For much of this discussion over Ukraine, we have been told that the country is divided between the pro-European West and the pro-Russian East. While there is some truth to this, the real divide in Ukraine is not East versus West, but up versus down.
The question is will Ukraine move up towards more freedom and the rule of law or will this country fall further down towards despotism and crony capitalism. There are very few people in Ukraine who benefit from the country going down further.
While most people do not want another Soviet Union, there is a strong generational divide in both Ukraine and Russia regarding democracy and nostalgia over the Soviet collapse. According to Pew, in 2011, 58 percent of Russians under 30 supported the change from communism to democracy. Only 31 percent of Russians over 65 shared this view. In the same poll, 43 percent of Ukrainians under 30 supported the shift towards democracy, while only 23 percent of Ukrainians over 65 agreed.
In 2011, 63 percent of Russians over 65 agreed with President Putin that the collapse of the Soviet Union was unfortunate. Only 36 percent of Russians under 30 agreed. To keep Ukraine out of Putin’s orbit, it will require Ukraine’s protestors to discredit the KGB with the older generation in both countries.
The best way to do this is to continue the push to declassify approximately 800,000 volumes of Soviet-era documents in Ukraine that are labeled “secret” or “top secret.” In 2009, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko issued a decree to declassify the archives of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). With the election of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, the process has stalled. It is still far too difficult for relatives to obtain these files.
In my case, I began inquiring about my grandfather’s file in December of 2012. Although he was sent to the Gulag Vorkuta, which is in Siberia, I hoped that the Ukrainian authorities would have a copy of his file since he was arrested in Kiev.
Ukraine’s archives are still more open to the public than Russia’s. I can say this from some experience. My friend, Jon Utley, went to Russia to inquire about his father who was arrested and later executed in Vorkuta.
After several decades, Jon would finally learn what happened to his father when he read his file. Jon would later tell me that he noticed a couple of sealed envelopes that he was not allowed to read.
I told Jon that these envelopes probably contained the testimonies of people who informed on his father. During Stalin’s rule, people would snitch on their neighbors, friends, and, sometimes, even their relatives, to save themselves.
To my amazement, the Ukrainian archivists found my grandfather’s file. They told me that I would have to provide identification proving that I was a relative and I also would have to go to the archives in order to read it. To add insult to injury, I was not allowed to receive a copy. This is wrong.
All of the Soviet era documents should be fully declassified and accessible online to the general public. Most of Stalin’s informers and victims are either dead or too old to plot revenge. Beyond a sense of closure to the victims, a secret police cannot function without a network of informers.
As the older Ukrainians finally learn the truth about their relatives, it might even encourage a similar movement in Russia. The KGB’s successors would eventually be forced to concede if enough people stand up to them.
The beginning of the end for communism in Poland occurred on June 2, 1979. This was when Pope John Paul II was able to ignite the Solidarity movement with one speech in Warsaw.
At one point, the audience clapped for 14 minutes without stopping. For the first time in decades, the Polish people were able to express themselves in public. As a million people gathered to see the first Polish Pope, the audience looked at one another and realized that there are more of us than there are of them.
In less than three years more than 10 million Poles, a third of the nation, joined the Solidarity movement. To quote a Russian proverb, communism fell because “Беда́ никогда́ не прихо́дит одна́” (Trouble never comes alone).
The Ukrainian opposition needs a positive agenda that can unite their country towards the future. Only a united opposition can help break Putin’s grip over both countries.