29 січня 1996 р.
Іван Гевко – американський юрист, українець за походженням. У 1991–1992 – виконавчий секретар Міжнародної консультативної ради при Верховній Раді України. У 1992–1996 – співзасновник і один з керівників київського офісу міжнародної юридичної фірми «Бейкер і Мак-Кензі». Працював у московському офісі фірми і був одним з керівників празького офісу (1996–2001). У 2004-2009 ‒ віце-президент корпорації «Виклик тисячоліття». Тепер – генеральний секретар і головний виконавчий директор асоціації «Ротарі Інтернешнл» і Фонду «Ротарі».
Could you briefly describe the purpose of your trip to the Soviet Union and how you first starting coming to Ukraine?
It really started as more of a business proposition. The law firm that I worked for, Baker and McKenzie, had just opened its office in Moscow. I was working for another law firm at the time and Baker was looking for a third person to join their Moscow office. And I had always wanted to live and work in the Soviet Union but there wasn’t much going on between the Soviet Union and law in the 80’s… just a little bit of trade…so I focused on South America. But then with perestroika there was an opening and Baker & McKenzie again was looking for a third person to go to Moscow so I submitted my application. They said fine. And so I got married in December of 1989 and then a week later we moved to Moscow. Well we really arrived I think on the second or third of January in 1990 and lived in the Ukraine Hotel which at the time was a real dump, typical Soviet hotel and then started working. And then of course perestroika took off, foreign investment started booming and the breakup of the Soviet Union occurred. But really, it started as more of a career move and not for political reasons, not for ideological reasons and my initial focus was really Moscow. There wasn’t much going on in Ukraine, all the business at the time, in 1990 certainly, if you wanted to do a joint venture, do any investment in any part of the Soviet Union you had to do it in Moscow. So even if you were in the Far East doing a joint venture in Khabarovsk you would have to register that venture for example with the Ministry of Finance in Moscow. But in the back of my mind was always this idea to use Moscow as a springboard to eventually go to Ukraine. I think it was after four, five months in Moscow, I really didn’t want to play the Ukrainian card too early there because of the sensitivities of Ukraine and Diaspora Ukrainians and nationalism and all of that in the Soviet System. I think I waited four, five months, and then I called my family in western Ukraine, my father’s family, and I think it was around April of 1990 that we went to visit them for the first time. I also started to spend some time in Kiev and was able to meet a number of people, started going around to the various government agencies, trying to introduce myself and get to know people.
S: What was the reaction you received at government agencies when you walked in the doors?
J: Well I think it was…I had a lot of…I had introductions from some of the democrats, Ukrainian democrats who were in Moscow because there was a Ukrainian delegation to the USSR’s Supreme Soviet and I got to know some of the deputies who were there. There was a writer named Les Taniuk who was a Ukrainian deputy who lived in exile in Moscow and I got to know him. In fact my wife had met him at Harvard a few years earlier, he had taught a drama workshop and so it was really through her that I got to meet him. So the reaction was fairly closed at the beginning. The Ukrainians weren’t used to seeing very many foreigners. In fact when we moved to Kyiv in May of 1991 I would say there were probably 30 full time western expatriates here if one didn’t count the third world students. So it was a very insular place. Again, everything happened in Moscow. There were no embassies here, there were no international flights, there was no real international airport, only a few consulates. I think some of the socialist countries had consulates here but generally everything went through Moscow, all the business, all the representation, anybody who had anything to do with Ukraine had to do it through Moscow. So on the one hand the Diaspora was welcome and yet on the other hand it wasn’t. But really the first real sort of Diaspora event was a Canadian Ukrainian legal conference in October of 1989, which I attended prior to moving to Moscow in 1990. And it was very interesting because it was organized by a gentleman named Bohdan Havrylyshyn from Geneva, and I remember he insisted that all the proceedings be held in Ukrainian. And the first Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine at the time was a man named Urchukin who barely spoke Ukrainian or none at all. It was really very sad. And it was interesting at this conference that Havrylyshyn said either we’re going to have it in Ukrainian or we’re not going to have it at all. The Ukrainians started moaning and groaning and oh jeez nobody understands Ukrainian, we’re not going to be able to do it. And for many of them it was very difficult, especially Urchukin, when he came up and spoke — it was very embarrassing. But I remember at that point meeting a number of young lawyers, young Ukrainian lawyers at the conference. I approached one of them and suggested that maybe we could organize some exchanges with Harvard with my law school. And I remember one of them coming back the next day and telling me that he had visited the central party organization at the law faculty and had cleared the idea with them and they said it was ok and were very interested in doing it. This was my first taste of the Soviet system, at least in the way it was operating here in Ukraine. I also remember sitting next to Vasyl’ Kysil’ who turned out to be one of the lawyers very active in the democratic movement and someone with whom I would spend a great deal of time drafting several pieces of Ukrainian legislation later on. And when Urchukin came up and spoke in terrible Ukrainian, Vasyl’ turns to me and says, I just want to apologize on behalf of all of us because not everyone speaks as badly as he does. At the conference I also met Alexander Savchenko who would go on to become the number two person at the National Bank after independence and Ukraine’s representative at the EBRD. At the time he was just a young economist who was having trouble with the authorities. So the conference was actually a very positive thing since I was able to meet a number of young people and I saw that there was some hope for the future in Ukraine. But it was also very grim. I mean there was not a lot of movement, not a great deal of foreign contact in Ukraine.
