Anne Ap­ple­baum talks to Kyiv Post about Holodomor, mod­ern Ukraine

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY BRIAN BON­NER BON­[email protected]

Fear of Ukraine, par­tic­u­larly of Ukraine as an in­de­pen­dent na­tion, is one fix­a­tion shared by Josef Stalin and his mod­ern-day suc­ces­sor in the Krem­lin, Vladimir Putin.

In Stalin’s case, his para­noia prompted him to kill 3.9 mil­lion Ukraini­ans by starv­ing them to death dur­ing the Holodomor of 1932–1933.

In Putin’s case, his fears about Ukrainian in­de­pen­dence are still play­ing out.

The Rus­sian dic­ta­tor and for­mer Soviet KGB colonel at­tempted to de­stroy Ukraine’s in­de­pen­dence by co-opt­ing and cor­rupt­ing ex-Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych and Ukrainian lead­ers be­fore him.

When the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion — one of sev­eral pop­u­lar up­ris­ings by Ukraini­ans in the last cen­tury — ended the Yanukovych regime’s four years of plun­der in 2014, Putin’s tac­tics turned to dis­mem­ber­ing Ukraine through a war that con­tin­ues to­day at a cost of 10,000 lives and ris­ing.

The sim­i­lar­i­ties of the two Moscow lead­ers are part of the his­tory that Pulitzer Prize-win­ning author and Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist Anne Ap­ple­baum cap­tures in "Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine.” The book was pub­lished in English in Oc­to­ber. A Ukrainian-lan­guage ver­sion is ex­pected in au­tumn.

Ap­ple­baum sat down with the Kyiv Post for an in­ter­view on Nov. 19 to dis­cuss her book and her views on mod­ern-day Ukraine. She spent three days in Kyiv, help­ing to raise money for Kyiv Mo­hyla Academy and speak­ing to the univer­sity's stu­dents, giv­ing in­ter­views and meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko as well as other lead­ers.

Stalin's fears

“Stalin was afraid of Ukrainian na­tion­al­ism, even mild ex­pres­sions of Ukrainian na­tional iden­tity,” Ap­ple­baum told the Kyiv Post. “And in this sense, this is part of the KGB DNA that Putin in­her­its: Ukraine is not just ‘an­other prob­lem’ — not an Azer­bai­jan, Ar­me­nia, Es­to­nia. To Putin, Ukraine can­not be al­lowed to take a dif­fer­ent path. What was re­ally up­set­ting to him was all those young Ukraini­ans wav­ing Euro­pean Union flags and call­ing for laws against cor­rup­tion. Why? If Ukraini­ans can do it, why can’t Rus­sians? He’s afraid that Ukraini­ans will some­how in­fect Rus­sia with their ‘an­ar­chic Euro­pean­ness’.”

For Ap­ple­baum, why Stalin or­dered the famine and “why Ukraine was so dis­turb­ing to him and why he con­sid­ered it so im­por­tant” were in­ter­est­ing top­ics to ex­plore. Con­se­quently, while she started with a fo­cus on the Holodomor, she ended with a 20th cen­tury his­tory and an epi­logue that in­cludes to­day’s events.

Ukrainian re­sis­tance

Ukraine's brief at­tempts at state­hood in 1917–1918 and its periodic up­ris­ings — against the Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion and forced col­lec­tiviza­tion -- left their mark on the Krem­lin's pysche. Both Stalin and the found­ing Bol­she­vik leader, Vladimir Lenin, plot­ted var­i­ous ways to get Ukraini­ans to sub­mit to Soviet rule. "It’s hard not to look at Ukraine’s his­tory in the 20th cen­tury and not see that this was a lost op­por­tu­nity," she said. "I don’t know if in­de­pen­dent Ukraine in 1917 would have been a nice place or not. But they were never given the chance."

De­spite the de­press­ing his­tory les­son, “Red Famine” con­cludes with an up­lift­ing epi­logue that Ap­ple­baum rewrote sev­eral times. Af­ter re­count­ing Holodomor hor­rors, the author said she wanted to end on a pos­i­tive note. She de­liv­ered that op­ti­mistic mes­sage in pub­lic re­marks on her visit to Ukraine and in the in­ter­view with the Kyiv Post.

Ukraine ‘not a tragedy’

“His­tory of­fers hope as well as tragedy. In the end, Ukraine was not de­stroyed. The Ukrainian lan­guage did not dis­ap­pear,” Ap­ple­baum writes. “In the end, Stalin failed too. A gen­er­a­tion of Ukrainian in­tel­lec­tu­als and politi­cians was mur­dered in the 1930s, but their legacy lived on…The his­tory of the famine is a tragedy with no happy end­ing. But the his­tory of Ukraine is not a tragedy…As a na­tion, Ukraini­ans know what hap­pened in the 20th cen­tury, and that knowl­edge can help shape their fu­ture.”

De­feat­ing Rus­sia

In Kyiv, Ap­ple­baum said that the best way for Ukraine to honor Holodomor vic­tims is not so much with of­fi­cial in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion of the famine as geno­cide, which she fa­vors, or with memo­ri­als and mon­u­ments, which she also sup­ports.

