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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

2012, Sandarmokh List Year:

how can we get rid of totalitarian legacy?
26 January, 2012 - 00:00

(Continued from the previous issue)

L. I.: Is it realistic to enumerate all of them?

Yu.Sh.: “Of course, but we have to actively do it. For example, I know that there is a common grave near Zvenyhorodka and there are not fewer people buried there than in Bykivniansky forest. There were a lot of talks about Bykivnia. Though it is known that back in 1941 a German newspaper published an article by the German journalists about shootings of the civilian population. In the Soviet time there were four special commissions and the last one acknowledged that the people buried in Bykivnia were the victims of Stalin’s regime. However, we talked and talked until the Poles came and erected a monument to their killed compatriots. Only after that the situation livened up and there was some support from the current Presidential Administration. The first thing to be done in Ukraine is creating places of memory. I also repeat again and again that in Ukraine there has to be a coordinated center for making humanitarian decisions.”

L.I.: Do you think the people in power do not know the history, are afraid of it or do not know what to do with it?

Yu.Sh.: “I am sure that they do not know what to do with it. I do not think that the current authorities are afraid of anything.”

L.I.: Sandarmokh is a symbol for Ukraine. Obviously, because dozens of extremely important people for Ukraine were executed there. The executioners who subjected people to repressions first, so to say, cut off the head of our nation, tore its heart out and then blamed us of provincialism and inefficient development.

O.B.: “Besides, there are a lot of those who were just destroyed: Mykola Bazhan, Pavlo Tychyna…”

I.Sh.: “Yurii Shevelov and I have recently made the film about Viktor Petrov (better known by the pseudonym V. Domontovych). His publication Ukrainian Cultural Workers – Victims of Bolsheviks’ Terror of 1942 was a real discovery for me. Of course, he wrote it ordered by the Germans; however, he obviously seriously intended to enlarge the topic of the Ukrainian intellectuals’ history. Except Petrov, Yurii Lavrinenko, Semen Pidhainy, and Ivan Maistrenko described destinies of the repressed people in their publications. I have the intention to make a television version of their essays which will make it possible to trace back the painful Ukrainian history.”

O.B.: “A couple of words about the threat of the neo-totalitarian regime in Ukraine. It would be useful to recall the experience of Eastern and Central Europe in the late 1940s. What was the situation in the then society? There was no middle class, there was poverty and some politicians offered sticking to severe moral and political rules in exchange for augmenting pensions and salaries and the society accepted it.”

Yu.Sh. “I have recently explained the difference between the two empires, Russian and Soviet, to my students. Imagine that Lenin on his way to exile got out of the train in Krasnoyarsk where there was a very rich library. He spent there three months and was late for his exile. When he got to his destination he came to a police office and apologized for being late. He was told that it was OK and that he could serve his term. Was it possible in the Soviet time? The answer is obvious.”

M.Kh.: “There were a lot of Ukrainians shot in Kolyma, too. There is an amazingly huge monument ‘Mask of Sorrow’ by Ernst Neizvestny, however, I did not see a single mention of Ukraine. The same situation is in Norilsk: there are a lot of Polish and Japanese memorials but not Ukrainian ones. In Vorkuta, in Yur-Shor valley there is a small metal cross in memory of the killed Ukrainians installed by the All-Ukrainian Society for Political Prisoners and the Repressed. However, in Sandarmokh we can see the huge granite cross, probably, the most beautiful I have ever seen when travelling through our compatriots’ burial places. Oleksandr Riabokrys made a great film Sandarmokh telling about the events of 1937. He is also the author of another film called The Ukrainians in Kolyma. So we have two unexplored places left: Norilsk and Vorkuta.

“However, I have a question to the scientists participating in the roundtable. In 1988 I joined the party and in 1991 it broke up; to be honest, back then I was not in opposition with the Soviet rule. However, I still cannot understand: all the materials have been open: Bykivnia, Sandarmokh, Norilsk, and Kolyma, but in Russia they have erected monuments to Stalin in the town of Mirny and in Yakutsk, in Zaporizhia they have done the same… Why don’t people want to understand obvious things?”

Yu.Sh.: “Most of the people do not want to know the truth about their past and the government does not do anything to make people interested. First they tried to combine the Soviet history with the ethnic Ukrainian history, and now we have the post-Soviet mix: capitalism plus the Soviet-time ideology. That is why there is a serious dichotomy in our people’s thinking. Some say: ‘Stalin won the war,’ ‘Stalin built Magnitogorsk’ but others think about the price of this ‘victory’ and the number of people dead during the city construction. Such policy generates hybrids.”

L.I.: Today we are trying to answer the question: why hasn’t Stalin been ‘buried’ yet? Nearly 10 years ago we gathered at the roundtable to discuss this question: the materials were published, in particular, in the book called Dvi Rusi. Oleksandr Zinoviiev once said a very apt phrase: ‘Stalin was a really popular leader.’ He was right if we take into consideration the type of people Stalin chose for his model of partners’ relations. He successively destroyed all the alternatives. Then, as a result of this negative selection the fields he needed grew and he had special relations with them. Of course, this model is very efficient. After the USSR collapsed a lot of people in the post-Soviet space rushed to the archives to declassify the court intrigues but not to dethrone the system. A mechanism can be destroyed only when a person is denationalized. The Ukrainians are not denationalized. We still have certain ideas about the liberty and private property… However, Ukraine has a very long tale of old problems. The Russian media workers make long series based on Solzhenitsyn and Aksionov’s books ordered by the state. They have both emotional component and historical succession. Such films produce the mass-consumption ideology. However, Russia sells rubbish to Ukraine. It is a neo-imperialistic and neocolonial strategy of brainwashing. It looks like real information warfare. In one of the recent issues of Den we analyzed Yurii Shevelov’s article called ‘Moscow, Maroseika.’ I think its key phrase is that Peter I won by cutting Ukraine off the West. We will not assert that it was all our fault. We can see skillful hands behind it. However, today for Ukraine not only communication is important, but also its high-quality content.

