«Memory of the War: Discourse of Democracy and Discourse of Totalitarianism»

Contemporary European memory of World War II is part of the democratic discourse: it is commemoration for the victims, expression of respect for the democratic values, for life and dignity of the human being. In Russia they still cultivate the myth about the “victory” which after the war played the fundamental role in creation of the “new historical community, the people of the USSR” and served as an instrument for enslavement of non-Russian peoples of the USSR. There is no recognition of the USSR’s implication in starting World War II, no reckoning with the Soviet totalitarianism, no liability for war crimes and crimes against humanity – this laid the foundation for the new authoritarian regime in Russia. Today the cultivating the “Victory” myth helps the Russian Federation simultaneously achieve several goals: recover the image of the superpower (“we can repeat!”); legitimize contemporary imperial aspirations; transfer the blame for crimes from the aggressor to the victim (including justification of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact).

In Ukraine the notion of the Great Patriotic War still circulates, but the notion of World War II managed to return to public discourse and space. Besides, the memory of World War II is overlaid with the ongoing war with Russia, a real cruel and equally hot war, although seemingly without casualties, a hybrid war, where the myth of the “Great Victory” and the image of the Nazi collaborators, imposed on Ukrainians by Russian propaganda.

How will honoring the victims of World War II affect the commemoration for the victims of the modern war with Russia? What is the place of the deportation of Crimean Tatars and other post-war deportations in today's Ukrainian memory? What is the role of the narrative about World War II in the spread of democratic values or, vice versa, in the return to authoritarianism or "democrature"?

Moderators are the philosopher, Analyst Director of Internews-Ukraine, Editor-in-chief of Volodymyr Yermolenko, and TV-host of Espresso Channel Khrystyna Yatskiv.



Ukrainian human rights activist, public figure, dissident. Head of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine (Vaad of Ukraine), Executive Vice President of the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine.

Wikipedia - UA | EN

Articles [UA]:

«Only aggressors — the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany — paid for the war. All other peoples who were affected were paying for the peace. However, have they gained this long-awaited peace? The winners, these two aggressors joined by Great Britain and the USA, partly France, were building the world in their image, according to their geopolitical and national interests. After the war there was a cult of power, a cult of winners, and it was difficult to challenge this right of the winners to divide the world as they pleased. But the Yalta Conference is one of the points of our history. We understand why and how the divide of the post-war world took place there. The majority of countries ended up in two occupation zones: one part was occupied by allies of the USA, Great Britain and France, and another fell under the Soviet occupation. Those in the role of the occupied by the Soviet Union included the Baltic states, and Ukraine, which tried finding its place in history but failed to find it because these two thugs — Hitler and Stalin — paid no attention to what Ukrainians needed. The countries of the so-called “people’s democracy” also ended up in the role of the occupied countries: for them this occupation extended for 50 years more, until 1991».


Historian, literary scholar, renowned polish researcher in Ukrainian studies, professor at NaUKMA and the University of Warsaw. The author of books Farewell to Empire: Ukrainian Debates on Identity, Courage and fear and others.

PEN Ukraine - UA | EN

Articles [UA]:

«The price of the Yalta agreement turned out to be no less appalling than the price of this war. The hostilities stopped, and this is extremely important, but from the perspective of a Central Eastern European resident – be it a resident of Ukraine, or a resident of Lithuania, or a resident of Poland – one totalitarian regime replaced the other totalitarian regime. In Poland the opinion that Poland paid the highest for the war still prevails. Even if Poles understand that other countries suffered a lot more victims, they nevertheless emphasize the high price. The politics of memory, especially in recent years, as the “first to start fighting” with Nazi Germany underlines absolute exceptionality of the Polish situation. The symbol of Polish losses is first of all represented by devastated Warsaw. The second of such durable convictions in Poland is the betrayal of the West and the Yalta Conference as a symbol of that price Poland paid for the war. Now it’s about time to broaden the scope and comprehend that not only Poland paid that price, but other countries of the socialist camp, as well as countries which ended up within the Soviet Union, starting with Ukraine. Certainly, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia as well – but least do we understand what a terrible price Belarus paid. The post-war world actually did not bring peace, did not bring security, did not bring stability. Furthermore, after the war the Communist regime was brutally destroying bearers of the memory of the war».


French writer, journalist, translator, co-founder and Secretary General of the European Forum for Ukraine, author of (i.a.) The Immortal Regiment: Putin’s Holy War.

Wikipedia - UA | EN

Articles [UA]:

«We see an enormous difference between the majority of Europe speaking first of all about the victims and reconciliation, about the new reality which was born after World War II, and Russia celebrating its victory exclusively. Moreover, in carnival processions even physically the very triumph of the victory is recreated.

This is by no chance random, because the idea of this victory in Russian interpretation is based on the fact that entire Europe and the entire world owes Russia: because it sacrificed and everyone owes it, it has the right to its geopolitics, to protection of its interests, because it deserved this. Clearly, the whole narrative about this being one occupation replaced by the other is rejected. By the way, the idea of the war being started by the two totalitarian regimes is also rejected. In fact, it is a very important historical chasm. That is, the Soviet and contemporary Russian narratives say that it was just a compulsory step, that there was no “genuine” occupation. These were compulsory measures. And the fact that after the war these territories captured in 1939—1940 were again integrated into the Soviet Union is not even explained — a kind of total historical negation is taking place: renunciation of all uncomfortable memory along with that year of 1939, along with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols.

