“Call me Jim.” That’s how Prof. James McAdams responded when my wife and I introduced ourselves as Michael’s parents. At the time, our son was a freshman at the University of Notre Dame, taking “Jim’s” class on comparative politics.
Dr. McAdams, a friendly bearded man, is a world-class scholar who reaches thousands through his publications as well as an inspiring educator with popular classes of 60-plus, seminars of 10 to 20 and a counselor and mentor who meets with students one-on-one in his office, located a short walk from Notre Dame’s iconic Golden Dome and legendary football stadium.
One of the secondary lessons of the Putin regime’s persecution of the head librarian at the Ukrainian library in Moscow, which began in 2015 and culminated in her conviction last June, is the continued importance of the printed book. This is also evident in the success of the Lviv Publishers’ Forum, held every September, which displays the extraordinary variety and quality of Ukrainian book publishing. And though we see the electronic “book” everywhere now, the printed book is likely to remain, just as the handwritten note has survived alongside the typewritten letter and the e-mail. There is something comforting about a wall of books – all that information, knowledge and wisdom, all those thoughts and feelings, stories and histories, waiting to be explored. As an undergraduate, I would peer admiringly at the cramped book-lined professors’ offices in Berkeley’s Dwinelle Hall.
“The Internal Enemy” is the fitting title of a Helsinki Commission staff report on corruption in Ukraine. Recently, I joined Oksana Shulyar, deputy chief of mission, Embassy of Ukraine to the United States, Anders Aslund of the Atlantic Council and Brian Dooley of Human Rights First as a speaker at a Helsinki Commission briefing on this critically important topic (https://www.csce.gov/international-impact/events/ukraines-fight-against-corruption). For this month’s column, I share an abbreviated version of my remarks, touching upon corruption’s historical legacy, its corrosive impact, recent developments and the U.S. response. Ukraine was in many respects starting from scratch in 1991 when it regained its independence. The Soviet legacy was incredibly devastating – the deaths of many millions in the genocidal Holodomor and World War II, the attempts to eradicate Ukraine’s national identity, including through the destruction of the intelligentsia and Russification.
In his 2005 state of the nation address, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the fall of the Soviet Union, “the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the century.” Few outside of Russia would agree, but apparently that’s what he believes. So how did Mr. Putin celebrate the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution that brought Vladimir Lenin and global communism to power? He didn’t. For 75 years, November 7 was the principal holiday for Russia, Ukraine and the other 13 “republics” spread across a dozen time zones in the USSR and after World War II, extending west to Central European “satellites” (Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, etc.) and countries on other continents allied with Moscow (Cuba, China, Angola, etc.). Schools, factories and enterprises closed for parades, concerts, speeches and rivers of vodka.
A statue of military and political leader Symon Petliura (1879-1926) was unveiled in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, on October 14, Defender of Ukraine Day. It is hardly aggressive: Petliura is neither standing nor astride a warhorse, but sitting with a map of Ukraine in his hands. The monument is sited in an area known as Yerusalymka, some 200 meters from a functioning Jewish synagogue. The very next day, the Russian news agency RT published an article titled “Ukraine opens monument to nationalist icon Petliura responsible for anti-Jewish pogroms” (https://on.rt.com/8pv6). Claiming (falsely) that Petliura headed the Ukrainian People’s Republic (also known as the Ukrainian National Republic) in 1917-1921, it points out (correctly) that during this time, “between 35,000 and 50,000 Jews were killed in a string of pogroms.” The article notes that Petliura was assassinated in Paris in 1926 by Sholom Schwartzbard, whom a Paris court acquitted on the grounds that, since 15 of his relatives had been killed in the pogroms, his was a crime of passion.
Speaking to a group of some 200 university students in Ukraine in 2016, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared, “You have had three revolutions in 25 years: Independence, the Orange Revolution and the Maidan. It is time to stop having revolutions and to start governing.”
“The students burst into applause and onto to their feet,” writes Dr. Rice in her latest book, “Democracy: Stories from The Long Road to Freedom.” She adds, “The Ukrainians are tired of drama, I thought. Can’t their leaders see?”
Dr. Rice devotes the first chapter of her book to “The American Experience,” focusing on the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident – that all men are created equal.” She then reviews the intense debate that emerged during the writing and ratification of the American Constitution. Fortunately for us, America’s founders understood human nature. “I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man,” wrote James Madison in the “Federalist Papers.” The greater good, not the perfect good, became their goal.
Recently, one of the nation’s most prominent Democrats, longtime senator and former Vice-President Joe Biden presented the Liberty Medal to Sen. John McCain, an icon of the Republican Party. The two consider themselves friends, despite many disagreements over national security matters during the course of their many decades of public life. Both men, notwithstanding party affiliation, are internationalists who strongly believe in an America committed to international peace and stability and the defense of human rights, democracy, freedom and justice. Not coincidentally, both men have also been among Ukraine’s strongest supporters, reflecting a bipartisan consensus. Growing partisanship has been rife on Capitol Hill in recent years, leading to polarization and dysfunction.
Thus wrote Vladimir Lenin in 1918 to his followers in Ukraine. Lenin never wavered in his exploitation of Ukraine and its people. Nor did his gangster heirs. “Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine” by Anne Applebaum is easy to read and difficult: easy because it is written with the author’s fluid clarity confirming what we’ve known for decades; hard because her subject is the Holodomor with all of its ghastly facets. Reviewing “Red Famine” in the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard described how Ms. Applebaum “makes it clear beyond debate that the Holodomor …was a crime comparable with anything committed by the Nazis – a view that has caused some controversy but is so patently obvious after reading her book as to make the controversy seem ridiculous”.
A commentary on the website of the Stockholm-based Gapminder Foundation (as in “mind the gap – in your knowledge”), which encourages the proper understanding and use of statistics on global development, notes that one source of our misconceptions is notions we acquired in school that are no longer true, or at least have become questionable. As an example, I would cite the “secularization thesis.” This is the idea, originating in the 18th century Enlightenment, that as humanity develops, it abandons religion along with superstition and other irrational beliefs. In other words, modernization entails secularization. Modernization, to be sure, has many meanings: socio-economic development, scientific advances, technical-industrial progress, freedom and democratization, the rule of law and so on. So does secularization (for a discussion, see Jose Casanova, “Public Religions in the Modern World,” 1994, chap.
Ukrainian-Americans have been advocating for Ukraine in Washington for a long time, beginning 100 years ago with the proclamation of a “Ukrainian Day” by President Woodrow Wilson based on a joint congressional resolution. Our community’s work, especially with the U.S. Congress, has continued with greater or lesser degrees of intensity throughout the last century. Efforts in support of Ukraine continue to this day. In some respects, the task has become easier as, since its independence, Ukraine has developed an impressive array of friends and supporters in Washington. We also have official Ukrainian government representation through the Embassy of Ukraine and through numerous visits and other interactions between Ukrainian officials and their U.S. counterparts. In other respects, the task has become more challenging as there are so many issues that require attention in what is a very dynamic and multifaceted U.S.-Ukraine relationship, especially since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2014. Therefore, the role of the Ukrainian American community remains as important now as it has ever been, notwithstanding the more favorable landscape of strong U.S. support for Ukraine. Ukrainian American advocacy has been manifested in many ways throughout the decades.