Including “Communist” in the name of a political party, selling a Soviet-flag souvenir or even singing the Soviet hymn would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison, according to a new law passed by Ukraine’s parliament.
The law “on the condemnation of the Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) totalitarian regimes in Ukraine and ban on the propaganda of their symbols” is ostensibly supposed to prevent the recurrence of Soviet-style repressions, but critics say it would limit free speech and marginalize the already embattled left. Although President Petro Poroshenko has yet to sign the law against communist propaganda, the bill received 254 votes and was sponsored by members of his own party, among others.
“Even if the state won’t be interested in persecuting Ukraine’s marginal, weak leftist organizations, the far right will likely use this law…to harass politicians and also scholars on the basis that they are not critical enough of the Soviet Union or are over-critical of Ukrainian nationalists,” Volodymyr Ishchenko, deputy director of the Center for Social and Labor Research and a member of the editorial board of the progressive journal Commons, told The Nation.
Meanwhile, another law passed last Thursday recognizes as independence fighters a controversial nationalist group accused of ethnic cleansing and collaboration with the Nazis.
The new laws would likely tap into widespread anger with Russia, which has backed a separatist campaign in eastern Ukraine. But they would also further provoke tensions within Ukrainian society, which has been fractured by a pro-Russian separatist campaign that enjoys popular support in eastern Ukraine. A peace plan sponsored by France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia foresees constitutional reforms giving the rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine greater autonomy.
The anti-totalitarian law is less wide-reaching than a bill introduced last year that proposed banning “communist ideology,” and it’s hard to disagree with its condemnation of the repressions conducted under the Soviet regime. But it also would give the authorities the power to shut down any organization that makes even oblique reference to the Communist tradition.
Public use of the symbols of the USSR or other Eastern Bloc countries, including the Soviet hymn and the hammer and sickle, would be punishable by up to five years in prison for an individual, or up to ten years for an organization. (The ban would apparently even include “The Internationale,” which the Soviet Union used as its national anthem until 1944.) If a political party, mass media outlet, or other group of citizens engages in “propaganda” valorizing the Communist or Nazi regimes or uses their symbols, it could be denied registration or ordered to cease its activities.