Tape 1 Касета 1
You were travelling back and forth to Ukraine very early in the Perestroika period. Can you describe the first time you went over, what you saw?
I’d been a friend for a long time of Bohdan Havrylyshyn, who was the Director of the Institute of Management in Switzerland, in Geneva, Switzerland. He was a Canadian citizen of Ukrainian origin, and I’d known him for a long time, and I’d actually done quite a lot of lecturing at the IMI. He became very concerned, telling me about what was happening in Ukraine. He was very closely connecting with Ukraine. Through him I agreed to visit Ukraine, and in particular to serve on the board of the International Management Institute. That’s how I first started having a link with Ukraine. I went as early as 1989 and 1990, mainly in order to set up a link between Harvard University, specifically the Kennedy School of Government, and the International Management Institute, and in particular to start sending students there. The first relationship was established through a link between the students, going and spending a summer in Ukraine as interns in the IMI, really before Ukraine became fully independent.
I had the great good luck to be there as the movement began to develop. I remember in particular what I regard as one of the key moments in the momentum behind Ukrainian independence, when the birthday of the great Ukrainian poet Shevchenko was celebrated by a huge gathering of people in Kiev carrying bouquets of flowers, bearing candles…hundreds and hundreds of people gathered around the statue of Shevchenko in order to in a sense make a protest, make a statement about Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian autonomy, Ukrainian independence. That’s when I began to see, as happened not only of course in Ukraine but also to some extent in Poland, the assertion of independence came at least in part as a cultural assertion, and not simply as a political assertion.
When did the possibility of political independence become clear to you?
Really quite early on. At a very early stage in particular some of the Ukrainian cultural movements were in fact covers for what was a movement for Ukrainian independence. This was particularly true for Western Ukraine. But also as far as Kiev. As you probably know already there were voices among members of the Duma, what was really a nominal form of parliament. More particularly, I recollect that there were people in the world of poetry and the arts who made common cause with those who had been imprisoned as dissidents. It was that combination, I think, of people with a very strong sense of Ukrainian culture coming together with people who had actually been in prison and served time because they had spoken out for Ukrainian independence, for human rights…it was their coming together that made a great deal of difference
At what point did you think that real independence was possible?
That very night that I went to the celebration of Shevchenko’s birthday, I could see that we were looking at a huge and strong movement, and that movement, I think, was gradually channeled into a demand for independence. I have to admit that I, like many others in the west, was very worried about what the consequence might be…whether Russia, then the Soviet Union, would attempt to suppress this movement.
It was shortly after that George Bush came to Ukraine, to Kiev, and said in very clear terms that he did not encourage in any way the breakup of the former Soviet Union. He clearly took the position that Gorbachev took, which was that the Soviet Union could in fact become more flexible, could recognize more the groups of people within it, but that it would be unfortunate for the Soviet Union as such to break up. There was quite a long period in 1990-1991, when the west essentially believed that it was better for the Soviet Union to gradually reform, to change, but not to break up. There was very little understanding among most western political leaders of the strength of feeling in Ukraine.
Now I must be quite honest. There was a substantial difficulty. That feeling was much more marked in western Ukraine and to some extent in the capital, Kiev than it was in Eastern Ukraine. I’ve only recently gotten to know eastern Ukraine at all, but what I’ve seen of it suggests to me that both because of the Russian spoken there and because it is more closely economically tied to the Russian Federation, the strength of movement towards Ukrainian independence was much greater in the west, at least in the beginning, than it was in the east.
Looking at the west, was there unanimity of opinion among western leaders, on the break-up of the Soviet Union in general?
Broadly, there was something like a consensus. Eastern Europe didn’t really belong with the USSR, but the countries that had been since the Russian Revolution, part of the Soviet Union as it then was, Khazkhastan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Ukraine, really were appropriately part of that union.
It’s no good trying to tell an untruth for history. There was very little understanding of and not much sympathy for, the attempt to break up what one might describe as the core Soviet Union, the post WWI Soviet Union…as distinct from those countries that had been occupied by the Soviet army after the Second World War, or towards the end of the Second World War.
Now the West wasn’t going to challenge that occupation. It had accepted it at the Yalta conference in 1944. But if it were possible to have a free and bloodless passage of those countries from the Soviet bloc into free association with the Western bloc, without bringing the whole structure of the rather difficult peace down, I think most political elites in Western Europe, the United States, Canada, and elsewhere, welcomed that. That welcome did not extend in the same way to those countries that were part of what had been seen as a single, very large, nation-state.
