For the record, I am actually a proponent of Ukraine’s anti-communist law, for a variety of reasons, although these might not be the reasons you imagine. I do not care much about nationalism, only that most if not all countries revert to some form of nationalism during wartime. Wartime Ukrainian nationalism falls short of ‘mainstream’ Ukrainian nationalism, the ‘kill-all-Moskali’ kind; rather than killing all the Moskali, most Ukrainians would rather the Moskali mind their own business and stop sending Donbass insurgents tanks and vacationing Russian troops. Much of the ‘brotherhood-of-nations’ narrative now falls on deaf ears in Ukraine (while Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians are indeed closely related nationalities; but then again, so are Serbs, Croats and Bosnians, and that didn’t stop the Yugoslav wars from starting), and seeing how most, if not all, of this narrative was started by the Soviet Union, that attitude extends to Soviet nostalgia and ‘the common past’ too. Any common past only goes so far, especially when there’s an insurgency going on supposedly in the name of that common past.
My attitude to the USSR is necessarily more complex; for one, I do not actually consider USSR to have been a socialist state, but rather a state capitalist one – i.e., all means of production in the USSR were owned not by the workers but rather by the state. This did not do wonders for the USSR, and in fact this is one of the reasons USSR collapsed in the first place. Besides, when it comes to 100 000 tanks vs. 100 000 pairs of shoes, I’d much rather choose pairs of shoes; I in no way witnessed the Soviet Union, not even as an infant, but a country which cannot even supply basic necessities to its population while professing to be a world superpower just doesn’t appeal to me. Much of the Soviet nostalgia today is blatantly hypocritic: on one hand, you have people who readily dismantled the USSR in exchange for jeans and rock music (or, as was the case with Donbass, which voted overwhelmingly to leave the USSR back in 1991, for social securities and pensions), while on the other hand, you have people born in the mid-80s or the 90s, who have not witnessed the USSR personally, but who profess it was heaven on earth. If that’s not hypocrisy, I don’t know what is.
There is also my attitude to Ukraine’s struggle for independence circa 1917-1920; while the problem with Ukraine’s struggle for independence circa 1917-1920 is that it was a clusterfuck of epic proportions, at least part of the blame lies on the Bolsheviks (together with the Whites, the Greens, Skoropadsky, Petlyura, the Entente’s inability to find this ‘the Ukraine’ on the map, und so weiter). Lenin was a pragmatic, but today, when Ukraine’s independence is again threatened, it is hard not to see ole Illych as an oppressor.
So, in a nutshell, there you have it. I’m not sure Grandpa Lenin would approve of so much statues of his – Ukraine has about 4 500, less after the Leninfall – but most of them are one too many, and probably should go. Since some of the biggest Lenins are now lost, I would like for at least Zaporizhzhya’s Lenin to be quietly removed from his pedestal and put up in a Communism museum somewhere. Soviet topography should go, too, and much of it did – even in Donbass, which has a record number of Soviet placenames. Even if it shouldn’t have, all the Lenin Streets and Oktyabr’ Streets should probably go – after all, Soviet Union’s been dead for a while, and it’s just hopelessly unimaginative when every village, hamlet and small town out there has a Lenin Street, crossed by Oktyabr’ Street, and every large city has Leninsky, Sovetsky, Oktyabrsky and so on districts. And who the hell names a town ‘Zugres‘, for Marx’s sake?!
Statues to people like Rudnev and Schors, the Motorola and Strelkov of 1917-1920, should go too, because while one can make a valid case for Lenin, it is considerably harder for these two, who fought blatantly against independent Ukraine. Although taking down Schors would be slightly tricky, but then again that part of the street is in dire need of some renovation anyway.
I didn’t hold a candle to the latest iteration of the law (I remember hearing that it was amended in the news), but it still doesn’t forbid statues and monuments relevant to either the Soviet victory in WWII or Ukraine’s scientific and cultural development, so no, no one’s gonna be taking down General Vatutin or renaming Akademika Yangelya Street anytime soon. And the law probably doesn’t forbid Red Alert or doesn’t require Wargaming to remove all hammer-n-sickles from World of Tanks (which Wargaming, whose management more or less support Crimean annexation and the war in Donbass, wouldn’t do anyway), so there’s that. Probably one of the reason the ZRADA-infused nationalists would criticize this law is because it’s ‘not hard enough’, much like Russian ‘geopolitical experts’ criticize Putin, but that would require having more than a few brain cells; therefore the law probably falls short of its intended audience. Which is just as well.
Anyway, this is as good time as any to talk about how modern Ukrainians view the USSR. Of course, one should first start with the two extremes: those who hate the USSR with a burning passion of a thousand Galician suns, and their antithesis, those who love the USSR with a burning passion of a thousand Donbass suns (like the one that rises on the Donetsk oblast’s flag). These are people who pretty much drove the whole overcliched East vs West divide, when everyone west of Dnieper were bloodthirsty Lenin-hating Banderites who voted for Orange parties, and everyone east of Dnieper were honest-to-Lenin hard-working Stalin-fearing Soviet people who voted for Party of Regions. As this particular horse is steadily decaying as of early 2015 (for everyone except Western Ukraine-watchers, it seems), let’s similarly leave it at that and go on. The majority of Ukrainians is pretty much apathetic when it comes to it; most probably didn’t bat an eye at how the government banned St. George Ribbons and introduced poppies, and some probably tacitly supported it, but most of Ukrainians are more concerned with the here and now (and how it would never ever change – as I already wrote, cursing the government is practically Ukrainian national sport). And then there’s someone else.
This particular brand of Ukrainians was mostly born in the 80s, spending their formative years during the independence, although you can find older people (who saw more of what life in the Soviet Union was like) among them. What these Ukrainians associate USSR with is neither Stalin, nor Holodomor, nor sausage for 2 ruble 10 kopecks; instead, they associate USSR with modern Ukraine’s failures – the economy, the overblown social spending, the oligarchy, the political system, the populism, the people’s apathy, the oppressive bureaucracy, the corruption, the works. Therefore, for them, Soviet symbols serve as reminders of how Ukraine failed, or, more likely, fell short. I’m not about to glorify these people (although to be honest a fair bit of them work in the government now, and some are MPs), but I actually can understand that point of view.
Ukraine, as all Soviet republics (except the Baltics) did, made no effort to rid itself of the worst parts of its Soviet legacy. Legacy is by no means limited to symbols, but you can’t simply discount the symbols, too.
I suspect this view steadily becomes more and more popular.
P.S. What I wouldn’t like to see is Heroes of Maidan Streets and Heavenly Hundred Streets in every town, city and hamlet, but that should be left to the respective local governments.
And, of course, there is the Dnipropetrovsk question…