Decommunization in Ukraine
On 15 May 2015, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko signed a set of laws that started a six-month period for the removal of communist monuments (excluding World War II monuments) and renaming of public places named after communist-related themes. At the time, this meant that 22 cities and 44 villages were set to get a new name. Until 21 November 2015, municipal governments had the authority to implement this; if they failed to do so, the provincial authorities had until 21 May 2016 to change the names. If after that date the settlement had retained its old name, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine would wield authority to assign a new name to the settlement. In 2016, 51,493 streets and 987 cities and villages were renamed, and 1,320 Lenin monuments and 1,069 monuments to other communist figures removed.
On 24 July 2015, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry stripped the Communist Party of Ukraine, the Communist Party of Ukraine (renewed) and the Communist Party of Workers and Peasants of their right to participate in elections and stated it was continuing the court actions that started in July 2014 to end the registration of Ukraine's communist parties. By 16 December 2015, these three parties were banned in Ukraine; however, the Communist Party of Ukraine appealed the ban; this meant the court's decision to ban the party did not come into force. However, the April 2015 decommunization law contains a norm that allows the Ministry of Justice to prohibit the Communist Party from participating in elections.
Decommunization laws were drafted in the Ukrainian parliament in 2002, 2005, 2009, 2011 and 2013, but they all failed to materialize. Ukraine's first president after the country's 1991 independence from the Soviet Union, Leonid Kravchuk, had also issued orders aimed at "de-sovietisation" in the early 1990s. The following years, although at a slow rate, historical monuments to Soviet leaders were removed in Ukraine. But this process went on much further in the Ukrainian-speaking western regions than in the industrialised, largely Russian-speaking eastern regions.
In April 2014, a year before the formal, nationwide decommunization process in Ukraine local authorities removed and altered communist symbols and place names, in for example Dnipro (see photo).
On 9 April 2015, the Ukrainian parliament passed legislation on decommunization. It was submitted by the Second Yatsenyuk Government, banning the promotion of symbols of "Communist and National Socialist totalitarian regimes". One of the main provisions of the bill was the recognition of the Soviet Union was "criminal" and one that it "pursued a state terror policy". The legislation prohibits the use of Communist symbols and propaganda and also bans all symbols and propaganda of national-socialism and its values and any activities of Nazi or fascist groups in Ukraine. The ban applies to monuments, place and street names. The ban does not apply to World War II monuments and when symbols are located in a cemetery. Expressing pro-communist views was not made illegal. The ban on communist symbols did result in the removement of hundreds of statues, the replacement of millions of street signs and the renaming of populated places including some of Ukraine's biggest cities like Dnipro. The city administration of Dnipro estimated in June 2015 that 80 streets, embankments, squares, and boulevards would have to be renamed. Maxim Eristavi of Hromadske.TV estimated late April 2015 that the nationwide renaming would cost around $1.5 billion (€1.38 billion). The legislation also granted special legal status to veterans of the "struggle for Ukrainian independence" from 1917 to 1991 (the lifespan of the Soviet Union). The same day, the parliament also passed a law that replaced the term "Great Patriotic War" in the national lexicon with "World War II" from 1939 to 1945, a change of great significance since during the initial part of World War II the USSR was in a pact with Germany and invaded six countries in coordination with its Nazi co-aggressor.
On 15 May 2015 President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko signed the Decommunisation Laws. This started a six-month period for the removal of communist monuments and renaming of public places named after communist-related themes.
The Ukrainian decommunization law applies, but is not limited to:
- the Flag of the Soviet Union
- the Flag of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and its 14 other republics
- the State Emblem of the Soviet Union and its constituent republics as well as the socialist countries of Eastern Europe
- the State Anthem of the Soviet Union and the republics[nb 1]
- the Red star
- the Hammer and sickle
- images bearing the likeness of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin
- military uniforms
On 3 June 2015 the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory published a list of 22 cities and 44 villages subject to renaming. By far most of these places were in the Donbass region in East Ukraine; the others were situated in Central Ukraine and South Ukraine. Under the Decommunisation Laws the municipal governments had until 21 November 2015 to change the name of the settlement they govern. For settlements that failed to rename, the provincial authorities had until 21 May 2016 to change the name. If after that date the settlement still retained its old name the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine renamed the settlement.
In a 24 July 2015 decree based on the decommunization laws, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry stripped the Communist Party of Ukraine, Communist Party of Ukraine (renewed) and Communist Party of Workers and Peasants of their right to participate in elections and it stated it was continuing the court actions (that started in July 2014) to end the registration of Ukraine's communist parties.