Yu.Sh.: “Vaclav Havel, Milan Kundera, and Jerzy Giedroyc felt a part of Europe and pulled the society up to a certain level in a different way. In this context I have a feeling that we live in the state of autarchy that has recently reinforced. The problem is not that the television broadcasts bawdy programs and series but that they are being accepted and popularized. In this sense Ukraine is getting more and more provincial.”

Viktoria SKUBA: The state is not interested enough in the problems we have mentioned. Can you think of any projects that would help reach out to the part of the society that is not ready to search?

Yu.Sh.: “First of all we have to have high-quality journalism, independent experts able to say the truth and put pressure upon the authorities this way. The authorities have to feel that the journalists are supported by the society. Journalists are to a large extent responsible for changing the society. Most of politics are immoral people (to wide extent). This is a world-wide phenomenon, not only the Ukrainian one. However, there is another question, the one of society’s responsibility. The blue and yellow flag people gave their lives for has been practically devalued since the politicians do not feel responsible.”

L.I.: I absolutely disagree that the responsibility lies on the society. In 1991 more than 90 percent of people supported the independence of Ukraine. After that there were concrete politicians with their concrete actions and they are responsible for that great advance. If Leonid Kravchuk, secretary for ideology of the Central Committee banned the communist party, Leonid Kuchma let the communists to the political arena in order to win the elections of 1999. There is absolutely concrete responsibility for the fact that the Ukrainians have been taken to the lowest level of the social and moral life. There are few of those who consciously resist the degradation but they have to get a signal that the Ukrainian society is alive.

S.K.: “I also think that the program aiming at discrediting the symbols that are very important for the Ukrainians is being realized. This cynical game the politicians are playing today is very dangerous.

“We have overcome the economic directive and are going to the market economy; once we have overcome the authoritarianism and now we are going to the democracy. However, the market we have is not free at all. The democracy we have is different from the western democracy. We cannot just skip a certain historical period. Twenty years is a very short period for history. We still cannot imagine what we were 20 years ago.”

Yu.Sh.: “But what was Poland 20 years ago? Its situation was much worse then ours. On a large scale, it did not have any prospects. Where is Poland now and where is Ukraine?”

S.K.: “There is human material.”

L.I.: It is explicable. For example, former Polish ambassador to Ukraine Jerzy Bahr once said: ‘You were closer to the epicenter.’ We were in the center. This is not only the problem of human material. Those who ‘survived’ are very few but they exist.

O.B.: “The problem is that we have not created any visual forms yet that would show the Ukrainian history of the 20th century. Russian film directors are constantly making a lot of films about World War II even though not all of them are good.”

L.I.: There is one more problem that Inter shows the film about the underworld leader Mishka Yaponchik that has the highest ratings. There is a film that explains nearly everything: The Cold Summer of 1953. I have an impression that we are still living according to the 20th Communist Party Congress. In Russia the well-camouflaged neo-chekism is prospering which is clearly shown in the abovementioned film. We have another side of medal… Our new history proves that the society was ready for the large transformations. They just had to talk to people in the open and intelligent way. In 2012 there will be the 10th anniversary of the first book published by Den, Ukraina Incognita, that is going to be reissued for the sixth time. I think that we set the fashion for the Ukrainian history.

Yu.Sh.: “I have once said that we should develop the strategy not only for the future but for the past as well. Den has already realized the strategy of the Ukrainian past.”

Anna POLUDENKO: How can we make the history accessible? Not in term of financial accessibility but in term of the form and resource base understanding...

I.Sh.: “There is a tried-and-true method: speaking about concrete people and their lives, speaking about human things. The history should strike at the emotional level. When working on our television project I got the additional evidence that we have to speak about people’s lives since life is the best film director.

“Our project ‘The Ukrainian Dream’ tells the stories about a dozen of people including those who do not seem to be ‘victims of repressions.’ For example, Antonenko-Davydovych. He was not shot in Solovki though he featured in the ‘borotbysts’ [Members of the Ukrainian nationalists’ party that acted in 1918-20. – Ed.] case. Those who admitted their guilt were sent to Solovki. Antonenko-Davydovych did not admit his guilt and was sent to Siberia. He went through all the circles of hell during 24 years but he survived.”

Yu.Sh.: “There are three Krushelnytskys among the shot in Sandarmokh: Antin and two his sons Ostap and Andrii. Antin Krushelnytsky came back to the Soviet Ukraine from abroad in 1933! As a result, he and his two sons lie in Sandarmokh. Or let’s recall Matvii Yavorsky. He was a complete Hrushevsky’s antagonist. He was ordered to create the alternative Marxist scheme for the history. Finally, he refused to be paid for his workdays, renounced the communist party and advised everyone not to go to work and not to grovel before the red barbarians: they would destroy everyone anyway.”

Maria TOMAK: It strikes me the most that 20 years have passed, but the places where the Ukrainians were massively killed have not been put on the map and respected accordingly. Probably, it has to be one of the first steps to return our human face. Certainly, we will continue develop the anti-totalitarian program for the society.

Prepared by Oleksandr KUPRIIENKO, Ihor SIUNDIUKOV, Maria TOMAK, Viktoria SKUBA, Anna POLUDENKO, The Day
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