Upcoming Events 2019
US-UA Security Dialogue X
Washington, DC
February 28, 2019
UA HES Special Event:
Sobornist' at 100
Ukrainian Museum
May 4, 2019   
US-UA BNS Special Event
Washington DC
May 23, 2019
US-UA WG Yearly Summit VI
Washington, DC
June 13, 2019

US-UA Energy Dialogue VI
Kyiv, Ukraine
August 29, 2019 
UA HES Special Event:
UA-AM Community at 125
Princeton Club/NY
September 21, 2019 
Washington, DC
October 10, 2019
LT-PL-UA Relations
November 9, 2019   

CUSUR 2016 - Project I
US-UA “Working Group” Initiative

The US-Ukraine “Working Group” Initiative was launched in 2007 in order to secure an array of experts in "areas of interest” for CUSUR and its various forums/proceedings; at the same time, it was hoped that the ‘experts’ might agree to write a series of ‘occasional papers’ to identify “major issues” impacting on US-Ukrainian relations.
CUSUR 2017 - Project II
Publication Efforts

Recognizing the urgent need to set up proper channels for the maximum circulation of the information/analysis CUSUR possessed or had at its disposal, the Center long focused on having ‘a publication presence’ of some form or another.
CUSUR 2018 - Project III
DC Occasional Briefings Series

CUSUR did not turn its attention to having a DC presence until summer 2012. Borrowing space when the need arose (particularly for various forum steering committees meetings) from the American Foreign Policy Council, its longest abiding partner, seemed to suffice; an Acela ride from the Center’s NY office did the rest. If there was a concern, it was to open an office in Kyiv.
(Not) Overcoming Totalitarianism: The Ukrainian Lesson

UA Historical Encounters Series Event VII:
Assessing Ukraine's Post Totalitarian Experience

(Not) Overcoming Totalitarianism: The Ukrainian Lesson

Dr. Volodymyr Viatrovych

Statement by former Chief Archivist for the Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) Volodymyr Viatrovych delivered during Ukraine's Historical Encounters VII: Assessing Ukraine's Post Totalitarian Experience, Washington, DC, April 15, 2013.

After Ukraine’s independence was restored in 1991 and all the euphoria had dissipated, Ukrainians came face to face with many difficult problems. The problems connected with the newly restored Ukrainian state were not limited to its past colonial status. The legacy of Soviet totalitarianism posed an additional hurdle on the road to building a democratic country.

Ukraine traversed a historical path similar to other post-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe, with one crucial difference: totalitarianism arrived in Ukraine several decades earlier-not after the Second World War- but more than twenty years before. Moreover, it was not just the fact that the communists had more time in which to put their policies into practice: the very first decades of communist rule—a period that marked the bloodiest experiments of Bolshevik rule, when communism was at its most aggressive stage—claimed the lives of millions of Ukrainians in the 1920s and 1930s.

During those years, Ukraine became a kind of experimental test site where the communists acted out scenarios of seizing power and installing a totalitarian regime, which after 1939 were applied to the extent necessary to impose Soviet hegemony to the newly ceded territories of Western Ukraine and Belarus, the Baltic republics, and from 1945—to the states of Central and Eastern Europe.

Raphael Lemkin, the distinguished lawyer, father of the term “genocide,” and one of the authors of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, called the communists’ policies in Ukraine a “classic example of genocide”. Its stages included repressions targeting the intelligentsia, followed by the destruction of the Ukrainian national church, and then the suppression of the main sector of the Ukrainian population, the peasantry, at which the Soviets aimed a terrible blow in the form of a deliberately engineered famine in 1932–1933. The final step was the dispersion of Ukrainians through deportations and the settlement of their lands by foreign nationals. In the communists’ actions Lemkin perceived a clear-cut and consistent plan aimed at the destruction of the Ukrainian nation. This plan did not resemble the “Final Solution” concerning the genocide against the Jewish people by the Nazis, and did not entail the complete extermination of all Ukrainians. In Lemkin’s view, its implementation constituted genocide because it would have meant that “Ukraine will be as dead as if every Ukrainian were killed, for it will have lost that part of it which has kept and developed its culture, its beliefs, its common ideas, which have guided it and given it a soul, which, in short, made it a nation rather than a mass of people.”

During the Second World War Ukraine became the theater of confrontation between two totalitarian regimes, Soviet communism and German Nazism, the center of what the American historian Timothy Snyder calls the “bloodlands.” This bloody conflict led to immense loss of life in Ukraine, which is estimated in the range of 7 to 7.5 million people. After the Germans retreated, the reintroduction of Soviet power was accompanied by the large-scale suppression of the Ukrainian liberation movement that was vigorously unfolding in the western regions of the republic.

