How would you explain the term “dissident movement” to young people? Did you consider yourself a dissident?
It’s already difficult to explain to young people about dissidence in the present standard understanding of the term. From frequent use both where appropriate and where not, the word has taken on a kind of vulgar shade. Some use it as a term of respect, others as a kind of abuse. I understand the term in the direct understanding of its translation into my language, of “inakodumstvo” [“thinking differently”]. Those with a different way of thinking in the Ukrainian SSR were not just the small numbers who joined the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, but millions of others. Even members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union [CPSU] were not all people with one line of thinking.
The referendum of 1 December 1991 was an irrefutable confirmation of that.
Do I consider myself to have been a dissident? No, in the way it is now used, I don’t, although the newspaper “Ukraina moloda” [“Young Ukraine”] in its article from 20.03.1997 called me a “dissident from the provinces”. Long before the appearance of the UHG and what is called the dissident movement, I was convinced that the Soviet regime and its single party of total dictatorship – the CPSU were criminal, against the people, that they could not be reformed through dialogue, or public statements, but needed to be destroyed, like a terrible source of evil on this Earth.
Back in 1946 in my diary which was removed by the MGB [predecessor to the KGB] in 1950, I labelled Stalin “His Bestial Majesty Joseph First and Last”. That title elicited the following comment from the investigator in my case Major B. Novosyopov: “For that alone you could get it in the neck”.
I have always considered communists to have been the bestial monsters of the XX century. No negotiations are possible with them, since they are devoid of morals.
The word “inakodumets” [“somebody who thinks differently”] is difficult to translate into English. Is this a purely linguistic issue, or is such a concept inappropriate in a pluralistic society?
Undoubtedly the term “inakodumets” in the meaning it took on in Soviet times is not a linguistic, but a social concept. It is the product of the intolerance of the ruling caste to any other opinions than those they hold.In a pluralistic society the word is senseless, incomprehensible and redundant.
The demand of the dissidents of the 1960s – 1980s “Obey your own laws!” has been interpreted by many people as a ploy, since nobody believed that it was possible. There is a view however that the members of the UHG did in fact hope for some kind of dialogue with the regime. What is your opinion? How relevant in today’s Ukraine is the demand that the law be respected as a foundation for defending human rights?
The demand of the dissidents “Obey your own laws!” I have always seen as a kind of quixotism. However I approved of it then and I continue to now. It was nonetheless giving the finger to the regime. In the program for the “Spilka vilnoyi ukrainskoyi molodi” [“Union of free Ukrainian youth”] from 1945 I wrote “to support the activities of all anti-Soviet organizations which we identify”. For these organizations to a larger or lesser extent contributed to the collapse of the criminal Bolshevik system. Dialogue with the regime was senseless.
In today’s Ukraine the demand that the law be respected as a foundation for defending human rights is enormously relevant and important. After the break up of the totalitarian regime a period of anarchy, set in. The lack of respect for the law was a legacy from the communists when laws were written for propaganda purposes, to con “elderly negroes” on the other side of the Iron Curtain, while internally the law was the resolutions of the Central Committee of the CPSU which did not recognize international law but only the law of the Party will, the Party dictatorship.
The parties which sprang up like mushrooms after a rainfall on the debris of the CPSU and were created by former active CPSU members inherited the dictatorial spirit of the Communist Party. They placed the interests of the Party above the law, assuming for themselves the right to express the will of the entire people. A blatant example is the position of the present Prime Minister on NATO.
The laws in Ukraine passed just after independence were voted in by a majority of the former crooked Soviet types for themselves, to suit the interests of their clans newly created through criminal means, and not in accordance with the spirit of international law. It is therefore exceptionally vital now to bring legislation into conformity with international norms. And human rights defenders have the crucial role of teaching all, from the Stalinist “cook capable of ruling the state” to the President to respect the law. It is not the interests of the party in power at a given moment, but the law which must form the basis of political and economic activity of all citizens of Ukraine without exception. Where the resolutions of a party are placed higher than the law, there can be no freedom, no justice, no democracy. It is a way of returning the country to a state of being unfree. In short, it is the most honourable and primary duty of all human rights organizations to teach all citizens of Ukraine to honour and respect the law.
