Askold S. Lozynskyj: Whose Foreign Ministry Is This ?

Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the current leadership of Kostiantyn Hryschenko has taken a position which is difficult to understand. After all, despite the overwhelming closeness of President Yanukovich’s regime to the Russian Federation, Ukraine remains an independent country. One of the functions of its Foreign Ministry and it adjunct diplomatic missions throughout the world is to look out for the welfare of Ukrainians residing and functioning as communities in other countries.

Most recently Mr. Hryschenko addressing Ukraine’s parliament sided with the Russian government in Russia’s current dispute with the Ukrainian community there. In fact Russia is attempting to liquidate existing Ukrainian structures, most notably the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Ukrainians in Russia and the Union of Ukrainians of Russia (UUR). Additionally, it has pressured a municipal library of Ukrainian literature in Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has acknowledged that while the legal bases for liquidation (FNCAUR) are procedural infractions of Russian law, the underlying reason is the organization’s political activities, including but not limited to participating in commemorations of the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 (Holodomor), giving interviews to Radio Liberty and the like which does not comport with Russian governmental policy.

At the Ukrainian parliament Mr. Hryschenko stressed that fault lay with the Ukrainian community in Russia, among other procedural infractions, for “failing to convene annual meetings of members of the UUR.” This assertion manifested not only sycophancy but ignorance since under the by-laws of the UUR, meetings (conventions) of members are to be held on a quadrennial basis. Mr. Hryschenko speaks often with little regard for the facts, but manages to shroud errors with a loud tone and a self-assured visage. Some call it arrogance. Ukraine’s parliament did not know any better, but word leaked out. The UUR leadership repudiated the Minister’s remarks.

The issue is not Mr. Hryschenko’s errors. For some time he and his representative, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Moscow, Volodymyr Yelchenko have been plotting to compel the Ukrainian community in Russia to reorganize by forming a new structure entirely accommodating both to Russian and Ukrainian policies, which do not differ much these days. But the concept of a non-governmental organization being formed and functioning as a conscience of the community, yet subservient to government pressure is vigorously opposed by the leaders of the Ukrainian community in Russia and rightly so.

During last year’s commemoration of the Holodomor, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Hryschenko issued a statement which was read by his ambassador in the United States at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York during a commemorative program organized by the Ukrainian-American community. Naturally, the term genocide was omitted from the statement, but, perhaps even more significantly, Mr. Hryschenko went out of his way to emphasize the suffering of other peoples throughout the Soviet Union. That may have been a Christian approach, albeit historically incorrect and insensitive to their own people, were it initiated by a leaders of Ukraine’s churches. But this was the statement of Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry. The statement concluded by calling upon the participants to pray for all the suffering.

The irony was so palpable that, at the conclusion, a former high ranking member of Ukraine’s diplomatic corps, pointed out to me privately, that this was the first time in more that fifteen annual observances at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, that there was no commemorative statement from the president of Ukraine and that the only official Ukrainian government statement attempted to pass over the Holodomor’s Ukrainian specificity. I managed to grab a diplomat from Ukraine’s Embassy and cynically requested that he pass on to both the Ambassador and Mr. Hryschenko, that in the future Ukraine would be better served if statements on the Holodomor were simply prepared by the Diaspora community.

While the post program banter at St. Patrick’s was personally cathartic, unfortunately, Ukraine’s position regarding the Ukrainian community in Russia is damning. The community, perhaps naively, looked for support from the government of Ukraine. When Hryschenko and Yelchenko sided with the Russians and conspired with the Russians to mold the Ukrainian community in Russia’s and contemporary Ukraine’s image, the Ukrainian community in Russia was doomed with no future as a legitimate non-governmental voice and conscience of Ukrainians in Russia.

Similarly if Mr. Hryschenko remains on top, there is no future for Ukraine’s current Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It should simply rename itself -- the Ukrainian Desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. But then Victor Yanukovich would not be a president and Mr. Hryschenko would not be a minister. And so the farce continues.

February 20, 2011
Askold S. Lozynskyj

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