The Victory of Ukraine

  • The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine
    by Serhii Plokhy
    Basic Books, 395 pp
  • “Tell Them We Are Starving”: The 1933 Soviet Diaries of Gareth Jones
    edited by Lubomyr Y. Luciuk
    with an introduction by Ray Gamache
    Kingston, Ontario: Kashtan Press, 275 pp.
  • Gareth Jones: Eyewitness to the Holodomor
    by Ray Gamache
    Cardiff: Welsh Academic Press, 241 pp.,
    (distributed in the US by International Specialized Book Services)

In later years, there would be bigger demonstrations, more eloquent speakers, and more professional slogans. But the march that took place in Kiev on a Sunday morning in the spring of 1917 was extraordinary because it was the first of its kind in that city. The Russian Empire had banned Ukrainian books, newspapers, theaters, and even the use of the Ukrainian language in schools. The public display of national symbols had been risky and dangerous. But in the wake of the February Revolution in Petrograd, anything seemed possible.

There were flags, yellow and blue for Ukraine as well as red for the Communist cause. The crowd, composed of children, soldiers, factory workers, marching bands, and officials, carried banners—“Independent Ukraine with its own leader!” or “A free Ukraine in a free Russia!” Some carried portraits of the national poet Taras Shevchenko. One after another, speakers called for the crowd to support the newly established Central Rada—the name means “central council”—that had formed a few days earlier and now claimed authority to rule Ukraine.

Finally, the man who had just been elected chairman of the Rada stepped up to the podium. Mykhailo Hrushevsky, bearded and bespectacled, was one of the intellectuals who had first dared to put Ukraine at the center of its own history. The author of the ten-volume History of Ukraine-Rus’, as well as many other books, Hrushevsky had spent much of his life in Galicia, the Polish- and Ukrainian-speaking region ruled by the Habsburg Empire, in order to escape persecution at the hands of the tsarist police. Now, in the wake of the revolution, he had returned to Kiev in triumph. The crowd welcomed him with vigorous cheers: Slava batkovi Hrushevskomu!—Glory to Father Hrushevsky! He responded in kind: “Let us all swear at this great moment as one man to take up the great cause unanimously, with one accord, and not to rest or cease our labour until we build that free Ukraine.” The crowd shouted back, just as crowds would shout back at Kiev demonstrations ninety years later: “We swear!”1  Continue reading “The Victory of Ukraine”

Russia and the Great Forgetting

In the summer of 1985, I spent two months in the city that used to be called Leningrad. Along with several dozen other American college students, I stayed in a shabby Intourist hotel. Sharp-eyed old ladies sat at the end of every corridor; curiously unemployed men hung around the lobby. Every day we went to Russian-language classes at the university, where we also assumed we were being carefully observed. But in the afternoons and evenings, we were free to wander the city and to attempt to make friends. Continue reading “Russia and the Great Forgetting”

Obama and Europe – Missed Signals, Renewed Commitments

Even now, gazing back through the jaundiced lens of subsequent experience, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign speech in Berlin still seems an extraordinary occasion. Tens of thousands of mostly young Germans gathered in the center of the city to listen to the American presidential candidate, in an atmosphere The Guardian described as “a pop festival, a summer gathering of peace, love—and loathing of George Bush.” Streets were closed for the occasion. Bands played to warm up the crowd. Continue reading “Obama and Europe – Missed Signals, Renewed Commitments”

“So beginnen Weltkriege”

Russlands Militäraktionen in Syrien und der Ukraine folgen westlicher Planlosigkeit, warnt Anne Applebaum, Osteuropa-Expertin und Pulitzer-Preisträgerin, gegenüber der »Presse am Sonntag«. Wladimir Putin wende dabei alte Mittel des NKWD an.

Was bezweckt Russlands Präsident, Wladimir Putin, mit seinem Einschreiten in Syrien?

