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Ivan Dzyuba urges to honor those who perished in the Great Famine of 1933
Ivan Dzyuba, a prominent Ukrainian author, academician and recipient of the Honorary Title of Hero of Ukraine, talks to Oleh ROMANCHUK, editor in chief of the magazine Universum.
The interview took place at an exhibition, Svichky pam’yati (Candles of Memory) held at the Ukrayinsky Dim Culture Center in commemoration of the Ukrainians who died in the Great Famine of the 1930s and during repressions of the Stalin era.
After many years of complete suppression by the soviet regime of any true information about Holodomor (Great Famine), do you think the people of Ukraine have been exposed to an adequate information about it in recent years?
I think that a lot has been already said about that great tragedy and there’s no need to inform the people about the basic facts. But at the same time, one can’t help being surprised at continuing attempts on the part of people of certain political leanings to deny these facts. Such a position is a residue of the soviet type of thinking and has an anti-Ukrainian nature. How can anyone in their right mind deny the facts that have been amply proven? And one of such proofs is the current exhibition. On display are soviet documents, documents of soviet secret services — they are hard evidence and not American or any other western insinuations. Most of the documents are not available any longer simply because the soviets destroyed them, and what is shown is only a small part of what must have existed. But what little has survived is an evidence of the terrible tragedy.
In addition to the famine, other repressive measures were used against the Ukrainian intelligentsia. Stalin was a master of “preventive strikes” aimed at destroying anyone who might be potentially dangerous to him. When he was preparing a destructive action, Stalin thought out every detail very thoroughly and checked out all possible sources of resistance to him and his policies. When the famine initially struck, probably it was not at first thought to be so disastrous, but later, when it was realized it could be used as a means of repression, the famine became a horrible tool of dealing such a blow to Ukraine and particularly to its peasants that this country or its people would never pose any problems to Stalin. He planned to solve many problems — political, economic and “human” — in one devastating blow. And the massive famine was his tool of “solving” the problems. The Ukrainian intelligentsia was regarded as a possible source of resistance and to prevent Ukrainian intellectuals from taking some action, “preemptive blow” was delivered.
As a matter of fact, repressions against the Ukrainian intelligentsia began as early as 1929 and they only increased with the passage of time. Hundreds of thousands of people were arrested and imprisoned or put into concentration camps — teachers, scientists, managers, that is the most active part of Ukrainian society. Those who were not arrested or executed were demoralized; they lived in fear of arrest or persecution. The intelligentsia was so undermined that it could pose no resistance to the famine.
The consequences of those tragic events can still be felt now.
Very much so. The consequences for Ukraine were disastrous. The results of the famine and terror unleashed against the Ukrainian intelligentsia should be looked upon in the context of the Ukrainian history, in the context of vulgar dogmas being imposed upon society. If one looks at the events of the famine and terror against the intelligentsia, it becomes absolutely clear that all of it was directed against Ukraine, against the Ukrainian people, against the Ukrainian nation in general.
It seems that even at present we have quite a few examples of anti-Ukrainian language and culture policies.
Yes, you are right. There are speculations on what the anti-Ukrainian forces call “the level that has been reached.” They speak of “the real state of things” — a large part of Ukrainian people speak Russian, and it must be reckoned with. Of course, it must be reckoned with, but any intelligent person, politicians and public figures in particular, must be aware of the facts and should know how this “state of things” has come about. If you look back into history, if you remember persecutions, terror, famines, you’ll see that “the level that has been reached,” “the real state of things” are based on blood, on innumerable victims and as such a state of things cannot be regarded as “normal.” We have to do something in order to make people understand the reasons of the present-day state of things. We have to do something about compensating the losses that the Ukrainian culture has suffered; we must support the Ukrainian language. But every time we raise our voices in defense of the Ukrainian language and of Ukrainian culture, it is interpreted by our unscrupulous opponents as a move against Russian language. It is surely a very cynical type of thinking because accusations of being “nationalist” is directed against millions of Ukrainians who know the Russian language and Russian culture, and feel quite comfortable in the realm of Russian culture — we have nothing against it. We stand for giving the Ukrainian language and culture normal conditions of existence. Those who accuse us of being nationalists, of being nationalistically narrow-minded, and of so many other things depending on those who engage in these accusations, don’t know Ukrainian language and they don’t want to know it. They don’t want it — all right, it’s their own business, but they should at last have some respect for it and they should not prevent those who want to know and to learn from learning! But they do make attempts to interfere and prevent people from learning Ukrainian culture and language. In the Crimea, for example, people are incited to protest against Ukrainian schools, and not only those who are on the margins of society get involved in these protests. There are many examples of such attitudes in the Land of Donechchyna too. That is, they do not want to know the Ukrainian language and culture and they don’t want to let others know either. It’s a very difficult situation!
