A little more than one year has elapsed since Ukraine’s President Poroshenko signed into law the so called decommunization laws of Ukraine. Since then and in accordance with the laws, names of cities and streets have been changed and the Communist party of Ukraine was prevented from participating in local elections. Lawsuits have banned communist the party and the party has appealed to the European Court in Strasbourg. The process is playing itself out.
Despite the relative tranquility, recently two articles have appeared once again disparaging the laws, the process, the Institute for National Remembrance and its director. First came an interview with historian Georgiy Kasyanov in “Ukrainian Pravda”, who likened the current decommunization methods to Communist ones. While he did not offer specific examples of illegal or terrorist activities by Ukraine’s current government, he stated “The main ideology behind what they are doing is to foist on society a certain narrative of memory. We are effectively seeing ideological unification, just like in the Soviet Union.”
Kasyanov went even further in outrageous rhetoric. He refuted the idea that Ukraine over history has been a victim, an “occupied nation” saying that Ukrainians were among those instrumental in creating both the Russian and the Soviet empire. Naturally, he did not provide any factual information to support this novel thesis.
The “Ukrainian Pravda” interview was later submitted as supposedly a news item on the website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group by Halya Coynash. This article then appeared as her opinion piece on other sites. The article essentially repeats Kasyanov’s assertions but Ms. Coynash also offers some old alleged news that “one of them (the laws-ASL) presented for assessment received a hammering from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission” and “Six months after coming into force it was slammed by the Venice Commission…”
To say that the above old newsflash by Ms. Coynash was inflammatory at the least would be an understatement. The Venice Commission neither hammered nor slammed Ukraine’s decommunization law. In fact, it stated that the law pursues legitimate aims, although the document does not comply with European legislative standards.
“The law is too broad in scope and introduces sanctions that are disproportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. Any association that does not comply with Law No. 317-VIII may be banned, which is problematic with regard to every individual’s freedom of association. This is particularly the case when it comes to political parties, which play a crucial role in ensuring pluralism and the proper functioning of democracy… The banning of political parties from participation in elections or their dissolution should be a measure of last resort in exceptional cases.”
The Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR make the following key recommendations: for the purpose of clarity, the Law should contain a less extensive and exhaustive list of the prohibited symbols; the notion ‘propaganda’ must be clearly defined, especially when it is used for the purpose of criminalising conduct.
Like Kasyanov in his interview, Coynash in her article do not offer a single example of human rights violations or even criminal prosecution emanating from these laws over the course of the year. Aside from blaming Ukrainians for their own occupation Kasyanov manages to condemn all Institutes for National Remembrance. They are not exclusive to Ukraine. See other East European countries. Coynash, in addition, disparages the director of Ukraine’s Institute, refers to now notorious article by one Josh Cohen, but immediately acknowledges that “there are enough factual mistakes in Cohen’s article to weaken his argument.”
In an attempt to ameliorate the accusations Coynash does admit that now Ukraine “truly is a victim of Russian aggression” and suggests amending rather than rescinding this legislation which imposes a different (than the Soviet – ASL), but equally divisive “official ideology”.
One can only hope for good will on the part of both Kasyanov and the Kharkiv Group including Ms. Coynash. But then why the inflammatory language, the misrepresentations and the bizarre offensive accusations, i.e. blaming the victim for its tragedies.
Let the process play out. Strasbourg may compel Ukraine to tweak its legislation. But as long as human rights are not being violated and Ukraine is playing by the rules, to wit: enacting legislation through democratic processes, (laws on decommunization do not require public debate – see Ukraine’s Constitution as to legislation which requires a referendum), researching, learning and sometimes remembering both its tragic and heroic history very often purged by its oppressors, attempting to move on from both Nazi and Soviet criminality not unlike other European countries have done, let Ukraine proceed with its nation building.
June 10, 2016
Askold S. Lozynskyj