ISSUE 1-2014
INTERVIEW
STUDIES
Yaroslav Shimov Lyubov Shishelina Vladimir Voronov Victor Zamyatin Stepan Grigoryan
RUSSIA AND EUROASIAN PROJECT
Laurynas Kasciūnas Юрий Солозобов Леонид Вардомский Александр Скаков Hasmik Grigoryan
OUR ANALYSES
Томаш Урбан Mykola Riabchuk
REVIEW
Pavel Vitek
APROPOS
Anna Abakunova


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles and/or discussions are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of the publisher.

TOPlist
APROPOS
LENINFALLS IN UKRAINE: SYMBOLISM AND REGIONAL IDENTITIES
By Anna Abakunova | Inter-Ethnic and Cross-Cultural Relations Research Center, Ukraine | Issue 1, 2014

In February 2014 in many cities, towns and villages of Ukraine so-called “Leninfall” was occurred. The cause of such actions was the event during Euromaidan in December 8, 2013 when protesters brought down Lenin monument in the center of Kyiv. Ukrainian as well as international mass media provided information about what happened then. In the aftermath of the first case for almost two months Leninfall continued in all territories of Ukraine where similar monuments were erected during the Soviet time. Lenin monuments were toppled mainly in the Central Ukraine, less in Northern and Southern Ukraine, and infrequently in Western and Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.[1]

What determine where Lenin monuments were toppled? If we talk about Western Ukraine the situation is clear: almost all Soviet monuments including Lenin were removed during 1991-1992 after Ukraine declared its independence.[2] The Western Ukraine never supported Soviet ideology and when the first opportunity to demolish Lenins appeared, people were glad to get rid of symbol of Soviet time. A few monuments of Lenin which were still standing in the villages of Western Ukraine (for example in Lutsk oblast, Chernivtsy oblast on the border with Romania, on the Ukrainian-Hungarian border near Uzhhorod in Chop and some more) also brought down in the end of February 2014. Therefore, the occurrences of Leninfall in the Western Ukraine were much less than in Central Ukraine. 

What about Eastern Ukraine and Crimea? The situation here is opposite to the situation in Western Ukraine. In Eastern Ukraine[3] and Crimea people never were against Sovietization. Quite the contrary, these parts of Ukraine considered themselves as the main territories of the Soviet Union. Indeed, during Soviet times Crimea became famous resort where all leaders of the Soviet government had a rest. At the same time infrastructure of the peninsula was developed. Owing to industrialization, which Stalin initiated in 1930s, Eastern Ukraine became industrially developed part of the Soviet Union which supplied Soviet Union with technical equipment, coal, mineral resources etc. Considering all these factors, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine regions always positioned themselves as a part of the Soviet Union and never regard themselves in opposition to the official power. That is why in these regions people can easily co-exist with Soviet past and do not pay attention to the Soviet monuments. Moreover, people in these eastern oblasts and Crimea consider Lenin and Soviet monuments, as their history in good sense of it (as I mentioned above Soviet Union lifted up the level of life people here) and attach a certain value of such monuments. Because of this, people are even ready to protect Soviet monuments actively as we observed this in Kharkiv[4]. Also we shouldn’t forget that Eastern Ukraine has a land border and Crimea has (had) a sea border with Russian Federation, therefore even during more than 20 years of Ukrainian independence these regions have been under huge impact of Russia, its ideology and values. Therefore, monuments of Lenin in the Eastern Ukraine and Crimea fell down in rare cases (for example in town Alchevsk, Luhansk oblast in Eastern Ukraine, village Zuia near Simferopol, village Orlivka near Sevastopol and some else in Crimea). But even the fact that Lenins were brought down in some places of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine already speaks about a certain changes in people’s mind.

