Tape 1 Касета 1
(00:00:25) Mr. Krachenko, when did you first become involved and began monitoring in the process that led to Ukrainian independence?
Well, I was involved all the time. From whenever I can remember…but very very professionally. I was in Canada, and I was the director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian studies at the university of Alberta, and I worked at that institute since 1976. Before ’76 I lived in Europe and I was involved—as much as one could be involved—with helping the dissident movement through (00:01:00) (quite a number of actions in defense of political prisoners, and the organizational smuggling of books to Ukraine. And then professionally very much so when I was at the University of Alberta. And I wrote an awful lot about contemporary Ukraine. And I tended to belong to a very very distinct minority of people who actually was convinced that the Soviet Union was in profound crisis, that this was not a viable society, and that Ukraine’s independence is on the cards. I remember I wrote a book called “The Social Change in National Consciousness in Twentieth Century Ukraine” which developed this argument, and an awful lot of people thought I was incredibly naïve. Well, I’m glad to say they were wrong and I was right. Then, of course, I came here in the end of January, early February 1991, ostensibly to write a book, (00:02:00) on a sabbatical leave, and the book I was supposed to write was called “The History of the Communist Party in Ukraine” but very shortly after arriving, I met a number of people here, among them, a person I knew from Canada still, was Bohdan Havrylyshyn, who had organized the Council of Advisors to the Parliament of Ukraine, and we were just getting…that council just had to get going. There was also the Renaissance Foundation which just … had been in existence for not quite than a year, almost a year, so I was asked to help out in both of those structures, and especially through the Council of Advisors where I did a fair amount of little policy studies, that’s how I got very much involved. And then of course I met George Soros and everything escalated.
You were one of the early observers and participants in the political changes that developed Ukraine…we are looking at specifically (00:03:00) the period from ’88 until the Ukrainian independence was secured and recognized internationally. Can you describe your interactions with government leaders and impressions that you had about their abilities and directions.
Well, a lot of us…when I started to get involved in this there were a number of impressions that one had, and there were quite a lot of surprises. On the surface things were kind of clear, how things went. What was certainly much…what became apparent was some of the stuff that went beneath the surface, basically you have the traditional schema of things…that you know, you have the rise of the glasnost and perestroika, you have the rise of opposition, you have mass mobilization, (00:04:00) demonstrations, student strikes and all that, and it ends with the march of the people to independence. There was an awful lot of that, and I think sometimes when you put it in a kind of international context you realize how impressive some of these mobilizations really were. But there is another side of the story, and that is how all of this was perceived from within the power elite. And that one of the interesting, surprising and, I think, good things that one observed was that the reason why Ukraine became independent is because the political class, such as it was, wanted Ukraine to become independent.
For many reasons, I think. Not the least of which was the fact that they were tired of eating crow from Moscow. That even within the bowels of that (00:05:00) —something called “Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic” —there was an indigenous political class which was forming…formed. There was an indigenous administrative elite, and it did not want to have its life regulated in detail from Moscow. You have to appreciate the absurdity of the old system, which was that you could not construct a pedestrian overpass in Kiev without a permission from Moscow. The number of wagons in the metro was absolutely set by Moscow. I noticed that today the Ukraina Theater is being renovated. Well, the fact that it was built in the first place was considered a huge achievement of the Ukrainian communist elite, because apparently only a couple of capitals were given the status have such a grandiose palace. So, when (00:06:00) the most important function in government was that you translate documents that come from Moscow …you translate them into Ukrainian…you better do a very good translation job otherwise you are going to run into big problems…but you have a whole group of people that are well educated, that have been trained for power, and don’t have that power. So that was clear. Secondly, Moscow was becoming more and more of a loose cannon and one simply did not know what to expect. And I don’t think one should underestimate that kind of springtime-of-nations-feeling that was over here. I mean we are a little bit—kind of dampened by all of this with events since then, ’95 –’96. But there was a very very profound sense of discovery, a profound sense of optimism, and a profound discovery of what it means to have a fatherland or motherland or whatever it is that you want to call it. And it was interesting (00:07:00) to see it in each of these milieus. So I think the secret of Ukraine’s success, which remains to be carefully documented still, lies in a good part in the kind of stuff that happened in the cabinets, in the offices within the elite. I think that that is probably…these are people who are probably….that story, it seems to me, remains to be told. I was once present at an interesting dinner where [Vasyl] Durdenets who was then the deputy minister of the interior, and [Evhen] Marchuk who was then the deputy head of the KGB, and I asked then a question. I said “look, I do not believe that when you were confronted with these demonstrations that you did not have the power to simply chase them away. (00:08:00) I have been in enough demonstrations in my life to know that one good brigade and that’s it…”. And some of them made interesting comments…“why do you think we’d want to do that? We weren’t keen on doing that…but secondly, we had divided loyalties in that institution…that many of our guys supported what was going on… that, you know, we too are patriots…why do you think that we would not have identified with all of this.” Then when I think about how close Ukraine came to some very very intense confrontations. The fact that the military was never unleashed on the population. It seems to me that also some credit deserves to the people who were responsible for riot control, crowd control, control of the potential forces of oppression.
