“Internationalism or Russification?” in the history of Ukraine and its people


 “Internationalism or Russification?”  is the laconic title of a book which has been read in the Ukrainian community for over forty years.

Vitaly Ponomaryov speaks of the appearance of Ivan Dziuba’s  “Internationalism or Russification?” , a work destined to become an ideological cornerrstone of the generation of the Shistdesyatnyky [Sixties activists]*,

In August – September 1965 in Kyiv, Lviv, Lutsk, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil, around thirty young members of the Ukrainian intelligentsia were arrested.  On 4 September* in Kyiv, during a preview showing of Serhiy. Paradzhanov’s film ‘Tini zabutykh predkiv’ [‘Shadows of forgotten ancestors’] the poet Vasyl Stus and literary specialists Ivan Dziuba called on the audience to protest against the political repressions.

Under the impression of these events, Ivan Dziuba spent the months between September and December writing a work which he entitled “Internationalism or Russification?” in which, from a Marxist position, he analyzed the national and cultural politics of the Soviet regime in Ukraine.

The author sent his work to the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party (CPU) Petro Shelest and the President of the Soviet of Ministers of the USSR, Volodymyr Shcherbytsky, as well as a Russian translation to the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).

In “Internationalism or Russification?”, Ivan Dziuba showed how the Communist Party from back in Stalin’s days had taken a position of Russian Great-State chauvinism.  The author built his argument largely on quotes from the works of Lenin and party documents from the 1920s.  He considered that the policy of the CPSU ran counter to the real interests of the Ukrainian people and saw the solution being in returning to the Leninist principles of national policy.

The communist authorities labelled it an anti-Soviet work, and disseminating it, keeping a copy or simply reading it a criminal offence. Ivan Dziuba himself lost his job, was expelled from the Union of Writers and suffered persecution from the KGB.  In 1972 he was imprisoned for 18 months.

The work “Internationalism or Russification?” was circulated in samizdat, and in February 1968 it was published in the journal “Suchasnist”.

The book was, without the permission or even knowledge of the author, published on several occasions outside the Soviet Union, translated into Ukrainian, English, Russian, Chinese, French and Italian. In Ukraine the work was only published in 1990 in the journal “Vitchyzna” [“Homeland”], and came out in book form in 1998.

Dziuba worked extremely intensively on “Internationalism or Russification?” throughout the autumn of 1965.  It is clear however that this was merely the final stage of putting documents, notes and thoughts in order, since Ivan Mykhailovych Dziuba, then talked about as a promising young literary specialist, had been collecting and considering them over a much longer period.

Khrushchev’s “Thaw” had just begun. It was that breath of freedom which gave birth to the potent phenomenon we know as “shistdesyatnytstvo” [the Sixties movement – cf. note] However, for Ukraine, the consequences of Khrushchev’s “Thaw” were mixed.

Two apparently democratic decisions of the authorities were to deal a harsh blow to Ukrainian culture and the Ukrainian language. The first of these decisions was to give passports to all those living in the countryside who had previously been without passports and therefore forced to stay where they were, this enabling huge numbers of them to move to the cities. And the first thing these people tried to do was to get rid of the main indicator that they were from rural areas which, for Ukraine, was the Ukrainian language.  

The second decision was new school legislation passed in 1959 which allowed parents themselves to choose the language which their children studied in. Given the extremely centralized Soviet empire, this immediately led to a sharp decline in the number of students in Ukrainian schools.

There was also a political mixing of peoples with Ukrainians en masse being taken to develop new areas where they merged into the general Soviet flow.  Specialists on the other hand from different republics were at the same time sent to Ukraine.

And the Ukrainian language, as well as Ukrainian culture, thus found themselves under threat to a degree that they had perhaps never faced before.

We asked cultural specialist Vadim Skurativsky to explain the impact Ivan Dziuba’s work had on people’s lives and fate

“I remember being simply overwhelmed by those several hundred pages. It was not only the openness of the author which, concealing nothing, spoke of burning issues, not only his erudition,  but in fact his extremely clear conviction that whatever human beings do, they must on this or that territory do it in a specific national context.