We can apply the same mentality of people which I described above in cases of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine to the Southern and Northern Ukraine. But what we can see? In fact, in southern part of Ukraine (Odessa, Kherson, and Mykolayiv oblasts) and in northern part of Ukraine (Sumy, Chernihiv oblasts) many Lenins fell down. What does it mean? It means that Southern and Northern Ukraine is included in politics no less than Central Ukraine. It means that the revolution in people’s consciousness happened in these regions. It means that people from the south indeed started to reject Soviet ideology and want to jump over the negative past, move further and establish new ideals and values in their life. And I think this is the main victory of Euromaidan. Euromaidan transformed people in a way to lead them to reconsider their lives, values and estimations. Because of Euromaidan and following events even those people who never were interested in politics, started to follow news, tried to understand what is going on and, more importantly, questioned the reason why in Ukraine such events were taking place. So, the political culture of people of different social backgrounds is impacted during the November 2013 – March 2014.

Another interesting case is with two Eastern oblasts – Zaporizhia and Dnipropetrovsk – which always reflected polical tendencies of other eastern cities such as Donetsk and Kharkiv. What is going on in Zaporizhia and especially in Dnipropetrovsk is a real surprise. These regions are involved in all processes which took place in Ukraine, including Leninfall. It is a mystery how Dnipropetrovsk, for example, allowed its Lenin to fall down which was located in the center square of the city. Dnipropetrovsk, which during Soviet times always received special attention by Soviet government[5], developed as a closed city. It had (and still have) a strategic influence in the Soviet Union[6]. The city which always had the strongest Russian impact in time of independence of Ukraine, could involve now in revolution! I think that minds of many people here have really changed about the Soviets and its heritage.

Everything, in terms of Euromaidan and Leninfall, began in Kyiv and by looking at the map we can see centrifugal force of Leninfall[7]. So, the most active region in terms of Leninfall, as well as other “events”, is Central Ukraine. When in the center something has happened, it had a reflection in other Ukrainians regions. Thus, here we can see the tendency of Leninfall: Kyiv – December 8, 2013, Kyiv oblasts – January 2014, other regions – February 2014.

Discussing the geographical spread of Leninfall I would like to underline that Ukrainian and foreign mass media reported about Leninfall generally in big cities, or, in better case, in towns. But, in fact, Leninfall took place in all district and villages on whole territory of Ukraine.[8] Certainly, people’s reaction to what was going on with monuments were varied: in some locations people supported bringing down of monuments as it was in the case of Kyiv; in some other places people were split on if the monument had to be taken down or not, but after all Lenin was demolished (the case in Chernihiv)[9]; in other places people started to protect the monument even though nobody wanted to attack it (for example in Luhansk)[10]; and, finally in Kharkiv there was a turmoil around the fate of Lenin’s monument.[11] But if we would consider a case with, for example, Dnipropetrovsk, we probably would see that reality with Leninfall is more complicated than mass media described.

Actually Dnipropetrovsk had four Lenin monuments. When the one in the center square fell down everybody was informed. However, the mass media created such understanding as if the city had only one monument inherited from the Soviets. Really after six hour attempt the monument was broken and moved away. Another monument of Lenin was located in front of Palace of Ilyich (Dvorets Ilyicha; actually nobody wants to rename this palace). This monument somehow disappeared. Later the official web portal of the city posted information that the monument was moved for reconstruction.[12] How the monument will be reconstructed, nobody actually knows.[13] Remaining two monuments continue to exist in district of Dnipropetrovsk – Pridniprovsk, and in the center of the city – in front of Oblast’ administration building. About one of the remaining two nobody mentions anywhere. About the last there is information that municipal workers cleaned it.[14] So, as we see, the situation with Leninfall at least in Dnipropetrovsk is ambivalent.

Such situation also is conditioned by the attitude of Ukrainian people to Lenin and the Leninfall, which is not similar in different regions in Ukraine. In spite of the reports of mass media on falling Lenin monuments they did not provide, in most cases, information about the attitude of people. However, we can analyze people’s attitude thanks to social networks and comments on articles in internet.