Why do you think that they—Rukh, students—were allowed to express (00:09:00) discontent with the state when such demonstrations had been stopped earlier. Divided loyalties is one part of the answer, but clearly, these very same people who were allowing demonstrations in 1990 were repressing political dissidents in 1985?
I don’t know. I guess I think that it became clear to large sections of the political class that they could become masters in their own home. And … and part of that process meant demonstrations …certainly, what was never on the cards, was an usurpation (not clear in interview) of political power…from their hands. So, these demonstrations were non threatening. (00:10:00) And they in fact were supportive of the goal. Now, bear in mind that they also…you know …even that is kind of fairly complicated because…but anyway, they put the kind of pressure on, they gave a little bit of backbone to some Ukrainian politicians who lacked it. The other thing is that …what I recall…that feeling is how disoriented everybody was. How seemingly so many things were up for grabs…that very little political pressure resulted in some very very big decisions. And you wonder whether it was the political pressure or whether or not these people actually wanted to make decisions, because this country is also quite capable of never making a decision. And the more people got into it, you see, I think it became the imperative of office … (00:11:00) look at what happened with Kuchma, and what he started out with…what he started out as, and what he is today. On all of the key questions of national identity, of Ukraine’s independence, I mean… the first president Kravchuck would never have said this, that Ukraine’s role in Europe is paramount at this stage, that we want membership in the European Union, some sort of associate membership in NATO…and this kind of stuff. I mean, what an incredible evolution of a person. But it is not just an evolution of a person, it is the evolution of the situation. I think there is a kind of dynamic that goes on when you are in the…you know… dynamic that goes on, complex dynamic called the “formation of a political class”. And that, I think, is Ukraine’s secret, that it did. And probably the other thing which is (00:12:00) very very, I think, under appreciated is the extent to which that political class could control the regions. I mean, … there were many conditions that could have been ripe for disaster.
What are some of the potential hot spots that you see?
Well, obviously, the potential hot spots were in east. In the east, what we know about Crimea…but that was the most important thing, in the east.
Can you recall specific events or times or decisions that were made or taken when it could have gone either way?
There was a whole battle, especially in 1990 and ’91, when the big problem at that time was that there was no instrument (00:13:00) —the Communist Party was disintegrating and there was no instrument— to enforce central government authority in the regions, and we had all kinds of groups in ’91 in Luhansk and in Donnetsk. Now, you still had this kind of naïve patriotism over there, and the minors after all were famous for coming up with blue and yellow flags, because that was the flag of social protest at that time as well. But there were very important pro Moscow elements of the regional ruling class which actively talked about separating those regions from Ukraine. And more importantly, well, equally…that of course did not happen…but the other thing was that they would not impose…they could absolutely not carry out decisions centrally made.
Kiev centrally made?
Yes, Kiev centrally made…decisions of the central government. That still remains a problem. For example, there were tensions over whether or not the (00:14:00) flag was going to be flown, you know, and symbols are pretty important. And the extent to which, through a whole series of compromises—not the least of which was to bring those people from the regions and put them into serious ministerial positions in the central government so that you kind of integrated powerful regional elites into the body politic, and I think that is a very very important thing that went on.
How much was Moscow controlling events from ’88 on, and how did that control change, lessen or increase, or change in nature over time from what you saw?
Well, their control…there was a certain amount of control that went through just because of bureaucratic inertia, but basically I think there was (00:15:00) a vast administrative and economic control until about 1991. Bear in mind that about 90 percent of Ukraine’s economy was controlled from Moscow…as long as it was state economy you had to go to Moscow to do these things. What it lost was control of the political situation. And …
Well, unintentionally, I think …it would be interesting to talk to the people in Moscow about this…but I think that they obviously totally underestimated what was going on in Ukraine…very, very seriously underestimated this.
Underestimated the nationalism?
Yeas, …underestimated the sense of national feeling and underestimated how wide spread that feeling was in the political class. I think they could probably understand writers feeling that way, but they had hard time understanding (00:16:00) that others would feel that way, especially in the state bureaucracies. But then the challenge was—when Ukraine became first sovereign, and that big period when Ukraine had proclaimed its sovereignty, but had not proclaimed its independence—was to start wrestling that control from Moscow. And I remember throughout ’91 the whole business of transferring subordination of enterprises from Moscow to Kiev. And that if you used to …your enterprise used to answer to Moscow, you used to have to go to Moscow to get all of these things done, you now slowly had to get to Kiev as sovereignty was imposed, especially economic sovereignty was imposed.
What do you mean by sovereignty?
(00:17:00) Well, it wasn’t independent, but it was… basically the level of the decision making went as far as Kiev and no further. That was sovereignty. And Kiev would then have a relationship with Moscow, and that relationship was then severed when Ukraine became independent. But this posed formidable problems for many of the industrial managers. I remember meeting a couple of them from Donetsk and they said, “look, we know the streets of Moscow very well, we know whom to bribe in what building, in what corridor and what office in Moscow, we’ve been to Kiev three times, and we don’t even know the situation over here…” and that was a period that lasted quite a while, it was very very important. (00:18:00) Remember the whole period of winning the loyalty of the army, the winning of the loyalty of the air force…so that was quite a fascinating period of construction, and it seems to me that you had a kind of interesting dynamic going on because, in sort of …to be patriotic… was the politically correct thing to be, and how many of these guys became patriotic—sometimes they did it in a fairly naïve way—but in order to prove the loyalties to the new state and to try to find their place in the political structures of the country.
