By Yaryna KOVAL, The Day
It seems somewhat unreal today that on January 21, 1990, my fellow students
and I stood with a blue-yellow flag in hand from noon to 1 p.m. somewhere
on the Lviv-Ternopil highway. But it happened.
And there also was a human chain between Lviv and Kyiv, the Ukrainian
wave intended to symbolize the unity of Ukraine's eastern and western lands.
This means it was for the first time in history that we celebrated the
day when on January 22, 1919, the nation proclaimed the Act of the Union
of the Ukrainian People's Republic (UNR) and the West Ukrainian People's
Republic (ZUNR), the nation states that emerged on the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian
and Russian Empires and sought legitimate rights for their people, but
failed to stand up to the tests they were doomed to by a cruel epoch. Inspired
by the Baltic path of the Baltic states, the Popular Movement of Ukraine
(Rukh) led on the 500 kilometer route over three million people, at a most
conservative estimate. What was etched forever in memory was an event testifying
to the revival of historical realities so dear to Ukraine as a tremendous
spiritual upsurge, inspiration, and a breakthrough indifference and universal
Now both the Act of Union and the 1990 human chain are facts of history.
Other problems and preoccupations are now in the fore. But all this does
not mean the two events have lost their importance. With due account of
the fact that we celebrate this year the 81st anniversary of the Act of
Union, The Day addressed some topical questions to world-famous
historian, member of the US Free Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, professor,
doctor of history, deputy director of the Hrushevsky Institute of Ukrainian
Archeography of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences, and department
chair at Lviv Ivan Franko State University Yaroslav Dashkevych.
"Prof. Dashkevych, what is the historical importance of this 80-year-old
event in the light of materials you have managed to unearth? How should
we assess it today, with due account of the political situation both in
the UNR and ZUNR, as a purely declarative or future-oriented document?"
"First about the Act of Union. I think it was not the beginning, as
it is being said, but the continuation and, in a way, the completion of
a process dating back from the times of Kyiv Rus. Let us recall, for instance,
the Middle Ages, when today's West Ukrainian lands constituted part of
the Kyiv state, or that Kyiv had belonged to the Galician-Volyn Principality
before the Tartar-Mongol invasion. In other words, is it not the manifestation
of unity? In Cossack times, many representatives of the national liberation
movement came from the West Ukrainian lands, while Bohdan Khmelnytsky even
said Ukrainian lands reached as far as the Vistula. So the belief in and
the necessity to achieve unity has survived for ages. Otherwise, our nation
would not have survived.
Also noteworthy is the following: sometimes national unity stood above
denominational solidarity. In the late sixteenth century some Ukrainians
opted for a union with Rome, but, still, this did not break the national
unity. At the same time, we know examples when a nation fell apart following
such steps. For instance, denominational differences of the southern Slavs
brought forth three nations: Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians. In other words,
I am inclined to interpret the Act of Union as the completion of a certain
period of struggle for the unity of Ukrainian people. On the other hand,
this document is, to some extent, of a declarative nature, but it could
not have been otherwise at the time. Ukraine had been by then devastated
by the First World War and outside aggression, and so it was not easy to
venture taking a step like that."
"Was the UNR and ZUNR leadership decision supported by the broad
masses of people or was it only a decision of the elites?"
"We have no historical evidence saying that somebody opposed it. Quite
the contrary, all political parties and the public at large approved of
"Well, now we do have the united independent state dreamed of for
so many centuries. But sometimes the Zbruch seems to be in the mindset
of many people a greater and deeper notion than just a river dividing Ukraine
into East and West."
"I would disagree. Ukrainians residing in Ukraine think practically
alike. There is a different reason here, namely, a strip of fear - the
farther eastward the greater the fear. A political and economic fear of
the alien jackboot, of a former Communist Party district committee secretary
turned to a familiar civil servant, now wearing a different insignia. For
more than three hundred years of Muscovite domination, Eastern Ukraine
has suffered massive and terrible losses, and the fear of those losses
is still deep in people's bones. Western Ukraine also lived through terror,
albeit of a much shorter duration, so fear has not yet taken deep roots
there, while Kyiv official authorities have done nothing to allay those
fears that still stand in the way of normal life and work.
What is a burning problem now, to my mind, is the widely propagated
and emphasized opinion about differences between Eastern and Western Ukrainians.
This is not a new idea: this kind of propaganda was rife back in Tsarist
Russia. The enmity deepened in the 1930s, when Eastern Ukraine saw Galicians
in fact hunted down, arrested, repressed, and destroyed. Even during the
so-called Great Patriotic War all Western Ukrainians were recalled from
the fighting army to the rear, bearing the label of traitors. And these
are by no means the last examples. There is also the other side of the
coin. There is evidence that such ideas ('Eastern Ukrainians are entirely
different from Western') are being actively supported abroad, particularly
in Russia and Western Europe. For example, a theory is actively propagated
occasionally that Galicia should be handed over to somebody else, while
we will cope with Eastern Ukraine ourselves in one way or another. Even
pseudo-scholarly conferences on this topic are held. What is the matter?
As is known, the European Union mostly pivots around Germany which carries
out an eastward expansion in one form or another. This expansion touched
upon, above all, Poland whose economy found itself under German control.
And it is clear Poland, as part of the European Union, will never shake
off this expansion. The real point is that under Stalin Poland received
so-called'reclaimed lands' from which all the German population had been
deported. One must be utterly naive to believe that the Germans have forgotten
this. It is clear that when the question is to push Germany eastwards,
the idea of pushing Poland eastwards no longer needs any proof. So I think
the conclusion in this connection should be as follows: what is needed
is as close a unity between Eastern and Western Ukraine as possible. And
for a sincere and full-fledged unity to materialize, one must combat the
still extant ghost of fear."
"But there is a problem: Western and Eastern Ukraine mostly look
westward and eastward, respectively. What threat does it pose to the state?"
"The situation seems to have changed a little. If we sum up the migration
of our citizens to the West, we will see that the percentage of East Ukrainian
emigrants greatly exceeds that of West Ukrainians. Moreover, the image
of Russia as a country to look to has greatly deteriorated after the events
of August 1998. Even many of those who still entertained a hope to restore
the Soviet Union began to think more realistically. I cannot say all those
people like today's Ukraine, neither do so many people of different attitudes,
but all of them have agreed to the opinion that they and their descendants
will have to live in Ukraine. And again, much in human sentiment does and
will depend on what Kyiv does."