sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

December 24, 2013

A Final Twilight for Soviet Idols?

Filed under: politics, Ukraine — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:23 am

UPDATE: Many thanks to Professor Jacobson for linking.
A while ago I commented at a Legal Insurrection thread about the removal of Euromaidan protesters that I hope the protesters destroyed that Lenin statue they toppled, so that the Ukrainian government will not re-erect it.  You see, interested parties want to do just that — according to a Russian language newspaper Vecherniy Kharkov, shortly after the monument was brought down, Kharkiv politician Mikhail Dobkin tweeted that he is donating 50,000 hriven (a little over 6K) to a fund to restore the statue.  Dobkin claims that fellow residents of this East Ukrainian city inundated him with supportive phone calls and so far pledged 100, 000 hriven to his restoration fund.  Dobkin, who maintains that the monument is on UNESCO protection list, expressed optimism that he will be able to raise 500,000 to restore Ilych, as the old Soviet media affectionately called the Bolshevik leader, to his former glory.

This is not the first time the monument in Kiev was attackeed.  In summer 2009 it was damaged by five Ukrainian nationalists (and, as one Russian state source implied, neo-Nazis).  Back then it was restored at the expense of the Ukrainian Communist Party.  Shortly after the incident BBC interviewed a babushka who, after hearing of the disturbance expressed a peculiar sentiment:

But 80-year-old Raisa Petrivna tearfully declares: “I was resting at my dacha when I heard about this act. I came here to ask his forgiveness. I said to him: Ilych, forgive them for what they did to you…”

Several months after the incident, Ukrainian First lady Kateryna Yushchenko called for the removal of Lenin monuments in Ukraine, equating the ubiquitous communist landmark with idolatry.  As it happens, that part of the world has a history with iconoclasm.  When in late 10th century Kiev* Prince Vladimir the Great baptized Russia, he ordered destruction of pagan idols.  In 1917, Bolsheviks blew up temples and ruined Romanov eagles.

In 1931 the Soviets blew up Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow

At least one statue of the founder of the workers’ paradise blessed every town in the Soviet Union.  These sculptures, typically of dubious artistic merit, were a part of the visual noise that filled Soviet population centers.  Now the outsized posters, red banners and other fixtures of Soviet life are gone, but many Lenin monuments survived the first wave of removal of the early 90’s.  Granted some of them are in a state of decay, which is a natural state of infrastructure in Eastern Slavic lands.

What to do with Lenin statues has been a matter of a debate.  Are we going to [gasp!] destroy history?  No matter that historic buildings are regularly torn down, and without much discussion.  Build a museum of socialism and move all known Lenin monuments there?  I don’t believe there were ever funds to complete such ambitious project.  Plus, there is something totalitarian about that idea, too.  I find it heartening that the fate of the Soviet landmarks is resolved not by decree of a great leader, but on the local level.

Fiercely nationalistic Western Ukrainian cities removed all signs of proletarian leader in early 90s.  In the Black Sea port of Odessa Lenin statue was transferred from a central location into a park.  In 2011, in Uzhgorod, where the statue was dismantled a decade ago, local leaders threatened to smelt unless Communist Party pays up 75,000 euros.

The communist party influence had been waning in the recent years, and it might just be that we’ll see the dismantling (detraction, as was the case in Cherkassy in 2009) of remaining Ukrainian Lenins.  Still, in Eastern parts of the country where much of the population still speaks Russian, the defiant communist party put up new monuments, like the Stalin statue in Zaporozhie — although I suspect   — I hope — that was a last hurray.

The main Kharkiv Lenin monument is alive and well.  Perched in the center of the city, in the vicinity of several major colleges, the monument steps are now a popular student hangout.  They are very inviting, those steps, a good place to meet a lover or to eat lunch.  From time to time communist lay flowers on the pedestal.  Dismantling the gargantuan figure requires political will, so for the time being lovers can meet at the feet of the old syphilitic.

Ukrainians feel embarrassed by the ubiquitous Soviet relic.  When the country co-hosted European soccer championship last year, the now toppled statue in Kiev was digitally erased from the promotional video.

It’s not just Ukraine that’s aching to part with the past.  One night in the town of Pushkin near St. Petersburg some kids with a sense of humor (possibly of nationalist monarchist persuasion) put a bomb in Lenin’s rear end.

No human beings were hurt in explosion.

At this point, I wouldn’t want to dismantle this figure.

…My unsolicited thoughts on Euromaidan:

As an American, I see it in our interest that Ukraine continues to develops ties with the West, and that Russia is isolated.  Bringing Ukraine into Western sphere offers obvious strategic benefits to the US and allies and promotes the cause of liberty worldwide.

Euromaidan crowds want to see Ukraine in the EU, but this is not currently on the table, and if I were a German, I’d be weary of the idea.

Our sources in Kharkiv, even those who were energized during Orange revolution, are now apolitical.  To enter the EU, Ukraine, the land with great potential and educated population but best for babes with painted boobies, would have to restructure it’s economy.  It’s not just that many in Eastern Ukrainian feel betrayed by their leaders and no longer trust any of them, but after a quarter century of post-Soviet ordeals, ordinary citizens have no appetite for reform.  My parents’ septuagenarian friends are most worried about the cost of prescription medications.  My friends are preoccupied with New Year, which remains the biggest holiday in post-Soviet countries.

Kharkiv social media users are largely disinterested in anything political, although I did find a few relevant videos.  Among them:

  • One Russian language commentary argued that Latvia was much better off producing canned fish and shortwave radios for USSR then is now as a part of EU;
  • Ukrainian Greco-Catholic priest Arsenich Palka calls for violent nationalist revolution;
  • An edited video of of protesters attacking Berkut special police forces;
  • A Russian channel 24 investigative report showing Euromaidan astroturf.  Their findings are hard to deny, but toppling of the Lenin statue, clashes with police, protesters sleeping in government buildings and a half a million strong demonstration looked all pretty real.

Kharkiv sentiment is probably fairly typical of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.  Prior to dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kharkiv wasn’t even properly speaking a Ukrainian city; now it drifted away from Russia a bit, with Ukrainian becoming the language of instruction in grade schools, one can hear Ukrainian spoken on the streets.  If Ukraine falls apart, Putin will score Crimea, the strategically important majority ethnic Russian peninsula on the Black Sea.

If the country keeps itself together, I’m not sure Ukrainians are ready for the ordeal of freedom — so many of them would rather have Moscow redistribute canned fish than reform their economy.  And they should really do the second, whether or not they get into EU… Then again, it’s easy for me to pontificate about their economy and their lives, and it’s not like there is nothing to privatize here, starting with our health industry.


*Many centuries before Ukraine became a cultural and political entity, Kiev was the first capital of Russia.  Ukrainian nationalism dates back to the 17th century Cossack upraising against Poland-Lithuania and the 18th century destruction of the Cossacks of Zaporozhian Sich by Catherine the Great.



  1. “These sculptures, typically of dubious artistic merit, were a part of the visual noise that filled Soviet population centers…..”

    Substitute “Soviet” with “Obama’ and you can sense a similarity.

    Comment by Infidel de Manahatta — December 26, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

  2. […] A Final Twilight for Soviet Idols? […]

    Pingback by Sunday Links: Facebook Friends Edition, Volume 91 - Conservative Hideout 2.0 — December 29, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

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