After the death of Joseph Stalin, the creator of the Soviet totalitarian regime, the scale of Soviet repressive policies markedly diminished, and a partial rehabilitation of those who had been repressed during the years of mass terror was initiated in 1956, by which point no fewer than ten million Ukrainians had been directly subjected to communist repressions.

Political repressions did not end in 1956. Their targets continued to be fighters for the democratization of the Soviet political system, defenders of Ukrainian national culture, and individuals who demanded the implementation of the right to national self-determination, as guaranteed in the Soviet Constitution. It goes without saying that these repressions do not compare with the millions of people who were either killed, imprisoned and/or deported to the Gulag in the 1930s–1950s. However, these repressions were crucial to maintaining an atmosphere of perpetual fear in society because, in addition to the Stalinist repressions that were still fresh in everyone’s memories, the new targets for repression and arrest were many of the most distinguished and widely known national personalities. Preventive repressions of dissidents continued in subsequent years, and the last Ukrainian political prisoners were freed only as late as 1988. Historians are still debating whether the term “totalitarian” should be applied to the entire 70-year-long period of communist rule in Ukraine or just to the 1930s–1950s, the three decades during which the Soviet government conducted large-scale political repressions.

Zbigniew Brzezinski compiled a list of six features of totalitarian government: 1) An official ideology to which general adherence was demanded; 2) A single mass party typically led by one man; 3) Monopolistic control of the armed forces; 4) A similar monopoly of the means of effective mass communication; 5) A system of terroristic police control; and 6) Central control and direction of the entire economy. If all these features are applied to the Soviet government, then one can easily assert that a totalitarian regime existed in Ukraine until the late 1980s, for after Stalin’s death repressions only slackened but they still persisted; and all the other features remained firmly in place.

Therefore, in addition to the ethno-cultural changes that Ukraine experienced during the period of Soviet rule (Russification through ethnic cleansing including genocide), there also took place a general deformation of the structures of society: the self-sufficient middle class, which was supposed to be the foundation of society, disappeared entirely, and the stratum of the national elite, which should have been at the forefront of society, became fundamentally undermined.

Today we see signs of this deformation on two societal levels (in the relationship between the government and its citizens) and on the personal level, as represented by the absence of individual initiative in overcoming individual and collective problems and placing excessive expectations on the government in this regard (paternalism). The combination of these two factors produces anticipation of a “strong hand” capable of bringing order, which, as previous experience has shown, leads to the growth of authoritarianism. These tendencies are fueled by vestiges of the totalitarian past when: (i) local self-government was a direct extension of the central government, (ii) institutions of law and order were punitive agencies and not subject to public oversight, and (iii) there was a lack of understanding of the place and role of civic organizations in social relations.

These problems also emerged in other post-communist countries whose independence was restored in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Shortly after the fall of communism, a systematic policy was launched in Eastern Europe to overcome the totalitarian past, employing Germany’s effective process of denazification.

One of the key elements of this policy was the opening of secret police archives that contained information on the functioning of the regime, the methods of control over society, and the incarceration of dissidents. In the year 2000, the Council of Europe’s recommendations noted that access to archives is an indispensable condition for preventing the return to ideologies that led to mass violations of human rights in the twentieth century.

Special laws were passed on the use of previously secret documents. In some countries, lustration took place, a process aimed at removing from government service those people who had collaborated with state security bodies. Besides individual sanctions against active figures of former communist governments, whose numbers were small, the parliaments of various Central and Eastern European countries passed special legislation condemning totalitarian regimes. Such political decisions clearly separated the restored democratic states from their communist predecessors.

Considerable attention was devoted to creating educational programs about the crimes of totalitarian regimes: exhibits were held, museums were created, and educational textbooks were published. To assist in the implementation of this policy, specially authorized government agencies (special commissions or Institutes of National Remembrance) were established.

Over a twenty-year period this active work ensured not only the scholarly study of the difficult past, but also fostered the formation of a societal immunity to totalitarianism. As a result of this wide-ranging informational work, today the absolute majority of the citizens of these countries would not tolerate any attempts to rehabilitate former totalitarian regimes, let alone permit the adoption of totalitarian practices.

Until mid-1991, when communists were removed from power in most Eastern European countries, the situation in Ukraine remained ambiguous. With the exception of western Ukraine, communists comprised the majority in the government and throughout the country. The collapse of their monopoly on power was determined not only and not so much by the processes taking place in Ukraine as by events in Moscow. After the failed Russian coup in August 1991, communists in Ukraine, fearing that they would be held responsible for taking part in anti-constitutional actions and under pressure from members of the national-democratic camp, voted in favor of Ukraine’s independence. Although independence was the natural result of the evolution of the Ukrainian national movement throughout the twentieth century, the proclamation of Ukraine’s independence on 24 August 1991 was not the direct result of revolutionary actions, as the majority of the Soviet-era nomenklatura came to power in the renewed independent state.

