History has been turned into politics. It would seem that false history can be a foundation only for false politicians who dread nothing more than the principle “A clean goal requires clean hands”
A year ago, on 25 February 2010, we lost Yaroslav Dashkevych, one of the most brilliant historians of the older generation. Dashkevych was a figure who did not break down under ideological pressure in the Soviet era and later became one of the most active advocates of cleansing the science of history in independent Ukraine. The Ukrainian Week here republishes a speech the historian delivered on 20 May 1994 in Kiev as he received a prize from the Omelian and Tetiana Antonovych Foundation. One is saddened by the fact that that since then some of his critical statements have become even more acutely relevant to the humanities in Ukraine.
“I was a bad historian because I tried to write and speak the truth — the truth about Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation — and not only for foreigners but also for my own people. Everyone understands that only bad and imprudent historians can do that. I was also a bad historian because I was not obedient and did not try to serve anyone except Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. I believe that these traits of mine were well captured by Literary Ukraine when it reported that I was awarded the Antonovych Foundation prize. The phrase 'also a historian' which the newspaper used in reference to me has since become popular. It sounded curious to me — as if a black sheep had joined a white flock.
"I have been this kind of black sheep for a long while but I’m not complaining. Even though I spent the seven best years of my youth in prisons and special camps, they turned me into a citizen. Even though I lost 16 years to unemployment, these years, paradoxically, turned me into a scholar. As I fought for the historical truth in science, I could never complain of being lonesome, for the friendly souls of Ukrainians, Armenians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Russians, Poles, Jews, Germans, the French, the Swiss, Tatars, and even the Uyghur and the Japanese were by my side. However, Ukrainians were different —there were also those who crossed to the other side of the street when they saw me. Now they mostly take deep bows.
"Despite very cordial relationships with representatives from many nations I have not become an internationalist or a cosmopolitan, as they prefer to say now. I have never preached love and friendship among peoples, I believe that mutual respect and true equality are the ideal for which every nation should strive without undue hypocrisy.
"I would like to say a few words about a problem which seems to be close to each one of us and is often very painful to me. History and politics. Even though I am deeply convinced that political relations between Ukraine and its close and remote neighbors should be based, above all, on contemporary realities, the historical past and historical traditions — be they true, invented, or even totally false — are being used on multiple occasions as weapons against the Ukrainian nation and state. This is taking place not only abroad, where bucketsful of dirt are constantly being poured to blacken the Ukrainian people, but also here in Ukraine, in many of its regions where anti-Ukrainian experiments continue.
"I am very often ashamed of truly Ukrainian contemporary politicians and diplomats, ashamed of their helplessness and, frankly, ignorance, especially in moments when someone else tries to impose on Ukraine a discussion about history: the emergence (or, more often, non-emergence) of the Ukrainian people; the alleged lack state-mindedness among Ukrainians; the allegedly unjustified borders of the country; and the absence of Ukrainian culture. What is stunning is the helplessness and scholarly ineptness of those who consider themselves nothing less than outstanding politicians. Evidently, they lack conviction that they are themselves making history. (Exactly what kind of history there are making will be something that historians will be discussing in the future.) Recent events, especially in the past several days, show that it is perhaps time for Ukrainian politicians to start learning history, the history of political movements and organizations, among others.
"However, ignorance and a lack of understanding of objective history are a drawback that is not uniquely theirs. A wave of anti-historicism and the rejection of history’s relevance and moral-aesthetic meaning is coming to Ukraine from the West. It is not difficult to understand why the history of modern times — the 20th century — is being struck off the curricula in many Western universities as one subject, being replacing instead with certain narrow questions and supplanted with sociology and political science. The reasons are quite obvious: taken together, the political history of the 20th century is one of the bloodiest in blackest pages in the history of humankind. It is the history of genocides and ethnocides; history of infinitely corrupt political leadership in many countries; history of bloody crimes, the breach of treaties, and the rule of political-criminal mafias. Therefore, it has been simpler to declare that modern history does not exist. That is the reason why no one undertakes to write a history of the criminal communist organization in Ukraine, with its tens of thousands of qualified and distinguished historians of the party. No one undertakes to write an objective, non-politicized history of all dirty deeds committed by dictators and presidents, chiefs and saviors of the people, governments and parliamentarians in various countries.
"For who would pay historians that break the canonized taboos and study in minute detail the crimes and treasons of the 20th century, in particular with regard to the Ukrainian nation?
"History has been turned into politics. It would seem that false history can be a foundation only for false politicians who dread nothing more than the principle 'A clean goal requires clean hands.'
"Despite all of this I believe that the true history of Ukraine and the history of its nation's struggle against invaders and collaborationists of all types, and the struggle for truly independent Ukrainian state will one day be written and will become a desktop reference for every honest politician, honest statesman and every Ukrainian.
"This is my call to those non-conformist historians who still have faith in their people and the better future of our state."