Wednesday, October 01, 2014

What Toppled Lenin Statues Tell Us About Ukraine’s Crisis

KHARKIV, Ukraine -- In an incident reflecting growing Ukrainian anger toward the Kremlin, anti-Russian protesters pulled down a massive Vladimir Lenin statue in Ukraine's second-largest city late Sunday.

People react after a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin was toppled by protesters during a rally organized by pro-Ukraine supporters in the center of the eastern Ukrainian town of Kharkiv.

To many Ukrainians, Lenin is a symbol of the Soviet Union and Russia's aggressive support for the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Despite the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union which resulted in the split between Russia and Ukraine, hundreds of monuments to the founder of modern Russia survived the transition.

Over the last months, however, many have been toppled.

"To many Ukrainians, Lenin represents not only the communist regime, but also radical separation from Europe and Western civilization more broadly," Steven Fish, a Russian studies professor at University of California Berkeley, told the Los Angeles Times last December after a statue had been toppled in Kiev.

Other scholars view the toppling in a more modern light.

Sasha Senderovich, assistant professor of Russian Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder who wrote a New York Times op-ed on this issue last December, considers Sunday's event not to be connected to Lenin specifically.

"At this point, after Putin's assault on Ukraine's territorial integrity, the statue has become more symbolic of Russia's continued attempt to exercise imperial dominance over Ukraine rather than solely the historical legacy of the Soviet Union," he told The Post on Monday.

Kharkiv is considered one of the most vulnerable cities in the east if the pro-Russian rebellion were to spread.

Previous attempts to pull down the statue failed because pro-Russian activists intervened, according to The Post's Michael Birnbaum.

First, protesters cut the Lenin statue's legs.

Then, they pulled the statue down.

In fact, the recent toppling of the Lenin statue is just the latest in a series of attacks on hundreds of others that have been toppled in Ukraine over the last months as tensions with Russia have grown.

Here is an alternative chronology of Ukraine's crisis, told through toppled Lenin statues.

A measurement of anger 

Tearing down the iconic Lenin monuments rapidly gained momentum when it became clear that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had lost power over his country.

On Feb. 20, Kiev witnessed its worst day of violence in 70 years, with snipers targeting and killing protesters.

On Feb. 22, Yanukovych disappeared, protesters stormed presidential buildings and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was freed from jail.

Data gathered by Ukrainian activists and visualized by The Washington Post show that more than 90 Lenin statues were toppled that day alone.

The activists uploaded pictures, dates and locations of the toppled statues on a platform called Leninopad and the individual contributions could not be independently verified.

How the 'statue war' spread

Until Feb. 21 (the day before Yanukovych disappeared), the incidents appear to have largely been limited to the surrounding areas of Kiev where the pro-Western supporters had been in an overwhelming majority.

Then, however, the number of toppled Lenin statues quickly increased and spread throughout the country.

However, there appears to be a general lack of incidents both in the east (where the Ukrainian Russian speakers are predominantly located), as well as in the west.

The latter observation is surprising because the western areas are the ones which are least supportive of Russia.

One possible explanation could be that Lenin statues in the west had been removed much earlier:

Back in June 2009, pro-Western Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko had called upon his supporters to erase communist symbols from the country.

Last August 2013, Russian news agency RIA Novosti specified that at least 12 Lenin statues had been pulled down or defaced since 2009, calling the incidents a "statue war."

According to The Atlantic, an advertisement video for the Euro 2012 soccer championships in Kharkiv erased a Lenin statue from a shot -- it appears to have been the very same statue which was pulled down Sunday evening and is unlikely to be the last such incident.

In a Facebook post, Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Monday:

“Lenin? Let him fall down. As long as nobody suffers under his weight. As long as this bloody Communist idol does not take more victims with it when it goes."

Source: The Washington Post

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