All uncomfortable memory is completely renounced. The Soviet period is being entirely re-written, and Stalin clearly has a privileged place in this Soviet period, because it is with him, under his wise leadership that the victory over Nazis was achieved».


Ukrainian human rights activist, religious scholar Vice-Rector for University Mission of the Ukrainian Catholic University, founding member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, Honorary President of Ukrainian PEN-center.

PEN Ukraine - UA | EN

Articles [UA]:

«The Yalta system of European security suppressed the fact that in the demoniac tango of September 1939 there were two participants: Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR. It is them who started World War II, but only Nazism ended up being punished for it. It is interesting to trace the changing of application of the primordial formula: “the friend of my enemy is my enemy, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. At first this formula meant that the friend and ally of Nazi Germany – the USSR – is the co-aggressor, and thus the enemy of humanity. For this reason both of them were expelled from the League of Nations. But afterwards, as the two totalitarian monsters disrupted their partnership in redivision of the world and confronted each other, the accents changed. The second part of the aforementioned formula came into effect, namely, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” – and the co-originator of the war became the victor over Nazism and savior of humanity. However, oblivion to the USSR’s collaborationism with Hitler’ regime is not the only historical injustice. Underneath the victor’s purple toga almost three decades of bloody Communist dictatorship was concealed and forgotten. This is why the memory of humanity reverberates with crimes of Auschwitz and Treblinka, Guernica and Buchenwald, whereas crimes of GULAG and Holodomor, Solovki and Katyn seem to have no executors. And in Russia they are considered justified on the whole. Thus the apocalyptic evil turned into the saving good. And the smiling uncle Joe – uncle Joseph with his unchanging pipe became a symbol of victory over Nazism, not a symbol of bloody tyranny which in the XX century took more innocent lives than Nazism».


Polish historian, Founder and Chief Editor of Gazeta Wyborcza (Warsaw), former dissident, political prisoner of the communist regime, a masermind of the Polish Solidarity movement, Honorary Professor of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

Wikipedia - UA | EN

Articles [UA]:

«For me, the only answer to lying Putin’s propaganda is the truth. And I speak about this all the louder, because in my country, in Poland, this truth is fabricated. In fact, in a different direction than in Moscow, of course, because in Moscow Stalin’s version of World War II is propagated. In Poland it is not. In Poland it is different: they say that Poles in history have always been guiltless and have always been aggrieved by others, so we cannot be accused of anything. If anyone recalls the pacification of churches, of Ukrainian villages, or the ghetto benches for Jews, one immediately becomes an enemy of Poland and is proclaimed anti-Polish. But this is Putin's way of thinking. As Putin passed the law which prohibits speaking this or that about the history, the Polish government, the Polish administration did likewise. In Polish-Ukrainian relations, history is often used as an instrument for nationalistic-chauvinistic politics which harm Polish interests, as Polish interests require friendly and good relations with Ukraine. Instead, if you keep on always saying that Ukrainians constantly have to apologize for Bandera, for Volyn, for UPA [Ukrainian Insurgent Army] and who-knows-what, this is not the language of reconciliation, but of conflict. Certainly, historians should be able to carry out research. And even if this work is unpleasant either for Polish or Ukrainian readership, it has to have the right to exist. Poles and Ukrainians have the right to truth about their history. Even when this history is sad and contains black stains».


Ukrainian politician, public figure, recognized leader of the Crimean Tatar National Movement, dissident, political prisoner of the Soviet regime, deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Commissioner for the President of Ukraine of the Crimean Tatar People (2014–2019).

Wikipedia - UA | EN

«There was no significant difference for us between Hitler’s and Stalin’s regimes. Because both were inhumane. By the way, later it was revealed that Germans also intended to evict the Crimean Tatars and repopulate the Crimea with Germans from disputed territories. Both regimes were equally abominable. As a result of Stalin’s genocide and deportation we lost over 46% of our people».


German historian, Professor Emeritus of European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder), author of booksThe Soviet Century: Archeology of a Lost World; Moscow 1937 and In Space We Read Time: On the History of Civilization and Geopolitics (i.a).

Wikipedia - UA | EN

Articles [UA]:

«A great many people remember the crimes Germany perpetrated, and we know how many millions of victims were the outcome of World War II. But not everyone remembers the victims caused by the regime of the Soviet Union, and somehow what Russia is doing now in Ukraine does not always come to mind. We understand that such Russocentrism is used in the war against Ukraine today. In fact, such relations between Germany and the Soviet Union did not include any freedom or independence for other peoples. Today we see the same danger from Putin’s Russia and we understand that such neo-Soviet rhetoric of Putin today, undeniably, cannot иу overcome with the culture of nationalism, but it should be a culture of research, a culture of earnest conversations, which are not always easy in communication with such a militarized person».


Module 1st

Module 2nd

Module 3rd

Module 4th


Conference Organizing Committee:

Yevhen Bystrytskyi, Myroslaw Czech, Mustafa Dzhemiliev, Leonid Finberg, Ola Hnatiuk, Polina Horodyska, Mykola Kniazhytskyi, Andriy Kurkov, Myroslav Marynovych, Rostyslav Pavlenko, Serhii Plokhii, Mykola Riabchuk (the Head of the Committee), Olena Styazhkina, Tetyana Teren, Volodymyr Yermolenko, Yosyf Zisels.