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The first steps towards the truth

Hanna Hopko on the significance of the hearings “German Historical Responsibility towards Ukraine”
27 June, 2017 - 11:24
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

An international conference themed “German Historical Responsibility towards Ukraine” was held in the German Bundestag recently. Yevhen Bystrytsky, president of the Ukrainian Philosophical Foundation and executive director of the International Renaissance Foundation, posted on Facebook: “The conference has a significant role to play in enhancing the perception of Ukraine as a separate political and cultural community that participated in World War Two as an independent historical entity. This is no less important for self-understanding of our own identity within Ukraine as well.”

According to him, historian Timothy Snyder’s speech very well explained the condition, historical place, and role of Ukraine/the Ukrainian community in the events and tragedies of the world war. “The meaning of the war cannot be understood without realizing that the conquest of Ukraine was the main purpose of the German war of colonial expansion; without realizing it, one also can neither understand the significance of Ukrainian nationalism as a response to both German and Russian nationalisms, as a movement squeezed tight between two empires, nor understand that only Ukrainian nationalism was able to politically shape itself to the extent unmatched by any other collaborationist or resistance movement in European countries occupied by the German Wehrmacht, nor understand the fact that the number of Ukrainians who died in the struggle against the Wehrmacht was more than the combined number of French, Americans, and British victims, nor, finally, understand why the Holocaust, the first such event in the history of wars, happened precisely on Ukrainian soil,” wrote Bystrytsky.


Chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Foreign Affairs Hanna Hopko also spoke at the abovementioned conference. The Day asked her to share the impressions of this forum.

“Similar events took place in Ukraine on May 19 and June 10, dealing with German historic responsibility towards Ukraine and initiated by the Bundestag member from the Alliance 90/The Greens faction Marieluise Beck. Meanwhile, June 20 saw an extended debate with the participation of the Greens and representatives of other political forces of the Bundestag. In addition, there was a lot of representatives of Central and Eastern European nations present who spoke about the fact that not only the territory of modern Russia had suffered from the war of extermination, but also Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, where the war was raging as well. This is very well described by Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands, which deals with the fate of the borderland areas between Berlin and Moscow, which were particularly badly affected by the totalitarian insanity of the 20th century.

“In her speech, Beck noted that Russian propaganda was systematically creating the impression that the German aggressive war had targeted Russia alone. Moreover, in that perspective, Ukraine is being turned from a victim of the war of extermination into a Nazi collaborator. According to her, when Ukrainians came to the streets to defend their independence and freedom three years ago, these protests were tarnished by allegations they were initiated by fascist Banderaites and anti-Semites. To respect millions of victims in borderland countries including Ukraine, we need a new perspective on history. Beck’s speech included an assertion that the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact meant the two totalitarian systems agreeing to split their spoils in half.

“Given that there is a war in Ukraine now, our ambassador to Germany Andrii Melnyk has made it very clear that it does not mean that we should throw allegations about, but to the contrary, we need to build our future together. In particular, he stressed: ‘We are talking about helping Ukraine not because Germany must atone for some eternal guilt for what it did to us, but because we share European values and future.’

“I was also invited to speak at the debate. I focused on the centennial of our diplomatic relations. After all, we established relations with Germany under Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky back in 1918 and tried to build our own state then. Therefore, it is very important for us to focus now, when dealing with Germany, a strategic partner in Europe, on important things that will bring peace and stability and make Europe strong. Ukraine is, in fact, a European state, in spite of all the Kremlin’s attempts, both in the Soviet times and over the past 25 years, to keep us in its sphere of influence.

“I mentioned at the hearings the Nord Stream 2, the strengthening of sanctions against the Russian Federation and the counteraction to Russian aggression, and the need to prevent the Kremlin spreading its influence over leading European institutions through cyber attacks. For example, there were attempts to steal emails of several German foundations.”


Can you say what results may we expect from these hearings?

“First of all, it is very important that such hearings take place, and we urged them to be continued. There is a Ukrainian-German Historical Commission, with the Ukrainian side led by Yaroslav Hrytsak, and the German side including several professors, one of whom even speaks Ukrainian and wrote a book on the Holodomor in Ukraine. I mean Wilfried Jilge of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).

“By the way, I stressed in my speech that when the Ukrainian parliament passed past December a resolution appealing to democratic nations of the world to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide, and Portugal was the first to respond to it favorably, I could not imagine then that after just half a year, the German Bundestag would host hearings about German responsibility towards Ukraine.

“Secondly, the situation in Ukraine after the Revolution of Dignity and the Russian aggression in the Donbas has made the whole world better aware that we are an independent nation with our own identity, language, culture, and thousands of years of history. And that is why we place a huge importance on preventing further theft of history by Russia and its attempts to present itself as the greatest victim of World War Two. We also need to tell the truth about the real Ukrainian World War Two losses, which amounted to eight to nine million human lives lost.

“Thirdly, these hearings are a landmark event, as the German Bundestag is beginning to talk about this subject. These are the first steps towards the truth, towards a German political class which would include no Russlandverstehers, that is, those who understand Russia, but would clearly understand instead what actually happened in the ‘bloodlands’ under Soviet rule.

“When I asked Professor Jilge why he was interested in the Holodomor, he said: ‘I wanted to understand why Ukrainians wanted so badly to break away from the Soviet Union, from the post-Soviet influence. And I realized that the persecution of the kulaks, the Holodomor made by Joseph Stalin were in fact strikes at a wealthy middle class who wanted to work on their own land.’

“Therefore, it is very important to use this truth to defeat Russian propaganda, to avoid Russland verstehen – a phenomenon that has enjoyed some success thanks to a systemic Russian propaganda effort.

“Given that Germany, as represented by Chancellor Angela Merkel, has been a leader in the search for a peaceful settlement of the situation in the east of Ukraine, it is important for the German public to understand what Ukraine is like, what price Ukrainians paid and how they suffered then, in particular from Adolf Hitler’s actions, and now from the Russian aggression. We are currently stopping a new onslaught of contemporary Russian terrorism from establishing itself as the dominant force in the region. Thus, they must understand this role of Ukrainians as well. These hearings were useful in this regard.”

Did anyone use the discussion to bring attention to the fact that Germany had realized its mistakes and carried out the denazification, while Russia had never implemented a de-Stalinization?

“Indeed, the Germans, acting as a self-sufficient nation, have acknowledged their mistakes and compensated the Jews for the Holocaust, while the Russians have not been able to erect a monument to the victims of the Holodomor. Instead of closing the Mausoleum, finally burying Vladimir Lenin, and stopping engaging in idolatry which is hanging over them as a metaphysical curse, they still worship a murderer instead of clearing their central square, acknowledging the Holodomor as a genocide, repenting for Stalin’s crimes, saying that the Stalinist regime and modern Russia have nothing in common and building modern Russian history as that of an independent nation, free from the heavy legacy of repressions committed by the totalitarian regime.”

By Mykola SIRUK, The Day