President Victor Yanukovych seems to be repeating a major mistake Yushchenko initially made when he came into office, namely doling out government posts as return political favours instead of appointing the best people for the job. Judging from the list of ministers approved by the Rada on Thursday, Yanukovych said “thank you” to the Communists, his own Party of the Regions and the Lytvyn Bloc for their support during a tight election race he won by just over 880,000 votes. (The communists may have given Yanukovych the edge in the second round. In the first round of elections, commie leader Petro Symonenko attracted more than 870,000 votes).
Various groups and centres of power are represented and the new cabinet’s staying power will depend on Yanukovych’s abilities to keep the various players' appetites satisfied or in check, especially where business interests overlap. The new cabinet, led by 62-year-old Nikolai Azarov, was supported by an unconvincing 240 member majority in parliament. Yanukovych wields the spectre of dismissing the Rada to keep the newly-formed majority together. Yanukovych is also far more authoritarian in his leadership style than Yushchenko ever was and Yanukovych does not have an “ally” of Tymoshenko’s calibre to tend to. But internal contradictions and competition do exist and the challenge for this government to stay in power will be keeping everybody happy from capitalist Akhmetov to communist Symonenko. That means more back room dealings and (up to) two more years of the worst parliament the country has ever seen.
The people Yanukovych has brought to the nation’s helm are throwbacks to the Kuchma days. They will try to reverse many of the democratic advances made in the last five years. This is especially true when it comes to dealing with the dark pages of Ukraine’s Soviet past.
One of Yushchenko’s most progressive moves was the declassification of all Soviet secret police archives up until 1991. The State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) opened up the archives, put a young team of researchers in charge and made the materials accessible to the general public. People could now find out the truth about what happened to their relatives or pay researchers to find that out.
But now Yanukovych has made Valery Khoroshkovsky – a billionaire with an opaque past and even murkier business interests in Russia and Ukraine – in charge of the SBU. It’s like making Ted Turner or Donald Trump the head of the CIA: he may look nice on TV, but he’s not in his league. That means that other people will be pulling his strings and those others are old KGB pros. Kremlinologists rejoice!
Yanukovych promptly got rid of the young team working on declassified Soviet archives. And newly-appointed SBU chief Khoroshkovsky announced a review of declassification policies. “The special service’s main concern is the protection of its secrets,” Khoroshkovsky was quoted by UNIAN on March 11. In this statement Khoroshkovsky betrays his bias: as far as he’s concerned, it might as well be the KGB he’s heading. He cannot make a distinction between the pre-1991 Soviet era and Independent Ukraine. This is the problem with “komsomol” members of the country’s ruling elite: it’s all one big game for them. They don’t care what the country’s called, what colour flag is flown, language spoken – as long as they are in power and making money.
I am glad to have had the opportunity to work with declassified Soviet archives within the past five years. I have learned much about the fate of my family, whose name has been demonized by the Kremlin, communists and their fellow-travelling academics in the West. In the process, I gained some valuable insights into what Stepan Bandera was thinking before war broke out between Nazi Germany and the USSR.
In his relatively balanced piece in the Moscow Times on Bandera, Alex Motyl wrote that the Nazis actually did Bandera a favour by imprisoning him “in Sachsenhausen and inadvertently saving him and his supporters from a collaborationist and possibly fascist fate.” (‘Difficult task defining Bandera’s historic role,’ March 11.)
I am not sure what Motyl’s sources are for this assertion, but my work in the KGB archives revealed quite a different picture: Bandera had no illusions about what Nazi rule meant for Ukraine or what the Nazi thought about Ukrainians.
I found the following bit of incidental information in the transcripts of the interrogation of Fr. Andriy Bandera – Stepan Bandera’s father. He was arrested in Western Ukraine in May 1941 and executed in Kyiv on July 10, 1941. He was shot by a firing squad as the Soviets prepared to flee Kyiv ahead of the Nazi advance just because he was the father of an anti-Soviet leader.
During one of his tortuous interrogations (I say tortuous because the transcripts indicate the interrogations lasted for hours but only a few questions were asked) Fr. Bandera was asked about the purpose of Stepan Bandera’s trips to Rome. Stepan had been in Rome on two occasions in 1939 and 1940 and passed along a cross for his father-priest through a courier. Stepan’s younger brother Oleksa lived in Rome where he completed a Ph.D. in Political Economy and married an Italian girl named Maria. (He was later killed in Auschwitz). But what the Soviet interrogator really wanted to know was the political purpose of Bandera’s trips to Rome.
Under extreme duress, Fr. Andriy Bandera told his interrogator that Stepan went to Rome for talks with the “Sicilian government” to negotiate a safe haven for Ukrainian soldiers in the event of defeat, because “the Germans could not be counted on” in the war against the USSR. The interrogator tried to break Fr. Andriy Bandera and he did reveal more information about Stepan and his seven children – five of whom were members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).
By 1941, Bandera and the other OUN leaders had ample proof of the Nazis attitude towards Ukraine and Ukrainians. How could they harbour any illusions after reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf, where Ukrainians lands are designated as the “living space” (lebensraum) for all the beautiful, blonde and blue-eyed Aryans with the local Slavs serving as slaves.
In 1939, OUN’s leaders saw firsthand what the Nazis thought of Ukrainian independence, when independence was proclaimed in the city of Khust on the Ides of March by Transcarpathian Ukraine (Zakarpattya). Fr. Avhustyn Voloshyn was elected president by parliament. The Nazis ignored the proclamation and helped Miklos Horty and his Hungarian fascist forces crush that independence in three days’ time in the Battle of Krasne Pole. There, Ukrainians were the fact first in Eastern Europe to do battle with fascist forces. Thus, OUN had very real proof of what Hitler and the Nazis thought about Ukraine and Ukrainians.
The Kremlin, communists and Yanukovych accuse Yushchenko of falsifying history. But the sad reality is that an accurate account of Ukraine’s 20th century history remains largely unwritten. Yanukovych’s first steps in dealing with that history are an embrace of the lies and Soviet consent manufactured in Moscow over the course of decades. Stepan Bandera was secretly assassinated on orders from Moscow and has been a victim of character assassination ever since. And he is but one of thousands whose true stories will be fully told. Well, maybe not while Yanukovych is president...