People divided into two groups regarding the issue of Leninfall: those who support Leninfall and those who are strongly against it. Many people on facebook, especially Ukrainian emigrants who live now in Germany, Israel, the United States, and Canada, enthusiastically reacted to the news about Leninfall. Some comments circled around the arguments that all that about monuments display coming of the Soviet ideology to end; and probably people in Ukraine try to express their opinion and oppose suppressed system.

Some other commentators on news portals, on the contrary, started to declare that the vandalism has begun in Ukraine and call people to protect the rest of Lenins. This second group argued that monuments have a historical value, and that monuments do not disturb anybody with their existence. The main argument is that people on Euromaidan did not build anything new yet but already destroyed something old which was constructed before them. There is no person who would stay indifferent to this question: everybody has own opinion. Let’s discuss for and against positions concerning the situation with Leninfall. So, why people suddenly decided to splash their evil in such way – to destroy Lenins? We can find various explanations to this question.

It is important to notify that when we talk about Lenin we talk first of all about a symbol rather than a historical personality. The same argument applies to all historical figures and historical narratives of the past. It does not matter if people talk about Hitler or Bandera, fascists or nationalists. As Dr. Georgiy Kasianov (Institute of History of Ukraine at the National Academy of Sciences noted),

“Ordinary people speak not about real things, they speak about symbols. If you ask pro-Bandera guy, who is Bandera, this guy will answer that he was a fighter for independence. If you would ask him for details, he would not have details. So, people are operated with symbols, not with concrete historical material.”[15]

The same applies to the Lenin: in spite of the fact that his name is widely known, not everybody can answer what he actually did good for people, especially if we talk about younger post-Soviet generations. Nevertheless, the Lenin as a symbol has certain features and people fought against particularly these features.

Thus Lenin personified in himself suffering of some generations because for many people the Soviet rule has been their personal enemy. There were Bolsheviks and then Communists who deprived many families of everything what these families gained with own efforts through the years before the Soviet regime. Soviet power left many people in poverty and forced them to enter into kolkhozes. Finally, Soviet power executed people in the opposition and persecuted them in Gulag.[16] Lenin was the initiator and facilitator of all of the foregoing . Therefore for seniors whose relatives (or they themselves) passed through all Soviet horrors, the falling of Lenins became a hope for actual falling of the Soviet regime. I say “a hope” because in spite of all what happened for last twenty-three years in Ukraine, there were not many changes in reality. Mentality of the Soviet system continued to exist in every bit of social life of independent Ukraine. We can see the Soviet system in services in shops, in queues in hospitals, in attitudes to bosses, in education in secondary schools and universities, in corrupt and dysfunctional bureaucratic system, in lives of nomenclature[17], and in submissiveness of the people against the regime.

The latter we could observe during Euromaidan when Yanukovych government gathered people for their pro-government meetings. People arrived not because they wanted, but because they had an order to do this. That is why the falling of Lenins, at least visually, is “a hope” for the falling of Soviet system soon. Regarding all mentioned above circumstances I would agree with the opinion published on the Forbes website: 

“The news isn’t that Ukrainians pulled downed a statue of the founder of the Soviet state. The news is that it took so long for it to happen.”[18]

Moreover that already in August 26, 1991 the City Executive Committee of Kyiv decided to remove all monuments of Communist heroes from public places, including the Lenin monument on the central October Revolution Square which was renamed as the Square of Independence.[19] Why this decision was not implemented and Lenin’s monuments remained everywhere, nobody knows.