Was that perspective understood by the Ukrainian nationalists?
No, in a word.
What was their reaction?
I’m not sure that many of them understood. Certainly there was no sympathy with this point of view. There was a very wide gap, in other words, between those sections of Ukraine and for that matter the other communities, Baltics come to mind as well, who were immigrants, who were part of the Ukrainian Diaspora. Who were mostly passionately committed to the idea of independence, but who didn’t have a great deal of impact on the legislatures or the governments of the countries in which they lived. They had powerful economic clout in some cases, they had individual clout. There were individual members of Parliament, or Senators and congressmen, who sympathized with their point of view, and identified with it. But I have to say that I do not think this was true of the bulk of the political class in these countries.
One reason for that was because the Cold War was very simple. It set one great bloc against another great bloc, and somehow those two great blocs had come to an understanding. Which among other things meant that they were no longer at war with one another and weren’t likely to be at war with one another. I think there was some sense that there was some kind of what one might call negative order, between these great powers who had come to an understanding with each other. That negative order would be disturbed by a fundamental breakup.
We don’t know the answer of whether or not this is true, and we won’t know for some years to come. Certainly, we live in a much more disorderly and chaotic world than when everybody was neatly tucked under some pretty tough superpower. We now have one superpower, not two. This makes for a world that many people see, especially the military, as much less balanced. One example is obviously the whole issue of nuclear proliferation, which really wasn’t much of an issue when you had the great power confrontation. It’s much more an issue now because countries have become nuclear powers, or refused to sign onto the international treaties, and Ukraine has a wonderful record in that respect, so Ukraine is not part of what I am talking about now. But a number of countries who wouldn’t sign on, do present considerable threats to this difficult structure or world order.
One of the concerns when we spoke with Secretary Baker and General Scowcroft that they reported the United States had, was the fear of a conservative backlash if the West had taken a… To what extent do you agree with this analysis?
I don’t honestly think that was the main reason. I think it would be less than honest to suggest that the main reason was fear of a backlash, but that was certainly an ingredient. I think the more that people knew about the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, the CIS states, the more likely they were to feel that. There was certainly, I think, a feeling that while President Kravchuk was in power, there were moments when his relationships with the people in power in Moscow became very strained indeed, I think partly over Crimea, you may remember. There is a more, I’m not saying it is friendly, but there is more a sense of living together now than there was. Since Mr. Kuchma has become president, there is some attempt to try to trade more, cooperate a bit on things like energy supplies.
The other worry was that inevitably under the old comicon system Ukraine was terribly dependent on Russia, especially for energy…it still is. Therefore the concern was not just the violence, although I accept that that might have been so…look at Chechnya if one doesn’t believe it….but there was another major factor, which was the sense that Ukraine could be cut off in a quite savage way, and that later would be extremely damaging to her, if things got to a very tense state,which somehow both sides have managed to avoid.
Looking back a bit before, what about the threat of a conservative backlash in the politburo against Gorbachev?
I don’t think they really pursued it. There was quite a strong sense, wrong as it turned out, that Gorbachev was able to manage the transition to a more…how can I put it…a more relaxed, democratic, and realistic form of communism. He clearly believed it himself. His book on perestroika very much impressed people in the west. A great many people backed Gorbachev. They thought of his as the great reformer, rather like the Czech Spring. But this time it was going to work…like Dubcek. Although there was some sense that there could be a reaction against him, I think the general feeling was that he was going to be able to pull it off. If one met Gorbachev, which I did, and many people did, the impression he gave of confidence, of being relaxed in charge, of being a very responsible man. Very unlike all the previous Soviet leaders any of us had met…was very strong.
It’s only in his own country that Gorbachev is not admired as a prophet. He is still very much admired as a prophet in the West, albeit a failed prophet. He captured a great deal of media attention, a great deal of public excitement, because he was the first Russian leader, or Soviet leader who actually spoke in a language the western world could understand. That was terribly important.
Did European countries, Britain in particular, tend to follow the U.S. lead?