In what kind of ways did they try to prove loyalty?
Well, sometimes they would just use very funny words…like one time I remember one industrialist from Donnetsk (00:19:00) who proclaimed his love of “Nenka Ukraina” which is kind of “little mother Ukraine”, I just thought it was hilarious coming out of this guy…the only Ukrainian word that he knew. But, all of this of course, then posted formidable challenges to state building, and it seems to me that, that for me was the…you know, when I got very much involved in these things. I was absolutely schocked by how hollow the state was…
Hollow in three senses: number one, there were no institutions. You remember Ukraine had no National Bank. Poland may have had a lousy National Bank but at least they had a National Bank. There was no Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations. Every hard currency operation in Ukraine was done through Moscow. (00:20:00) There was no Ministry of Defense. The Ministry of Finance did not know what the budget of Ukraine was, because the statistical base was in Moscow. They had no idea about what was going on in the Ukrainian economy. In fact it was only one or two years ago when Ukraine finally could make its own budget, because it had no reporting bases. So you didn’t have any of these institutions. I remember for example when the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations…and first of all the enormous battle that that involved, because you had a unit of foreign economic relations from Moscow sitting over here, and whether or not you were going to transfer your hard currency through them or through somebody else, at issue was not just patriotism, but real jobs. And the kind of serious interbureaucratic battles in this case and in many other cases, as the old apparatus that was over here (00:21:00) was pushed aside by an up-and-coming group and of course the up-and-coming group would justify an interbureaucratic fight in the name of love of independent Ukraine. Of course, at issue was more than just love of a country. And then, to some extent you see how some of those guys were, the older group, was absorbed into this apparatus, and it was sort of … process of assertion and an absorption, but you had the sense in 1991, this was a country that was just moving by the seat of its pants. It had ministries that had six or seven people there. I remember when a high official in the ministry—he shall remain nameless—phones me up and asks me “What is the balance of payments?”. This is a person who has to put together a balance of payments. Of course, so that was another aspect of the hollowness of the state. It was not just the institutional (00:22:00) incompleteness, but you had very very few people who had any experience especially in economic matters of running a country. And it is not surprising that a myriad of mistakes were made. The third thing that I fond very, very surprising is how small the state actually was. You were basically…the entire central government at that time probably had around 5500 people, and that includes everybody, all the ministries. You know you had a Ministry of Health that had about 150 people, a Ministry of Justice with about seventy, Ministry of Education with about two hundred. Well, the province of Alberta’s Ministry of Education for a population of two and a half million had five hundred people. So those were very important things that had to be addressed. And obviously…imagine the (00:23:00) colossal social mobility that took place in that time, where you were basically taken…you know… if you knew a language especially, and had a kind of basic elementary notions of economics, how you were put into a position of importance. Look at some of the top people now, they began as assistants and researchers and commissions of parliament. And that was very important, because many people who worked in commissions of Parliament at that time were put into government, because in that period government was not the place to be. All of the action, the most important action, was done through Parliament, and thorough the commissions of Parliament. That was the institution that had the most amount of prestige, that was the institution that was listened to, and the head of Parliament was almost like Ukraine’s head of state… (00:24:00)
But that was a fairly recent development, I mean, in the mid eighties and even into up until ’89 probably…
That was until ’91. Until the office of the president was established Parliament was the most important institution.
When did Parliament ascend into importance?
After the election?
After the elections.
The elections provided the legitimizing of…?
Those elections were also interesting because of the Communist Party …and you observe the Communist Party as closely almost as anybody has over the last few years here…split after Ivashko’s departure to Moscow …split the office—the head of thePparliament and the head of party into two separate…Can you describe why you think that happened and what the consequences were, and how the individual players got their positions?
(00:25:00) Well, Leshkov  of course made an excellent miscalculation, and there was sort of interesting revolution when that happened. But the key over here was Kravchuk’s rise. It was interesting, he is an incredible… interesting character but when Lashkov went, and Kravchuck becomes the head of Parliament this thing called imperative of office takes over. And what he was not prepared to do, is to sort of take second place to Hurenko who was the head of the Communist Party. And this was almost…at times it almost reached…(00:26:00) I mean, on the one hand you had major policy issues over here, and then it was also an issue of even little things, like who got the private jet…
Of which there was only one…
Of which there was only one at that time, and I remember when the decision was made that Kravchuck was going to get the private jet, and not Hurenko, go on his own … you know when you become…increasingly became…and acted like a head of state, and was not prepared to…
Who made the decision, for example, that he would get the private jet instead of Hurenko?
Basically, there is only so many perks of office that you have available to distribute, there are so many prestigious buildings where you can sit and so many prestigious apartments and this kind of stuff…and all of that used to be in the hands of the Communist Party. And that was simply the decision, (00:27:00) I think, of the Parliament to take it away. I am not sure.
