11 May 2023, 11:37
Decolonization of Monuments in Ukrainian Cities

At last, decolonization goes beyond toponyms! Now, it's the turn of monuments.

The Verkhovna Rada has adopted a law that will allow the removal of Soviet and imperial cultural monuments from the state register. If the President signs it, the monuments that are symbols of the communist totalitarian regime and russian imperial policy will not be considered cultural heritage (the list of such symbols is indicated below in the text).

What does it mean?

When the Law comes into force, newly discovered objects that are symbols of the communist totalitarian regime or russian imperial policy will not be subject to state registration. And such monuments that were previously registered will be:

  • removed from the State Register of Immovable Monuments of Ukraine;
  • either moved, or its individual elements will be dismantled;
  • preserved in the Register as an object of exceptional artistic value; 
  • undergoing changes to the name and/or type of monument in the Register. 

One or several of these decisions will be made considering the proposals of local self-government bodies (if they provide them), the recommendations of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, and the expert opinion of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy.

The symbols of the communist totalitarian regime and russian imperial policy, according to the law, in particular, include:

  • images of state flags, coats of arms, anthems, and other symbols of russia at any stages of its history, starting with muscovy, as well as the Soviet republics and states of the so-called “people's democracy”;
  •  symbols of the Communist Party or its elements, in particular the combination of sickle, hammer, plow, pentagonal star in different combinations;
  •  images, monuments, memorial signs, inscriptions dedicated to:
  1. events related to the implementation of russian imperial policy, the activities of the Communist Party, the establishment of Soviet power on the territory of Ukraine or in separate administrative-territorial units, the persecution of participants in the fight for the independence of Ukraine in the twentieth century;
  2. persons who held leading positions in the Communist Party (the post of secretary of the district committee and above), in the higher bodies of power and government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic), other union or autonomous Soviet republics, bodies of power and government of regions, cities of republican subordination in the USSR;
  3. employees of Soviet state security bodies at all levels;
  4. persons who held senior positions in government and administration bodies, political organizations, parties, armed formations of russia at any stages of its history, starting from muscovy, as well as in the territories occupied by it, and participated in or contributed to the implementation of russian imperial policy;
  5. persons who publicly, including in the media, in literary and other artistic works, supported, glorified, or justified the russian imperial policy, called for russification or Ukrainophobia;
  • names and slogans of the Communist Party, quotes, and slogans of the above-mentioned persons, other images, inscriptions related to glorification and justification of russian imperial policy.

Exceptions are persons related to the protection of political, economic, cultural rights of the Ukrainian people, the development of Ukrainian national statehood, science, culture, as well as monuments and memorials related to the resistance and expulsion of Nazi occupiers from Ukraine.

According to the law, the following persons are authorized to make a decision on entering or removing objects from the State Register of Immovable Monuments or change their category:

  1. regarding monuments of national importance — the Cabinet of Ministers at the request of the Ministry of Culture;
  2. regarding monuments of local significance — the Ministry of Culture at the request of the relevant bodies of cultural heritage protection or at the request of the Ukrainian Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments, other civil society organizations whose statutory tasks include the protection of cultural heritage.

Therefore, local authorities will be able to dismantle or transfer such objects (if they are in municipal ownership) to museums — provided the above authorities make the decision.

Let us note that the new Law also contains risksFirstly, part of its articles mentions monuments that are themselves prohibited symbols, but Article 15-1 also covers objects that only contain such symbols. That is, theoretically, monuments in which any small element has the appropriate symbolism (for example, a hammer and a pentagonal star) can get under review, even if the general content of the monument does not bear Soviet narratives. The monuments include, for example, buildings and architectural ensembles. Therefore, the application of new provisions will require a balanced approach.

Secondly, regarding the same monuments, the law provides two ways of responding: Article 15 of the Law imperatively requires that monuments that are relevant symbols be removed from the Register. But Article 15-1 provides for four more options for decisions on such objects. In practice, this can cause controversy and appeal of some decisions. 

Thirdly, there is a risk of non-engagement of communities and local self-government bodies in decision-making on monuments. It is important that local councils identify the relevant monuments and send proposals to the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy before they “are faced with the fact.” Each decision should be clear to the community and should be made based on the unity of the communities and the central government in assessing obsolete monuments.

We recommend that Ukrainian municipalities, if possible, study this issue, engage in the direction of proposals and not delay in clearing our cultural and physical space from enemy monuments. 

Instead, we should intensify the commemoration of Ukrainian history, outstanding people, events, and heroes. Thus, we will be able not only to identify a certain area as a Ukrainian one, but also to form our new cultural consciousness, free from the Soviet and imperial past.

Now, during the full-scale war, we are definitely aware of the need to abandon foreign monuments, so, let us will find an opportunity to do this in all our cities and communities!

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