On December 8, 2013, a statue of Lenin went down amidst protests in Kiev. More monuments fell across the country during the following year; some cities—like the southern port of Odessa, where the local Lenin statue was turned into Darth Vader—displayed more creativity. Although the practice of tearing down statues is quite disagreeable to many and was widely condemned at the time, it also sent a message shared by most Ukrainians: communism was not welcome.
Official ‘de-communisation’ began in 2015: communist symbols—such as the red star, hammer and sickle, and Soviet flags—were banned; cities were renamed; and communist parties that somehow managed to survive were disbanded. Since then, Ukraine has irrevocably turned to the West.
Ironically, at the same time, socialist movements—such as BLM, which was co-founded by self-admitted “trained Marxists”—began gaining ground in the U.S. They joined forces with feminists and “queer” activists, creating a powerful alliance around the concept of “oppression.” This was then exported across the ocean and has since spread across Western Europe.
Of course, these movements’ supporters would never describe themselves as socialists—except for democratic socialists, but they are not yet the majority. “Progressives” sounds much better: diversity and inclusion are generally more appealing than violent revolution and the redistribution of wealth. But even in their most watered-down form, leftist ideas are based on collectivism and identity groups. Minorities have replaced workers, but the wish to achieve equality of outcome remains at the heart of all social justice causes.
Meanwhile, the post-Soviet countries have already experienced their fair share of socialist utopia and decided they did not want any more of it. For seventy years, they were taught to praise collectivism and celebrate achievements of the state, while speech was censored, shelves were empty, and people could not even own the place where they lived. That gave birth to corruption and cronyism, as favours were exchanged instead of money. The state of the economy was well summarised by a joke from the 1960s:
Q: What would happen if socialism were built in the Sahara?
A: Nothing but plans for the first fifty years and sand shortages afterwards.
Therefore, it was not surprising that the Soviet Union’s fall was a happy event for most of its population. But freedom has had its cost: a decade of chaos followed as a new system, not yet capable of peaceful and efficient regulation, formed on the ruins of an old one. This period, the Wild Nineties, was a Hobbesian fight for survival. New businesses rose and competed, often by illegal means. Nobody knew what the next day would bring, and people grew distrustful of their governments. Instead, they found support in their families and friends, cementing the relationships that modern progressives seek to break down. The Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches also resurged, though observance among self-identified Christians was—and remains—rather low. Things finally settled down in the 2000s. Businesses flourished, violence was largely left behind, and states found their new roles within the market economy. The new Ukraine proved stable enough to survive the global financial crisis of 2007, political turbulence of 2013-2014, and the subsequent war.
While some members of the older generations have failed to adapt and have not welcomed change, instead dreaming of the “good old days,” those born in the 1970s are now in their prime and have grown to be tough and self-reliant. They value their liberty and despise Marxism, the lies of which they experienced first-hand. For their children, the Soviet past is a cautionary tale from history books.
Photo: Courtesy of Yozh, licensed under CCA-SA 4.0 International.
Many of the post-Soviet societies of Eastern Europe have turned out to be socially conservative, primarily Christian, pragmatic, and somewhat sour. Each country chose its own ideological emphasis, suitable for its needs. Russia, for example, has turned to its imperial days (and, with time, to Soviet achievements) for inspiration, while Ukraine went for the aesthetics of Cossack freedom fighters.
Despite their many differences, none decided to stick with socialism. Six of fifteen former Soviet republics have even banned communist symbols, denouncing the crimes of the Soviet regime. A lot of baggage remains, of course: some old laws are still effective, the administration often operates upon outdated principles, and many people find it hard to overcome the limitations of their established habits. Nevertheless, socialism is dead as a viable political option.
But what about imported progressivism and its socialist roots? Identity politics continue to creep into Ukrainian culture under the guise of modernity and enlightenment. However, support for such ideas is meagre even among the youth. There are very few attempts to force political correctness in the workplace, and those usually come from global corporations.
The societies of Eastern Europe are mono-ethnic, so racism is not an issue that is likely to draw attention. Gender issues have proved to be more popular, though not nearly as much as in the West. Feminism has attracted enough activists, but most people have remained sceptical and unwilling to abandon traditional gender roles. LGBT ideas and practices meet strong resistance: same-sex marriages are not recognised, and homosexual relationships, although legal, are not generally accepted as normal. As for transgenders—it is very difficult to make an average person deny basic biology. According to a Ukrainian feminist source, “[d]ue to social discrimination, LGBT people’s ability to engage in political and electoral processes is limited.” It further specifies that this limited engagement is because the state “doesn’t provide sufficient security for demonstrators,” allowing counter-protests to happen at the same time. Apparently, freedom of speech is not enough—activists also expect the state to agree with their agenda.
Does that mean that Ukrainians are immune to left-wing propaganda? It seems so now, but their wish to break with their recent past and become full members of the Western community may be their weakness as well as their strength. Not all ideas should be absorbed, and not all advice should be taken.
The pedestal of the fallen Lenin statue still stands in Kiev’s city centre, which is now a place for art and political installations. The last Lenin in Ukrainian-controlled territory was demolished on January 27, 2021. And so far, the country has not forgotten how poisonous the promises of the left are.
Daria Fedotova is a lawyer and writer based in Ukraine.