Who was calling the shots within the political establishment at that point? Was there a battle over who was going to do it? Gradually Krachuck clearly gained ascendancy, even before the coup.
Yeah, clearly. But …it seems to me that there were various important factions that were going on at that time. On the one hand you had serious people in the government that were not enamoured of the fact that Hurenko should call the shots. When you have privatization coming up and an important division of spoils you will behave in certain ways—lets put it this way—and want a certain amount (00:28:00) of authority, and take it away from somebody else. So I think that there were pretty powerful industrial groups and pretty powerful people in the government that threw their weight behind Kravchuck, and the split within the Communist Party was really a split along the lines of functional interest groups. The people who were in industry wanted one agenda, many of the red directors weren’t all that red, they wanted to move on economic reform, they saw the Communist Party as an obstacle to economic reform…
Why was it in their interest to move to economic reform?
Well, because quite clearly they saw the old system collapsing and clearly you saw tremendous opportunities for the development of their enterprises and for themselves as directors of the enterprises. I mean, you cannot build capitalism without the capitalist, (00:29:00) and this was the first group that certainly was great candidates for that position. Bear in mind that a lot of them had already started joint enterprises, some of then were very successful joint enterprises. And a lot of this activity took place in the industrial regions of Ukraine, and I think that they represented very, very significant lobbying in this respect.
We’ve looked a little bit at what the elite was doing during this time. How important was social thought and the movement of the people and the mood of the people in promoting Ukrainian independence. We can look specifically at student demonstrations. A lot of stuff was gong on in western Ukraine that was of great interest in this respect. What role did the desire of the masses play…or was it a revolution more from above?
(00:30:00) No, there were massive…I guess when you come out of a period of revolutionary change and you enter into a period of stability, it is very hard to somehow appreciate the texture of that time, the awakening. Denychenko has a beautiful term in Ukrainian, it is called “probudzhenya nizhnosti” , the kind of “awakening of sensitivity.” And this happened in a massive way, and we know about student demonstrations, and they were fantastically important. For every one student there were six or seven relatives. (00:31:00) In a society that was so tired of these octogenarian General Secretaries cynical to suddenly have this kind of fresh discourse, fresh faces, it was extremely uplifting. And they had a tremendous impact. I was told one story where the students were about to occupy a building, … the head of the militia is standing there, and he says, “ok, look, you are going to occupy the building, now let me show you how to do it without violating one article of the criminal code.” And proceeded to help them to do that. And there were many, many of these kind of instances. That kind of big change is not just a major fire, it is a thousand little burning fires, and we saw this in Kiev, but all of it was reproduced (0032:00) in all of the other towns and cities. So I don’t think that should be underestimated. And all you have to do is to look at the old clips of how significant that was. You know the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of people. It seems to me also that the whole business of the masses…you know there is no such thing as the masses, the masses only…I mean, there is no mass. What you have are fairly complex groups, opinion leaders within groups, and all of that. The success in all of this was precisely the rise in every institution and every department and every factory, on every factory floor and everywhere, the rise of these two or three or four people that (00:33:00) expressed opinion, that mobilized others, that were the opinion leaders. The interesting thing is to figure out who these people are, who these people were…
Do you have a sense who they were? And why they were the way they were?
You know, in any…you take any twenty people and they are not…you know, pick them out of a demonstration, they are not the same. You find the art person who reads a little bit more than the other, you find leadership qualities and all that , and obviously the intelligentsia here played a very important role. Teachers played a very important role. You had all of these physicists that for a long time were so…you know, had all…I remember going to university and the most radical faculty was the physics faculty, mathematics, architecture. The most conservative were the social scientists.
Because they were the most ideological.
Tape 2 Касета 2
(00:00:13) All of these…well the social science faculty stood to be very conservative, most ideological, with the fact that all of the pent up social tension, all of this pent up anger that the people had in their lives could actually get an airing, that it could be articulated, that these demands could be aggregated, that they could be phrased into a meaningful program, was extremely important. And so, the role of the mass media over here…especially the parliamentary broadcast…but I also remember how radio and television changed in that period. I mean, Ukrainian television was never any great shakes, but the first kind of patriotic programs that came on…concerts, conferences, interviews, the first (00:01:00) story of real Ukrainian history. I mean, that had a profound impact on people. It was sort of the Pandora’s box opening up, and people had kind of notions that these things were…but it became very legitimized because it was now basically the state media communicating all this.
Who was making programming decisions, I mean, whose idea was it to put Ukrainian…?
I think it was…undoubtedly people higher up in these networks understood that this was now possible to do and almost important to do, and proceeded to do it. Bear in mind also that, I mean you had an awful lot of people that used to work there, especially Ukrainian radio played a very important role because everybody has a radio, you know, through the old hook-ups. And there were some excellent radio (00:02:00) programs and so very many good intellectuals went and took advantage of the fact that you could get air time to do these programs. And you almost had a sense in 1991 that people were just glued to the radio…listening, listening, listening to parliamentary debates, listening to commentaries, listening to a new message that was articulated.
Fascinating stuff…looking at the press more generally…was there a sense of freedom of the press, ability to articulate your ideas without fear?
