by Anna Cherevko
Volodymyr Vyatrovich: “De-Sovietization is a question of the national security of Ukraine”
The Ukrainian Institute for National Memory may return to its former special status as a government body. A group of academics from Lviv addressed the Acting President and the Chairman of Verkhovna Rada Oleksandr Turchynov and the Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk with this request. “It is an established practice that meets Central and Eastern European standards. The Memory Institute had this status, but it was stripped by decree of President Yanukovych in 2010,” they emphasized.
A number of signatories, including former provost of Ivan Franko National University in Lviv and former Minister of Education Ivan Vakarchuk, Vice-Rector of the same university Dzvenyslav Kalynets-Mamchur, Vice-Provost of the Ukrainian Catholic University Oleh Turiy, and others, proposed a candidate to lead the Memory Institute. “Volodymyr Vyatrovich has all the necessary skills and credentials to lead and ensure the effective work of this Institute. Ukrainian scientific and academic circles, as well as Maidan, will undoubtedly support such an appointment,” the statement said.
Volodymyr Vyatrovich, historian, civic activist and publicist:
I was one of the initiators and designers of the Memory Institute’s concept back in 2005, after the Orange Revolution. Unfortunately, the Memory Institute was liquidated in 2010 by President Yanukovych’s decree that lowered its status to a mere research institution under the Cabinet of Ministers. Hence, the Memory Institute ceased to perform the functions for which it was originally created: as the government body responsible for history policy, particularly regarding the Soviet past. Moreover, it has been transformed into a mouthpiece for Soviet propaganda.
Most of the topics the Memory Institute dealt with during Yanukovych’s term concerned the glorification of the Soviet past—there were round-table discussions devoted to Red Army partisans; last year there was a whole campaign with a range of publications aimed against understanding the Holodomor as genocide. Ostensibly, changes in this Institute should follow the changes that happened across the country.
This establishment has to learn from the experiences of analogous structures called National Memory Institutes in other post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Firstly, they work with special service archives. This is important, as they reveal the real situation during the reign of a totalitarian regime, particularly regarding its operations and, ultimately, as a safeguard against repeating the crimes of totalitarianism today. Secondly, Memory Institutes conduct informational and educational work, namely delivering the results of academic studies to wider audiences, since our society needs to fundamentally overcome the totalitarian past. Thirdly, they work with places of remembrance. These are monuments, museums, and graves of the people who fought for the independence of Ukraine. Also, Ukraine faces the particular challenge of combating the traces of totalitarian nomenclature—names from the Communist regime commemorated in the names of streets, cities, and villages. The solution could be to dismantle the monuments of the totalitarian era and perhaps create specialized museums to preserve the totalitarian period.
Another important focus for these institutions is the question of history textbooks. For the overwhelming majority of people, a history textbook is the only history book they will ever read. Unfortunately, current textbooks were heavily modified by former Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnik, who removed information about the Ukrainian national liberation movement and the activities of different organizations that fought the Communist regime.
Given the current situation in Ukraine, it is critical to do work in the area of explaining human rights—why we should talk about them, why they should be protected. We have to show what happens to society when human rights are neglected.
I hope that the government understands the necessity of supporting such an initiative. They came to power in the wake of protests against authoritarianism, and the government should support their society’s prevailing sentiment. Moreover, we see that a wave of spontaneous de-Sovietization has started already—Lenin monuments are falling across the country, people are renaming streets and getting rid of individual and communal totalitarian consciousness. The issue of de-Sovietization is not one of humanitarian policy anymore, but one of the national security of Ukraine.
I am ready to lead the Memory Institute and to start this work.
Translated by Oleg Naumenko, edited by Robin Rohrback