Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Dealing With a Contested Past: Monument Wars in Ukraine and the USA

This event was held virtually as a Zoom webinar and live streamed on YouTube.

Please join the Ukrainian Studies Program at the Harriman Institute, Columbia University for a presentation by Valentyna Kharkhun (Nizhyn Mykola Gogol State University), moderated by Professor Mark Andryczyk.

When the dismantling of monuments became an integral part of the Black Lives Matter movement, it brought to light a similar phenomenon that Ukraine recently experienced—particularly that of Leninopad (the shedding of Lenin monuments)—as part of a process of de-communization. Surprisingly, two societies with different cultural backgrounds and with different developments of democratic values and abidance to human rights chose a very similar way to revise what they considered to be an unsettling history—by demolishing monuments. Through distinguishing similarities and differences when dealing with the contested past of each country, Professor Valentyna Kharkhun will consider the following issues: Why are monuments important when constructing cultural space and creating public imagination about a common past? What are the contemporary circumstances that caused the “monument wars,” and who are the mnemonic entrepreneurs who initiated the vanquishing of the contested monuments? How does dismantling monuments as a mnemonic security action influence a society’s remembrance of a contested past, and how might it change identity politics as well as the biographical self-narrative of the state? Ultimately, Professor Kharkhun will discuss the political and cultural outcomes of “monument wars” and consider whether they can serve as “historical lessons” in understanding how we comprehend the past.

Valentyna Kharkhun is a Professor at the Ukrainian Literature and Journalism Department, Nizhyn Mykola Gogol State University. She is the author of two books six textbooks and more than one hundred articles. Throughout her career, she has mainly worked on the relationship between ideology and culture, focusing on the following topics: ideology in Ukrainian modernist writings; the arts under Soviet rule; the socialist realist canon in Ukrainian and Russian Literatures; and the ideologies driving representations of the memory of communism in museums of Central and Eastern European countries. Currently, she is working on a book entitled Multi-Faceted Memory: Exhibiting the Soviet Era in Ukrainian Museums.


Event Video