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Understanding history determines the future


A common feature of the Humanities is a maxim, according to which the past belongs to present and in present they are thematized and gain the sense of the past. Without any access to the “clear” historical facts they are presented to us only as a part of a certain historical concept, historical school and finally- as an ideology. An ordinary mind perceives such position in the widespread form “History is written by the victors”.  And this form applies to the most traumatic and, as we consider them today, the most undiscussable topics. As Aleida Assman has shown, even the Holocaust is not an exception in this case. “Neither criminals, nor victims knew they were taking part in the “Holocaust”- she writes in her book “The long shadow of the Past”. The term was first used by American Jews in the end of 1960-s. And after 1978, when Hollywood released TV-series titled “Holocaust” this term became an essential part of a cultural dictionary. Before that during 30 years after WWII the topic of holocaust wasn’t popular and was almost tabooed from the side of political discourse. In the height of Cold War an illustration of German “brutality”- today’s allies of the USA that is fighting on their side against “Communist plague” didn’t look politically correct or suitable. After “reopening” tragedies of the WWII, the topic of the Holocaust became an object for many researches. Thus, in one of them N. Finkelstein introduces the term "Holocaust industry" and proposes to distinguish between two variants: HOLOCAUST, all letters must be capital, means a media construct, which is used as a political weapon; and the Holocaust as a real historical event of the past. Stated things lead us to next conclusions: 1) Historical past can be consciously reconstructed; 2) Historical past can become a part of the political discourse, in which it may successfully perform as a “weapon”.

Here a question may occur concerning the connection between these distant and theoretical questions and our everyday practice of the present.  However, this connection may be even more spontaneous than it looks. “Western”- let’s call it so- version of Ukrainian history is constructed not as a history of Ukraine but as a part of the history of western domination, as a part of western subjectivity. Grand narrative about the formation of the Human culture and mind as exactly a part of Western culture and Western person has been created by the Enlightenment and looks pretty decayed, but within its framework people create stories about the communist enslavement of Ukraine in general and about Holodomor in particular as a "deviation" of this part of Europe from the standard way of development. In the middle of 60-s Afro-American fighter for the American "counterstory" J. Baldwin was critical about the official historical narrative of the Whites: “I was a savage who had nothing to tell, except that Europe saved him by transporting him to America. Of course, I believed in it. I just didn’t have a choice”. Of course the history says “No” to such narrative to Africa in general and to the black people that were transported to America in particular, and this rescue, for which they should be grateful, is an experience of slavery. It’s obvious that this maxim was completely complementary to our reality: if you replace Africa with the Soviet of imperial past, you will get the same conclusion. According to this narrative, all significant and valuable things that exist in Ukrainian history are connected with the West and the rest of things are harmful and unnatural and we should get rid of it. And it doesn’t matter that, for example, Saint Sophia’s Cathedral or B.Khmelnytsky or Paton’s Bridge are not suitable for such cliché.

An attempt to manipulate national traumas always has an opposite side. An American researcher J. Torpey pointed at this fact. He was convinced and proved that the more people state about victims of the repressive past, the faster collapses national consensus concerning the joint future. This thought is not a new one, his book titled “Politics and the Past” came out in 2003, but despite these precautions we are trying more persistently to build a national identity on events that might lead to the consolidation. Such strategy seems even stranger if we take into account that an official construct of the political discourse, that represents Holodomor as genocide of Ukrainians by the Soviet (read as Russian-for Ukrainian political discourse it is an important consequence) government, ignores simplest facts, which lie on the surface. In Ukraine the Soviet policy was conducted by a Polish man named Kosior, Kremlin was ruled by a Georgian named Dzhugashvili, and the bread was also taken from peasants by Ukrainians. Traumas of the past become more profitable when you use them as a “political weapon” instead of looking for the national consensus concerning its reintegration into the present.

Thus, without denying a tragedy of the past, it’s hard to admit its interpretation in the official political discourse. Once again we become witnesses of how technologies, the function of which is not to set a “historical truth”, but to gain momentary political benefits, work.

See also:

Three scenarios that will lead to the same one ending

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