Why the Guardian is wrong, and Soviet monuments should not be protected

In light of recent events in Kharkiv, Agata Pyzik of the Guardian took the task of explaining why Soviet monuments should not be toppled, but protected.

So, what’s the problem with this argument?

The first point addressed by Puzik is acknowledging that Soviet statues and memorials do act as “a powerful reminder of Soviet rule” and that “memories of Soviet aggression are just as raw today as they were when the USSR fell.”

Having said this, this fact is merely paying lip service (which reminds of a scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm) as she proceeds to pile on the topic of ‘sacrifice’ to justify the statues’ salvation:

“Red Army monuments are a reminder of the astounding Soviet sacrifice during the war […] The Soviet army played a major role in saving this part of Europe from the realisation of Hitler’s master plan in the east, which proposed the colonisation, enslavement and eventual extermination of the Slavic population.”

Certainly, many Ukrainians appreciate the sacrifices Soviet soldiers made in their efforts during the Second World War, especially in eastern cities like Kharkiv. Remember, Soviet soldiers were, in the words of Yale historian Timothy Snyder, “disproportionately Ukrainian.” The unit which liberated Aushwitz? The 1st Ukrainian Front. “The vast majority of Ukrainians who fought in the war did so in the uniform of the Red Army. More Ukrainians were killed fighting the Wehrmacht than American, British, and French soldiers — combined.” It’s for these reasons that actions are taken against Soviet symbols, but not necessarily symbols of native soldiers.

In a wider context, Soviet military memorials can be seen as either monuments to liberation or occupation, life and death. While Soviet soldiers did play a major role in stopping Hitler, their historical actions before, during, and after this moment in time are not without criticism, nor should they be.

While Hitler’s role in the 40’s was absolutely devastating (approximately 3 million non-Jewish Ukrainians were killed in the Holocaust under Hitler’s extermination plans, and over 2.3 million were deported for slave labor), Ukrainians will neither forget Stalin’s plans also realized colonization (see: Russification), enslavement (see: collectivization and dekulakization), and the extermination of the Ukrainian population. It also included the extermination of half of the Crimean Tatar population.

And not to let the man of the moment, Vladimir Lenin, off the hook. It was he who said of the Crimean Tatars: “We will take them, divide them, subjugate them, digest them.” Should Tatars need to be reminded of this in their society?

But certainly the author is focusing on the military effort, and not excusing leaders like Stalin, right?

“…two cities even feature quotations from Stalin, which remain in place without harassment. The degree of the Soviet sacrifice seems to be appreciated there.”

Moving on..

“Russia’s role in the second world war is seen largely through the initial collaboration with Hitler. But it is the Soviet Union’s later actions and subsequent role in the defeat of the Nazis in Europe that should be dominant.”

The issue here is telling victims how they should remember their oppression and experience. For Ukrainians, Poles, or any other nation subjugated as a result of Moscow’s collaboration with Hitler, they and they alone get to decide how to remember their experience, and decide whether the narrative of ‘liberation’ agrees with their national discourse. As with monuments to this period, it is the people who live in these places that should decide whether they reflect the appreciation of the culture, and not those who made and imported them.

“Desecrating a statue of a Red Army soldier is different to toppling a Lenin memorial or painting the Ukrainian flag on the spire of one of Moscow’s Stalin towers. The latter can and should be separated from the events of 70 years ago. The people who died in Stalingrad shouldn’t get mixed up with people sending arms to Donetsk separatists. To see it otherwise is to fall into the irresponsible, habitual comparisons of Putin with Stalin and Hitler, conflating things from very different historical orders.”

This statement by Pyzik is particularly confusing as the latter (toppling a Lenin or painting a tower) are separated from WW2 events, and the ‘people of Stalingrad’ are hardly evoked when a Lenin statue hits the pavement.

Why? Well, this should be obvious: Lenin died 15 years prior to the Soviet invasion of Poland and the start of the war. He is not and cannot be related to the events of 70 years ago.

So why does the author think Ukrainians topple statues to Lenin?

“Somehow hatred for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych became confused with hatred of Lenin, which is strange because Yanukovych’s ally Vladimir Putin has criticised the Soviet leader for including Odessa, Donbass and Kharkiv (so-called Novorossiya) in the Ukrainian borders drawn in early 1920s.”

Putin argued, if anything, that Lenin was too generous on Ukraine when the Red Army annexed it and reasserted it under Moscow’s rule. This criticism started and stopped with a revisionist version of history and the demarcation of Soviet borders. Putin did not criticize anything tangible about Lenin, his rule, or the consequences of it.

“The destruction of Yanukovych’s Disneyland-like villa outside Kiev at least aimed at the right target, the unequal economy. The Lenin statues have been a poor substitute for understandable anger.”