For some youngsters in present Lenin was a symbol of the Yanukovych’s power which is included all bureaucratic criminal system. It is the symbol of strength which was impossible to conquer, the symbol of enrichment which was impossible to stop. Also Lenin was the embodiment of Yanukovych as a person because Yanukovych was a leader of this criminal system. So, the falling of Lenin was a warning for Yanukovych. Not without reason people wrote “Yanukovych, you are the next!”[20] As NBC News reported the falling of Lenin was a kind of challenge for Yanukovych:

“Anti-government protesters toppled a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin in Ukraine's capital and attacked it with hammers on Sunday in a symbolic challenge to President Viktor Yanukovych and his plans for closer ties with Russia.”[21]

For other part of young people Lenin was a symbol, in all negative senses, of everything pro-Russian, including Yanukovych’s intention to enter to the Eurasian Economic Community customs union (Tamozhennyi Soyuz), which would mean unification with Russia. The Washington posted on its website:

“Looking back, the moment when Euromaidan protesters toppled Kiev’s most prominent statue of Lenin on Dec. 8 now seems like a key point in Ukraine’s political crisis. It was when the world began to realize that this wasn't just about domestic politics and a potential European Union membership: The Euromaidan protests fit into a broader Ukraine narrative of Russian influence and post-Soviet history.”[22]

In fact, for some people Lenin was (and is) not only a symbol of Russian influence but the symbol of Putin. Following statement confirms it: “We are not against the Russian people, we are against Lenin and Putin”.[23] As we see that people on Euromaidan juxtapose Putin and Lenin, so, it means that in some way they identify Lenin with Putin.

It is interesting to observe how people identify one symbol with another. In their statements commentators on websites compared Lenin and Hitler as mass murders and leaders of totalitarian regimes: “He [Lenin – A.A.] was a mass murderer. It's like having a monument to Hitler in your city. I'm glad he has gone”, said one guy from Kyiv.[24] I came across to similar comments many times in different posts. Before people on Euromaidan began to compare Lenin and Hitler, such comparison of mass murders was spared only to Lenin and Stalin. I suppose that ordinary people just cannot distinguish between Stalin and Lenin. Because there are no Stalin’s monuments in Ukraine, people transmitted their memories on Soviet mass murders and totalitarianism from Stalin to Lenin. As a Ukrainian newspaper noted “protesters think that in such way [to bring down Lenin’s monuments – A.A.] they liberate their townships from symbol of totalitarianism an open a way for new Ukraine”.[25]

Other protesters told that they clean their country form imperialistic symbols. So in their understanding Lenin is the symbol of imperialism. However, what do they mean under imperialism? People did not specify whether it is Russian Federation today, the Soviet Union or Russian Empire. Perhaps, for them “imperialism” is just other symbol of evil. So, as we can see people had many reasons to wish for destruction of Lenin monuments in Ukraine.

But if so many people consider Lenin as the symbol of evil and misfortune why other people try to protect Lenins’ monuments and condemn Leninfall? Yes, Lenin for many people in Ukraine (and not only in Ukraine) is the symbol of evil and misfortune but at the same time for some social groups he is the symbol of stability and Soviet nostalgia.

Indeed many people in Ukraine had nostalgia for the Soviet period. We have to recognize that not for everybody Lenin was the embodiment of evil. For many people the establishment of the Soviet Union brought more opportunities for their lives. For those who were in good terms with the regime Lenin was a respected figure for his positive role regulation of the social life. For instance, the education stopped to be the privilege for the rich and became accessible for everybody. This fact brought new possibilities and achievements for both individuals and the Soviet State. Another fact is that people could get a flat from the state instead of to buy it for their own money. With this purpose many “khruschovka” and “brezhnevka” houses were built. People could be treated in hospitals for free; everybody knew that after graduation he or she would get a job. Besides, people were raised with convictions that the Soviet Union is the best state in the world and the Soviet communist regime is the best government for all people on Earth. Considering these factors we can understand people who have nostalgia of Soviet Union. As time passes people tend more and more idealize Soviet times.

Other position which we should take into consideration is that people want order in their lives. What does it mean “order” and what kind of order people want? Many people are tired of democracy “à la Ukraine” in which everybody can do whatever he/she wants, and when nobody follows laws and money and status solve any problem. When, for example, son of a deputy can drive drunk over-speed in the center of a city and kills a person and does not get a sentence after all; when a bank can take your money for deposit and say that money has disappeared and after all accuse the depositor; when professor at a university can demand a bribe from his/her students. Endless examples could be provided. So, people really want to return to Soviet times when all mentioned troublesome cases were less possible than now or even impossible.

