Christian Vanneste: “When the Door Is Open, the Spirit of Freedom Always Enters”
French MP Christian Vanneste twice submitted a proposal to the French National Assembly to consider a bill on recognizing the Ukrainian Holodomor as genocide against the Ukrainian people. In 2009, the European Parliament recognized this tragic event of 1932-33 as a crime against humanity, but the French legislature did not follow suit.
In an interview with The Ukrainian Week, Vanneste speaks about the chances that the French parliament will recognize the Holodomor as a crime, analyzes the prospects for Ukrainian-EU cooperation and discusses the strength of communist influences in Europe
U.W.: Mr. Vanneste, you were the only member of the French National Assembly who twice moved to have the Ukrainian Holodomor recognized as genocide against the Ukrainian people. Why has this become so important to you?
It’s very simple. The mass destruction of people perpetrated by the Stalinist regime in the 1930s does not look like anything other than genocide. This persistent desire to destroy Ukrainians is all the more stunning if you consider that Ukraine always had the reputation of being a breadbasket – first of the Russian Empire and than the USSR. Therefore, what was important to me was, on the one hand, the political symbolism of this tragedy which exposes the inhuman essence of totalitarian communist regimes and on the other hand, I wanted to express my solidarity with the Ukrainian people. A number of nations in the world are shaping and reinforcing their identity through the collective suffering that they endured. I believe that for Ukrainians, this horrible period was also the moment when the contemporary Ukrainian political nation was born.
U.W.: Why didn’t these arguments come across as equally simple to your fellow MPs? Why did you fail to collect the 100 signatures needed to put the bill to vote?
There are three reasons. First, there was a special commission on history laws in which I was also involved. It was formed because many began to believe that France had an overabundance of these laws and that it was not up to MPs to pronounce judgments on historical matters. Thus, this commission decided that no more history laws were necessary. Instead, we were to adopt resolutions. Now my political group, called the Union for a Popular Movement, will soon submit a draft resolution on the Holodomor. The second reason is that recognizing the Holodomor is no doubt an act of historical truth. However, just as with the execution of Polish officers in Katyn, which the Soviet government concealed from the world community for a long time, this is about recognizing the truth of the right and the lies of the left. Unfortunately, as you may know, leftist ideology is more widespread in France than rightist ones. Even when a right-wing government is in office, it is not easy to have a rightist view of things approved. Finally, the third reason has a specifically Ukrainian dimension. There are not many Ukrainians in France. They are not very influential politically. So when we compare this situation with the public discussion over Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915, it is immediately clear that the Armenians are much more numerous and active than Ukrainians are. Consequently, I would urge Ukrainians to be more active in their pursuit of the truth. That action may take the form of a resolution rather than a law, but the important thing is to emphasize the reality of this [past] event, which is unfortunately not widely known in France.
U.W.: Of five history handbooks that school students use as they study this period only two make any mention of the Holodomor, and even that in the context of “the side effects of collectivization.”
No wonder. Again, think about Katyn. There is nothing written about it in school textbooks for one reason: many things are still under communist influence. It’s that simple.
U.W.: Do you believe that a day will come when communist crimes will be condemned? If not in court, then at least symbolically: in academia or on the level of international organizations?
France is peculiar in this respect. This has to do with the weight of Marxism-oriented intellectuals in the circles that craft educational programs. Certain pieces of historical truth fail to be communicated, because their essence is discordant with the views these people hold. For example, French intellectuals happily applauded when the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. When it was revealed that the same Khmer Rouge killed millions of people, that was barely mentioned, even though there are ongoing trials now. Speaking about it would require recognizing the horrible mistakes many French intellectuals and the mass media made. I mean Le Monde, among others.
U.W.: At the most recent elections to the European parliament your political party, the National Center of Independents and Peasants, included granting Ukraine the status of a EU candidate in its program.
Unfortunately, an additional problem arose here. The recent events in “Euroland” have had an adverse effect on all other processes and have blocked any enlargement of the European Union. To be precise, Édouard Balladur, who served as Prime Minister of France in 1993-95, worked out a very specific plan for Europe’s optimal development. It included three groups that would develop at different rates. The first group would consist of the six founding members with a common currency. The second group would include the rest of the current EU members which would cooperate based on the British model, i.e., largely economically. Finally, the third group would comprise South Mediterranean countries and Eastern Europe. This would permit carrying out European integration without undue haste. The EU tried to combine expansion and deeper cooperation too often in the past. But it proved to be inefficient. We should have been more careful. Excessively rapid enlargement led to the Greek mistake. Greece should not have joined the euro zone with the economic indices it had then. This was a serious mistake that hurt both the EU and Greece.
U.W.: Ukraine is now negotiating an association agreement and a free trade area agreement with the EU. France has taken a fairly tough stance regarding numerous violations of the rule of law…
How can it be any other way if the arrests of a series of politicians have clear political motivation? During the Orange Revolution Ukraine took a leap forward toward establishing a truly democratic administration, but the process has stalled today. I have the impression that your country has ancient, original history and an interesting cultural heritage, and now it is trying to shape its contemporary identity – but not without problems and more tests.
U.W.: If the association agreement is signed and eventually reaches the French parliament, do you think it should be ratified at that point? Or should there be no haste in this matter until the Ukrainian government meets the requirement of improving its political practices?
I believe that openness should be maintained in cases like this. Every time we build bridges with non-democratic countries, it sooner or later facilitates democratic transformations. If you draw bridges, authoritarian regimes become locked up in their sovereign despotism. When the door is open, the spirit of freedom always enters. I am not a supporter of boycotts and isolation, even less so on a systematic basis. Ukraine is a large, resource-rich country. Even if its progress towards democracy has slowed down, I don’t think it would be wise to punish the entire Ukrainian people for problems the Ukrainian government has in administrating justice.
On May 16, Ukrainian filmmaker currently jailed in Russia as a political prisoner went on a hunger strike. In a public letter he wrote that he would only stop the strike if all 64 Ukrainian prisoners jailed in Russia for politically-motivated grounds are released
The opposition in Ukraine is mostly reactive and it chooses actions that will be most useful for criticizing the current Administration or gaining the attention of a specific part of the electorate. What Ukraine needs most right now is a consolidating program and a party that could present its own alternative for the country