S: Was independence ever mentioned at that conference? Or at what point did you first get the idea that independence was in the minds of actual Ukrainians living in Ukraine?
J: You couldn’t talk about independence at that time. Maybe in the Baltic’s they started talking about it, but here I think it was really more of a cultural, more of a pro-perestroika movement. Noone was talking about independence at that time. In fact I remember there was a group of businessmen that came to Washington in 1989 from Ukraine — Serhiy Berezovenko, Serhij Buriak and a couple of other people and we hosted them at the Baker & McKenzie Washington office in September of 1989. Their public line at the tim was that they were for economic decentralization, for more economic autonomy. But then when asked — well how about some sort of independence? — oh no was the answer. So the line was really economic autonomy. The breakup of the Soviet Union was not something that anyone was actively pushing. It was all couched in terms of economic decentralization, part of the market reforms, opening up the Soviet market to foreign investment and things like that. That was the tone at the time.
S. You were visiting western Ukraine quite often with your relatives. Did they ever talk about any pro Ukraine inclinations?
J: Ukrainians were participating in the democratic demonstrations in Moscow. You would see Ukrainian flags at the demonstrations, always waving. There was the Ukrainian Slavuta organization in Moscow, which was supporting the democratic forces in Moscow. When Cardinal Lubachivsky returned to Lviv, I spent four days acting as a translator for a group of reporters for Spanish television.
S. So can you describe a little bit the attitudes of your relatives and your relatives’ neighbors in Lviv towards independence when you first started visiting them? At what point did they become interested and cognizant of the possibility of political independence?
J. For the first five months after arriving in Moscow I kept the Ukrainian issue quiet. I didn’t make much contact with my relatives, didn’t try to really get involved in Ukrainian affairs. I had a lot of work to do in Moscow and had to get up to speed on the various Soviet legal issues, improve my Russian etc. There was a great deal going on in Moscow at the time. It was a very interesting time with the democratic revival. But after give months in Moscow I wrote a letter to my relatives in Ternopil. They wrote back and invited me to visit. At the same time, I received an invitation from a Ukrainian friend who I had met in Washington in the summer of 1989 who lived in Rivne. Rivne is not that far from Ternopil, so he invited me to go down and to give a series of lectures at his school. He taught English at the Polytechnic Institute. So my wife and I flew to Rivne out of an airport called Bykovo in Moscow, which was nothing more than a tin shack of a building. I think the used Bykovo to fly to all of the really remote places in the Soviet Union. So we flew to Rivne and there Yurko Shevchuk organized these series of lectures. And then he said — oh by the way I have organized a meeting for you with the local Taras Shevchenko society in Rivne. Do you mind saying a few words at the meeting? I thought there would be about 20-30 people there. We walk into this huge auditorium, there are probably about six hundred people in it. I hadn’t ever given a talk or a speech in Ukrainian. I still really didn’t know my way around in terms of what you could and couldn’t say, where the permissible political lines were. So I stood up and gave a short chat about the Diaspora and Ukrainians abroad. Then there was a question and answer period. And of course it was strange because here the audience gives you questions in written form. There is a tradition of passing written questions to the speaker. So I was getting all these written questions and I really didn’t know how to handle them. I was really scared in a sense that I didn’t know where the political line was, what you could and couldn’t say. And this audience in Rive, in Western Ukraine, was very nationally conscious. I was getting questions such as — should Ukraine be independent? What do you think of Stepan Bandera? And I remember sort of waffling, not waffling but being very careful to give non-polemical and non-controversial answers. Because at the time I really didn’t know were the line was, what you could and couldn’t say. In terms of what the mood was at the time, yes, clearly in western Ukraine there was a certain energy level that you did not have in Kyiv. And certainly in western Ukraine it was fairly clear that there was a strong national spirit and that even the idea of independence was being raised fairly early there.
