Re-thinking on the past no standard task for the Security Service
The process of reassessing the communist dictatorship in Ukraine began a decade and a half late. The Security Service [SBU] has been made responsible for going through the archives and educational work, which is not a typical role for a security service.
The first step was the declassifying of documents about Holodomor 1932-1933, since which there has been a large-scale information campaign throughout the country. At the beginning of 2009 President Yushchenko issued a decree stating that archival information about KGB repressions in Ukraine should be declassified.
Work on the archives and education does not fall into the SBU’s duties, and the SBU archivists simply don’t have experience. SBU Head Valentin Nalyvaichenko even expressed hopes for cooperation in this area with the German Ombudsperson on the Stasi archives Marianna Birtler.
A unique approach
German historian Gerhard Simon points out that the situation in Ukraine is unique because it is the security service itself that is engaged in educational activity about the crimes of the past. “As far as I’m able to judge, the results of their work are fairly good. I would therefore be positive about what the SBU are doing in this respect, because I don’t see any other institution in Ukraine which could do it.”
In preparing educational measures on the repressions committed by the Soviet security service SBU works in close cooperation with the Institute of National Remembrance. The tasks of the latter include “uncovering and investigating cases of forced starvation and political repression and resistance to them in Ukraine, and to inform the public in Ukraine and the international community”.
However Gerhard Simon believes it unwise to hand responsibility for the KGB archives over to the Institute of National Remembrance. “It would certainly seem as though that institute is the one who should take care of such work. However, from what I know of the situation, the Institute is, to put it diplomatically, in the hands of “people with nationalist leanings”. SBU on the other hand is neutral and balanced.”
A delicate matter
The fact that any rethinking of the communist past is a sensitive subject for Ukrainian society can be seen in the heated political debate over recognition of Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people. Ukrainians are inclined to extremes, with one side always justifying Moscow and the other blaming the Kremlin for everything. According to Gerhard Simon “The fact that Ukrainians were themselves part of a criminal system is often ignored.”
Up till now debate over the historical legacy of the Soviet Union and educational campaign has mainly been over Holodomor and Stalinist repression. However President Yushchenko wants to go further and the January Decree calls for the declassifying of all archival material pertaining to political repression. According to human rights groups, there are around 800 thousand classified documents on persecution of dissidents.
Informers are not named
However Ukrainians will not learn the names of the ordinary informers to the Security Service who in that way abetted the repressions. The main part of the cases of unofficial KGB collaborators were destroyed or taken to Moscow on the eve of the declaration of independence, while even the material still in Kyiv remains classified, Yevhen Zakharov from KHPG believes.
“I don’t think that they will ever let those files be declassified since that would touch a very considerable part of the present political elite, a lot of the academic elite, and so forth. A large percentage of people collaborated with the security service, some voluntarily, others forced into it”.
Meanwhile the reform of SBU is going very slowly. It was only at the beginning of this year that SBU informed that they were rejecting the services of informers in higher educational institutes.