war crimes in Ukraine

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The everlasting script

We devote the following materials to the 26th anniversary of the Political Convict Day, which is celebrated on 30 October.
This talk with Evhen Sverstiuk, the president of the PEN-club in Ukraine, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper ’Nasha vira’, a well-known specialist in study of literature and a human rights protection activist, took place in the end of September. The stimulus for this talk was the Sverstiuk’s speech at the meeting devoted to the 15th anniversary of Vasyl Stus’ death. The record of this talk was transmitted on the first program of the National radio in the feature ’The Ukrainian culture today and forever’. At once after this Lesia Voronina, the author and presenter of the feature, was forbidden to work. We offer our readers the transcription of this talk.

L. Voronina
: We have met Evhen Sverstiuk, the head of the PEN-club in Ukraine and the editor-in-chief of the newspaper ’Nasha vira’, to discuss a very important affair. His speech at the at the meeting devoted to the 15th anniversary of Vasyl Stus’ death made a great impression on everybody was present. This speech was published in the newspapers ’Nasha vira’ and ’Ukrainske slovo’.

’Vasyl Stus. 15 years. The measure of presence’ -- that was the title of Evhen Sverstiuk’s speech. And I think you will understand why it was so important for me to make as many people as possible hear about this. In his speech Mr. Sverstiuk touched several delicate and even forbidden topics. For now many people consider that confessing their former sins is not necessary. Some people talk about supercilious aura of heroism that are given to those, who died, defending their opinions and principles. Even at the meeting commemorating the poet some speakers told that Stus is often treated like a hero and martyr, which diminishes his role as an outstanding highly gifted poet. I believe that Evhen Sverstiuk will point out this aspect.

So, what is Stus in the Ukrainian history. Ukraine of that time, when Stus got to the prison and perished there, and our present situation from the viewpoint of this tragedy.

E. Sverstiuk
: People say that, when a country is humiliated and quite desperate, it can be saved only by a sacrifice. I think, it was true for that time. And the sacrifice is important when, as Lesia Ukrainka said, the man knows ’where and why to go’. When he is protecting his people with its breast, disregarding numerous people, who want to snatch some privileges at this sad masquerade, to provide something for swallowing while the martyr is marching to the cross.

That was the situation around Stus. And we must confess honestly that it was so. Otherwise we shall never comprehend, why the poet, who was far from politics and never wanted to be involved in politics, the poet, who was a successor and pupil of Rilke, a mystic, who perhaps was the most spiritual Ukrainian poet of the 20th century, chose the way on which he was executed as a political rebel. Why should not he step aside, why others could not take his place.

This question is very important because it is actual today and will be always actual. Every historical drama will ever have its own Christ, it own Juda, its own Pilatus, who washes his hands, its own apostles, who retreat in timidity and then regain senses and start to continue their Teacher’s doctrines. Each drama is going along these lines. And it is endless.

As to making Stus a hero? Do you know that concentration camps of the Soviet Union before the war and especially after it were overfilled by Ukrainians? Their proportion was more than half. Even when I got to a concentration camp in 1973. But they were different people. Many of them stayed there ’for the war’: weak people, who had chosen the easiest way, there were quite accidental people… Suddenly a poet unknown to anybody appeared in the camp. At once all paid their attention to the fact that we was especially persecuted by guards. By and by, those around Stus began to understand that this man has something inside, which they have not, that he is absolutely unable to compromises. He spoke with the camp authorities as if they absolutely had no power over him. He obeyed only some superior authority, who ordered him not to bend to anybody.

During Stus’ stay in the concentration camp I was not near him: they never directed close friends to the camp. That was why I could meet either with Vasyl Stus or with Ivan Svitlychny under any circumstances. So I judge about Stus’ life in the concentration camp from Mykhail Kheyfets’ memories ’Ukrainsky siluety’ (’Ukrainian silhouettes’) and from memories of other political convicts.

L. V.
: Kheyfets was not a supported of Ukrainian ideas at all, but staying in the same camp with Stus, Kheyfets appreciated Stus’ talent, learned his poems by heart; thanks to Kheyfets many poems by him have been preserved. Am I right?

E. S.
: Mainly so. This is a very interesting situation. Kheyfets was a Leningrad journalist, who got acquainted with many interesting figures in the camp. Stus attracted him most of all. Kheyfets even learned the Ukrainian language to communicate with Stus. Later he showed Stus as a central figure of his ’Ukrainsky siluety’. Stus was lucky in this respect: in the concentration camp he met a person, who could appreciate his poetry (and that is not a common gift to understand and appreciate poetry), who understood his peculiar ethics, which is determined by unwritten, superior laws.

The poet could not demonstrate especial heroism in the cell, where all was dumb and deaf, where someone could come in and strangle you any minute. We even do not know, if not something similar happened in the solitary cell in Kuchino, in colony No. 36, which is now reconstructed as a museum. It was necessary to keep one’s dignity to the very end. And under those circumstances one could keep dignity only struggling incessantly with those, who trampled him. So, Stus was a natural hero and he behaved himself corresponding to the circumstances. Certainly, his nerves were raw and spoilt. When he was at large, he was a very physically strong man. Till 1972 we used to meet often and sometimes played badminton. Then he was a powerful muscular man, to me he seemed to be an athlete. Later, the life in captivity weakened him so that he became quite an invalid.