On 16 December 2015, the Kiev District Administrative Court validated the claim of the Ministry of Justice in full, banning the activities of the Communist Party of Ukraine. The party appealed this ban at the European Court of Human Rights.
In March 2016, statues of Lenin, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Sergey Kirov and a Komsomol monument were removed or taken down in the eastern city of Zaporizhia. The statue overlooking the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station (formerly named Lenin Dam) was the largest remaining Lenin statue in Ukraine.
On 19 May 2016, the Ukrainian parliament voted to rename Ukraine's fourth-largest city Dnipropetrovsk to "Dnipro". The renaming of various locations was signed into the law on May 20, 2016.
The Ukrainian parliament declared in July 2016 that the new names of places in Crimea[nb 2], under full Russian control since the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, "will enter force with the return of temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol under the general jurisdiction of Ukraine."
Director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance Volodymyr Viatrovych stated in February 2018 that "De-communism in the context of depriving the symbols of the totalitarian regime has actually been completed". Although according to him the city of Kiev was lagging behind.
In February 2019 the Central Election Commission of Ukraine refused to register the candidacy of (leader of Communist Party) Petro Symonenko for the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election due to the fact that the statute, name and symbolism of the Communist Party of Ukraine did not comply with the 2015 decommunization laws. Symenko appealed the decision, but the court of appeal confirmed decision of the Central Election Commission of Ukraine. During the same month of February, it was announced that the oblast of Dnipropetrovsk would be renamed to "Sicheslav" in the future. In April, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine judged the renaming to "Sicheslav" to be constitutional.
On 18 May 2015 the OSCE expressed concern that the laws could negatively impact the freedom of the press in Ukraine. The OSCE also regretted what it perceived as a lack of opportunity of civil society to participate in public discussions about the laws.
Russian lawmakers have claimed (in April 2015) it was "cynical" to put on a par Communist and Nazi symbols, and the pro-Russian rebels of the War in Donbass (a region in eastern Ukraine) condemned the new law. The head of the rebels Donetsk People's Republic Alexander Zakharchenko stated late February 2016 that when renamed cities "will return under our jurisdiction" they would be renamed to its pre-decommunizated name.
In May 2015 President of Poland Bronisław Komorowski stated that the punishment for discussing the role of Ukrainian nationalistic organizations Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Ukrainian Insurgent Army would be harmful to Polish-Ukrainian relations.
On 18 December 2015 the Venice Commission stated that Ukraine's Decommunization Laws did not comply with European legislative standards. It was in particular critical about the banning of Communist parties.
Since 16 December 2015 three communist parties are banned in Ukraine (the Communist Party of Ukraine, Communist Party of Ukraine (renewed) and Communist Party of Workers and Peasants). The only party that appealed this ban was the Communist Party of Ukraine; this resulted in the court's decision to ban the Communist Party of Ukraine did not come into force. However, the April 2015 decommunization law contains a norm that allows the Ministry of Justice to prohibit the Communist Party from participating in elections.
Ukraine had 5,500 Lenin monuments in 1991, declining to 1,300 by December 2015. More than 700 Lenin monuments were removed and/or destroyed from February 2014 (when 376 came down) to December 2015. On 16 January 2017 the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance announced that 1,320 Lenin monuments were dismantled during decommunization.
On 16 January 2017 the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance stated that 51,493 streets, squares and "other facilities" had been renamed due to decommunization. By June 2016 there were renamed 19 raions, 27 urban districts, 29 cities, 48 urban-type settlements, 119 rural settlements and 711 villages. The fourth largest city was renamed from Dnipropetrovsk to Dnipro. In the second-largest city of Ukraine, Kharkiv, more than 200 streets, 5 administrative raions, 4 parks and 1 metro station had been renamed by early February 2016. In all of 2016 51,493 streets and 987 cities and villages were renamed, 25 raions were renamed and 1,320 Lenin monuments and 1,069 monuments to other communist figures removed. In some villages Lenin statues were remade into "non-communist historical figures" to save money. One of the most prominent examples was Lenin monument in Odessa, which was remade into the monument to Darth Vader.
- While this doesn't affect the Anthems of Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and formerly, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. They all retained their Soviet era melody with new lyrics written in its place.
- Since the 2014 Crimean crisis, the status of the Crimea and of the city of Sevastopol is under dispute between Russia and Ukraine; Ukraine and the majority of the international community considers the Crimea and Sevastopol an integral part of Ukraine, while Russia, on the other hand, considers the Crimea and Sevastopol an integral part of Russia, with Sevastopol functioning as a federal city within the Crimean Federal District.
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