12.05.2007 | Halya Coynash

If not now then never …


The ninetieth anniversary of the October Revolution this year will doubtless rouse the usual press attention, Kremlin ambivalence and marches by largely elderly stalwarts through many cities of the former USSR.

The other anniversaries are, after all, too personal, too anonymous and for those concerned about their “ratings” altogether too uncomfortable.

But for those of us who have no graves and no photographs  only the legally established right to read the yellowing pages of an NKVD “Sprava [File] our own “round dates” turn that other anniversary to bitter ash.

It is seventy years since the unfurling of a campaign of arrests, farcical trials and executions which historians call the Great Terror.  In countries of the former Soviet Union, however, a name will long remain redundant – all is encapsulated in the words Nineteen Thirty Seven..

A lot has been written about the Great Terror, including the recent publication from Memorial .I have nothing to add, neither wise thoughts nor compelling explanations.

In fact, I have nothing at all, except the aching need to articulate questions. Some of these are indeed too personal for public airing. One, however, is not. 

Throughout Ukraine, Russia and all the other republics ravaged by torrents of frenzied hatred and killing, there are unknown or unmarked mass graves. In this year, so seeped in terrible anniversaries, is it not time to seriously speak of ensuring that our parents and grandparents are remembered, that the earth which bears their remains is honoured?

There is a survey on the Ukrainian Memorial site ( ). One question only: do we need to seek the truth?  Not surprisingly there is no controversy, with 100% support for such efforts. Yet why do we Ukrainians do so little to seek that truth? Why is the recently created Institute of National Remembrance still not receiving the support it needs?

Survivor of Oświęcim [Auschwitz] Primo Levi wrote in “If Not Now, When?” the harrowing question:

A man enters his house and hangs up his clothes and his memories; where do you hang your memories, Mendel, son of Nachman?

And where will we hang ours, if we continue to allow comfortable oblivion to reign?

I believe it is imperative that we all seek the truth together, that we share in building a truly Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance.. This could be through tending to memorial sites or through looking for mass graves. It may be by raising awareness in society, lobbying politicians or raising money for real measures to honour and perpetuate the memory of all those brutally slaughtered. 

There are so many ways. With time, however, we have infinitely less scope.

If not now then never.

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