No, not entirely. There was some concern in western European circles about Bush’s speech. There was clearly more sympathy for the idea of Ukrainian independence, providing that, and I must keep stressing this, it could be done without bringing things to the brink of war between Ukraine and Russia. There was some respect for the rather subtle way, by and large, that Ukraine handled that relationship. And because Ukraine has always been, in many ways, quite close to parts of Europe, partly because of the Catholic link with Poland, partly because of the strong artistic and cultural like with France that many Ukrainian artists, having spent time in France, as long ago as the end of the 19th century…they were very much part of the impressionist movement, and so on…because some people knew about Ukrainian composers, Ukrainian opera and so on…it was more understood to be a somewhat different culture than I think it was in America. Of course it was by the Ukrainian Diaspora, but the ordinary citizen in the U.S. would not have understood that Ukraine was a different culture in many ways than Russia.
Were there any efforts on the part of European governments to try to change U.S. policy towards Ukraine, towards the periphery in general?
I don’t know the answer to that question. I simply wasn’t close enough to the government of the day; I was a member of the opposition, and so I don’t know. I would have guessed not, but I’m only guessing. I have no reason to know one way or the other.
You were also watching from the interesting perspective, sitting in a major university in the United States, and one that is well-known for its Soviet studies program, yet you traveled to the region as much as anybody. To what extent did the academic community with which you interacted understand what was going on in the republics during the perestroika period?
The straight answer is that it was a very specialist interest. There were some people who came at it, let’s take the example of indeed Harvard, the people who were concerned at that time were obviously Joe Nye, Graham Alison, and others, with the whole security issue, were particularly conscious of Ukraine from the point of view of nuclear arms, nuclear weapons, but probably didn’t know that much at the time about other aspects of Ukraine. Again another group of people here, and elsewhere, who were particularly concerned with the environment and energy, were very conscious of Chernobyl, very concerned about it, brought pressure to bear to my certain knowledge on the American government, and indeed the European Union to try to find money to replace Chernobyl, or to deal with some of the effects of Chernobyl. That happened quite a lot in the early years.
And I think, therefore, that one has to say that it depended very much on the specific discipline the person was involved in. If Ukraine came into the scope of that discipline, and of course there was also the whole cultural area, then the person involved was often very knowledgeable about that part, or aspect, of Ukraine. The general level of academic interest was fairly low because, and indeed it was, it must be said, to some extent, in central and eastern Europe more generally, although I think more people were familiar with countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, partly because the diaspora is bigger, and partly because there had been much more contact with these countries as they moved out of the Soviet yoke. Poland, after all, started doing that in 1981 with the founding of **Solidarnosc. Hungary started doing it under **Kadar (sp?) by the beginning of the decade. So Ukraine was a fairly latecomer, and other countries had attracted more attention than Ukraine form the academic world. But I don’t want to overstate the case. Most academics pursued their own disciplines and they did not include not only Ukraine, but often did not include any other country in the region.
One last question, President Kravchuk. How would you analyze the role he played in the achievement of independence in Ukraine?
I think he played quite a key role. I only met him on one long occasion. He was a fairly clever leader, but I noticed that as he got toward the election, the second presidential election, he began to take a more nationlistic position. I got the feeling that might have frightened some people in eastern Ukraine, who were really troubled about the possibility of a confrontation between Ukraine and Russia. Whether he would have done better to be a little more moderate, which I think Mr. Kuchma was, possibly so.
I know you have to go to catch an airplane. Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you would like to add?
Yes. The only thing I’d want to add would be…I was casting around in my mind for his name the whole time. I thought I ought to say just a word about Chernovyl, because he was a very key figure in this area. If you said “can you identify any of the key figures in those early years, who would you identify?” I would give you his name. He was key at that point. He was very courageous. He was a great leader. He was one of the people who embodied in himself the Ukrainian cultural tradition, and then blended it with politics. He has never been seen to be corrupt or part of the…one has to say that many people have, and he hasn’t. So I have to say he deserves a special pat on the back, for oral history.
If you asked me who I thought were among the most important figures in those early years, where the idea of Ukrainian independence was forming, I would actually choose Chernovyl, the poet and indeed dissident of Ukraine, who suffered greatly for his beliefs. Who was very well respected and known, and who was known to be completely honest. I think he stood away from the rest of the political class in many ways, and I think that many people saw in him the natural leader of the Ukrainian independence movement at that time.
Thank you very much.