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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

Yaroslav Halan’s symbol of faith

6 November, 2001 - 00:00

“There will be no paradise
In this blood-covered land”

Pavlo Tychyna,
Mourning Mother

Searching for ideals for this generation and posterity is perhaps the most important problem of the modern age. We are faced with a terrible spiritual void, which makes those who remain true to their ideals up to the very end even more interesting to study, even if seem ideals seem in many respects flawed when viewed from our day. The hero of this article was one such man.

He always believed that life inevitably confronts every individual with a ruthless choice between the forces of good (the Soviet Union and Communists for Yaroslav Halan) and the forces of evil (i.e., nationalism which was equivalent to Nazism in his eyes). In brief, such was the creed professed by Yaroslav Halan (1902-49). Without doubt, he was a spectacular figure in Western Ukrainian Communist literature and journalism in the 1930s and forties. His dictum was that there is no third way. For him it was always either- or. And he regarded all the nationalist statements that they were fighting on two fronts against both Hitler and Stalin as pack of absurd and malicious lies.

It is impossible to understand Halan without understanding his implacable fanatic belief that the world is an arena of lasting struggle between the forces of good and evil. Until 1991, all Soviet writings dedicated to Halan were kept in a strictly defined vein: an ardent fighter for the Party’s cause, unbending Halan, and the like (although even at the time a sober and analytically minded reader could easily surmise that everything was not so simple). In the past decade, his name has been practically unmentioned; a large number of West Ukrainian public figures regard his activity as a shameful example of national apostasy and blind narrow-minded fanaticism. We will try to show that Halan was actually far more complex, tragic, and contradictory.

He was born into the family of a poor clerk. His father Oleksandr Halan was hard to deal with but honest; most importantly, he was an outspoken Russophile. Since childhood Yaroslav was accustomed to the idea of the giant Russian Empire in the east as the source of all good things. In 1915, his father found himself in the concentration camp of Thalerhof for his pro-Russian sentiments, and this could only enhance Yaroslav’s beliefs (seems like he had finally found the forces of good). In 1915- 18, he stayed with the family in Rostov where the young Galician witnessed the horrifying and contradictory panorama of the Russian Revolution. Yaroslav’s final choice was unequivocal: the Bolsheviks. This meant he would for the rest of his life adhere to the basic Marxist dogma that all one’s national sentiments and interests must be unswervingly governed by one’s class identity. Indeed, he was true to it after returning to Peremyshl [Przemysl] in 1918, and even more so after joining the underground Communist Party of Western Ukraine (1924) and studying philosophy in Vienna and Krakow.

Halan’s tragic mistake was failing to realize that all those noble internationalist slogans were a cover, a smokescreen concealing the process of construction of Stalin’s Great Russian Empire (the opening lines from the Soviet anthem literally read: “Great Rus’ created an invincible Union of free Republics to last for ages”). Did he not see the glaring evidence of Russification in his native Lviv? In fact, he did not look the other way. Consider one interesting document. Halan’s letter to the propaganda department of the Party Central Committee in Moscow, dated September 11, 1949 (a month and a half before his death) reads in part, “I must unfortunately state that Lviv University teachers in the law, physics, and mathematics, and geology departments deliver their lectures mostly in Russian. Ukrainian has vanished from movie posters and is now vanishing from streetcars...” This might seem unimportant, but only at first sight, for the meaning is there. Even though Halan strictly adhered to the official ideology, his national feelings were offended, and he vented his frustration now and then (as did even such noted Soviet Ukrainian cultural figures as Pavlo Tychyna, Maksym Rylsky, Volodymyr Sosiura, Oleksandr Dovzhenko, and others).

Was it risky for Halan? It certainly was. Despite his being formally recognized and respected by the Soviet regime (he was a deputy of the Lviv City Soviet, board member of the Ukrainian SSR Writers Union, and Lviv correspondent of Radianska Ukrayina (the newspaper Soviet Ukraine, organ of the Communist Party {Bolshevik} of Ukraine Central Committee), in 1948, after an attempt to take a more independent stand, the writer lost his job as correspondent). His wife Hanna had been purged in 1937 as an alleged spy, Ukrainian fascist, and enemy of the people. Any time any day the NKVD could remember what was written about Halan in a secret file (published in the early 1990s, along with other NKVD records): “Hanna Halan, a devout Ukrainian nationalist and fascist... Her husband, Yaroslav Halan, is a member of the counterrevolutionary fascist organization UVO-OUN (Ukrainian Military Organization and its successor, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists — Ed.) and an agent of the Polish secret service in Lvov. Hanna Halan sent spy letters, informing her husband about her counterrevolutionary work in Ukraine.”

