Today it is difficult to talk about the possibility of future protests, but the sentiment of disagreement and confusion remains in Kiev. In a country where there are anti-Communist laws in place, and death squads are operating, there is a need to develop a new system of communications that will bypass state restrictions and identify those who are “with us.”
On April 9, the Ukraine parliament (Verkhovna Rada) adopted a law called “On the condemnation of the Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) totalitarian regimes in the Ukraine and the prohibition of their propaganda and symbols.” This law clearly has nothing to do with European values such democratic rights and freedoms that the Ukrainian authorities have declared they support. Under this law monuments to Communist leaders will become taboo -- that is, those that are still standing. Soviet symbols, such as the Soviet flag, the Soviet anthem and even a memorial plaque in honor of Communist leaders will be outlawed. Monuments must be dismantled within a few months, and all cities and streets named after Communist leaders must be renamed. The law also requires the renaming of “cities, parks, boulevards, streets, alleys, thoroughfares, squares, embankments, bridges and any other places that contain within their names Communist totalitarian symbols.”
In Ukraine there is more and more talk and discourse concerning Communist “terrorists.” It appears that very shortly Kiev may declare an “anti-Communist operation.” The result will be that groups and individuals that do not accept the nationalist tendency will become more sidelined and then removed altogether. Under the new law a person can simply be called a “Sovcom” (Soviet Communist) and a “promoter of the totalitarian regime” and be prosecuted.
At the same time, the prohibition of Nazi propaganda is just a formality. Simultaneously with the above law, the Rada adopted a law called “On the legal status and honoring the fighters for independence of the Ukraine in the twentieth century.” Under this law, members of dozens of organizations, including those who openly collaborated with the Nazis, will be recognized in Ukraine as heroes and independence fighters. Modern fascist organizations have now become an official part of the Ukrainian state apparatus. They openly use their symbols and sometimes various stylized Nazi symbols. The chevron design of the Azov battalion uses an image that has written on it “the Idea of a Nation” (using the letters “I” and “N”), which has long been an identifying symbol of the Ukrainian neo-Nazis, and which was used by Nazi Germany as the emblem of the SS tank division Das Reich. It is also used by modern neo-Nazis, in particular football hooligans, whose torchlight processions through the streets of Kiev have long been familiar.
However, no prohibition is absolutely effective. Bulletin boards, walls and fences in Kiev and in Zaporizhia are covered with announcements for events to wish a grandfather a happy birthday on April 22. At first glance, such notices do not have much meaning, definitely not in a political sense. For those who grew up on Soviet literature and culture, however, the nickname “Grandpa Lenin” is more than familiar. Everyone knows who that “grandpa” was who was born on April 22. These announcements are not a coincidence but are the initial reaction to the new law. Actions or meetings may be prohibited, and also the publication of the date of such events, yet groups use a code to let others know what is happening and where to meet. “To congratulate grandpa” is such a code. People know to place a card and a bouquet of flowers at the site of the monuments, most of which have been damaged or destroyed by vandals.
These ideological prohibitions have been implemented in Ukraine against the backdrop of a sharp deterioration in the economic conditions of citizens. They started as preventive measures taken by the government on the eve of mass protests. It is too early to tell if this new law will prove to be effective, as the situation gets more and more out of control. Today it is difficult to talk about the possibility of future protests, but the sentiment of disagreement and confusion remains in Kiev. In a country where there are anti-Communist laws in place, and death squads are operating, there is a need to develop a new system of communications that will bypass state restrictions and identify those who are “with us.” The new system needs to be flexible and creative as it will operate in a hostile environment and cannot use symbols from the Soviet past. This sort of forced creativity is clearly distinguishable from the social agenda and political slogans used by “Eurointegrated youth,” who endlessly repeat the cliché that “Ukraine is Europe” in unison, as if they learned it in kindergarten or as a nursery rhyme.
In the first few days after the adoption of the law condemning “totalitarian Communist regimes,” Facebook pages of those who did not agree with the regime’s decision were covered with verses by Soviet-era poets such as [Vladimir] Mayakovsky and [Pavlo] Tychyna. These web pages also saw a lot of posts involving variations of the hammer and sickle and paintings by Soviet artists, including works of socialist realism. Young people began to feel safe to express their solidarity in disagreeing with the decisions of the Rada. They opposed censoring a major historical period that resulted in significant political processes and modernity, not only in Ukraine, but throughout the world.
Anton Rozenvayn is a journalist and columnist from Kiev. He has worked as a writer for top Ukrainian media, such as magazines “Telekritika”, “Glavred”, “Public People”. After the coup d’etat moved to the DPR.
Dina Artemenko is a journalist from Kiev. She has worked for 112.TV and the Internet magazine Liva
Translated for RI by Aleksei Tatu. Edited by Katy Meigs