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Ukrainian ‘Memorial’: relaxed life threatens to turn into lethargic sleep

Dmytro Stus, Kyiv
On 10 March in a luxurious hall a meeting to commemorate the 10 thanniversary of the activity of the ‘All-Ukrainian Memorial named after Vasyl Stus’ was held.

Les Taniuk made a speech which pretended to synthesize the report on the 10-year-long activity of the organization headed by him. Besides he pronounced blames at the address of those whose activity or passivity causes devaluation of national relics.

Less than a hundred of people listened to this report, which, God knows why, focused on the active work of ‘Memorial’ in 1989 – 1991. He also mentioned about three scores of books, a few scores of amateurish films and a number of enlightenment programs for the Internet created by a small group headed by Valentina Skachko. That was practically all.

Frankly speaking, I had no desire to right about this sad jubilee. What made me write this little note is our tragic inactivity, which we got accustomed to hide behind the state’s indifference, hard life, indifference of people and other so-called objective conditions.

But have a look at Russian ’Memorial’. It is alive and active under the similar conditions. So the reason is the inability of our leadership to organize the work. The author of this note is well aware of the activity of the Perm branch of ‘Memorial’. There we see a well-structured organization, closed contracts with international funds, with other region and foreign branches of ‘Memorial’, ‘Amnesty International’ and other public organizations which work in the similar sphere. In the Ukrainian case we see the hope that someone will work selflessly and enthusiastically.

Our people are capable of miracles and heroic deeds. This could be concluded from the report of Roman Krutsyk, the head of the Ivano-Frankivsk branch of ‘Memorial’. They created the Museum of victims of communist repressions which has already obtained the national status. They managed to force the region rada to give 15 flats for the families of the repressed. They initiated the draft of the law on compensation of the property for the families of the repressed, since in the operating laws this question is stated so fuzzily that this law does not act. When we listened to Roman Krutsik, we had an impression that the report of the ‘All-Ukrainian Memorial’ could be added to the report of its Ivano-Frankivsk branch as a small addendum.

The present state of ‘Memorial’ is even more disappointing if one reminds that ‘Memorial’ was the first public organization, which was officially registered in the USSR, in spite of its opposition to the communist regime. Now it is all forgotten. But when it began, we saw the overcrowded immense halls, where passions boiled, where communist ideologists tried to crawl into the organization, where we could defend our ideals by desperate struggle. Later it appeared that to fight with the rotting system is much easier than to organize the routine work. By and by activists disappeared, and the permanent orientation at the heroic, i.e. gratis, work left in ‘Memorial’ only a handful of fanatic supporters.

Maybe, this situation suits somebody. Yet, all of us need food, especially professionals that are accustomed to get paid well for the good work. This is normal and until we get some financing, we cannot expect any wide resonance from the activities of ‘Memorial’: we shall lack money for films, for distributing, for copying.

And without suitable ’polishing’ the collected materials about the crimes of communists upon our land will remain amateurish and will not have any chances to be accepted and understood by the coming generation. It must be done by all means and even by the practical reasons: we must force the current voters to compare the hard present with the crimes that were committed on our land several decades ago: without the comparison they will protest against the present by voting.

Valentina Skachko, a member of ‘Memorial’, said that very often mothers turned to their organization because their sons did not return from the army. This is a hot topic, but ‘Memorial’ does not take part in this activity because a few active workers cannot manage to do this work, along with what they already do..

We shall hope that the relaxed activity of the ‘All-Ukrainian Memorial’ will transform in the coming decade not into a lethargic sleep, but into sound and useful activity. But the author thinks that it can happen if the organization will not orient only to enthusiasm.

PL commentary.
We may only feel gratitude to Dmytro Stus who touched a very important and painful for us topic. Kharkov Group for human rights protection came from the Kharkov branch of ‘Memorial’ (we were a group of the latter before 1992). We inherited practically all directions of work from ‘Memorial’: historical enlightenment work, human rights protection, charity, protection of the rights of the rehabilitated. We work on all these programs and we have full-time workers. I think that if we reported at the meeting described by Dmytro Stus, we would look well. However, we were not invited and in general did not know about this meeting. Unfortunately, the Kharkov ‘Memorial’, as well as most branches of ‘Memorial’ in the East and South Ukraine, do not enter the ‘All-Ukrainian Memorial named after Vasyl Stus’.

It is worthwhile to dwell on the reasons of this schism. In 1990 and in 1994 at the meetings of the Kharkov branch of ‘Memorial’ we discussed the question of joining the ‘All-Ukrainian Memorial’ two times, and two times the meeting voted against. Most elderly people, who were afraid of ‘Bandera fighters’, voted against, as well as those who did not accept a too politicized activity which left too little energy and resources for purely ‘memorial’ work. This impression resulted mainly because Les Taniuk, the permanent head of the ‘All-Ukrainian Memorial’, was engrossed in politics and had no time for ‘Memorial’. This question: whether to join or not join the ‘All-Ukrainian Memorial’ even split local organizations in some cities into two or even three parts, which fact only weakened the organizations. It happened in Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk and other cities.

It happened so that the united up to 1991 ‘Memorial’ movement separated into several streams and became much weaker. There was one more objective reason: two directions of the ‘Memorial’ work out of the three, namely historical enlightenment and charity, began to be supported by the state too. Administrative commissions for recompensing rights of the rehabilitated were created, as well as editorial groups for preparation the series ‘Rehabilitated by history’. In many towns it was ‘Memorial’ members who manned these structures. The human rights protection angle and some other related questions were outside the state sphere, such as, for example, the history of the dissident movement in the 60s - 80s, search of the places where the executed were buried and the identification of the mortal remains. ‘Memorial’ although weakened, continued its work. Some branches of this organization are attracted to the International ‘Memorial’. They are branches from Kharkov, Donetsk, Lviv, Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Mariupol, Lugansk, Nikolaev, Aleksandria (some of them are members of the ‘All-Ukrainian Memorial’ too). Several belong exclusively to the ‘All-Ukrainian Memorial named after Vasyl Stus’. They are branches from Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil and Kyiv. I have named only those branches whose activity is noticeable and, in my opinion, fruitful. And although it is difficult not to agree with Dmytro Stus’s assessment, I hope that ‘Memorial’ has a promising future. My hope is confirmed by the successful activity of Russian branches of ‘Memorial’ which are not less successful than that from Perm. I mean ‘Memorial’ branches from Moscow, Sent-Petersburg, Riazan, Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk and others. We can only envy our Russian colleagues: most ‘Memorial’ organizations have offices, equipment, full-time workers.

What prevents Ukrainian groups of ‘Memorial’ to work efficiently? Perhaps, all taken together: general stagnation and tiredness, the necessity to work around the clock for earning one’s living, shortage of the public initiative… Maybe it would be reasonable, taking into consideration the not very successful past decade, to unite within ‘All-Ukrainian Memorial’ and try to resume the cooperation. What must be the main directions of the work of the ‘Memorial’ groups? It would be interesting to know the standpoint of other ‘Memorial’ members. We invite them for a discussion.

Evhen Zakharov

In February we published a note by E.Grinberg ‘If to call a spade a spade’. We have got two responses.

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