Conclusions: The Catch-Up Game

The nationalist activists of the Revolution of Dignity, who began the Leninfall in November 2013 with the removal of the Lenin monument in Kyiv, achieved their immediate goal of cleansing Ukraine of monuments that embodied the Russocentric Soviet interpretation of Ukrainian history but failed to replace them with a hero or historical narrative of their own. While the public either supported or raised no objection to the toppling of the Lenin monuments, it refused to replace him with a new demigod, indicating a level of maturity in a society that is still emerging from Soviet-era authoritarianism. But that refusal also indicates another feature of the Ukrainian situation—the lack of a historical narrative and historical figures equally acceptable to all parts of the country. This is a task that Ukraine has yet to address in a variety of ways, including the process of reimagining and rededicating its public spaces.

Our spatial analysis of recent shifts in the historical attitudes of Ukrainian society indicates that region, in particular macro-region, remains a key component in the formation of the country’s new political and historical identity. The Leninfall of 2013–14 had a clear regional footprint marking the shift of historical memory in central Ukraine. The toppling of Lenin monuments in the Center was the culmination of a relatively long process of rethinking the recent and distant past, resulting in a new readiness to condemn the communist regime for its crimes, the rejection of Soviet and neo-Soviet historical narratives, and the ascription of greater value to past struggles for independence—a phenomenon reflected in the growing perception of UPA soldiers as fighters for Ukrainian sovereignty.

The toppling of Lenin monuments in the Center helped create a common memory space shared by the Center and West, where the monuments had been removed a decade or two earlier and the communist narrative replaced with a national or even a nationalist one around the same time. The creation of the common memory space was a catch-up process in which the shift of public memory matched the political shift that had occurred a decade earlier. The map of Ukrainian historical memory created by the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 finally became congruent with the political map of 2010, which reflected the political frontline that first emerged during the Orange Revolution of 2004. This interpretation of the origins of Ukraine’s memory shift suggests the primacy of electoral politics over the politics of memory.

The revolt of the Center during the Revolution of Dignity not only altered the memory landscape of the region but also produced a major change in the politics of memory throughout the country. The combined political power of the Center and West enabled the two regions to impose their new consensus with regard to the rejection of communism on the Southeast, which was not only disoriented by the Revolution of Dignity and the ongoing hybrid war with Russia but also outnumbered in parliament because of the loss of the Crimea and the most populous parts of the Donbas. The Center thus became the lawgiver in the realm of historical memory politics. It also served as a moderator and creator of a new national narrative in which the pro-independence struggle represented by the UPA fighters was promoted, while nationalism as an ideology embodied by Stepan Bandera was rejected.

The story of the Leninfall provides new insights not only into the changing memory landscape of contemporary Ukraine but also into the country’s profound political shift. The political consensus achieved in parliament on the issue of decommunization by deputies representing the West and Center, as well as the political decline of the Southeast, which lost its traditional allies from the Russian-occupied eastern parts of Ukraine, herald the end of the division of Ukraine into two virtually equal parts along the line established during the Yushchenko-Yanukovych elections of 2004 and replicated in the Yanukovych-Tymoshenko presidential contest of 2010. A new majority supported by the Yushchenko and Tymoshenko electorate—a conglomerate of nationalists and liberals united by the idea of a pro-Western political course—has emerged in Ukraine and shown its ability to define the country’s domestic and foreign policy. As in memory politics, so in electoral politics the role of the Center has increased both as moderator between the West and Southeast and as generator of policies capable of uniting all parts of Ukraine.

Read the Full Paper in PDF.