Ukraine Throws KGB Archive Doors Open

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Here’s something that should wet the palates of scholars and induce wet dreams among the necrophiliacs of Soviet history.  Ukraine announced that it plans declassify the entire KGB archive dating 1917-1991.  The number of documents stamped “secret” and “top secret” is estimated at 800,000. The announcement comes after the law “On the declassification, promulgation, and study of archival documents connected with the Ukrainian Liberation Movement, political repression, and famine in Ukraine” was signed by Viktor Yushchenko on 23 January.

Among the documents are “Cheka instructions, execution lists, deportation maps, albums with photographs of fighters of rebel armies, reports of the KGB to the Central Committee on the development of the Ukrainian dissident movement.” Interestingly, this declassification is so sweeping that it will even go against normal archival practice in protecting living individuals. “Not a single agential file or report that possibly contains information about current politicians will stop the process of declassification,” says Valentin Nalivaichenko, the current head of the Ukrainian Security Service.  And what about those who aren’t politicians? Do they or their families have rights to privacy?

The documents will certainly prove to be a treasure trove for historians as Ukrainian police and Party communications to and from Moscow will give some roundabout access to classified documents in Moscow’s FSB archive.  But while such a move is welcomed from a scholarly standpoint (though I won’t be rushing to Ukraine since I think there is more to history than being a bloodhound), this shouldn’t justify turning a blind eye to its political dimension.  History is about the politics of the present and archives are armories of ammunition.  There is no doubt in my mind that this declassification is not about some sudden realization on the part of the Ukraine’s government to reckon with the past.  These materials will certainly be employed in the further crafting of Ukraine’s “imagined community” of victimization by, rather than a participant in, the Soviet regime.  Sadly, using these documents for this purpose has little to do with scholarly inquiry, history, or even historical reconciliation.  It has to do with nationalism.