Yes, for sure. I mean, they were…it got better towards the end of 1991. There were always the shenanigans, they would take the paper away from you, they would confiscate and I think, but the unofficial press just boomed. From ’89 on they were…I don’t know…I used to collect them in Canada, and there were literally (00:03:00)hundreds and hundreds of unofficial newspapers. The advent of the computer here was just brilliant. You could use a computer not only to input stuff, but you could actually duplicate it by simply…just keep printing it over and over again, and many a good printer was burned out in this way. But …absolutely…yes. Although they tended to be quite small in their press runs, the most important kind of democratic opposition newspaper of that time was “Literaturna Ukraina”. And also, when you talk about how movements get developed, the fact that the opposition movement actually had very substantial institutional basis. They did not have to invent things. They had institutional basis, they had the Institute of Literature, they had the Writer’s Union. And this reproduced itself in (00:04:00) …everywhere. You know, throughout the country you found institutional basis for your activity and this was obviously very significant.
Can you describe a little bit the democratic opposition, the democratic groups as they were forming. There were citizens’ groups starting in ‘87 and ’88 very heavily in western Ukraine but not exclusively, also in Kiev and in the intelligentsia as well. Later, I guess, they mainly come under the Rukh umbrella. But you were very exposed to these people constantly…
Well, these were…you know…there was a myriad of these groups, from Greens to the association…the Ukrainian Language Association was obviously very important. But you found that they started out as—let’s take the **Tratchochenko Language Association—they started out as a campaign for language, obviously it was a highly politicized political campaign, and the second opportunities presented (00:05:00) themselves you just went further and further until it was obviously not much point in having Ukrainian Language Association, when the issue was Ukrainian independence. And you had—within that group—very talented leadership of people like Chornovyl, of Pavlychko, of Drach. People with a very very good nose of how far you can get away with things. And, you know, we used to say, that how odd it is that poets ran these political movements, but it seemed to me that at that time very few people other than poets could have pulled that off, because there was this term called tacit coefficient, that they knew…they had a keen (00:06:00)appreciation of what they could get away with before their crowd, and part of that was that kind of artistic intuition that was developed. And it seems to me that somebody who was not a poet or a writer, who didn’t deal with things in that way could not have done this. I remember showing up to demonstrations over here …I’ll never forget, this was in front of —forget what year it was, probably ‘90—the Republican Stadium … Pavlychko is addressing a very large crowd, it is a working class audience, and he is hammering them on the status of Ukrainian. And the crowd, of course, doesn’t speak very much Ukrainian, and I thought to my self, “my goodness, he is saying all of this..” and to my amazement, is that they cheered him, you know, when he would make these statements about, you know, (00:07:00) Ukrainian has to be the official language and all of that, there were huge waves of cheer. And I said, “look, this guy understands something about these people”. There was this kind of…it is hard to describe, but it was a leadership that was acutely aware of what it is that they can get away with.
Most of them. Speaking of those who maybe weren’t quite as aware…Khmara, Stephan Khmara…were you in Kiev when he was arrested?
And were involved, if I recall correctly.
Can you describe a little bit why you think he was arrested? Clearly, from what we have seen so far, clearly, sort of provocation, the officials wanted to arrested him. My understanding is that he had presented some sort of declaration of independence the day before he was arrested, or shortly before he was arrested, on the table of each one of the (00:08:00) 450 members of Parliament. And that was seen as him stepping one step too far beyond what could be accepted by the powers that be.
I don’t know whether I buy that story. Declaration of Ukraine’s independence was on the cards…you know. Hamara represented the militant…a militant nationalist wing, and somebody who was not too prone for compromises, and somebody who was a great believer in direct action. Every movement has the hamaras. And they are an asset and they also are a very serious liability, especially when they tend to be loose cannons.
The fact that the regime was out to get him; indeed true. (00:09:00) The fact that there were provocations with him; true. The fact that they probably tried to use him to teach him a lesson; true. The fact that he willingly went out of his way to make sure that all of this happened is also true. You got the impression at that time that Khmara is happiest sitting in prison. And whatever he would do, he would do. And well, Khmara’s arrest was—everybody knew that he was going to be arrested—so he was holed up in the Hotel Ukraina, defended by “earthwile babuschkas.” And the guys broke in, you know—everybody knows the story—beat up people and all of that. I was standing with some friends—John Hewko was one of them, and Marga—in the rain outside, and I was flabbergasted, flabbergasted by one thing: we were the only ones there. (00:10:00) We were basically the only ones left by about one o’clock, because the small group of people that had assembled over there had to go catch the metro. And you thought to yourself, you know, what kind of society is this, where there is a massive infringement of human rights, and there’s absolutely—I mean they could kill him—and there’s virtually nobody there to witness, to say a word, or something like that. It was a very sobering thought when you went home that night when…you know…to see this quite terrifying act, and no one around.
What role did he play in galvanizing forces for independence?