Yanukovych’s mansion, Mezhyhirya, was not destroyed – in fact, it was turned into a museum. That being said, if ‘destruction’ of the president’s monument of corruption would be justifiable, would not the same call be made for the destruction of monuments to authoritarianism? After all, Pyzik did admit to start that these statues continue to evoke memorialize Soviet aggression and rule.

Pyzik concludes by stating Ukrainians are “conflating the past and present” and “run the risk of re-enacting old battles.” But this is made all the more confusing, given that in a previous article she argued for “a new look at the east, which acknowledges the existence and importance of the Soviet past,” a notion which she called “absolutely necessary.”

So maybe the overall theme here is that Soviet history is worth remembering, so long as it’s not critical, and isolated to victory in a vacuum. The reality is that only the people can decide what monuments are erected and stand in their cities, as they are the ones who have to live with them and be reminded of what they represent. Opinions are varied and often divergent, and it is for this reason that monuments should be unifying and representative of figures or concepts that all of society can rally behind. In the case of Soviet monument to tyrants in Ukraine, that simply isn’t the case, and for many, history is still being written.

[box]Editor’s note: A user submitted a collection of Tweets entitled “Agata’s Crush on Russia.” The content displays the author’s pro-Putin sentiment and familiar connections to the Polish Communist Party. Since publishing this article, Agata Pyzik has made her Twitter account private, and changed her handle.

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34 thoughts on “Why the Guardian is wrong, and Soviet monuments should not be protected”

  1. Nice to think that Lenin is the father of modern Ukraine
    that is borned as Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic
    in 1922

      1. In 1917/ 1922 there were 5 ukraine ….
        the Ukrainian People’s Republic
        (and then the Hetmanate and the Directorate)
        the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic
        the West Ukrainian People’s Republic

          1. ar they or aren’t all the same thing
            is matter of point of view

            the point is that
            in the period 1917-1922
            there wasn’t an Ukrainian as we know it today
            but there were a chaos of many short-lived states
            This is the point
            And is interessant to see as the divisions of yesterday
            are the same divisions today
            And is interessant to see how yesterday like today
            are increasing government entity (recognized or not)
            such as DNR and LNR

            Unfortunately this is the never ending history of Ukraine
            the kingdom of chaos

          2. You say short lived, I say 1917-22, if not 1917-present.

            West Ukraine merged with Ukraine. The Ukrainian State and Ukrainian Republic were both Ukraine, just with different governments, no different than France’s republics all being ‘France’, or saying that Germany didn’t exist until 1990.

          3. I wrote clearly
            “modern Ukraine as we know it today”

            Modern Greece born in 1821
            this doesn’t means that never existed a Greece before
            but that Greece as we know it today
            born with the independence by ottoman

            Or the near Moldova ….
            Moldova has its own history but with no doubt it exist like an independent republic
            “as we know it today”
            only because it was a soviet republic with specifics border

            For don’t speak about Russia
            “as we know it today”
            which as you know very well
            is very different from what it was
            both at the time of the Russian Empire both at the time of Soiuz

            “modern Ukraine as we know it today”
            is the result of some addition to an original part of country sized by russian and austrian empire
            modern ukraine is a results of Lenin additions , Stalin additions , Kruschev additions ….

          4. Good question
            Answer is that it never existed as it exist now .

            the most important and enduring form of state that can be considered as a basis of an Ukrainian ethnicity state
            can be individuate into the Principality of Galicia–Volhynia
            But it wasn’t really independent being vassal to the Golden Horde

      2. Oh, the irony. Ukraine was founded in 1917 because of the internal chaos after bolshevik coup.
        It was Lenin who destroyed the Empire of Tsars. If it weren’t for this guy, Ukraine could have never existed.

        1. No, not really.

          For one, it was the Bolshevik coup that destroyed the Russian Republic, which had a functioning parliament and was on the way to European modernity. Instead, it was stuck in the worst kind of tyranny, and millions of Ukrainians were murdered. How is that something to be “grateful” for?

          While the UNR was in favor of a federal relationship with Russia, Ukraine was already fast tracking towards independence, which would have come eventually as well. If you think the Russian Empire would have stayed together if not for the Bolsheviks you’re kidding yourself.

          1. I know the crimes of communist system and Lenin no better than Stalin, so not a single tear shed after his fallen monuments.
            But as I said – if it weren’t for Lenin, Ukraine would never become independent.
            Russian Republic was extremely unstable state and without bolsheviks, it is almost guarranted, that there would be some monarchist coup (sth like Kornilov coup, but successful). Whites had hard time recognising Polish independence (and probably only due to fact that before 1917 it was autonomous district, separate from Russia and because Whites commander Denikin was half Polish), they didn’t even wanted to recognise Baltics, so I don’t see how Ukraine could survive “one and undividable Russia” policy.

