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Category: Ukraine

Decapitated in Kyiv, Lenin finds safety in the bosom of capitalism

The decapitation of the Lenin Statue in Kyiv on December 8th 2013 was a visible symbol of the current tensions in Ukraine, where young pro-EU protestors continue to demonstrate against the recent decision of President Yanukovych  to abandon an Association Agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia.

However, it might equally be asked how this relic of the Soviet era lasted for so long.  There are few more tangible representations of the transition away from communism than the removal of Soviet-era statues. Kyiv’s protestors argue that Lenin has long been squatting, given that former President Yushchenko signed a decree ordering the removal of the statue in 2009.

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Protestors in Kyiv decapitate the Lenin Statue on Shevchenko Boulevard

Ukrainians are far from the first in the former Soviet sphere to face dilemmas over the fate of Soviet-era statues.  The Estonian have shown little appetite for keeping souvenirs of this difficult period in their history.  Monuments to Lenin, Stalin and Stakhanovite ‘comrades’ were quietly rounded up and unceremoniously dumped in the back garden of the Estonian History Museum.  There they lie, forgotten and unloved, reflecting the sentiment of a country that is so keen to forget about its long occupation that it won’t even organise a formal disposal for Lenin and his cronies.

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Soviet-era statues abandoned in the back garden of the Estonian History Museum in Tallinn

However, the transition away from communism also heralded the beginning of a period of vigorous capitalism.  In Lithuania, one canny entrepreneur realised that, while the local population would rather forget about the Soviet-era, there was money to be made from curious tourists.  The statues were collected and displayed in a theme park, where tourists can gawp for a charging a basic entry fee for 20 litas (€5).  A further 26 litas buys an audio guide,

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Lenin sits comfortably in the Grūto Parkas, Druskininkai, Lithuania

While protestors in Kyiv continue to hack away at a statue that has out-stayed its welcome, it is ironic that Lenin’s safest and most comfortable resting place has been within the very bosom of capitalism.

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East-West Divide within Ukraine Mirrors EU-Russia Tug-of-War

The 2004 Orange Revolution, and the current EuroMaidan protests, have been widely reported in the European media as symbolising the will of the Ukrainian people to overthrow an autocratic government in favour of a democratic future within the European Union.  However, the reality is more complex.  Ukraine is a country divided.  Citizens of the Russian-speaking south and east strongly favour the current president Viktor Yanukovych, while citizens in the north and west favour a future within Europe.

The political divide in Ukraine is demonstrated starkly by the the results of the 2010 election, which are represented in the map below.  The brown, red, orange and yellow areas show strong support for the former Prime Minister and (now imprisoned) Orange Revolution leader, Yulia Tymoshenko.  The blue areas support the current President, Viktor Yanukovych, with equal fervour.

2010 Presidential Election Results:

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The geopolitical tug-of-war between the European Union and Russia is mirrored by a cultural conflict within Ukraine itself, a country with a turbulent history.  The far west of the country, where support for Tymoshenko is strongest, was Polish territory until 1939.  Given its history, it is hardly surprising that this region is most hostile to an orientation towards Russia.   However, in his recent decision to ally  with Russia, President Yanukovych has played to his core support in the east, a constituency that is equally powerful.

Of course, the situation is not quite so clear cut.  Yanukoych himself talked up the benefits of signing the EU association agreement before abruptly bowing to Russian pressure, and many Ukrainians in the south and east favour improved links with the west.  As relevant as language and culture are other demographic factors, most notably age: across Ukraine, young people are significantly more likely than older people to support links with Europe.  Indeed, it is Ukraine’s millennials that have led the charge against Yanukovych’s decision to reject a future in Europe.