They are ready to live even with a dictatorship just to avoid anarchy which so-called democracy in Ukraine offered. They say, that, yes, we were afraid of KGB, but at least we had an order in the State and we were sure in our tomorrow. On the other hand, the presence of KGB created a sense of protection. The status of the Soviet Union as one of the great powers also helped people’s perception of security for the future. Actually, the Soviet Union assured people with three very important conditions: the protection from any external enemy, confidence in the future (doesn’t matter which is the future, the main issue is stability) and avoidance of responsibility (with common control, when the state was deciding everything, people with pleasure gave all of their own responsibility to the state). People appreciated these three conditions and do not want to forget what they had in the past and moreover, they do not want to change anything for now because they afraid to take the responsibility. Any change brings a responsibility and then feeling of guilt if a person was acting in a mistaken way, that actually means to be responsible for his/her own actions and words.

It is easy to explain such controversial attitude of Ukrainians to the Soviet Union. Actually, the Soviet state gave all for a happy life only for some people in the society and created all possibilities for their personal development. Without the Soviet system these people would be nothing and the regime allowed them to become respectable and well-off people. On the other hand, the Soviet Union took away everything from some  other people: property and money (so-called “raskulachivanie” or “dekulakization”[26]), opportunity to live a normal life and use common advantages in an equal footing with all others (here I mean declaration of some people as “enemy of the people” or “children of the enemy of the people”), and even claimed people’s lives (shooting, repressions, and Gulag system). Thus, the Soviet Union turned everything upside-down and for seventy years people accepted and became reconciled with these transformations. With this past people continue to live today: they live with the same (Soviet) mentality, the same (Soviet) ideology, and the same (Soviet) worldview. Actually, Ukrainian people in the present continue to live in the Soviet past.

The communist ideology has forced to respect Lenin  and this is still alive in  in the East of Ukraine where people never considered Soviet state as an occupant or an enemy. The Washington Post noted that “in Russophone Eastern and Southern Ukraine, Lenin is still respected by many, despite Communism’s obsolescence even there”[27] Indeed, the language with which people speak also has meaning in the case with Leninfall.

Usually people who speak Ukrainian also speak and read Russian. But people who speak Russian very rarely speak and read Ukrainian. It is an open secret that not all people in Ukraine can speak and read (and sometimes even understand) Ukrainian, despite of Ukrainian is the official language. That is why the opinion of people from the western Ukraine has not reached the eastern Ukraine.

According to my observation people who commented Leninfall on websites in Ukrainian have, in general, positive or neutral attitude, regardless of the language they wrote their comments (sometimes people comment on Ukrainian websites in Russian as well as Ukrainian). The same case is on websites in English. People who read website in Russian in more cases demonstrate a negative attitude to destruction of Lenin monuments; and they posted their comments only in Russian. It would be really interesting to find out the home towns of commentators on web portals.

Politicians often play with the language question. For example, Oleg Tzaryov, Member of Parliament from the Party of Regions, tried to explain:

“The state has to create comfortable conditions for all. When the conditions are not comfortable for Russians, Russian-speakers, and for those who want to live in their home towns cities with the monuments which they like (but other people arrive to them and destroy them [the monuments – A.A]), until then citizens will escape from such country”[28].  

So, Tzaryov hints here that all Russian-speakers in Ukraine wanted to save Lenins’ monuments because they like Lenin, but Ukrainian-speakers arrive to Russian-speaking cities and destroy the monuments. Tzaryov extrapolates the Leninfall with the language issue. Certainly this is a political game but what is important he noted the tendency that people saved (or tried to save) Lenins in Russian-speaking part of Ukraine. It was eastern and southern parts of Ukraine which always were loyal to the Soviet past. The overwhelming majority in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, including Crimea, always spoke and continue to speak in Russian, in contrast to the Western Ukraine which speaks in Ukrainian.