          2. This is all fan fiction and guesswork. The Russian state sans-Bolsheviks could go either way. It was weak enough to fall to the Bolsheviks, so by that logic would have been too weak to hang on to Ukraine (which would have opted for autonomy and later statehood)

            Would a monarchist coup happen? Not likely, federalists had power but there was no real monarchist faction.

            Also factor in German involvement, and Whites fighting a united Ukraine instead of a Ukraine divided because of the Reds.

  2. It’s about time to shed the Soviet past.
    Lenin and his Bolsheviks probably killed more Ukrainians than Hitler.
    He should be regulated to the trash heap of history for good.

  3. read the tweets of Ms. Pyzik’s above. I think it says it all. she has a crush on Putin and will say and do anything to defend him. an example of the Putin lovers is simple. I am ex-military and we studied stalingrad. our determination was several million people died because of stupid generals, mostly soviet. when I have said this to russian friends, it is the same as if I accused their mother of being a prostitute. nothing in my argument demeans the bravery or courage of the russian soldier, it only takes stupid tactics by stalin correct generals to task. Ms. Pyzik is of this ilk.

    1. If FDR had lost 250,000 men in a week the American women would have stormed the White House and hanged him in his wheel chair.

    2. Don’t you love how predictable the red swines in central-eastern Europe are? Always ready to back Russia. If not directly then at least in a convoluted way. Then there’s the thing of entire establishments in post-soviet countries. The commies were overthrown but they’ve managed to establish their children solid within the next generation of politicians, journalists, bussiness and mafia-bussiness.

  4. I think the Guardian article is a total hack. Ukraine is respected due to its humanity. Ukraine has not paraded captured militants. It has not violated Geneva conventions. It has not lied about military casualties.

    But the question is not whehter Lenin’s statute should be removed. We can remove Lenin statutes- and move them to a less prominent place within the city. Soviet Union existed- and simply denying its existence will not make it go away.

    By relocating the Lenin monuments in an orderly way, after public discussion, we can enhance the democratic standing of Ukraine.

    People like Ukraine not because people can subvert the rule of law to proclaim republics, or because they can remove Soviet era monuments, without proper public discussion.

    I think moving Soviet Era monuments to a park in a less prominent location- this is a solution everyone can live with. Over time, people will be happy with this solution.

    Let there be a public announcement and a comment period of 3 months. Let everyone comment by whatever means- youtube, VKontakte and Facebook.

    In Moscow, you may be tossed into jail for suggesting that Ukraine is a strong democracy. Since Kharkiv is so close to the border, I feel Kharkiv should take the lead in acquiring balance. Restore Soviet Era monuments and moving them to a park about 5 km from city center.

    In fact, I like making it a part of various Soviet era classics- such as “The Twelve Chairs”. People grumble about the corruption in Ukraine- but the priest in “The Twelve chairs” also could not be trusted. He uses a deathbed confession to start stealing the treasure from his dead penitent.

    1. I would suggest putting them out in the corn fields and repurposing them as scarecrows. Imagine Lenin doing something to actually benefit Ukrainians!

  5. Well said, Mat: good response.
    The Guardian seem to have banned me from Comment Is Free as a direct result of my objection to this very article by Agata Pyzik (well, they are subjecting my comments to ‘pre-moderation’, for which read censor approval, from now on). The statement of hers that I most objected to was that Russian-speaking minorities in former USSR countries ‘lack basic civil rights’.

  6. Ukraine has many honorable citizens that deserve a statue! Lening and Stalin and other foreign agressors DO NOT deserve any monument. They did NOT do 1 single good thing for Ukraine

  7. Lenin is the father of Ukraine, he created and founded Ukraine as a nation for the first time in its history, and a nation that turns against its own root, is like a man that is sawing off a tree branch that he is sitting on.

        1. So the UNR was founded by Russian thug infiltrators pretending to be Ukrainians and a bunch of little green men? The things you learn here.

  8. A Lenin statue in Ukraine is like a having a statue of George Washington in England. It just does not fit.

  9. “in the words of Yale historian Timothy Snyder, “disproportionately Ukrainian.””
    There’s no way to tell. The whole country – the Soviet Union – was mobilized. The largest ethnic group was Russians, so it’s a given that the Red Army mostly consisted of ethnic Russians. Does it mean Russians as ethnic group won the war? Of course, not. But spinning it to the opposite extreme is equally stupid.

    “The 1st Ukrainian Front”
    That’s just a name hinting at where it was fighting, it doesn’t represent this front’s ethnic composition in any way.

    I think quoting Snyder should become a mavais ton, as he’s clearly a spin doctor. One doesn’t fight the Soviet myths with myths of equally outrageous character.

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