Historian Pavel Gai-Nizhnik: Thoughtful de-Russification must be completed in a year, otherwise chaos and vandalism may begin

Historian Pavel Gai-Nizhnik: Thoughtful de-Russification must be completed in a year, otherwise chaos and vandalism may begin

An Expert Council on de-Russification, decommunization and decolonization has been established under the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy. KP v Ukraine spoke with deputy director of the Research Institute of Ukrainian Studies of the Ministry of Education, historian Pavel Gai-Nizhnik, about the tasks assigned to the new body and the issues that it will be able to solve.

Monuments, authors, street names

– Pavel, tell us how the council was formed. Were you included in its composition or did you propose yourself?

Historian Pavel Gai-Nizhnik: Thoughtful de-Russification must be completed in a year, otherwise chaos and vandalism may begin

Pavel Gai-Nizhnik, Deputy Director of the Research Institute of Ukrainian Studies of the Ministry of Education. Photo: facebook.com/hai.nyzhnyk

– The Ministry of Culture, together with the Institute of National Remembrance, held three large “round tables”, where the topics were analyzed separately: toponymy, monumental art and the general presence in culture. Experts were invited to these discussions – historians, culturologists, art critics, theatrical figures.

Experts who gave the most constructive proposals were invited to participate in the council. I also received such an invitation.

– Were there meetings already? How will the advice work?

– The first meeting is to be held on Friday, June 17th. Our council is an advisory expert body that will conduct a comprehensive analysis on each specific issue or object, especially on controversial or ambiguous issues regarding certain cultural monuments.

An assessment will be given whether the object is of cultural value, whether the author was an anti-Ukrainian figure or a character reproduced by him, whether he did not participate in repressions or in general in anti-Ukrainian activities.

Recommendations will be issued based on an expert assessment.

– In the explanation of the Ministry of Culture, which was made public, it was about monumental structures. But, probably, such an authoritative collection was created not only for the sake of monuments. For example, will the fate of Russian literature be discussed in schools and universities?

– Yes, we will talk not only about monuments. We will talk about certain characters (authors) of Russian literature who cannot be represented in the educational space. And also about the names of streets, about the publications of certain authors – whether there is Ukrainophobia in their works.

We will cover a wide range of issues.

It is safe to dismantle, not liquidate

– But will it not happen that the problem will be bureaucratized? So the National Opera decided to exclude works by Russian composers from its repertoire, and that's all.

– Let me remind you that the council is an advisory body that, first of all, will resolve controversial issues where there is no absolute clarity. It is pointless to discuss monuments to Lenin. But the demolition of another monument or the renaming of the street can cause a discussion about the personality.

This is first. Secondly, we must decide what to do with this monument? A sculpture or a monument can be of cultural value, because they, like a work of art, cannot be destroyed. And the character took an anti-Ukrainian position. Therefore, the question of a reasonable and balanced decision will arise.

– From your point of view, what to do in such cases?

A sculpture or monument can be of cultural value, because they, like a work of art, cannot be destroyed. And the character took an anti-Ukrainian position. Dismantle – and in the museum.

– Such objects must be safely dismantled. Not liquidate, but carefully removed and transferred to a specific museum. For example, if we are talking about a monument to Pushkin, which is an artistic value. Not Pushkin himself, who would have followed the Russian ship to the bottom, but the work of an artist – a sculptor, etc.

If you do not make such expert assessments and do not keep the process under control, chaos may begin and arbitrariness, the ruin of even valuable sights from the point of view of art.

Historian Pavel Gai-Nizhnik: Thoughtful de-Russification must be completed in a year, otherwise chaos and vandalism may begin

The historian believes that neither the monument nor the grave of Vatutin has a place in the park. But in order to clean, you need to comply with the law, ethical and sanitary standards. Photo: Gontar Vladimir/UNIAN

The museum was promised, but not done

– At one time they wanted to create a “park of the Soviet period”, they even looked for land for it, but they didn’t do anything.

