BRAMA, Sep 15, 2004, 9:00 am ET|
Republicans, Democrats and Ukraine
By Dr. Bohdan Vitvitsky
It is ironic that of all people, Ukrainian Americans should confuse the former Soviet Union with Russia. It is not that we confuse the places; what we do is mistakenly presume that American attitudes towards the former Soviet Union are the same as attitudes towards today's Russia. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially with regards to the attitudes of the current Republican administration.
During the Cold War, Republican rhetoric convinced many in the Ukrainian community that Republicans were tougher and more adversarial towards the Soviets than were the Democrats. There is no question that during some periods of the Cold War, Republican rhetoric was indeed more harshly anti-Soviet. In some cases it was bombast for domestic political consumption; in other cases, such as President Reagan's calling the U.S.S.R., the "evil empire," it was an important declaration of our policies and position. And, the Republicans never had anything analogous to the left wing of the Democratic Party that genuinely was soft on the East bloc.
But lest one suffer from historical amnesia, it bears remembering that it was the Democratic President Truman who ordered the Berlin Airlift and committed the U.S. to fight the Korean War when the North Korean Communists attacked South Korea, which events marked the beginning of the Cold War. It was Democratic President Kennedy who forced Nikita Khrushchev to back down during the Cuban missile crisis, and there were no more important Cold Warriors than Democrats Sen. "Scoop" Jackson and later Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski.
But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Republicans were more consistently adversarial against the Soviets than the Democrats. Did that mean that Republicans would be more hospitable to Ukrainian concerns? Ukrainians naively assumed so-presumably on the notion that if Ukrainians were strongly anti-Soviet and Republicans were strongly anti-Soviet, Republicans would be pro-Ukrainian.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. It was after all President Reagan's administration that sent Walter Polovchak, the teenage Ukrainian who wanted to stay in the U.S., back to the "evil empire" against his will. It was the Reagan administration that sent Myroslaw Medvid, the Ukrainian sailor who twice jumped from a Soviet ship in New Orleans and begged to stay in the U.S., back to the "evil empire." And, it was the Reagan administration that strongly opposed the creation of the congressional Ukrainian Famine Commission. Then, on the eve of Ukrainian independence, there was the first President Bush's infamous "Chicken Kyiv' speech in Kyiv. Today it is the Bush administration and Republican Senator Lugar who oppose passage of the Famine Resolution.
Ironically, given some Ukrainian Americans' vociferous pro-Republican sentiments, the only two administrations that have given Ukrainian concerns some attention were both Democratic. It was after all the Carter administration, under Dr. Brzezinski's influence, that acknowledged the existence and plight of Ukrainian Soviet political prisoners by successfully insisting that Valentyn Moroz be included among the five or so Soviet political prisoners that were released to the United States. And, it was the Clinton administration that developed and maintained permanent high level relations with Ukraine and devoted significant resources in aid to Ukraine. (The current Bush administration has each year significantly reduced aid to Ukraine from the levels of aid during the Clinton years.)
How is one to make sense of this? It is here that the Soviet-Russia confusion comes in. Some Ukrainians seem to have a hard time understanding that Republicans tend to be strongly pro-Russian. Recall the extraordinary warmth with which Reagan treated Gorbachov during the latter half of their formal relations, and even more so after they both had retired. Recall the recent warmth with which President Bush welcomed President Putin to Bush's Texas ranch. Recall how President Bush gushed on about how well he was able to see into Putin's soul etc. Why? Mainly because Republicans subscribe to realpolitik, the foreign policy view that the powerful are important and the weak are not. Russia is comparatively powerful; thus, it's important. Ukraine is perceived as not that powerful; thus, it and its concerns are not that important.
What is most frustrating about the current Bush administration's "policy" toward Ukraine is that it is both remarkably shortsighted and cynical. It is cynical, in part, because it seems interested in Ukraine only to the extent that Ukraine is willing to send and keep its soldiers in Iraq. The political scientist Taras Kuzio reports that Kyiv is rife with speculation that during his recent visit to Kyiv, U.S. defense secretary Rumsfeld struck an informal "deal" with Ukrainian President Kuchma in which the U.S. will not come down hard on Ukraine for "irregularities" in the upcoming presidential elections if Ukraine keeps its troops in Iraq.
More importantly, current U.S. policy is frustratingly blind and shortsighted. The U.S. seems unaware and/or uninterested that in contrast to Russia, which seems pathologically mired in authoritarianism based on deception and force, there are at least some significant, genuine strains of democratic sentiment in Ukraine. There are at least some major political leaders and parties in Ukraine that for the most part tell the truth and seek, against heavy odds, to steer Ukraine toward genuine electoral accountability and, thus, true democracy. If we Americans were true to our word about really caring about the development of democracy in the world, we would be paying much more attention and devoting many more resources to Ukraine than we have been over the last three or so years.
Bohdan Vitvitsky is an attorney, writer and lecturer who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy.
This article was published in the September 12 2004 issue of The Ukrainian Weekly.