Democracy in Ukraine?

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.

A case of congressional bipartisanship

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.

“Send grain, grain, and more grain”

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”.

Does modernization mean secularization?

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.

A century of Ukrainian American advocacy

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.

Osyp Zinkewych

Osyp Zinkewych, 1925-2017

Years ago, I wrote a column dedicated to fathers – including my own, of course, but also those who served as mentors and helped to shape the person I’ve become. Premier among them was Osyp Zinkewych, the founder and tireless engine who ran Smoloskyp for 60-plus years. Beyond question, he was the most brilliant person I’ve ever known and I’ve worked with several extraordinary people. Sadly, my friend, colleague and inspiration, Zinkewych, passed away September 18 at the age of 92. I first met Zinkewych in 1974 following a presentation he made at a Cleveland-area college about the nascent dissident movement in Ukraine.

Roald Hoffmann

Roald Hoffmann: Ukraine’s Nobel laureate

The small boy peered through the slats of the only window in the attic roof. It was a cold and dark evening – the moon had not risen yet. He was looking for any signs of movement, any shadow at the edge of the woods that would indicate that his father was close by. He was waiting for his father, Hillel Safran, to appear on this night in early April 1943. That night, Roald and his mother, Clara, were to wait in vain, for his father would never again return to their hiding place in the attic of Mykola Dyuk’s schoolhouse.

Lee and Lenin

The recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Va., together with the removal of statues of Robert E. Lee in the United States and of Vladimir I. Lenin in Ukraine, raise questions about how we should deal with historical monuments and other symbols. We shall not take the easy route by declaring that all monuments to objectionable individuals should be destroyed. Rather, we will review several cases, then attempt to formulate a rational approach to a question that is not as simple as it may at first appear. Our ambivalence towards the images we ourselves have created can be traced to the biblical First Commandment, which forbids making and worshipping graven images (Exodus 20:4-5, see also Isaiah 44: 9-20). Condemned by Jews and Muslims as well as Christians, idolatry is the divinization and worship of a created thing in place of God.

On turning 70

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
– Psalms 90: 10
My parents, two brothers and I moved to Cleveland on my seventh birthday, September 5, 1954, just before Labor Day. I started the second grade two days later. We left Frackville in Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Region, our father driving a green ’52 Chevy on the newly constructed Pennsylvania Turnpike. That evening, we arrived at the house on Roanoke in a working class neighborhood that would be the family home for the next 30-plus years. It was a 10-minute walk for me to school and a short drive to the industrial valley where our father got a job, having networked with Cleveland’s Ukrainian American community: “new immigrants” with relationships from the “old country” going back to childhood; and “old immigrants” with roots in America established a generation before.

Thoughts on the new Russia sanctions law

In a bizarre tweet following his begrudging signing of the Russia, Iran and North Korea sanctions legislation earlier this month, President Donald Trump blamed the poor state of U.S.-Russia relations on Congress, rather than on Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where that responsibility squarely belongs. Sorry, Mr. President, the foe here is not Congress, but an oppressive, corrupt dictator who can’t seem to shake his unhealthy imperial impulses. One can rightly accuse Congress of many shortcomings. Over the last few years, our legislative branch has become increasingly polarized, hyper-partisan and unable to reach compromises so essential to the normal functioning of a democracy. Reasons for this abound and include increased gerrymandering/redistricting, the 24-hour news cycle, and increased ability of powerful outside interests to punish Members of Congress who do not completely toe their line.