What, if any, events and / or views prompted you to oppose the Soviet regime?
There was a whole range of events which could be so described. It began in my years in the underground partisan movement from 1941-1943. That was the Volkov-Kucherenko unit which was part of the Kyiv regional partisan association of I. Khytrychenko, and later the raid formation under General M. Naumov.
Later my aversion to the Soviet regime was strengthened by the attitude of the “liberators” to their own people, how they gutted the Dnipro and Bug, the Stokhid river floodplains, the Wisla, the Dunai [Danube], the Odra and Elba with “liberated” people, untrained, unarmed, still in their house clothes and coats.
After the SMERSH [counterintelligence] emptied out my pockets trying to find compromising material. The system of informers, one each for five newly called up soldiers was a personal offence to my human dignity.
And then there was the so-called voluntary collection for the assistance fund for the Red Army which was carried out by the “red broom” method of 1933 [i.e. communist brigades which took “surpluses”, but effectively everything – translator]. . And finally the retribution against the civilian population in Western Ukraine, more terrible than what the Nazi occupiers did. All of these things, and many details which I saw from outside the regime, led me to oppose it. In a couple of words I would call it total lies and total terror.
You opposed a powerful and repressive regime. One finds all too often in life that people let us down even when little is effectively at stake. In those days it was even dangerous to help a person out of favour with the regime. How much support did you have? Was it of importance to you (in fact did you know) that there were campaigns in other countries in defence of political prisoners?
I was incredibly lucky with friends from the underground. However archaic it may sound the model of the organization of the underground for me was the honourable academician – Narodna Volya [People’s Will] supporter Mykola Morozov who endured 25 years of solitary confinement in Spisselburg. Of 43 members of our “Spilka vilnoyi ukrainskoyi molodi” [SVUM - “Union of free Ukrainian youth”] not one turned out to be a provocateur, and not one let us down. And there were people from all regions of Ukraine since the underground activists were trying to ensure that after demobilization they would have trusted people in all regions of the country, i.e. there was a ready underground structure throughout Ukraine.
I received support from many fine people who were not formally members of SVUM like the well-known Lviv poet Rostyslav Bratun, Ivan Ivko from the Vinnytsa region who later worked in the State Publishing Commission, and others.
My friends and I of course knew about the activities of human rights organizations like Amnesty International, for example, in other countries. However they never quite made it to us.
After my second arrest in 1980 my friends from Kryvy Rig mentioned that some foreign “voices” had mentioned my arrest however I didn’t hear about it, and don’t know.
I only knew of the activities of individual dissidents from the Ukrainian Helsinki Group within the Ukrainian SSR from foreign radio stations and from the distorted material in the Soviet press. The first news about Viacheslav Chornovil, the Sichko family and the Herostratus-style act of Pogruzhalsky I heard from my good friend V. Zabashtansky who spent time at Korostyshiv on trips organized by the office of the propaganda of books of the Socialist Party of Ukraine and as my guest. However most of all V. Zabashtansky talked about Ivan Dziuba whom he admired enormously, passing on his love for Dziuba whom I myself never actually met.
I knew V. Pogruzhalsy well personally since we served together for two years in the 7th guard artillerty division in Vladimir on the Klyazma [River – in Moscow region]. He was the main person whose denunciations served to have me arrested for the first time on 3 April 1950.
Not one human rights organizations in the Ukrainian SSR helped me in word or in deed, until the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group found me. It’s only now that the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in Kyiv suddenly “got around to me” and invited me to the ceremony to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. For which I’m grateful.
