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Securing the future and liberating the past: a reflection on "The Trauma of Communism"

Volodymyr Turchynovskyy

Dean of the Social Sciences Faculty in UCU, Director of the IIECI

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Volodymyr Turchynovskyy is dean of the social sciences faculty and director of the International Institute for Ethics and Contemporary Issues at Ukrainian Catholic University. He was a visiting scholar at the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2006-07 and in 2019-20. Turchynovskyy delivered the following remarks at the launch of The Trauma of Communism on December 1, 2022. Published by Ukrainian Catholic University Press, The Trauma of Communism is edited by Clemens Sedmak, director of the Nanovic Institute and professor of social ethics, and A. James McAdams, William M. Scholl Professor of International Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. The publication is

the fruit of the Catholic Universities Partnership, a long-standing collaboration between five universities from Central and Eastern Europe, Ukrainian Cetholic University, and the Nanovic Institute at the University of Notre Dame.

Every year on the fourth Saturday of November, Ukraine commemorates the victims of the Holodomor, the man-made famine organized by the Soviet authorities which killed millions in 1932-1933. This year, the commemoration fell on November 26. In the preceding days, the parliaments of Ireland, Moldova, and Romania recognized Holodomor as a genocide of the Ukrainian people. On November 30, Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, passed a resolution recognizing this starvation of millions of Ukrainians as a crime against humanity, a genocide.

These important statements have been made in the context of the present-day genocidal war launched by Russia against Ukraine with the clear-cut intention of depopulating Ukraine. The aggressors hope to achieve this by either erasing and annihilating Ukrainian towns and villages, deporting Ukrainian citizens — particularly children — from Ukraine’s occupied territory to Russia, or forcing Ukrainians to flee their county in search of survival and safety.

Ukrainians commemorate at the Bitter Memory of Childhood monument, outside the National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide in 2019.

The Trauma of Communism, edited by University of Notre Dame professors Clemens Sedmak and A. James McAdams and published by Ukrainian Catholic University Press, is a collection of stories and personal accounts written by scholars from Czechia, Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, and the United States. The volume contributes to an effort of freeing the past from its soviet and communist embrace which, over the last few decades, has given birth to the “Russian world,” or the Russkiy mir, as its deadly mimicry.

A massive trauma inflicted by communist dehumanization was masterfully weaponized by a Russian kleptocracy and converted into the “genocidal appetite” of present-day Russia. Thus communist trauma became a fount of criminal and terrorist power with an unbridled drive for brutality, sadism, torture, and rape, one sanctified by the quasi-religious ideology of Russkiy mir.

Our current battle in Ukraine is not just about protecting and defending lives and everyone’s “here and now.” It is not only about making our present days secure in Ukraine and securing them for the millions beyond Ukraine who are either threatened by an escalation that crosses borders or by hunger and starvation. It is also a battle for the future of Ukraine and the future of the Western world.

Importantly, it is a battle that, paradoxically, liberates the past. The past remains incomplete unless it is being completed through and in the present.

The past has a creative social, moral, and spiritual energy that cherishes and serves the present day as it unfolds itself toward the future. I believe this is one of the many significant observations and revelations of The Trauma of Communism.

The confrontation with the evil named “Russian world” — which, to avoid any unnecessary misconceptions, can be understood as one with the Nazi concept of ”lebensraum” — has made it abundantly clear that the past can be dehumanized, deprived of its life-holding and life-giving meaning and potential. The dehumanized past, in other words, becomes a weaponized past leading to a futureless world.

How do you weaponize the past? You do it through a “genocide of the dead” by relentlessly and systematically committing genocide of past memories, identities, and cultures. Genocide of the living is followed by genocide of the deceased. After you murder the millions you start a genocide of their graves. This process weaponizes the trauma of those who were left to survive within the genocidal space and through the genocidal times of communism.

Without a liberated past, there is no secure future and even in the case of a victory over the evil of genocide, it will still take years and generations to recover the positive energies of the past by accepting its sacrifices, healing its wounds, enlightening its hopes, forgiving its sins, and holding it in the spirit of prayerful solidarity. Should we decide to allow the powers of dehumanizing and disintegrating evil to keep reigning over the past, the empire of evil will strike again.

The past should be liberated and its social and historical dignity and memory should be allowed to recover.

This is why I believe that what is going on in Ukraine is not just a war over territory or resources, or some powerful political, geopolitical, and business interests. It is a war about the right to have the future, it is a war about our right to define a moral and spiritual vision for the future. If we lose against dehumanizing and disintegrating power we will be thrown into a futureless world where time becomes dehumanized. Dehumanized time is a time deprived of its gift- and life-giving character. It is a time emptied of its interpersonal character and accompanying acts of love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, friendship, and sacrifice. Dehumanized time is not a path to resurrection. It silences, isolates, and mortifies human life.

I believe that stories narrated in The Trauma of Communism give us hope and resilience for the present day along with a sense of prayerful solidarity with the past as we work towards defining our future.


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