Such anti-Ukrainian processes were not observed under the previous ministers of culture, but in recent times this process has been stepped up. Can the Ministry of Culture do something about it and put an end to such anti-Ukrainian movement? How can the officials be made to realize that they are part of the Ukrainian state, that they are Ukrainian citizens and as such should support the Ukrainian ideals?
I think the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine can do nothing to help in this matter if it acts all by itself. The Ministry does not get proper financing from the state; it does not have proper mechanisms to do something about it. The Ministry is treated as a poor relative by the government though in a country like ours it should be invested with many rights, it should be one of the leading ministries, and well-financed too — only then the Ministry would be able to influence the cultural processes. The Ministry did try to do something, and will continue doing something, but it’s not enough. The Ministry’s status and financing should be changed, only then it could become more effective.
Culture is a very powerful weapon. The Baltic states have amply demonstrated it. Culture can play a major role in self-identification of people or a nation. The Kremlin understands it well and continues to interfere with the Ukrainian information space.
Yes, that’s true. The main thing now is for us to keep speaking about it, to keep struggling for the Ukrainian language and culture. If we had a powerful movement for the Ukrainian language and culture, for changes in the political and economic matters at the grass-roots level, then the powers that be would have to pay heed. But unfortunately there is no real pressure from below. Take for example the court ruling that invalidated the decree of the previous Cabinet of Ministers concerning the dubbing of foreign films or providing subtitles for them. First of all, I can’t understand why it is that a local or a district is empowered to pass a ruling on matters that are of a constitutional concern and have a bearing on the state policies. Probably there is some legal foundation to it, but in one of the papers I read an article in which the supporters of the Ukrainian language and those who struggle for its survival are called “Bandera bandits.” For saying such things the author should have been taken to court but there has been not a single case when someone was tried for disrespect for the Ukrainian language or for offensive statements against it. Neither has anyone been tried for abuse of power or for crimes in the sphere of economy. I insist that there must be some movement at the grass-roots level, and we, Ukrainian intellectuals, are guilty of not doing enough in this respect. I often see people at the newspaper and magazine stands who look to be intellectual but who choose to buy newspapers or magazines in Russian rather than in Ukrainian though these newspapers or magazines are available in both languages — Russian and Ukrainian. The prominent Ukrainian public and culture figure of the nineteenth century Drahomanov said that “every penny spent on books or words which are not Ukrainian, is a nail in the coffin of the Ukrainian language.” Probably it is too categorical a statement but if you consider yourself to be a Ukrainian intellectual and you don’t want to buy Ukrainian books or newspapers, who is going to do it? It’s a fact though at first glance it does not seem to be that important. There are millions of people who ignore publications in Ukrainian. We, Ukrainians, cede positions at every step, we lose our faith and our Ukrainianness. If we, all of us, lived by Ukrainian ideals in our private life, if we provided examples to follow in caring for Ukrainian culture, in proper behavior, in honesty, it would be of a great significance. But unfortunately, there are not too many of us who do it.
Ukraine, 1775 by Anatoliy Haydamaka.
Taras Shevchenko by Natalka Lytovchenko.