Nine years after Ukraine declared independence and the Soviet regime collapsed of its own weight, the country still goes all out to celebrate the very Soviet holiday of Victory Day. Unlike the rest of Europe, which commemorates the capitulation of Nazi Germany on May 8, when Berlin actually fell, Ukraine observes the event on May 9 as did the Soviet Union. This year the celebrations were especially grand with Kyiv spending tens of millions of badly needed hryvni for parades, concerts, meetings, military scholarships and commemorative medals for veterans. Particularly noteworthy in this year's celebrations was the military parade down the Khreschatyk with soldiers dressed in World War II vintage uniforms. Not coincidentally, the same costumes were featured in a similar Moscow parade.
The question we ask is: Why does the Ukrainian government believe all this is still needed? Why do Ukrainian leaders, particularly President Leonid Kuchma, insist on propagating the political myth that the end of the World War II brought Ukraine liberation? Why do they continue to ignore the fact that only the Communist Party and Stalin himself benefited from the victory?
In his commentary in The Weekly, "The Myth of the Great Patriotic War," Dr. Roman Serbyn argued that "It is time that Ukrainians face the tragic fact: Ukrainian military in the Red Army were only cogs in the great totalitarian regime, and instruments cannot be victors!" Dr. Serbyn points out that the myth the Soviets built regarding the "Great War for the Fatherland" was simply a consolidating tool, a piece of Brezhnevite propaganda to bolster the sense of the uniqueness of the "Soviet people" that was needed to replace the founding myth of the "Great October Revolution," which along with the cult of Lenin was gradually losing its effectiveness.
"The alleged upheaval of the Ukrainian population in defense of their merciless Soviet Fatherland was a fabrication imparted into a collective memory, concocted by means of falsified history books and artfully staged public holidays," writes Dr. Serbyn.
Perhaps President Kuchma, whose own father died in the war near the Russian city of Novgorod, may have a legitimate psychological need for maintaining a soft spot in his heart regarding the war. He is a product of the Soviet system. He grew up on the myths and propaganda that the government so effectively conjured, and may believe them to this day. Mr. Kuchma also has political motivation. It is the pensioners, many of them Red Army veterans and those with fond remembrances of the "great victory," who voted against President Kuchma's re-election in the November 1999 presidential elections. He may believe that he needs to win them over.
We understand that this year marked the 55th anniversary - probably the last major celebration that the overwhelming majority of those who witnessed or took part in World War II will live to see. Let the veterans and pensioners have their holiday if they wish - but not at the state level. Ukraine does not need, nor can it afford, these grandiose displays. And it is not necessary for Ukraine's president to commune with the leaders of Russia and Belarus as they expound on the need for Slavic unity, (read: renewed Russian Empire) as he did when he met with Vladimir Putin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belgorod to mark the beginning of Victory Day celebrations.
The Ukrainian government, if it is truly Ukrainian in spirit, must understand that for Ukraine May 9 cannot be a celebration. For Ukraine the events of 1945 only led to the departure of one totalitarian master and the return of another. A better idea would be to mark Victory Day on May 8, as the rest of Europe and the world does - and not on May 9, the date the Soviets marked because only then did the Soviet Red Army finally overcome a stubborn German force near Prague.
Let it be a solemn commemoration of the 2 million to 3 million young Ukrainians who died serving in the Red Army, and of the thousands who were massacred at Babyn Yar as well as the millions of Ukrainians who died as victims of the war and in German concentration camps. Widen the focus to include the heroism of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in its fight against both the Nazis and the Soviets and in remembrance of the hundreds of thousands of its freedom fighters who died in the forest and mountains of western Ukraine.
Then, and only then, will the holiday represent what the Ukrainian nation has lived through. The Soviet Union played a decisive role in the victory over Hitler's war machine, but it never did anything for the Ukrainian people that they should want or need to celebrate.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, May 14, 2000, No. 20, Vol. LXVIII
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