Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lenin statue vandalized in Kiev

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - Ukrainian nationalists hurled red paint at a restored monument to Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin moments after it was unveiled Friday, sparking a street brawl and revealing the bitter divisions over the legacy of communism in Ukraine.

The nationalist group, Freedom, said the protest was inspired by persistent debate over the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, a major irritant in Kiev's relationship with its former Soviet overlord, Moscow.

It was the second time this year that vandals have targeted the more than 11-foot-tall (3.5-meter) granite statue of the Russian revolutionary on Kiev's central Shevchenko boulevard. In July, it was taken down for restoration after nationalists smashed its face with a hammer and tore off an arm.

A Communist rally was held Friday to welcome back the restored monument, first erected in 1946, but supporters of the nationalist group flung red paint at its base just as the Communists cheered its unveiling.

Riot police stepped in to break up the ensuing fight, which left several people dazed and bloodied. Several others were detained, including a man who was beaten by members of the crowd for throwing the paint.

"I don't regret it," he told reporters as he was led away. "They'll take this thing down eventually anyway. If we don't act, it'll just take a lot longer," he said, giving only his first name, Hryhoriy.

Statues of Lenin are common across the former Soviet Union, but they often stir emotions in Ukraine, particularly since the 2004 Orange Revolution street protests ushered pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, to power.

Yushchenko has pressed for international recognition of the 1930s famine, which killed millions of people, as genocide against Ukraine by the Soviet government of Josef Stalin, Lenin's successor. Russian leaders adamantly deny the famine was genocide, stressing that it killed many people in Russia and Kazakhstan, and asserting Ukrainians were not singled out.

In a statement on its Web site, Freedom said Lenin, who died in 1924, was responsible for the famine and urged politicians to remove all monuments honoring him and the Soviet system.

"History cannot be turned back. Lenin monuments across Ukraine will be destroyed, and communist ideology prohibited," Andriy Mokhnik, head of the group's Kiev branch, said in the statement.

The Communist Party is still a significant force in Ukrainian politics, winning roughly 1.3 million votes and 27 of the 450 parliament seats in 2007 elections. Its main support base is in the largely Russian-speaking east.

Yushchenko, who is more popular in the predominantly Ukrainian-speaking west, has stoked the famine debate ahead of a Jan. 17 vote in which he is seeking re-election. He has ordered investigators to gather evidence that the famine was planned in Moscow, and this week opened an exhibit about the famine.

The presidential front-runners - Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych, both bitter foes of Yushchenko - have been far less vocal on the issue, and have focused on rebuilding damaged ties with Russia.

On Friday, state security service chief Valentin Nalivaychenko said Ukraine was not seeking to blame Russia for the famine.

"As regards third countries, be it Russia or anyone else, no one is talking about any accusations toward them from our side," Nalivaychenko said in televised comments.



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