times, from 1956 till 1990, I was an ordinary communist, a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a delegate of the 19th party’s conference. But my views on the historical memory of Ukraine were moderate. Therefore, no political party participating in the development of the Ukrainian state can accuse me of anything. Neither the one speaking about the victory of the Soviet Union over the German fascism — I served in the Red Army myself; nor the one that struggled for Ukrainian independence in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army — I knew those partisans and saw their heroic struggle; not even those who were in the German army, in the Halychyna SS Division. Galicia had only been part of the Soviet Union for two years, from 1939 till 1941, and Galicians did not see anything good from the new government, only collectivization and dekulakization. Therefore, one could not expect them to harbor warm feelings toward the Soviet Union.

“There were many different events in the history of Ukraine. I understood this very well. Therefore, whilst heading the National Memory Institute, I tried to maintain normal, human awareness while writing history. However, damn it, neither president, nor his administration managed to ask my advice on what the historical memory of Ukraine should look like. Every president, when he takes the highest post in the state, thinks he builds this state alone, though it was built long before him. This always annoyed me.

“The decision of Viktor Yanukovych on the probable liquidation of the institute, as well as other steps — the [deal involving the] fleet of the Russian Federation in the Crimea and the statement about the Holodomor — is payment for the political support of Russia. But this payment can’t last forever.

“The National Memory Institute, certainly, must exist. It should be headed by a person with a high level of spiritual culture. Indeed, it is important to make the government smaller, but not at the expense of the National Memory Institute. Nowadays, there is still no coordinated historical memory policy, based on which history textbooks should be written, the Ukrainian army should be taught, and Ukrainian foreign policy should be conducted. Regrettably, our difficulties seem only to be growing.”

Yurii SHAPOVAL, doctor of historical sciences:

“I know there is only a draft of this resolution. It is not signed yet. But when one speaks about the very subject of the conversation, this is a natural process. This is a result of the situation regarding the National Memory Institute. Unlike similar structures working in other countries, above all in Poland, the Ukrainian National Memory Institute, when it was set up, did not have a clearly outlined task. For example, in Poland everything is clear, there the institute works on the historical period from 1939 till the 1980s. In fact, this is a tool of decommunization there. In Ukraine a question emerged: what does this institute do, where does the money go? How does it differ from the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine? Moreover, the previous director of the National Memory Institute, the academic Yukhnovsky, in one of his program articles wrote that ‘the formation of the middle class in Ukraine and ecology protection’ are among other tasks of this institute.

“What did the new director of the institute, with his noted leftist views, undertake? He started, in a scribbler’s style, refuting that the Holodomor is genocide, gave interviews, spoke in public instead of forming an efficient structure — creating a real institute out of the bureaucratic state structure. Whatever one can say about Soldatenko — I do not regard his personality as threatening — he absolutely failed in view of the institute’s efficiency.

“We shouldn’t petition the Security Service of Ukraine for archival-investigatory cases. The Security Service of Ukraine has a lot to do. This documentation, which is over 70-years-old, should not depend on who heads the Security Service of Ukraine today. It is absurd. It should be removed from this structure, with some restrictions, in cases where it is still pertinent to some operations. We should look to the Polish experience. Everyone must know the rules of the game and know where one should go to work with such documents.

“I am sure that another structure will replace the National Memory Institute, and it will concentrate the experience of the past in it, and will build the future. Regardless of who is in power.”


15 December 2010 The Day