Decommunization in Times of War: Ukraine’s Militant Democracy Problem

The Ukrainian parliament Verkhovna Rada adopted four ‘memory laws’ shortly after the Maidan revolution in the spring of 2015. The decommunization ‘package’, prepared by the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance and signed into effect by President Petro Poroshenko soon thereafter, contains a legislation criminalizing both Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes, prohibiting the propaganda of their symbols; two laws commemorating, respectively, Ukraine’s fighters for twentieth-century independence movement and the victory over Nazism during the Second World War, and a law guaranteeing access to archives of repressive Soviet-era organs.

Besides the predictably pained reactions from Russia, the Ukrainian decommunization laws have been subjected to wide international legal, scholarly and domestic criticism. Soon after the ban on communist parties in Ukraine in December 2015, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, aka the Venice Commission) adopted a joint interim report together with the OSCE/ODIHR, criticizing the broad scope of the Ukrainian law banning Communist and Nazi propaganda and symbols for its obstruction of free expression, introduction of unfair sanctions and consequent non-compliance with ‘the European standards’, and urging the country to bring its decommunization stipulations in line with European human rights legislation. Acknowledging the aims of the respective law as ‘legitimate’, the Venice Commission nevertheless took issue with the law failing the ‘three-fold test of legality, legitimacy and necessity in a democratic society’ ...

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