Throughout the post-Soviet period Ukraine did not have a consistent and clear historical policy towards the Soviet past, the Second World War and other complicated historical periods. Histories of different regions of Ukraine differ greatly and attempts to create a common historical narrative have been problematic. Collective memory is one of the strongest elements of identity and thus one of the strongest instruments of political manipulation. The question of competing historical narratives is so conflictual and sharp in the Ukrainian society, because the main point of people‘s relationship with the past is not historical justice, but the future vision of the country.
In the multicultural Odesa region and the city of Odesa with its peculiar identity of a Russian-speaking port, attempts to promote Ukraine-wide historical narratives are often met with resistance as they do not reflect what is important locally. The difficult themes of Soviet past, Holodomor, Romanian occupation during the Second World War and Russian imperial history remain painful and divisive. People’s opinions about historical matters are often taken as a proxies for their political views. Rhetoric about history have been actively used during the confrontations that took place in Odesa in 2014 and instrumentalisation of history among other things was an important factor in the tragedy of the 2nd of May, when after clashes in the city 48 people died. The annexation of Crimea and the shadow of the ongoing war in the East of the country makes these topics all the more toxic and polarising.
The situation of confusion, economic insecurity, fatigue from war, opaque future prospects preclude some of the conventional approaches to conflict transformation. The project Past / Future / Art, which forumZFD Ukraine Programme is implementing with a curatorial team of Oksana Dovgopolova – a Philosophy professor at the Odesa National University, specializing in memory studies and Kateryna Semenyuk – an experienced Ukrainian cultural and art manager with an interest in collective memory, aims to look at these conflictual historical topics through art. The language of art is indirect and open for interpretation. This openness of meanings and interpretations creates a space for non-confrontational conversations about the difficult events of the past, as well as values that should guide society.
The goal of the Past / Future / Art project is to create an open space for public discussions and conversations, in which memory becomes a trigger for a sense of personal responsibility for the future. The project organizes public events and discussions for a broad audience. Artists, curators and other experts are invited to share their experiences and views about dealing with difficult events of the past in other parts of Ukraine or abroad. Separate activities are designed to involve students, academics, educators and museum professionals to trigger their interest in and support their work with the difficult past. The project is launched in Odesa and deals primarily with the locally relevant topics, however it is not limited to a single region and aims to reach target audiences from different parts of Ukraine.
Under the conditions of memory wars and persistent polarization, the project hopes to bring people together in search for a better mutual understanding.