That is why, for an extended period of time, no initiatives were put in place to develop a historical policy aimed at overcoming Ukraine’s totalitarian past. Only a limited number of people dared to take a fresh look at Ukrainian history and uncover its unknown or distorted pages. Foremost, these people were those who had suffered under Soviet rule. Those individuals who as a result of their personal experiences were loath to accept the Soviet model of historical memory, and having obtained the opportunity to speak publicly about their experience, embarked on a mission to inform society of its factual past. Today it is obvious that these efforts were not enough.

On the state level in independent Ukraine, an eclectic model of Ukraine's past was created. It combined the central concept of its communist past, which was the “Great Patriotic War”, with new elements taken from its national history, such as the existence of Ukrainian statehood in 1917–1921. This model fully met the needs of the political elite, which simultaneously represented the independent Ukrainian state, while remaining psychologically tied to the Soviet era. The model led to half measures. For example, in September 1991, the decision was taken to transfer KGB documents to state archives, but it was implemented only partially. The most important documents of the punitive-repressive system remained under the jurisdiction of the Security Service of Ukraine and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Hence, between 1991 and 2005 no attempts, whatsoever, were made to institutionalize the process of overcoming Ukraine’s communist past, unlike in Eastern Europe, where this process had already taken place.

After 2004, dealing with Ukraine's past changed significantly due to a number of fundamental political changes. Members of the younger generation who came to power; they were less tied to the past and fully capable of assessing it more objectively. Most importantly, the government changed as a result of protests against Leonid Kuchma, who made no secret of his admiration for the Soviet past.

In 2006 the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance was created as an official government body. Its tasks were similar to the activities of analogous structures in Eastern Europe, and its legal status as a special state body also approximated European models. The most important steps taken by the Institute were the commemoration of the victims of the Holodomor – the Great Famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933. Over a period of several years, the Institute barely managed to initiate the process of divesting Ukrainian cities of Soviet totalitarian toponyms: in 2007–2009 a total of 481 monuments were dismantled and 2,754 names were changed. However, this process has not been completed.

There was also insufficient time to resolve the fate of the KGB archives. In keeping with a decree handed down by the Ukrainian president, systematic declassification started in January 2009. For the first time in many years researchers were able to gain access to documents that shed light on the functioning of the Soviet totalitarian state, and information revealing the scale of the policy of repression finally came to light. But the decisive step—the transfer of the former secret police archives to the planned archive of national remembrance—never took place. In fact, the archive was never established. This project was stopped once again, by political considerations: the inability of the Ukrainian parliament to pass a law that would regulate work with such documents.

In 2005–2010, while Ukraine was engaged in reinterpreting its totalitarian past, the direct opposite was taking place in Russia, where archives were closed, politicians began issuing statements about the need to rehabilitate the Soviet past, and in history textbooks Stalin began to be described as an effective state manager. History became an arena of conflict between the two states, one that was no less acute than the Ukrainian-Russian energy conflicts. In this conflict, the Russian leadership sought to impose on Ukraine its own interpretation of the Ukrainian past. In this, the Kremlin relied on the support of the pro-Russian opposition in Ukraine represented by the Party of Regions. This explains why the presidential elections of 2010, which brought the party’s leader Viktor Yanukovych to power, resulted in a radical change in the country’s policy on humanities and social studies, and as a result, it suspended the process of overcoming the totalitarian legacy.

In order to preclude any condemnation of the Soviet past, and following the example of Russia, access to the Soviet secret police archives is restricted once again in Ukraine. Furthermore, attempts are underway to intimidate researchers: for example, in September 2010 the SBU detained Ruslan Zabilyj, the director of the Lonsky Street Prison Museum, who was accused of disclosing state secrets, and copies of KGB archival documents were seized from him.

Today the archives of Ukraine are headed by Olga Ginzburg. This member of the Communist Party has often stated publicly that the archives should not be completely open, and she has called on historians to pay less attention to researching Soviet-era repressions and to focus instead on Soviet achievements.

As of 2010, a decree issued by President Yanukovych practically liquidated the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, which has now been reduced to the level of a government-subordinated scholarly institution. It is telling that the Institute’s new head is also a member of the Communist Party.

In one of Viktor Yanukovych’s first international public appearances at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the newly-elected president reversed Ukraine’s position on the Holodomor as an act of genocide, calling it instead “a shared tragedy of all the peoples of the Soviet Union,” which drew applause from the Russian delegation.