I don’t think he did an awful lot. The movement had a very big spectrum. The people who galvanized was not Khmara. (00:11:00) He probably alienated as many as he galvanized. You don’t…you know…mass popular movements like that are very hesitant when at issue is confrontation with the police. This is something that thousands of people cannot do. This is something that militant minority does. And that kind of stuff tends to be very destructive of mass movements. All of which seems to indicate that the people who were responsible for the provocation also knew this, that if demonstrations are going ebb with, you know, fist fights and bashing over the head, then maybe people will think twice about participating in open mobilizations.
The miners’ strikes…how important you think they were in Ukraine’s independence? (00:12:00)
Oh, they were key. They were key for all of the obvious reasons and maybe some less obvious ones. That fact is that the miners came out and they were pro Ukrainian.
These are…which unions?
I forget which unions. But the…
Note: Check with the audiotape. Beginning here of Tape 1 Side B?
…miners had a special status in the population. They chose to express their socioeconomic demands within the framework of the battles for Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty, thinking that an independent Ukraine is going to give them a better deal. It probably did, actually.
Economically, yeah. Because…for whatever reason. (00:13:00) The fact is also that the miners in Donbass had interaction with miners from western Ukraine, from Volynnya, and …this was symbolically an extremely…it obviously played an extremely important role in changing government structures and all of that. But that could have gone the other way had the miners, you know, not come out within the context of overall democratic national demands. I think that was very very important.
How did the political leadership deal with the miners?
Well, I think that they basically gave in, which is what Ukraine’s political leadership was famous for doing. It always gave in when confronted with its own population, and when confronted with Moscow, just wait until Moscow shoots itself in the foot again. That was…you know…(00:14:00) I think…it says something a little bit of the fragility of that political leadership. The fact that it wasn’t strong enough to be able to take anybody on. But it also says something for the democratic consensus in this society, that they couldn’t really take people on, this could not be tolerated. Every victory would add fuel, because it finally made sense to engage in political activity, because you could actually see results. And of course, that is the easy part…you know…that is the easy part is to win…well, not easy, but the easy part is to win independence, because you are not bringing about a fundamental change inside the society. Fundamental social realignment, fundamental economic realignment, and it is unfortunate that…you know…you almost had a sense that one exhausted…so many people were exhausted (00:15:00) by the battle for independence. And probably would call for a different type of activity to bring about that fundamental socioeconomic change.
One of the ways that Ukraine dealt with Moscow was by not answering, and clearly, essential through all this was the All Union Treaty and the various documents that comprise the All Union Treaty. Were you privy to the discussions that were going on in the government during that time?
I was observing and I knew enough people to know that that was the name of the game…is to pretend you were doing…basically…and that was much of Kravchuck’s doing as well from what I understand. Basically, “well, we are, but then we have to think about it, and then we have to think about it and then we have to think about it”. It was a tactic that was very successful. It was…as we say in Ukrainian “i vashem nashem” but it was (00:16:00) very smart thing to do, because it did not…it’s kind of prevarication of the same time that wait…allowed the kind of mobilization of domestic opinion a little bit more. And did not put domestic opponents into a kind of state of readiness. It threw an awful lot of people off balance.
Who were making decisions about what was going to happen with the All Union Treaty? What was the incentive…how would different parties align, and why?
I don’t know. I suspect that would be key members of the Presidium would have done most of that stuff. With the exception of the Prime Minister, I don’t think anybody in the government did anything significant. But they would be key members of the Presidium.
And clearly, the Hurenko communists were in support (00:17:00) of the Union Treaty?
They were in support, but then you had a breakdown along functional lines, in the sense that… some of the communist would be members of certain commissions that would have a different policy than Hurenko. And…I think that…what happened with the Communist Party is that the top leadership jumped ship. And their sons and daughters were going into business, they were going into business, this was a sinking proposition, they were jumping ship.
And the way you jumped ship was by not signing the Union Treaty?
Well, that was one of the most important ways in which you did it, by not signing, but you just kept telling that you wanted to think about it a bit more, there’s this, that and the other thing. And the lower group had not yet…as somebody said, the people who used to rub the backs of the communists is what the communists are, you know, that is the leadership today. And they weren’t around. They hadn’t had (00:18:00) time to form.
Very interesting. Ukraine’s decision in early August, the Ukrainian Parliament’s decision in early August 1991 to postpone discussion, yet again, until September, of the All Union Treaty,, many people have told us, was one of the key events that caused the coup in Moscow to happen along the timetable that it did. That sort of…Moscow said, “enough”?
“They are never going to sign”. Did you ever hear stories like this…?
I have heard of stories like that, yeah.
That it was either…either this is the chance to recoup Ukraine or things are going to be lost. Well, of course it was…they said the political situation had disintegrated to such an extend that they couldn’t even pull off a normal coup.
(00:19:00) What is your understanding of the coup? You were in Ukraine during the time?