– Too bad they didn't. For the question is not only in the monuments themselves, but in the politics of memory. After all, there would be appropriate stands and explanations for objects in such a museum. Let's say that such and such a figure carried out an anti-Ukrainian policy, but his image in bronze or granite was embodied by a talented sculptor who made a work of art. Therefore, it would be clear: the sculpture does not stand on the street or other public place, since the character depicted in it is a criminal. But the monument is in a museum, because it is a work of art.

Thus, three problems are solved at once: the preservation of a work of art, the destruction of anti-Ukrainian propaganda and an educational campaign for young people who are little familiar with Soviet or imperial-colonization – and not only, by the way, Russian – period.

So it is with the names of streets or cities. It is necessary to conduct a professional explanation, because often people do not know what kind of persons, figures or events they were and how, from a historical point of view, they are part of the Ukrainian or anti-Ukrainian past. After all, it's usually like: the name is supposedly good, the local inhabitants are used to it.

– It's a little embarrassing, but for many years I thought that the Petrovka metro station was named outside the territory, like Shulyavskaya. Only after the renaming did I realize that it was in honor of the communist Petrovsky.

– Petrovsky is not just a communist. He is the person who signed the orders for repressions, for the Red Terror in Ukraine and the Holodomor. In addition, he is one of those who helped Stalin gain power. That is, he is not just an activist of the Bolshevik party and a strangler of the UNR, but a man whose hands and soul are entirely in the blood of Ukrainians. Although he himself spoke Ukrainian.

We do not need tension on such grounds

– In the western regions, less affected, Pushkin was demolished. In Kharkov, which suffered great destruction, there is a monument. How to do it right?

If you do not make expert assessments and do not keep the process under control, chaos and arbitrariness can begin, ruining even valuable sights from the point of view of art.

– This is the task of our council – to prevent a wave of vandalism, but at the same time to publicly explain why this or that figure was subjected to decommunization or de-Russification.

For example, here in Kyiv, Vatutin stands in the center of the government quarter next to the Verkhovna Rada – all this is rather ambiguous and even shameful.

– But this is a grave, decommunization is not spreading.

– Yes, it's a grave. But there really the whole park is a solid grave. “Arsenals”, defenders of the UNR, were shot there, even German soldiers from the First World War are lying there. Vatutin lies, and the little son of Hetman Skoropadsky, who died in 1818, lies.

The problem is not to remove the monument to Vatutin. He – and the monument, and the face, and the corpse – there is no place. But you should decide what to do with the grave, in particular, from the point of view of the law, moral standards and compliance with relevant procedures.

There are certain rules for reburial of people so as not to desecrate the remains or, say, observe sanitary standards . So it is important to organize such a procedure without the support of power structures.

And if everything is left as it is, then this means deliberately and irresponsibly provoking people to acts of vandalism. Even from the best motives of patriotic consciousness. If earlier, for example, a monument was included in the register of national cultural heritage, then the police must protect it. Consequently, internal tension, public resistance and confrontation may arise, and we don’t need them on such grounds, especially during a war.

Do not throw out the baby with the water

– And yet, what about Alexander Pushkin, around whom there is a fierce discussion?

– My personal opinion is that there are too many of his monuments in Ukraine, and more specifically, it is not appropriate to have them at all. And not only him, but also someone from Muscovy-Russia. Pushkin had nothing to do with Ukraine; there are anti-Ukrainian works in his legacy. The poem “Poltava” is full of anti-Mazepa lines, hateful Ukrainian attacks, any Ukrainian idea is thrown underfoot. There is a correspondence where Pushkin expressed offensive epithets against Ukrainians.

It is not a question of banning the work of Pushkin or any other Russian writer. Anyone can read at their own discretion. But figures who hated Ukraine and Ukrainians cannot be on our streets, in our public, information or educational space, as well as their works. To tolerate haters of one's own people is a crime against oneself and preventive genocide against descendants.

