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“Decommunisation” Laws – Tread carefully when reshaping history

April 11, 2015

Last week an entry was published regarding the probability that amongst other laws, Ukraine was to ban Communist and Nazi symbolism – an entry that went to great pains to anticipate and forewarn that any such “decommunisation” legislation would be extremely poorly crafted, and in short, close to an unambiguous legislative car crash.

“There are, however, going to be issues with the new law (should it be passed and subsequently signed into law by the President) – as the Ukrainian legislature is entirely incapable of drafting and passing clear, unambiguous, cleverly worded, law.”

And so it has come to pass – as predicted – due in no small part to the complete absence of academic, civil society or legal input, “issues” there most certainly are going to be.  In short, as is almost always the case when Ukrainian politicians, who are incapable of crafting decent legislation alone, do so, the result is a legislative car-crash that will undoubtedly require substantial repairs/amendment to be anything like as clever as the legislation could have been had external input been sought from the outset.

The bill (2558) on condemning the Communist and Nazi totalitarian regimes and prohibiting their propaganda of their symbols, as passed, raises questions to be asked over both the inclusiveness and exclusion of certain symbols and entities that are banned – or not – and many other issues raised in the opening link to this entry.   It must surely come close to infringing democratic rights of freedom of expression, if not challenging the plurality of democracy itself by de facto silencing the Communist Party.  ECfHR appeals anybody?

Another bill (2538) passed yesterday, “On the legal status and honouring of fighters for Ukraine’s independence in the twentieth century“,  is almost entirely political expediency for its author.  Whilst Winston Churchill may have said, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it“, he didn’t go on to say that nobody could question or challenge the history he went on to write.  So when Yury Shukhevych drafts a law seemingly banning the questioning, or raising prickly issues concerning the acts of the UPA, and by extension of his father Roman Shukhevych a UPA commander, clearly the historically controversial UPA, OUN (and other “independence fighters” of perhaps dubious and eclectic nature), that are seemingly just lumped together in the bill, seeks to do little more than exonerate and raise these entities from criticism – despite some very dark incidents within the histories of these entities.

So far, so truly badly crafted the legislation, much in need of amendment after proper consideration.

Despite the exceptionally low legislative bar set thus far, now for two better “decommunisation” laws.

The first addresses a point made in the first link in this entry.

“Are the contents of those still “Secret” Soviet files held in Kyiv to remain hidden from the public and never aired lest the become some form of Communist/Soviet propaganda by providing public access to them? One of the most steadfast nails in any Communist/Soviet coffin will be throwing open those files.”

As tweeted yesterday, and by far the most important of the laws passed yesterday, those files are indeed to be opened:

The law (2540) on “Access to the achieves of repressive bodies of the Communist totalitarian regime from 1917 – 1991” is not bad at all.  Indeed it takes its lead from the other post-Communist states that have already thrown open their Communist archives.  Very good.  Very, very good in fact.

There is however a possible “but”.

That “but” relates to integrity.  The issue is that these archives will be transfered to the custody of the Institute of National Remembrance, which is hardly an a-political body in its current manifestation and under its current head, Volodymyr Viatrovych.  As such, some hero-worshiping/corroborating archive material may receive much easier access than that which demonises heroes under “rehabilitation” – those perhaps to be found within Mr Shukhevych’s law for example.  For this law to reach its true potential, access must be unfettered, and the sh*t allowed to fall where it will.

The last of the 4 “decommunisation” laws (2539), “on remembering victory over Nazism in the Second World War” presents issues too.  The most important parts relate to the prohibition of the falsification of history, specifically mentioning WWII.  Rightly so.  The deliberate falsification of history is not something that should be taught in the classroom.

However, history is not always entirely straight forward – particularly when parts of history, or the documented knowledge that led to certain historical decisions and actions, remain classified.  There is also the matter of historical interpretation – be those interpretations poles apart, or nuanced.

Who therefore, is to decide what is, or is not, historical falsification in the context of Ukraine and therefore future Ukrainian education?

Clearly no longer overly Communist friendly narratives are to continue.  The ever increasing distance between Russia and Ukraine will continue to grow.  But will it follow a generally accepted “European” historical narrative, or a narrative as directed by the Institute of National Remembrance, or a different Ukrainian body?

As has been asked on many occasions within this blog over the years – Who decides?  And more importantly, who decides, who decides?

The main points of the 4 laws can be found here, as positively spun by the Institute of National Remembrance.  A more cautious, and indeed, with the exception of law 2540, critical response to the laws, you have just read.

Having quoted Winston Churchill once, it is fitting to conclude with yet another quote from him – “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.”  However, to get the most from studying history you have to be able to test and question it, in order to understand it.  Only a warped State can emerge from a willingly warped interpretation history.  It will then go on to practice warped Statecraft.

Who decides who decides upon what and how Ukrainian history will now reshape itself within the Communist years, is a particularly sensitive issue with ramifications for the future Ukraine – and a few of its neighbours.

Nevertheless, Ukraine must confront its past in order to face the future.  Let’s hope it does both with far more care than that employed in the drafting of the above laws.

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