Well, I was in Ukraine, I was actually in Parliament throughout that whole period, sitting in Hriniov’s office, and it is hard for me to make sense out of lot of this stuff, to what…how real…it all had a sense of surreal, had a huge air of unreality about it. But on the other hand, God knows how it could have turned out. I thought this was really like a…some vast incompetence throughout. I remember we were that night sitting in Hriniov when he was trying to contact the…there was a big debate in the Presidium about the resolution, whether or not you are going to support Yeltsin. And the majority basically…it was a minority that said that “yes, (00:20:00) we do support Yeltsin”…I forget the formula, and the majority just reaffirmed saying that the laws of Ukraine are supreme and Ukraine and no other laws. That was sort of Kravchuck’s position. And that was the night that from Hriniov …he phoned Yeltsin’s office…I think he talked to Rutskoi at that time…to say that, “look this is what Parliament has passed and there is a one third of us that support you.” And that was when there was supposed to be the big confrontation in the White House that night. I went home late, it was about one or two o’clock, everybody said good buy to each other, figuring that, well, if the good guys lose and the bad guys win, there may be troops rolling on the streets in Kiev. And I remember somebody called me up at three o’clock in the morning asking me whether or not I heard tanks down Lenin street. They called me from the Parliament. (00:21:00) I said, “look, I don’t have to get up to hear that, because my window is open and tanks make one hell of a roar” (laughter) “I assure you there is nothing wrong down in Lenin street. But, it was very very surreal. I was absolutely convinced that this thing would just peter away…I mean, the society was simply not prepared to tolerate that. Again, how…
Tape 3 Касета 3
(00:00:13) During the coup, one of the things that people have said is that…I mean…Kravchuck’s performance was very heavily criticized for being indecisive. But, a meeting that he had with general Varennikov—who came down from Moscow representing the coup leaders the 19th —one of the things we’ve heard is that there were very serious military threats made against Kiev if Kravchuck came out in support of Yeltsin or Gorbachev too publicly. Were you aware of any specific military threats or security issues?
Well, there were all these stories about how the troops started moving up to the perimeter of Kiev. And again, it wouldn’t…in that period where (00:01:00) there was hardly anybody showing up to anti coup demonstrations, I should add, I don’t think it can only be explained by the summer months, I mean, they were small demonstrations of several hundred people, and one got the sense that, “look, if you wanted to send a brigade over here, then fine”, but I think that there was a much higher level of disorganization than…it would be interesting to talk to people in the military. High degree of disorganization, and…I’m not so sure that I…you know…sometimes you get…I mean …one would have expected from Kravchuk a little bit different performance, but then again, Kravchuk wouldn’t have been Kravchuk if he had delivered a different performance. And I think that cost him. (00:02:00) There had to be a moral tone. If not on that night, then maybe a couple of nights later. And then, when all of this happened, and he comes out after all of stuff with a declaration of independence and all of that…he was made…this was not his more shining moment…let’s put it this way.
(laughter) Fair enough. Earlier on in the interview you mentioned the oath of loyalty and the military, and the transformation of the military from Soviet to Ukrainian military. The first thing, after declaring independence on August 24th, that seemed to happen, in terms of state building, was the naming of the Minister of Defense and the creation of the Ministry of Defense and the creation of the armed forces. Can you describe what you saw?
(00:03:00) Well, I mean the Ministry of Defense at one point had seven people that worked in it.
(laughter) I did not say it was a large Ministry of Defense…but it was the first thing…
It was the first thing that they did, absolutely correct. Probably the lessons of the last Ukrainian revolution were learned very acutely, because…within the kind of popular critique of the last revolution was that they never took building the army seriously. They were a bunch of nice social democrats who believed in all of the nice things of fraternity, equality and international cooperation when dealing with people who were building the Red Army. That the army was absolutely crucial. And the army…that could have turned out to be a disaster if you had a power…an independent power within a state. And we have enough examples in the former Soviet Union and other countries to know how threatening that was, (00:04:00) especially when this was nuclear. You had 1.5 million troops. The winning of the loyalties of the army, the building of the Ministry of Defense, the building of the Ukrainian general status, I think one of the most fantastic things that took place.
Who did it, and how?
Well, the Ministry of Defense gets most of the credit for all of this business, but obviously there were loads and loads of people…and bear in mind that you had already some preparatory work done through the union of officers. There were a lot of Ukrainians in that military that wanted to have their own army. One of the things—seems to me—that goes on in social movements—certainly went on then—you see, all you need to have is ten percent of people who are prepared to die for a cause, that makes the other ninety percent follow them. And what you had within the army was ten to fifteen to twenty percent of the people. And in general, they would say “we’re going to battle for this”, and if you are kind of indifferent (00:05:00) to Ukraine, then what in the world for are you going to risk your life and social peace in the name of indifference. And so it was very much—I think—you had a kind of forceful minority that was quite adamant about this. And obviously there were enormous spoils to be won. You know, building a general staff, positions and all of that. Part of the secret for success in all of this stuff is enormous upward social mobility in the process of state building. But it was fascinating living through that period as every unit would declare its loyalty, that would be proudly reported in the press. Of course some units would take their airplanes and fly to Russia, which would also be reported…but…and they were the kind of pride that the military…having been very badly demoralized because of Afghanistan and all of that. And one of the things military need is a national ideology, and how—at times awkward—but how interestingly they (00:06:00) came to that national ideology. They were the first ones to remove all the symbols. You know, you don’t find little hammers and sickles on military buildings the way you still find it on the president’s administration. They are quite serious about this stuff…you know…the order went, and chop, chop, chop, out it went.