And if the system swears that it is democratic, as the Soviet regime did, and at the same time decisively crushes all that is national, mainly Ukrainian, then as a consequence, one ends up with what Dostoevsky once called a “nasty anecdote”. It was precisely this central thought in Dziuba’s work that had such an impact on me, an impact on my whole life, and became in some sense my methodology.

Ivan Mykhailovych Dziuba took current material and convincingly demonstrated the absolute hypocrisy of the Soviet system which, on the one hand, asserted its democracy, claimed that it was the freest in the world, while on the other hand, ruthlessly destroyed all that was Ukrainian in any of its manifestations.

This book was something like a beacon showing the way in terms of worldview.  It helped me to understand what was happening in the Soviet Union in general, and in Soviet-controlled Ukraine specifically, followed by other so-called “republics” of the Soviet Union.

Thus, Ivan Mykhailovych proved most cogently for me as his reader that whatever was created in society, if it bypassed the national element, or worse, positively crushed it, this could only end in disaster.

Later dozens, even hundreds of other themes appeared on my intellectual horizon. However those themes for me were already seen through specifically that methodological light which has in the final analysis been illuminating my worldview ever since

There is one other circumstance to mention. That was Ivan Mykailovych’s behaviour during that time, the behaviour of a man who simply sought to tell the truth. One is reminded of the famous tale of Hans Christian Anderson about the boy who dares to say that the “emperor is naked”.

There were massive libraries of books discussing Soviet issues in the West however Ivan Mykhailovych  Dziuba extremely precisely and convincingly spoke about that world we lived in. And our subsequent course of events proved to me how right he was”.

Maxim Strikha : Ivan Mykhailovych  Dziuba consciously wrote his work as “legal”. Its addressee – Petro Yukhymovych Shelest, the then Party leader in Ukraine, was no liberal. It’s known after all that he was one of the initiators of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

However Petro Yukhymovych  had some national feelings. And Dziuba’s work was disseminated, although obviously, for official use and in limited numbers for the Party elite. But an even larger number of copies ended up in samizdat, as they say, without the author’s knowledge.

The furore over the work was truly enormous.  Later, Shcherbytsky’s aid Vrublevsky in his memoirs wrote that the work was written at the level of a good post-doctoral thesis and forced even many Party leaders of the time to rethink at least some of their views.

However the work gave even more to Ukrainian society as a whole. It gave a comparison providing absolutely irrefutable arguments of Lenin’s own words or Party resolutions of the time of “Ukrainianization” with what had actually taken root in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

In the sixties the gaping divide was thus demonstrated between the slogans proclaimed and the actual reality of the Ukrainian nation as a nation being destroyed.

Serhiy Hrabovsky: This divide was reflected in the repression against readers of the book because the very act of reading it was soon to become something terribly seditious.

The next generation, that of the 1970s already paid a huge price to the totalitarian system for the mere fact of having read the book, regardless of whether it was a privately typed copy, or one smuggled in from abroad.

It was enough to catch a student reading “Internationalism or Russification?” for him or her to be at very least thrown out of the fold of the Soviet student fraternity”. And they could also end up imprisoned.

Poet Nadiya Stepula recounts how she, along with students of her year, was drawn into this wheel of the totalitarian machine of repression.

Nadiya Stepula  Mass expulsions from the Komsomol, and at the same time from the university, were at that time a catastrophe, without any exaggeration, which as time passed took on features of farce – also without any exaggeration.

Getting up one after the other, former department friends and students from the same year vehemently and impassionedly “condemned” those interested and concerned students who had already picked up in their meagre life’s baggage such a “terrible sin” as the reading of this work.

Having passed sentence, they continued peacefully studying, and soon the vast majority of them even defended their theses and went on to teach others – new students.  By now they were preaching, in accordance with the new trends, Ukraine’s independence, the struggle against “imperialistic Russifiers”, the “commies”, and so forth.

