The article analyses various instances of the memory politics of the Nazi genocide of Roma in Ukraine during wartime, Soviet and Post-Soviet periods of times through the prism of the theory of “path dependency” and the concept of “sites of memory“. One of the aims of this study is to interpret recent trends in contemporary memory politics in Ukraine, with focus on the Roma genocide memorials, and the documentation of the victims. The author shows how Soviet ‘path dependency’ designed the limits of commemoration of the Nazi genocide of the Roma in Ukraine.
During World War II the leading Soviet newspapers informed the public about the mass killings of Roma by the Nazis on the occupied territories and stressed that the systematic extermination of this group was motivated by racial goals. However, after 1945, the systematic extermination of the Roma population by the Nazis became a taboo and was ignored by Soviet historiography and memory politics. The absence of an educated strata within the Roma group and the aggressive forgetting politics made impossible the recording of testimonies of the Soviet Roma tragedy immediately after the war. Today it is simply impossible because of a lack of witnesses and archival records.
The author draws interesting parallels with memory politics in Ukraine, and its conciliation with Belarus and Russia. In recent years, about twenty monuments commemorating victims of the genocide of the Roma have been erected in Ukraine. According to decision of the Ukrainian Rada dated 8 October 2004, the International Day of the Holocaust of the Roma is held annually on 2 August. Following the countries of the European Union, Ukraine abandoned the official use of the word ‘Gypsies’ in favour of the more politically correct name ‘Roma’. At the same time, in Belarus there only three sites of memory devoted to the Roma genocide and in Russia – no one. In Ukraine, over the last few years, a number of conferences on the genocide of the Roma were held, collections of scientific papers were published, and research centres were formed. At the same time, in Belarus and in Russia, not a single scholar specializes in this subject.
The author explains such contradiction by the radical change of memory politics of World War II in the contemporary Ukraine, which influenced by both the internal and external factors. The most important internal factor is the humanization of memory politics that is the diversion of memory politics from heroes to the sufferings of ordinary people. The revising of the Soviet myth of World War II opened the previously closed topics. The author shows how the realignment of Soviet history around new narrative axes is taking place in the memory politics of today's Ukraine. The main external factor is a process of the integration of the Ukrainian state into the EU. It is worth noting that in contrast to the Soviet era, memory politics in the present-day Ukraine are being built on the basis of a European concept of reconciliation.
However, the memorialization of the victims of the Nazi genocide of the Roma has a number of objective obstacles related to the Soviet period. The problems related to commemoration of the genocide of the Roma, as this article has demonstrated, are limited by ‘path dependence’ and not by deliberately discriminatory politics towards the Ukrainian Roma. The politics of forgetting and poor integration into Soviet society did not give the Roma an opportunity for public recognition of their tragedy in the Soviet Union. One of the main problems of contemporary memory politics is the de-personalisation of the victims of the Roma genocide. The Roma traditionally avoid contact with the authorities, and the official data and the real number of the Roma can differ greatly. It is important to stress a number of factors which differentiate memory work on the Jewish and Roma tragedies. If today the Holocaust is remembered not only through monuments but also through deserted synagogues, the former Jewish ghettos and cemeteries, the Roma do not have any of these. With the genocide, almost all their physical space of memory was destroyed. For a long time the Roma minority did not share in the building of the Ukrainian nation. The commemoration of the Roma Holocaust has the possibility of changing this situation, boosting the inclusion of Roma in contemporary Ukrainian society.
2014. Vol. 12, 24-50 p.