If we take the level of world culture, then the same Pushkin became known only because the empire artificially and forcibly drew attention to its figures, they were stamped with millions of translations and millions of copies, violating the cultural space of other peoples. Ukrainian literature and culture were squeezed into the vise of the historical and cultural ghetto.

– You also lived a certain part of your life in the Soviet Union, do you agree to give up everything connected with this period?

– There are examples of both creativity and monumental works created in Soviet times. This is a historical and accomplished fact. Some of them are of creative and cultural value. And that is why specialists are needed so that the child of uniqueness is not thrown out of a stamped barrel with water.

Petrovsky is not just a communist. He is the person who signed the orders for repressions, for the Red Terror in Ukraine and the Holodomor.

Some Ukrainian writers, poets, artists from the times of the USSR were forced to be loyal to the regime. This is an unfortunate but historical truth. And not only Ukrainian ones.

The situation of hopelessness and totalitarianism also gave rise to unique creativity, both in terms of the palette of primitivism or opportunism, and in terms of heroic independence or love lyrics, or poetry about love for one's native language or homeland.

Therefore, it is necessary or not it is necessary to throw out such Ukrainian artists from the Ukrainian historical and cultural memory and who to single out, recognize and respect in it is a fragile issue, but also a national task.

The era of statelessness and foreign enslavement was not an era of creative amnesia of the people, it was the nerve of its open spiritual and historical wound. People lived and worked in the name of Ukraine, for Ukrainians and all mankind. And this is a challenge for us – modern: to give an explanation why they were forced to do this or that.

Moreover, this may be a discovery for some, but most of the now well-known and respected Ukrainian writers and figures who were imprisoned in the Soviet Union and are now classified as dissidents have never sought an independent Ukraine. They did not even deny the Soviet system, but simply wanted what was written in the Constitution there – to provide everyone with equal rights to develop national culture.

Historian Pavel Gai-Nizhnik: Thoughtful de-Russification must be completed in a year, otherwise chaos and vandalism may begin

A monument to Bulgakov near the house where he lived on Andreevsky Spusk. Photo: Oleg Yunakov//ru.wikipedia.org

It is impossible to call the streets the same names everywhere

– Today, the question is already being raised that it is necessary to rename the avenues of Nikolai Bazhan, Pavel Tychyna. Are we getting too carried away with these renames?

– In this direction, it is important not to go too far with respect to people who were loyal to the occupying Soviet authorities, but were able to have a Ukrainian core in their work. That is, it is paramount now that we, in the fight against Russian, Soviet ulcers, do not begin to act ourselves, as the communists or Muscovites acted. And this is also a challenge. Experts should explain why it is impossible to stigmatize all creative Ukrainians who were born and lived in the Union against their own choice.

– Which is better: to rename streets in honor of new people or to return historical names? In the Union, the streets were renamed, now we are correcting them. And heroes can also be respected in memorial plaques.

– I think that a person who comes to some Ukrainian city should see its “zest”. It is impossible for streets to be called by the same names everywhere. After all, it will be a Ukrainianized version of the Russian worldview matrix.

Yes, of course, there may be a name that emphasizes the historical heritage. As in Kyiv Kozhemyatskaya or Zverinetskaya. And at the same time, in different regions of the country there are figures who were born there and deserve to be remembered and honored. There are new writers who have gone to a better world. After all, this is the education of our future. A young man must understand that if he lives for Ukraine, then Ukraine-mother will not forget him.

We cannot act like barbarians

– Will the issue of extracting books by Russian and Belarusian authors from libraries?

– This issue can be considered, but depending on what exactly the authors or works are. If it's propaganda stampings, that's one thing. But if these are valuable theoretical works, then they will be the subject of study of communism or totalitarianism. They will go to the storerooms, special departments, they are intended for scientists, literary critics of the Soviet era, for the analysis of printed art, because it will soon also be a museum exhibit. Even to study editorial work – how the author was printed in the 50s, 70s, how inserts and deletions were made.