What’s most im­por­tant, Ap­ple­baum said, is for Ukraine to build a strong and demo­cratic state that its cit­i­zens trust and par­tic­i­pate in ac­tively. “I think the best way that Ukraine fights back is by cre­at­ing a pros­per­ous, law-abid­ing state to which its cit­i­zens feel loyal,” Ap­ple­baum told the Kyiv Post.

That’s also the best way to de­feat Rus­sia’s war, she said, be­cause Ukraini­ans can­not ex­pect Putin to change. “Putin re­ally doesn’t think that Ukraine is an in­de­pen­dent na­tion. To the ex­tent that Ukraine is, it is a threat to him.”

In­de­pen­dence threats

Just as in the failed at­tempts at Ukrainian in­de­pen­dence in the 20th cen­tury, Ukraine’s in­de­pen­dence in the 21st cen­tury is not guar­an­teed, she said, nor should can it be taken for granted.

“Ukraine al­most lost its in­de­pen­dence un­der Yanukovych,” Ap­ple­baum said. “The way it could lose its in­de­pen­dence now is more likely through cor­rup­tion than mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion. Putin can play the long game. He can ma­nip­u­late Ukraine through his oli­garchic con­nec­tions. All of that could cause Ukraini­ans to lose faith in the state and so­ci­ety. There’s lot he could do even with­out a mil­i­tary in­va­sion.”

And, just as Stalin did with the Holodomor, Putin re­cruits Ukrainian traitors to his side and tries to per­suade for­eign­ers with lies.

“One of the im­por­tant sto­ries of the famine is that there were Ukraini­ans who helped carry it out,” Ap­ple­baum said. “There were peo­ple who were will­ing to co­op­er­ate with the Sovi­ets and kill peo­ple. It’s true in ev­ery sin­gle geno­cide that hap­pened.”

Mixed progress to­day

Ap­ple­baum, an Amer­i­can who took on Pol­ish ci­ti­zen­ship and who is mar­ried to ex-Pol­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Radis­law Siko­rski, said she doesn’t fol­low Ukraine’s progress daily.

"I am hes­i­tant to make a sweep­ing judg­ment," she said. "It looks like two steps for­ward, one step back. I am meet­ing peo­ple do­ing great projects here, like the new act­ing health min­is­ter (Ulyana Suprun). I don’t have any way of mea­sur­ing that against the colos­sus of nomen­klatura cor­rup­tion that I know peo­ple face here."

Stronger iden­tity to­day

Rus­sia's war has made the world more aware of Ukraine as a sep­a­rate en­tity with sep­a­rate as­pi­ra­tions. She said that Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko makes a good im­pres­sion on in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences. "What­ever you think about Poroshenko, he does very well abroad. He speaks very well. He makes a good im­pres­sion on peo­ple."

At the same time, she said, for­eign gov­ern­ments and in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions are pay­ing at­ten­tion to the lack of progress in fight­ing cor­rup­tion.

"Peo­ple who are en­gaged and who un­der­stand Ukraine are con­cerned when they hear about back­slid­ing," Ap­ple­baum said. "But it's not in any­body’s in­ter­est to go on stage and con­demn Poroshenko. That’s not how pol­i­tics works."

Cre­at­ing in­sti­tu­tions

Ap­ple­baum said that she ad­mires Ukraini­ans "as a peo­ple who have been try­ing a long to time to re­al­ize some­thing bet­ter." Un­for­tu­nately, she said, "Ukraine has al­ways been bet­ter at revo- lu­tion than cre­at­ing in­sti­tu­tions af­ter­wards."

Ukraine's civic in­sti­tu­tions are "some of the most im­pres­sive in Europe," she said. "They are in­cred­i­bly good at cre­at­ing new things, whether it's or all the or­ga­ni­za­tion" around the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion.

'For­get it'

While Poland, where Ap­ple­baum lives, and Ukraine have been spar­ring over their his­tor­i­cal con­flicts, the author en­cour­aged Ukraine to ig­nore the noise com­ing from Poland. "The anti-Ukrainain senti- ment is in­cred­i­bly thin. There is no mass anti-Ukrainain sen­ti­ment in Poland."

She blamed the hos­til­ity to­ward Ukraine on "a very small group of peo­ple" try­ing "to prove how loud they are in de­fense of their coun­try." She also sees the Krem­lin's hand. "A lot of Rus­sian ef­fort has gone into do­ing anti-Ukrainian pro­pa­ganda on com­ments sec­tions on ob­scure web­sites...that there would be a gov­ern­ment (in Poland) stupid enough to en­dorse it is amaz­ing to me. Poland has no na­tional in­ter­est in fight­ing Ukraine. My ad­vice to Ukraine is to ig­nore it. Talk it down. For­get it."

Puli­tizer Prize-win­ning author and Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist Anne Ap­ple­baum speaks at a fundraiser in Kyiv's Mys­tet­sky Arse­nal on Nov. 19 on be­half of Kyiv Mo­hyla Academy, one of Ukraine's top univer­si­ties. She is on a book tour pro­mot­ing "Red Famine:...

The Kyiv Post on Nov. 19 in­ter­viewed author Anne Ap­ple­baum about her new book "Red Famine," a his­tory of Josef Stalin's drive to crush Ukrainian na­tion­al­ism by starv­ing to death 3.9 mil­lion Ukraini­ans in the 1932-1933 Holodomor. One of many com­mon...

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