Why Did Ukraine Just Outlaw Communism and Nazism?

On April 9th, after a 24-year delay, the Ukrainian parliament (Rada) passed legislation banning communist propaganda along with its symbols, from street names and flags, to monuments and plaques.

The new legislation, passed by 56% of parliamentarians, declares the communist government that ruled Ukraine during the Soviet era a criminal regime that conducted policies of state terror. The ban similarly extends to Nazi propaganda and symbols, though unlike communism, Nazism hardly has a following in a country that was hit hard during WWII and the Nazi occupation.

With urgent and serious problems facing Ukraine's economy, finances, and government reform, and while fighting a war with Russia-backed separatists, what caused the rush to condemn Nazism and communism simultaneously?

On the surface, bundling together these two anti-human, totalitarian ideologies may seem like a symbolic gesture, but in reality each was banned for a very different practical reason, both of them of an existential nature.

Communism 2.0: Russians of the world, unite!

Since the beginning of Ukrainian independence, local communists have remained loyal to Moscow, doing the bidding of the political forces in Russia that sought the restoration of the totalitarian Soviet empire. Protected by the constitution, communist demagoguery has worked as a busy conduit for the Kremlin's anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western imperial agenda.

The pro-Russian separatists in the self-proclaimed "People's Republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk are also driven by a similar imperial agenda they call Russkiy Mir (Pax Russiana), rallying under old Soviet flags with portraits of Lenin and Stalin in their hands. Those in the Crimea who cheered Russia's military takeover of their peninsula were similarly nostalgic for the old USSR. They welcomed Russian troops by carrying red flags, portraits of Soviet leaders, and other communist paraphernalia.

Russia's state-run media cleverly conflates Soviet nostalgia with being Russian or with being part of Pax Russiana. This sentiment, fully supported by Ukrainian communists, was effectively used to start a war that has killed more than 6,000 people since April of last year, and is still simmering in the eastern regions of Ukraine.

Under these circumstances, a ban on communist propaganda and the condemnation of the USSR as a criminal totalitarian regime serve a concrete purpose of protecting the nation's sovereignty and independence at a time of war. It functions as a Treason and Sedition Act aimed to disable the fifth column which is aiding the foreign enemy from within.

Grassroots de-communization

Most Eastern bloc nations and some post-Soviet nations have marked their independence with policies of de-communization, of cleansing their governments of corrupt officials and dismantling the communist legacies in their cultures and psychology. This has worked, strengthening their democratic institutions, transparency, international standing, and ultimately their economies.

Yet this never happened in Ukraine, let alone in Russia. Though de jure an independent nation, Ukraine was in Russia's shadow, instructed by Russia's media and manipulated by Russia's elites who were interested in keeping Ukraine vulnerable, dependent, and corrupt. Today's messy developments in Ukraine are largely the result of belated attempts by this nation to right itself.

Tired of waiting for the government to act, last year grassroots activists throughout Ukraine undertook an anarchic effort at de-communization by throwing corrupt, pro-communist politicians into large garbage bins and posting these videos online. Their outburst also resulted in the unauthorized demolition of Lenin monuments all over Ukraine. These actions threw more fuel on the smoldering separatist sentiment among the pro-Russian minority in Ukraine, as well as on the already blazing nationalism among a powerful majority in Russia -- for whom attacks on communist symbols are no different from attacks against Russia itself.

In the end, communist movements in Ukraine and other Eastern European nations aren't as much about Marxist theory as they are about the return of Russia's domineering role in the region. A restoration of Russia's dominance would bring back economic, cultural, and political subjugation, Russification, brain drain, persecution of local nationalism, and the implied status of inferior people for all non-Russians.