Print options

August 15, 2012

Communist Symbol Ban Spreads Among Russia’s Neighbors

by James Brooke

LVIV, Ukraine — In Lviv, Western Ukraine nationalists fought last year to block communists from bringing red flags to the city’s World War II Hill of Glory.  This year, Lviv banned all public displays of Communist and Nazi symbols.

The ban on hammers and sickles and swastikas follows similar bans in the Baltics, in Georgia, and in much of Eastern Europe.  Moldova implements its ban on October 1.

In front of Lviv’s Opera House, where a statue of Lenin once stood, there is now a fountain. And near the railroad station, where there was once a fountain, there is now a statue to the late Stepan Bandera, a leader of the anti-Soviet Organization of Ukrainian nationalists.

"The new monuments that we see being built are monuments to the national heroes, who are viewed as heroes here, who were fighting the Soviet Union," said Sergiy Kudelia, a political scientist in Lviv.

But in Moscow, there are 93 statues and busts of Lenin.  From their side of the history divide, many Russians say the Soviet Union was a force for progress.

Alexander, who makes a living impersonating Lenin for tourists visiting Red Square, says Ukraine developed economically and culturally as part of the Soviet Union. He says that only Ukrainian nationalists oppose communist symbols.

Back in Lviv, magazine editor Taras Voznyak retorts that Russians cannot shed their imperial world view:  He says modern Russia sees itself as the successor to the Russian Empire and the Soviet Empire.  Ukraine, he says, always played a subordinate role to Moscow and can not see itself as a successor to the Soviet Union.

In the latest clash of historical views, the Kremlin financed "The Match," a new Russian-language movie about Soviet resistance in Ukraine to the Nazis. Ukrainian nationalists tried to have it banned in May because all Ukrainian speakers were shown as Nazi collaborators.

The former mayor of Lviv, Vasil Kuibida, charges the 1930s Soviet-era famine, or "Holodomor," easily killed as many people as Nazi wartime atrocities in Ukraine:  He says more than 10 million Ukrainians died in the famine and millions more were executed or deported to labor camps in Siberia.

In turn, some Russians charge that many Western Ukrainians are soft on fascism.