For young people in Ukraine and people in the West it’s hard to understand the fear that reigned in society, what it could cost a person to put his or her signature to an appeal or even simply to write to political prisoners. Is such knowledge needed? Is there any chance that such knowledge could at least a little act as some kind of “vaccination” to prevent the loss of freedom? What in your view creates and strengthens immunity both of the individual, and of society as a whole?
The young generation definitely needs to know the truth about the fear, about the all-encompassing system of denunciations, about the total lawlessness and absolute lack of protection for the individual, about the hell on earth that existed in Soviet society. This needs to be carried out not only by human rights organizations. It is the vital role of literature, of the historical and other social sciences, of publicist works to present a truthful picture of what we went through. Communist total propaganda absolutely distorted reality which it inflicted on us, distorted it with total lies and falsification. I dreamed and have to this day not lost hope that novels will emerge here, as in my youth there were the novels about National Socialism by Leon Feuchtwanger, Willy Brendel, Hans Fallada. Unfortunately, our contemporary “engineers of the soul” rummage around in their own grubby sex tales which leave a bad smell, burble about nonsense and for that receive state awards and honours. For corrupting the younger generation.
A truthful and full picture of Soviet reality would undoubtedly be a preventive measure against the return of an unfree state.
In my opinion, what creates and strengthens immunity for the individual and society against violence and lawlessness is the awareness that each individual has of his or her human and not party calling, love of ones country, ones people, ones cultural traditions, language, parents, and of people in general. A clear conscience and love for ones fellow human beings, and not for ideas, patriotism.
How do you feel about people who collaborated with the punitive bodies?
For informers of any ilk I feel contempt, especially in the case of those who volunteered their services. Many informers collaborated with the punitive bodies out of fear of them and didn’t try especially hard to catch all “enemies of the people”. I don’t have any vengeful feelings towards them and would not demand punishment for them. They punished themselves forever, as also their children. I believe that none of our vile deeds against a person goes unpunished by the Higher Force whom we forget or disregard.
However those who especially made efforts to serve fully should be limited in the right to occupy leading posts, especially those linked with the education of the younger generation if they don’t themselves publicly express repentance for their vile activities.
It would be interesting if those bodies of the SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] made public the statistics as to the number of such informers in each district, city and region in Ukraine. That would be important for confirming the view that informers under the communists were one on the props of the entire Soviet system.
What objectives did you set yourself at the time? Has your idea of freedom changed since then?
At that time when I was only beginning my thorny path of struggle against the criminal regime, in 1945, I had one objective: to contribute what I could to the cause of the liberation of my people and to achieve full independence for my state. My idea of freedom has not changed since that time. I have always linked freedom with responsibility for ones actions, decency and justice, respect for each individual, even ones adversary. I tried not to harm any person in my surroundings, whether good or evil. I believe that there is an inevitable punishment of Nature (God, Fate, the Cosmos) for that. The value and richness of each nation I consider to lie in the fact that each individual is different, unique in his or her thinking and deeds. A nation whose people are all the same is a herd. Such a nation needs a shepherd, and not freedom.
Freedom is the consciously recognized duty to do good. .
What advice would you give a “new” generation defending human rights?
As far as advice is concerned, I have already spoken of this above. What else can I add? All human rights defenders must show absolute respect for the law and encourage all members of society to do the same. And respect the individual, regardless of his or her party affiliation, rank, property, nationality, place in society or religion.
Human rights defenders must respect themselves, and not resemble the lawyers from the offices of our first two Leonid Presidents
 Details about Viacheslav Chornovil and the Sichko family can be found on this site. Pogruzhalsky was the person tried for an arson attack in 24 May 1964 in the Kyiv Central Scientific Library which destroyed a huge number of works on Ukrainian studies and archival documents. Herostratus in the 4th century BC set fire to the Temple of Artemis and positively flaunted his deed in order to find a place in the history books. In fact, there is evidence that Pogruzhalsky was a KGB agent, and the act was, as interpreted by Yevhen Sverstyuk and Ivan Svitlychny an act against Ukrainian heritage. [translator’s note]