Ukraine is one of the post-Soviet countries with the easiest access to KGB archives. This was experts’ conclusion based on the analytical report “European legislative practices on decommunization issues: implications for Ukraine.” Experts analyzed the practices of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, the Baltic countries, Albania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Georgia and Romania.
“We managed to avoid some mistakes made by the CEE countries, primarily concerning access to the archives of repressive bodies. On the other hand, now some Eastern European countries are starting to use Ukrainian decommunization experience: last year Poland passed a law that regulated the process of renaming the Communist place names. When its authors were developing the law, they applied the provisions of our law. And we should mention Bulgaria, which is working on a law on access to archives of repressive bodies,” noted Serhii Riabenko, co-author of the analytical report, lawyer of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, presenting the findings of the report at a press briefing held at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
As regards access to archives, Ukraine borrowed legislation norms from the countries where decommunization was the deepest. This is a norm of free access to the archive for everyone, of digitizing documents to save and preserve them in a separate archive, regardless of law enforcement agencies, and that responsibility for the dissemination of information does not lie with an archivist but those who publish it. To access KGB archives in Ukraine, there are minimum requirements: it is enough to provide all available information about a person you want to look up information about, and your passport. You do not have to pay for the access, making copies using your own technical devices is also free.
In Hungary, for example, you are to show a research license, a detailed research plan, a list of publications, and a statement of support from the research institute. In Germany, when they opened the Stasi archives, the third party – researchers – had big problems with access due to the common right for privacy, said Dmytro Meshkov, Nordost-Institut researcher. Therefore, the law had to be amended so that researchers were personally responsible for publishing information from the archive. “Their tradition of personal data protection is so strong that researchers, for fear of legal action, anonymize names of criminals even in situations when they are not threatened,” he noted.
Andrii Kohut, co-author of the analytical report, director of the Branch State Archive of the Security Service of Ukraine, informed that in 2016, compared to 2014, the number of requests to the archive increased by 138%. In 2016, the number of foreign researchers who came to work with the KGB archives increased twice compared to 2015. Of over 3 thousand people who applied in 2016, more than half were those who asked for information about their relatives.
The experts noted that it is access to the archives that is the most important component of decommunization. Openness and availability of information for everyone, firstly, shows the true face of the totalitarian regime, and secondly, prevents manipulation of history, because any data can be easily checked. Taken together this helps to prevent the return of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in the future. “It is very important for us that everyone can look at the complicated twentieth century history through the perspective of his family’s history. This will allow one to neutralize the propaganda we hear. One thing, when people talk about great historical events that do not concern a particular man. And it is quite another thing […] to see how this history concerns you,” emphasized Andrii Kohut. “We hope that the historical debate that is growing due to the adoption of decommunization laws is the foundation that will allow us to rethink our past and reach more or less weighted common vision of it,” added Serhii Riabenko.
Andrii Kohut reminded that until open archives are transferred to a special archive of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, people should apply for information about the repressed persons to the SBU archive, and about the deported persons – to the MIA archive. Theoretically a request for information may be denied, if the document has not been declassified yet (some documents were additionally classified in the time of Yanukovych). In this case, please contact the head of the body; in the case of repeated rejection – the office of the ombudsman. Search should be started through the database of the project “Rehabilitated by history.” “We have high hopes for the future archive of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory. Combining different arrays of archival documents of the SBU and the Ministry of Internal Affairs will allow a more comprehensive search,” noted Andrii Kohut.