So far as common language of the Soviet Union was Russian and the Soviet Union accomplished Russification (except some early period of Ukrainization in 1920s) in the east of Ukraine and Crimea, these regions fitted into Soviet system very well and accepted all rules of the Soviet State. So the language problem, created during the Soviet period, is very painful issue. With the foregoing examples we can conclude that even language issue becomes part of discussions around Lenin monuments and Ukrainian attitude to the Soviet past.

Actually some parts of the Ukrainian society are offended by the Leninfall because they think that Lenin is already the history and it does not matter if he was good or bad. They assume that anyway people need to remember and respect their own history. Other parts of the society counter this foregoing position as they posit that Hitler is also history but you cannot find his monument in Germany. All in all, people are fine with the view that it is possible to take away Lenins but it should be done in a civilized and legal way, when the removal legitimized.[29] Otherwise, they consider, this is as a chaos and vandalism. "Of course it would have been nice to have got rid of it in a more civilized way," said 36-year-old Mykola Boiko.[30] Such views are really frequent. With this statement we return again to the question of order which people need.

So after some analyses of the Leninfall we can see that situation is clear. We can understand positions of people who have been for and against Leninfall. Anyway, the fact of Leninfall already entered to the history as one of the most significant moments of Ukrainian revolution 2013-2014. I agree with the following statement:

“There are many ways to create iconic moments during protest movements, but perhaps none is as reliable—as fraught with symbolism—as toppling a statue.”[31]

It is unknown what happened with all “fallen” Lenins. From my point of view, it would be better to collect them and then to create special museum of communist past as one was created in Hungary.

Such museum could preserve Ukrainian history, even an unpleasant one, and it could remind next generations the mistakes made in the past and prevent repetition of the same mistakes in the future. How many countries have had own Lenins until now but they chose different way of their further development.[32] The main issue is that Leninfall should take place in the people’s minds and not only in Ukraine but in the entire former Soviet Union. [33]


[1] You can see on this site the map with all marked places where Leninfall took place. Available at www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/24/leninopad-falling-lenins-statues-ukraine_n_4847364.html

[2] For example, see the article in Wikipedia “List of communist monuments in Ukraine”. Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Communist_monuments_in_Ukraine

[3] When I talk about Eastern Ukraine I refer to Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts. I consider Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia also as parts of Eastern Ukraine, but I will discuss the cases about these oblasts further in the text.

[4] In February 23, nearly 3,000 people have gathered in Kharkov, a city in north-eastern Ukraine, to take part in a rally aiming to defend the local statue of Lenin. http://rt.com/news/eastern-ukraine-kharkov-gathering-261/

[5] Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet government in 1964-1982 was born in the town of Dniprodzerzhinsk, Dnipropetrovsk oblast. That is why Dnipropetrovsk region was always provided with food and other goods even in time of common deficit. As a result people of Dnipropetrovsk supported Soviet policy.

[6] For instance, well-known factory Yuzhny Machine-Building Plant or PA Yuzhmash is still active and continue to produce rockets’ engines, secret weapons, transportations etc.

[8] This webpage shows information about Lenin’s monuments (if they were demolished in 2014 or before, saved or didn’t exist) in small districts of Ukraine. Available at http://leninstatues.ru/leninopad

[15] Available at  www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=1eHyDfjabTM, 07.00 – 07.40 min. (Thanks G. Kasianov for this link)

[17] It is not surprise because the main part of the parliament members transferred from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to the different parties of independent Ukraine where they vanished and dissociated themselves from their past.

[20] According to NBC News it was written on “…a poster stuck on the plinth where the red granite statue of Lenin had stood.” Available at www.nbcnews.com/news/other/icon-o-clash-ukrainian-protesters-topple-statue-lenin-kiev-f2D11712710

[28]  Available at  www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6IoybIZ0Kk 05.04 – 05.38 min

[33] Thanks to Huseyin Oylupinar for his comments and proof reading.

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