Certainly, Vasyl Stus was a hero, so there is no need to make him one. Now we have too many puppies, who jump on a pedestal and pretend to be lion. Stus was a man of integrity. I have never met people like him. In captivity I met righteous people, people who could keep silence about their own pains and care about their fellow creature. For example, I knew Stepan Mamchur from Volyn, who died in my presence in the camp in 1977. He was another type of a hero. A man who lit the way to others. Such people were also few.

L. V.
: But let us turn to our main topic: Vasyl Stus and the situation that existed in Ukraine then and exists now.

I have understood that the main idea of your speech was giving absolution to those people, who had not confessed their sins, would be a blasphemy before Stus and other people who died defending the truth.

E. S.
: As to the collective sin and collective responsibility, I think that it is similar to the collective copulation and collective rape. People dislike it. If the cattle goes to a shed, it acts collectively. But when appears an independent man, he is responsible for all.

What can be said about the trial over Stus? Certainly, the atmosphere existing at that time was extremely cruel. Certainly it was impossible to save Vasyl Stus. But at this trial one could see who is who: everyone went his own way. I would dwell on the role of Viktor Medvedchuk, Stus’ advocate, who at first had been the advocate of Litvin. First of all, there existed a special permission for becoming an advocate in political cases. Such permission was never given to uncompromising people like Dina Kaminskaya and Kalistratova in Moscow.

L. V.
: Do you mean that the authorities knew that such people would never go against the truth?

E. S.
: Yes, there are always people, who stand for truth under any circumstances. When Stus met with the advocate appointed to defend him, he immediately felt that Medvedchuk was a man of the Komsomol aggressive type, that he would not defend, would not understand his client and was not in fact interested in the case. So Stus rejected this advocate. The advocate, who is rejected by his client, has no right to participate in the trial, if he has professional honor. But Medvedchuk took part in the trial contrary to Stus’ will and began his speech in such a manner: ’For all his crimes Stus vastly deserves a punishment…’ All this details were reflected in samizdat human rights protection magazine ’A Chronicle of Current Events’ issued in Moscow. The attitude of other participants of the trial was reflected there too. In particular, they quoted the brave speeches of Miyhaylyna Kotsiubinska and Svitlana Kirichenko, in which they protected Stus. All this was a kind of a screen, where each participant could see oneself.

And now we have no right to ignore this fact. Every cultural nation must remember the history of its tortured and perished poets.

L. V.
: Mr. Sverstiuk, today you have told that on of the present leaders of our state, Viktor Medvedchuk, was rejected by Stus as an advocate. In spite of this rejection, Medvedchuk did take part in the trial and began his speech with an accusation of his client. This is a strange way to defend, although advocates defend even murderers. That you make public this fact is not revenge. It is mere truth.

E. S.
: What kind of revenge do you mean? The public must know all this and must learn. I could understand a man, who acted like Medvedchuk, and now was ashamed of it and worked as a watchman hiding from the entire world. But when such a man becomes the hatchet man of the President, when he nearly became a candidate for presidency himself, this means that this man is not ashamed of his past and wants to remain as he was. People must know the truth. The public has the right to know its heroes and anti-heroes.

L. V.
: Mr. Sverstiuk, we are finishing our difficult, complicated and very responsible talk. The talk, in which you expressed the confidence, that a society can life and survive only if it lives according to God’s commandments. When we shall know and appreciate all the personae of this eternal drama: Chirst, Juda, Pilatus, apostles and apostates, martyrs and their torturers. What would you like to say to conclude your talk?

E. S.
: I want to say that now we have no another choice. Our society has degraded during the years of independence, both economically and morally. And we have only one path towards the world that may accept us. It is an open mind, acknowledgement of European and universal humanistic values, of truth and transparency, accepting the stern law obligatory for everyone.

Prepared by V. Ovsienko

PL commentary.
This interview was transmitted by radio in the cycle ’Ukrainian culture’ in the morning on 22 September 2000. Next day Lesia Voronina was debarred from this cycle without explaining the reasons. She was also not given the bonus for disciplinary fault (she did not inform her bosses that that she has replaced the planned interview with A. Danilenko by the interview with E. Sverstiuk).

Until that time such replacements passed without comment, but in this case she had a reprimand from the editor V. Moroz, who demanded from her to write an explanation for the first vice-president of the National radio company V. Nabrusok. L. Voronina refused to write the explanation. Now she is on the sick list. She is still not dismissed, but the program ’Ukrainian culture’ is already presented by other people.

In our opinion, the previous concordance of transmissions is a camouflaged censorship that is forbidden by Article 15 of the Constitution. In this case Article 6 of the Ukrainian Law ’On TV and radio broadcasting’ is violated.

Lesia Voronina is an experienced journalist and editor, the wife of the deceased writed Evhen Gutsal. Along with the work for radio she edits the children magazine ’Soniashnyk’.

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