Tearing down Ukraine's communist past - Al Jazeera English

Tearing down Ukraine's communist past

New laws order replacement of Soviet-era monuments and memorials with Ukrainian nationalist symbols.

John Wendle | | Ukraine, Russia, History, Politics, Europe

Kiev, Ukraine - The work crew gathered on the pavement, smoking cigarettes and chatting. They were happy to wait and ill at ease with the task at hand.

They had been ordered to take down yet another Soviet memorial in central Kiev as part of Ukraine's drive to free public spaces across the country of communist relics and change their cultural narrative with a package of laws.

With swift blows of a hammer and chisel, the heavy engraved plaque dedicated to a heroic World War II fighter in the Red Army came down. The street will now be renamed after a famous Ukrainian monk.

"Our grandparents fought, and we destroy," said Pyotr Karpenko, one of the workers from the Kiev city government.

The package of four laws  focuses on Ukrainian history and supports the anti-Soviet, anti-socialist movements and historical events. 

RELATED: Ukraine's anti-communist laws stir controversy

Volodymyr Vyatrovych, the historian who introduced the series of laws to parliament, heads the Ukrainian National Memory Institute. In order to succeed, he said, the goal set by the laws will require the renaming of streets and cities and the taking down of statues and memorials if they are linked to the communist regime. 

The laws also mandate the opening of the archives of the Soviet state security organisations, the KGB and Cheka, also the use of the Western term "World War II" to describe what for the Soviet Union was the "Great Patriotic War", and the acknowledgement the war started in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, among other changes.

The legislation has been criticised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, citing fears it will provide cover for the government to clamp down on free speech. 

The laws have also aggravated Russia and people who have fond memories of Soviet times, or remember the past with pride - such as Ukrainian veterans of the Red Army - and those who feel a cultural affinity to Russia, further straining the situation in Ukraine .

Follow John Wendle on Twitter:  @ johnwendle

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