Not only does one from time to time bump into people who then passionately condemned you, but such people saw fit then and still do, excuse me, to burble on about how they were supposedly so frightened, how they barely escaped repression.

Dziuba’s work was for many a kind of turning point, and not only in a figurative sense since with it they began a process of thinking through the whole world, the vast mass of issues and questions, but also in a quite direct sense.  Each of the “readers” of Dziuba’s work could later choose their own way in the future.

Some ended up on the street for a while – relatives helped, people close, real friends. Some did their 12 or 15 years, some a little less. There were some like the budding prose writer who, giving up writing delightful novellas, simply took to drink, and earned money for a living in the oil industry, lacking the strength to resist circumstances. Some ended up in psychiatric hospitals, others got taken into the army.

Nonetheless a significant number of those flung out of their universities or institutes for reading Ivan Dziuba’s “Internationalism or Russification?” did return sooner or later (the new changes, new times helped in this) to their studies, gained an education and became specialists in this or that field.

Maxim Strikha: “Internationalism or Russification?” reached people in different ways, in manuscript form, or more often over the radio on programs which the authorities assiduously tired to jam.

I am holding in my hand a copy of “Suchasnist” from 1968, a special pocket edition on cigarette paper so that it would be easier to get it through the border. I brought this book into the country in April 1988 travelling from Poland, the times were already different, perestroika was in the air, although the last political prisoners were still serving out their sentences.

However Ivan Dziuba’s motivation remained current then also. The arguments are in places already out of date, and it must have taken a lot of courage for Ivan Mykhailovych, when publishing the book in 1990, to not change anything, not a title, not even a comma.

As a whole the book is much deeper than a mere collection of quotations since it really convincingly demonstrates one thing: Ukrainians can develop only as a nation on the basis of their own language, their own culture, and any attempts to foist another language and another culture on them will inevitably end in degeneration.

Even written with Marxist axioms as its starting point, the book was an indictment of the Soviet regime of the time, which avenged itself brutally on the author. Thankfully Ivan Mykhailovych Dziuba, who is today [26 July] marking his 75-th birthday, came through those bad times.

It was very hard to come through, but his position remains essentially unchanged, upholding the Ukrainian language, Ukrainian culture and generally what is Ukrainian in essence, just as he passionately defended all of this is his work, written over forty years ago - “Internationalism or Russification?”

Transcript of a radio broadcast “Terra Incognita” on Radio Svoboda, prepared and presented by journalist Serhiy Hrabovsky and Doctor of Physical-Mathematical Sciences and Member of the Association of Ukrainian Writers, Maxim Strikha.

Background information

Shistdesyatnyky [Sixties activists] .  This word is perhaps a little better known in the transcription from Russian Shestydesyatnyky, (although equally untranslatable!).  The 1960s were the time of the Thaw, and the sixties generation in Ukraine initiated a cultural and national revival, and stretched the limits of political freedom as far as they would go.  This was not, it proved, very far, and many paid the price of their liberty for their courage.  Vasyl Stus died in the Perm Political Labour Camp on 4 September 1985, exactly 20 years after the preview showing.  It was his second labour camp sentence.  [translator’s note]

*  The preview showing of S. Paradzhanov’s film ‘Tini zabutykh predkiv’ [‘Shadows of forgotten ancestors’] After an address by S, Paradzhanov himself, Ivan Dziuba took the floor.  However, instead of speaking about the film, he talked about the secret arrests of members of the Ukrainian intelligentsia at the end of August and beginning of September 1965, read out the names of those arrested and expressed his protest at such actions.  Officials tried to push him away from the microphone, and there were cries from the hall: “That’s a lie!”. Somebody turned on the fire alarm. Ivan Dziuba was supported by Vasyl Stus and Viacheslav Chornovil who called out: “Those who oppose tyranny stand up”. A part of the audience rose to their feet. The reaction of the authorities was swift to follow.  People were fired from their jobs, expelled from the Party, subjected to criticism at meetings, etc.  [KHPG material]

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