(laughter) Sounds like integration in the U.S. military after WW II. To what degree was western opinion in policy important in Ukrainian state building or independence gaining?
I don’t think that there was …that it was.
It didn’t matter?
Nobody supported Ukraine because…nobody supported it. What people thought wasn’t important. I was there when Bush gave his famous “chicken Kiev” speech and everybody…and the (00:07:00) only people that were terribly pleased were the communists. But all the democrats gave him a good round of applause, because the fact that he came to Kiev implied a recognition for Ukraine’s special status. And it was quite amicable. But there were no illusions—I think—that this thing would be supported unless Ukraine does it first. So, there were no levers that the West could use to influence Ukraine, because there was no engagement. And that’s just as well. It is obviously a very different situation now because of Ukraine’s integration into certain international financial organizations, but…at that time this was a very big problem—I remember—a lot of westerners were very frustrated that nobody cared what the New York Times said, or the Washington Post, or whatever…I mean, nobody even read the stuff over here. But it absolutely did not matter, or mattered…totally insignificant. (00:08:00)
Starting the fall of ’91 there was election campaigning for the referendum and the presidency. Were you involved in the campaign process? Were you watching it?
Yeah. At one point we…a little group of us…financed a study on what the question should be, because obviously, depending on how you pose the question you can give the outcome. So there was a very big debate about how the question should be. And I think we had communicated the results of our survey to various people. I don’t know whether it had any influence in the way the question was posed, but the question was obviously posed in a very intelligent way.
How so? What were the different options and what did the survey say?
You know, I forget the details of that totally. I don’t have a very good memory. But, (00:09:00) depends on how many good words you put in…you know…like ‘democratic’ and so on…(laughter)…all of this stuff…you know, you’ll get a different range of responses.
(laughter) so instead of “independent Ukraine” you say “free independent democratic Ukraine…?
…”which guarantees the peace, stability and good life for everybody”. Well, I don’t think there was any doubt that the referendum would win.
Why was there no doubt? Why were people so strongly for…and how could you tell?
Well, there were public opinion pollers out. And also, the authorities at the “oblasts” and the “rayon” level all went out in favor, and there was no opposition to it. There was no organized opposition to the campaign. And it was a kind of culmination of…you know…comes on the heels of the August events. (00:10:00) Everybody else was becoming independent…it was so obvious.
Where was Ukraine looking? Were the Baltics an example? Was Poland an example? We’ve just interviewed leaders in both countries.
Well, you know, the Baltics were obviously a very important example, but in the case of the kind of mass consciousness in Ukraine, especially in southern and eastern regions where the bulk of…where such a strong proportion of the electorate lives…events in Russia, there, were very important. These are people that watched Overte …not Overte…Ostankina, number one channel. And so you had a public opinion in Ukraine that was influenced in part by what went on in the Baltics, in part by…you know, Poland obviously had an important influence. But then a significant part of it was influenced by events in Russia. (00:11:00) And I don’t think there was any doubt that Ukraine would be independent. The referendum would win. And that Kravchuk would win, as well.
Why would Kravchuk win? Why was that clear? Why was he popular?
Well, he was popular because he was a guy of compromise.
(Laughter) I’d love to tell Clinton this…he’ll do well.
He…there is an interesting rule in Ukrainian politics. You get elected by the south and the east, but you govern because of the west and the center. And this is of course what happened. I don’t think it was a good campaign. The fact that Chornovyl stopped up and down the country and had a respectable performance, I think was good.
As soon as the referendum passed different countries started recognizing Ukraine. Where you…you must have been paying pretty close attention to who was recognizing…
(00:12:00) I was obviously paying close attention and I guess everybody else was paying close attention, but after the referendum, you know, there were no joyous celebrations on the streets. The Ukrainian character…Ukrainians went, voted for referendum, and went home and went to sleep. Of course the results weren’t in until about the second and all that, but…I’ll never forget…we were sitting with a group of friends of ours and…friends…in a restaurant celebrating the referendum, and the big shock was when Canada…when the news came that Canada recognized Ukraine. Poland you kind of expected it, but Canada…meant the west is going to recognize Ukraine’s independence. That’s a NATO country, a G-7 country, it was just a shock for everybody and many people said, “God, it’s real, its actually happened! We’re now an independent state”. And it was a very good time to be a Canadian, you got a lot of good things. Then we sort of … (00:13:00) a friend of mine made a joke, he said “you know, I’m gonna believe all this, and I’m gonna stay drunk until Guinea-Bissau recognizes Ukraine. When Guinea-Bissau recognizes Ukraine then I will…”. I called him up six months ago and I said, “I hope you can stop your drinking, Guinea-Bissau has recognized Ukraine” (laughter).
Six months ago!
Six months ago.
That’s very funny.
But that was quite funny and we all walked over to the Canadian embassy and had a good time. But that was obviously crucial. And then of course everybody else came in. The big battle to establish embassies came. To establish a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all of that.
Terrific. Well, I think that about exhausts the questions that I’ve got. If there is anything that you would like to add….
No. That’s enough.
thank you very much.
No, not at all.
 Leshkov, Lashkov? Check who he is