If we take the level of world culture, then the same Pushkin became known only because the empire artificially and forcibly drew attention to its leaders.

It makes no sense for young people or ordinary citizens to read Stalin. But experts make sense. Therefore, specialists are selected who will soberly consider all these issues, and will not follow the call of the crowd. What you destroy impulsively, then you will not restore. We cannot act like barbarians – burn books and throw them in the trash.

– Many of those who grew up with the classics are not mentally ready to give it up. Not even Pushkin has more champions – Mikhail Bulgakov.

Every person retains the freedom to read. It's not about works. Most of all complaints to Bulgakov because of the “White Guard”. But to me, as a historian, it is interesting, because it is an artistic chronicle. Bulgakov conveyed the mood of a certain part of Kyiv at that time. Yes, the pro-Russian part, which gravitated towards the “whites”, but this part of the people was. And the author conveyed it. Not so much my moods, but the moods of the layer that I saw and belonged to.

There are many Russian-language things, well written. But the problem is that every author has their best and worst works. You can read a poem about a birch to kids, and then the children will ask on the Internet what kind of person it is. And there will be a misunderstanding why in another poem the same person glorified Russia, killing Ukrainians.

So why should we popularize such a person in the school curriculum? Why should Pushkin stand in every city, and not Heine or Shakespeare?

Paintings will remain in museums

– What to do with paintings by Russian artists? There is a good collection of Shishkin, Vasnetsov, Polenov in Kyiv.

– They will be in the halls of foreign art. Like Van Gogh, Rubens. Let people come and watch. And if in the picture Stalin and joyful Ukrainian children give him flowers, this is a museum of the totalitarian period, but not destroyed. To clearly see how propaganda acted in those days.

It is archival now that we, in the fight against Russian, Soviet ulcers, should not begin to act on our own, as the communists or Muscovites did.

And if the advertising posters were the same in all cities, then there is no point in keeping them, because they do not carry artistic value. One copy should also be donated to a totalitarian museum or a museum of history.

– How many years will it take for a reasonable de-Russification?

– The process was supposed to start back in 1990, but what happened, happened. I do not think that de-Russification should be long, now is not the time to provoke people. From a technical point of view, there are not many things in the public space that would be difficult to dismantle if they are not artistic. And if they are artistic, then they need to be carefully dismantled and transported for storage.

I think if the state acts promptly and reasonably, then all this will be completed in a year. Otherwise, the people themselves will decommunize and de-Russify even that which should not be destroyed.

Historian Pavel Gai-Nizhnik: Thoughtful de-Russification must be completed in a year, otherwise chaos and vandalism may begin

Pavel Gai-Nizhnik Dossier KP

Born in the city of Dunaevka, Khmelnitsky region. After high school, he was a cadet of the Donetsk Higher Military-Political School of Engineering Troops. He served in the army. He received his higher education at the Faculty of History of the Kamyanets-Podilsky Pedagogical Institute.

He was an activist of an independent movement during the period of perestroika in the USSR, the founder of the youth organization “Union of the Ukrainian People”, which operated in 1986-1989 in Podolia. During the Maidan of 2013-2014, he was a member of the political council of the Right Sector. Founder and chairman of the Bulava National Conservative Movement (2017).

Since 1995, he lives and works in Kyiv. In 2000 he defended his Ph.D. thesis on the financial policy of the time of Hetman Skoropadsky. He worked at a research institute under the Ministry of Finance of Ukraine, was a researcher at the Institute for Society Transformation, and held responsible positions in a number of other institutions. Founder of the Museum of Ukrainian Propaganda. In 2018, he was elected a full member of the NGO “Academy of Political Sciences”. Since February 2020, Deputy Director of the Research Institute of Ukrainian Studies of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine.

He is the author of more than 40 scientific monographs and 10 collections of poetry. Has more than ten different awards, prizes and awards.

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