It was a real sword of Damocles, yet shortly after the so-called reunification of Western Ukraine with its Soviet brother, in 1940, he started visiting offices and writing letters, trying to get her out of prison (he did not know that 25-year-old Hanna, who had always dreamed of living in the USSR, had been shot in an NKVD cellar). Then the war started and Halan was too busy working for the Taras Shevchenko Radio Station, broadcasting Communist propaganda in Ukrainian. Eventually, he remarried.

Conformity could never become his main trait. February 27, 1947, Halan addressed a meeting of Soviet and Party functionaries in Lviv, citing scandalous examples of neglecting people’s basic needs (the university auditoriums were so cold the ink froze in the pots, there was an acute shortage of bread and what bread was sold was of dreadful quality). “Shame on you!” he exclaimed. And this at a time when, as some writers joked grimly, criticizing any official ranking higher than the head of a local housing authority was viewed as an encroachment on the fundamentals of the social system.

Polish writer Jerzy Putrament helps construct a purely human image of Yaroslav Halan: “A thickset fair-haired man of medium height, with a lock of hair invariably hanging over his eyes, a little squinty, habitually unlucky, something of a womanizer, and very pleasant to deal with.” Despite his Communist persuasions, Halan never got used to a host of things in the Soviet environment. “I know that I must address a Russian by his first name and patronymic for the sake of politeness,” he wrote in a letter dated 1948, “but memory plays me false now and then, although I have lived in the USSR for nine years.” Those believing Halan to be a thickheaded fanatic, a “man made of steel,” will be surprised to hear the following excerpt from a letter addressed by his brother Ivan (incidentally, a very interesting individual combining Communist and Tolstoyan views): “You write about getting old at thirty. This is ridiculous. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Are you inwardly crippled or something?”

This was a far from one-dimensional man, he was not a tin soldier on the ideological front. Still, he served the Stalinist devil. The following excerpts are from his articles dating to the 1940s, the time of inhuman purges, deportation, forced collectivization, when the Ukrainian national dignity was humiliated en masse: “Freedom has been asserted in the western Ukrainian regions, and the bright stars of socialism are rising on both sides of the Carpathian Mountains.” “Take a deep breath and you will feel that you are so painfully eager to live.” (Compare to Tychyna’s “Oh, what beautiful times! Unrepeatable times!”) Without doubt, these authors placed their talents on the totalitarian altar, yet it is very important to understand precisely what made them serve the Dragon?

Then consider the tragic circumstances of how Halan perished (there are still mysterious aspects). The official Soviet story is that, on October 24, 1949, two students (allegedly combining study with underground OUN activities), Mykhailo Stakhur (alias Stefko) and Ilary Lukashevych (alias Slavko) entered Halan’s apartment at 10 Hvardiyska Street in Lviv under the pretext of being discriminated against at the university and seeking his help. He was working on the article “The Grandeur of a Free Individual” (eloquent heading in 1949!). Incidentally, the article had these characteristically Halan’s lines: “Moscow is perhaps the only city in the world to which no one is indifferent. Mankind is split in two camps made up of those loving and hating Moscow. There are no people taking a neutral stand...” One of the malefactors, Stakhur, positioned himself behind the writer, produced an ax and began to strike Halan in the head.

No one ever doubted the murderers’ identity. Stakhur, Lukashevych, and several other persons were condemned by a military tribunal and executed in 1951. The OUN hated Halan deeply, of course, primarily for his anticlerical pamphlets, like “I Spit on the Pope!” But there is also the question of who stood behind the assassins. This is not easy to answer. Perhaps the situation will be finally clarified after the publication of secret SBU archives (if they exist).

Halan was fond of Ivan Franko, especially his famous Stonemason. But it is anyone’s guess whether he realized that such severe dedication to the ideals of implacability and class struggle also made him a “stonemason in chains,” that he was objectively a slave of the dogma. Be it as it may, this was precisely where his tragedy originated.