Ukraine honors Robert Conquest with Presidential Medal of Honor

STANFORD, Calif. - Ukraine's ambassador to the United States, Dr. Oleh Shamshur came to Stanford University on June 15 to lecture and present the Ukrainian Presidential Medal of Honor to Dr. Robert Conquest.

John Dunlop, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, skillfully moderated the event that included public policy discussion and a very emotional ceremony.

The Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (CREEES) and Ukrainian Studies at Stanford University hosted this unique event.

Dr. Shamshur addressed a very enthusiastic crowd of about 120 people from Stanford and the Ukrainian community with a short lecture titled "Maturing Democracy: Ukraine after the Orange Revolution" and then graciously participated in a very lively question and answer period.

As the title of his address indicated, there was a great deal of interest in the ambassador's thoughts on the Orange Revolution. "The post-Soviet period of the Ukraine is over," he said, adding that he is convinced that parliamentary elections in March 2006 which were "the last test of Ukraine on the road to democracy," demonstrated the support of Ukraine's voters for the political leaders and parties that worked together during the Orange Revolution.

Dr. Shamshur emphasized that the government needs time to put into operation legislative and other reforms to improve standards of living, as well as to increase foreign investment.

The ambassador pointed to "Judicial reform, which is also one of the ways to fight the current corruption of the bureaucracy, and bring about reform in energy production, which will make Ukraine less dependent on imported gas and oil." He added, "Instead, Ukraine will develop a stronger nuclear energy program, even if it is a hard decision in the land of Chornobyl. [Our plans] in the international sphere are to join NATO and to prepare for joining the European Union."

At the same time, the envoy underlined that maintaining good relations with Russia is a cornerstone of Ukrainian foreign policy.

Commenting on the relationship between Ukraine and the U.S., Ambassador Shamshur said that the two countries are working together on the war against terror, and promoting human rights, fighting organized crime and human trafficking, and stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Speaking of the business ties between Ukraine and the U.S., he defined four major areas in which obstacles to closer cooperation and greater investment have recently been removed: Jackson-Vanik restrictions have been eradicated; a bilateral protocol was developed, which aids Ukraine's entry into the World Trade Organization; sanctions imposed in 2000 for intellectual property rights infringements were lifted; and Ukraine was recognized by the U.S. as a country with a market economy.

The true highlight of the entire event was the presentation of the Ukrainian Presidential Medal of Yaroslav Mudryi, named for the Kyivan prince known as a law-giver and patron of the Church and the arts (early 1000s) to Dr. Conquest, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, in recognition of his path-breaking scholarship on the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933 in "Harvest of Sorrow" (1986).

The medal is the highest honor bestowed by Ukraine. Ambassador Shamshur extolled Dr. Conquest's lifelong commitment to scholarly focus on this long-ignored subject.

"For a new democratic Ukraine, you are a real national hero ... You have done a real outstanding feat for Ukraine. You have done a service to humanity," Dr. Shamshur underscored. Then, on behalf of Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko, the ambassador asked Dr. Conquest to visit Ukraine in August for the celebration of Ukrainian Independence Day.

"Ukraine," he said, "needs to know and understand its history in order to be able to make the right decisions for the future, and this is why the ground-breaking books of Dr. Conquest are so important for the developing Ukrainian democracy and its current and future generations of historians," Ambassador Shamshur concluded.

At the end of the medal presentation, the crowd spontaneously sang "Mnohaya Lita," wishing Dr. Conquest many years in his endeavors.

Ilja Gruen, a third-year scholar in the Slavic Ph.D. program, escorted Dr. Conquest, and his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Conquest, to the event.

Dr. Conquest expressed very deep thanks for the honor, which is rarely presented outside of Ukraine. He posed for many photos and answered many questions. He and his wife were then presented with the traditional Ukrainian gift of a wreath of bread and salt.

The Conquests stayed for most of the reception that followed, as did Ambassador Shamshur and his entourage - all of them participating in very animated discussions.

Dr. Conquest has received many forms of high recognition for his lifelong commitment to scholarship on Ukraine. His awards and honors include the Jefferson Lectureship, the highest honor the federal government bestows for achievement in the humanities (1993); the Alexis de Tocqueville Award (1992); the Richard Weaver Award for Scholarly Letters (1999); the Fondazione Liberal Career Award (2004); and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005).

He is the author of more than 20 books on various Soviet topics and more than seven volumes of poetry. A brief biography can be found on his webpage at the Hoover Institution:

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, September 24, 2006, No. 39, Vol. LXXIV

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