Anne Applebaum: Erstens lenkt das den Fokus des Westens von der Ukraine ab. Zweitens haben die russischen Medien aufgehört, über die Ukraine zu reden; sie sind nun ganz auf Syrien konzentriert. Putins Politik gegenüber der Ukraine hatte nur diesen langwierigen Konflikt zur Folge, in dem kein für Russland positives Ende absehbar ist. Drittens denke ich, dass ihm weder die Syrer am Herzen liegen noch Assad im Speziellen, sondern dass er Fernsehbilder vermeiden möchte, auf denen zornige Massen Assads Palast stürmen und ihn ins Gefängnis werfen. Putin will den Autokraten Assad stärken, um der Möglichkeit einer Revolution in Russland vorzubeugen. Continue reading ““So beginnen Weltkriege””

How Vladimir Putin is waging war on the West – and winning

Across the new Europe, a little bit of Russian influence is going a long way

Last month, the speaker of the Russian parliament solemnly instructed his foreign affairs committee to launch a historical investigation: was West Germany’s ‘annexation’ of East Germany really legal? Should it be condemned? Ought it to be reversed? Last week, the Russian foreign minister, speaking at a security conference in Munich, hinted that he might have similar doubts. ‘Germany’s reunification was conducted without any referendum,’ he declared, ominously.

At this, the normally staid audience burst out laughing. The Germans in the room found the Russian statements particularly hilarious. Undo German unification? Why, that would require undoing the whole post-Cold War settlement! Continue reading “How Vladimir Putin is waging war on the West – and winning”

Putin’s great gamble is about to backfire

Since the invasion of Crimea, Russia’s President has been conducting an experiment in anti-western rebellion

Since the Russian invasion of Crimea last February, many different phrases have been used to describe the tactics of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Some have spoken of a ‘new Cold War’. Others have described him as ‘anti-western’ or ‘anti-American’. But there is another adjective one could also use to describe his behaviour: ‘experimental’. For apart from everything else he has said and done, Putin has, in effect, launched a vast experiment into whether it is possible to extract a large and relatively well-integrated country from the global mainstream, and to reject the rules by which that mainstream runs. Continue reading “Putin’s great gamble is about to backfire”

When the Berlin Wall came down

On the evening of November 9 1989, East Germans began to walk through the Berlin Wall. Now, with hindsight, it seems inevitable that their story would end happily, that East and West Germany would reunite, that Berlin would become one city as it is so triumphantly today. But nothing seemed obvious at the time, and nobody was at all sure of that happy ending. On the contrary, the Berlin I remember was darker and stranger than any of the “vintage” footage you’ll see replayed this weekend. So many things could have gone wrong, and so many nearly did.
Some of this I saw because I arrived a day late, after the television cameras were gone: I drove to Berlin from Warsaw on November 10, in the company of two Polish journalists I knew slightly. Back in that now impossibly distant era of fuel shortages and pointless regulations, it was not so easy to drive a car across an Eastern Bloc border. We had to buy special insurance stamps, and acquire cans of extra petrol. When we finally started driving, we made slow progress along the crowded two-lane road that then connected Berlin and Warsaw, so different from the motorway that exists today. Continue reading “When the Berlin Wall came down”

Nationalism Is Exactly What Ukraine Needs

Democracy fails when citizens don’t believe their country is worth fighting for

Close your eyes, repeat the words “Ukrainian nationalist,” and an image might spring to mind: probably a man, most likely bearded, possibly with a shaved head and a drooping moustache. Perhaps he will be dressed in a black uniform, or a leather jacket and boots.
Depending on where you come from, you may additionally imagine an anti-Semite or a murderer of Polish peasants. Like any other stereotype, this one will be related to some historical realities. Two generations ago, there were Ukrainians who, caught between two of the most murderous dictatorships in history, collaborated with the Nazis against the Soviet Union. There were some who participated in the mass murder of Poles and some who participated in the mass murder of Jews. Continue reading “Nationalism Is Exactly What Ukraine Needs”

The Unwisdom of Crowds

Why people-powered revolutions are overrated

Kiev’s mass anti-government protests are a thing of the past, but the barricades remain, a shrine to the victims. Visitors trickle through the site, paying homage to the Heavenly Hundred, those murdered in the final days of the struggle. The martyrs’ names are taped to the trees, their photographs covered in mounds of flowers. Children holding little Ukrainian flags pose for photographs in front of these monuments. They don’t smile. Continue reading “The Unwisdom of Crowds”

Russia’s information warriors are on the march – we must respond

A robust campaign to tell the truth about Crimea is needed to counter Moscow’s lies

Russian television news is reporting…” Nowadays, when I hear those words pronounced on the BBC or ITN, I can’t help but wince. Over the past 10 days, Russian television news has reported, among other things, that 675,000 Ukrainian refugees have flooded over the Russian border; that extremists and neo-Nazi militants have illegally taken over the Ukrainian government in Kiev; and that Crimean “self-defence forces” or “pro-Russian forces” have spontaneously gathered in front of the Crimean parliament in order to defend it from those same Nazis. Continue reading “Russia’s information warriors are on the march – we must respond”