Book review: “Memory Crash” by Georgiy Kasianov

Kasianov’s nuanced and unbiased chronicle of the politics of history in Ukraine considers two competing versions of that country’s national history: a “soviet nostalgic” one that emphasized continuity with the Soviet period, and a nationalist one that focused on the suffering of Ukraine at the hands of the Soviet government. . This competition of historical memories has become a serious obstacle to the construction of a unified nation in Ukraine, where the different perceptions of the past have sometimes contributed to drawing dividing lines between the regions of the country. The competition evolved into a confrontation and, following the uprising that toppled Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, resulted in a vigorous campaign to eradicate traces of the Soviet past, including the dismantling of Soviet monuments, renaming of towns and villages, and the passing of memory laws requiring “correct” assessments of historical events. The radical rejection of the Soviet past further alienated voters who did not accept the Ukrainian ethnonationalist narrative and its heroes. Growing divisions within Ukraine and repeated political crises made the country more vulnerable to Russian incursion in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and stoked a separatist insurgency in the eastern Donbass region. “The war of the past”, writes Kasianov, “can easily become the ideological basis of a real war”.

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Angela C. Hale