Later, Ukraine’s education minister Dmytro Tabachnyk, without any prior discussion with scholars and educators, eliminated from history textbooks information on events and personalities connected with the Ukrainian national movement in the twentieth century, and revived the Soviet propaganda term for the Second World War—the “Great Patriotic War.” Today, Soviet-style commemorations of the victory in this “Great Patriotic War” take place in Ukraine on the highest government level. Whereas, Holodomor commemoration are generally ignored by Ukraine’s government leaders.

The decision not to condemn the crimes of the Soviet totalitarian regime is leading to renewed glorification of the most odious figures of the USSR. With the government’s tacit approval, one oblast recently erected a monument to Stalin in its main city.

Results of sociological surveys conducted this year indicate the dangerous rise of Stalin’s popularity: Compared to 1991, the change in peoples’ attitudes to Stalin is striking. That year only 27 percent of respondents called him a “wise state leader,” compared to today’s 34 percent.

There is clear evidence that Ukraine’s efforts to overcome its totalitarian past have been ineffective, not only because of the changes introduced into history textbooks or in the results of sociological surveys. Political events in the country clearly demonstrate that there are attempts to implement Soviet practices. The return to Soviet criminal methods, which have not been condemned on the juridical and political levels, is being presented to society as justified and necessary, especially during the current crisis period. Memories of the consequences to which this could lead are gradually disappearing, the generation that experienced Stalinism first hand is dying out. Without a direct state policy, this memory does not accumulate in peoples’ consciousness.

President Yanukovych has expanded his own authority, and in doing so violated the Constitution of Ukraine. He has taken complete control over the judicial branch of government, and politically motivated trials have become an instrument for dealing with the opposition.

Not only high-ranking members of the previous “Orange government”, but also civic activists have ended up behind bars as political prisoners. The president is seeking to reduce parliament’s influence by forcing courts to strip opposition members of their parliamentary mandates, and he is undermining the institutions of local self-government by blocking mayoral and city council elections in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

For the first time in recent years, Ukrainian journalists are talking about censorship. It is significant that its first manifestation was the cancellation of a scheduled televised program about Holodomor.

The government is also banning peaceful public meetings, and when they do take place, they are dispersed by the police. The Security Service of Ukraine is repeating KGB practices, by persecuting journalists, students, and civic activists.

The last three years have shown that new democratic institutions and traditions in Ukraine have turned out to be unstable. Today, they serve merely as a cover for entrenched practices of the Soviet totalitarian and authoritarian past.

Therefore, the crux of the Ukrainian lesson lies in the fact that by not overcoming its totalitarian legacy, Ukraine’s present is being deformed and drawn back to the perverted standards of the Soviet past. This should be the focus not only for historians but for political leaders, who desire to reform the country and bring it closer to the European democratic model. Besides top-priority questions like the economy, state order, and social policies, their political platforms should also include a policy aimed at overcoming the consequences of totalitarianism.


Past Highlight Events

RT XVII Items of Note
Highlights from Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood RT XVII: Ukraine & Religious Freedom, held in Washington, DC on Oct. 27, 2016
UA HES SE: UA 25th B-Day
Highlights from UA HES Special Event: 'Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Modern Ukrainian State', held at the NY Princeton Club on Sept. 17, 2016
US-UA WG YS IV Highlights
Highlights from US-UA WG Yearly Summit IV: Providing Ukraine with an Annual Report Card, held at the University Club in Washington, DC on June 16, 2016
US-UA SD VII Items of Note
Highlights from US-Ukraine Security Dialogue VII held on February 25, 2016 in Washington DC
UA HES SE: WW2 Legacy
Highlights from the UA Historical Encounters Special Event: 'Contested Ground': The Legacy of WW2 in Eastern Europe, held in Edmonton on October 23-24, 2015
Holodomor SE Highlights
Highlights from the UA Historical Encounters Special Event: Taking Measure of the Holodomor, held at the Princeton Club of NY on November 5-6, 2013
US-UA SD III Items of Note
Highlights from US-Ukraine Security Dialogue III held on May 19, 2012 in Chicago, IL

  • Former UA Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko's keynote
UEAF Forum VI Highlights
Highlights from UEAF Forum VI, held in Ottawa, Canada on March 7-8, 2012
RT XII Items of Note
Highlights from Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood RT XII: PL-UA & TR-UA, held in Washington, DC on Oct 19–20, 2011
US-UA ED III Items of Note
Highlights from US-Ukraine Energy Dialogue III, held in Washington DC
on April 15-16, 2008
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