S: Did people feel comfortable talking with you as a westerner about issues like independence openly? Had perestroika taking hold enough that…
J: Well that’s what surprised me when I received all those provocative questions in Rivne. In Kyiv the official line from most of the delegations I dealt and had run into in the West and in Moscow was economic independence, autonomy, market reform but very little on the independence issue and Ukrainian nationalism. Once I went to western Ukraine it took me by surprise. I didn’t expect to see that many people in the hall, I certainly didn’t expect to receive those kinds of questions. And of course, you come with your western perceptions that you’re being followed, that you’re being watched. And I think some of the fear turned out to be true because, after that trip and the next one after that to Western Ukraine, the organization who had sponsored our visas in Moscow was questioned by the KGB as to why I was going to Ukraine. So there was a great deal of control even then. In any event, from Rivne my wife and I took a bus to Ternopil and my relatives were waiting for us there at the bus station and we had a very good time. It was really moving — all of the lost family that I didn’t know existed. We went to my father’s village, we went to the cemetery where my great-great grandfather and great grandfather and all my grandfather’s brothers are buried. It was a very moving experience. I met many cousins I didn’t know existed and it was very nice. It was very nice. And there, of course, you would speak fairly openly. Western Ukraine at that point was fairly politicized.
S: You enjoyed it enough that you eventually moved to Kiev?
J: That’s right. I really wanted to go to Kyiv. I wanted to try to open an office for Baker & McKenzie there, to try to do something. Of course the attitude of the firm was “What’s Ukraine?” At the time an office in Kyiv was just a pipe dream. Everything was still run through Moscow. Noone imagined that you would have the breakup of the Soviet Union. So I wound up traveling to Kyiv several times during the course of 1990. My wife and I came here for May Day in 1990 just after Ivashko had become the Head of the Ukrainian Parliament or Supreme Soviet as it was called at the time. We came back again for a festival in Zaporizhia for the 400 or 500 year anniversary of the founding of the Kozak Sich in Zaporizhia. The festival was amazing. Team of caravans, buses and vans from Western Ukraine traveled to eastern Ukraine, to Zaporizhia, to celebrate this Kozak festival. And so my wife and I took the train from Moscow to Kiev and then from Kiev we took the train to Zaporizhia and from Zaporizhia a local train to a place called Nikopol. And at the time you needed an internal visa to travel outside Moscow – which we didn’t have. My cousins came to the festival with a caravan from Ternopil.
S: Was this a politicized event?
J: Yes, a completely politicized event.
S: In what way?
J: Although it commemorated a historical event, it was completely politicized because at that time in eastern Ukraine the thought of yellow and blue flags, the thought of tridents, the thought of the Ukrainian language and the thought of Ukrainian national revival was zero. The area was very Russified, very lumpinized, a very Sovietized society. While there we ran into Les Taniuk in Nikopil and he would up taking us under his wing. But my cousins had also come along with the Ternopil’ delegation. So we wound up sleeping with the Ternopil’ delegation in the back of a truck. Before the trip I had told my wife that we would be staying in hotels, that it would be very nice. But we ended up sleeping a couple of nights in the back of a truck that had all the water for the Ternopil’ delegation. So starting at six in the morning people would show up and we wound up spending most of the morning selling them bottles of water. The Ternopil delegation would describe their trip from the West to the festival, how the further east they moved, the more aggressive and the more negative reaction they were getting from the local people.
S: As they were driving …
J: ..as they were driving east in these caravans of cars. They would stop in every village and prosletize and talk… But the communist party had anticipated this and had put out a great deal of negative propaganda ahead of time and carried out a major propaganda effort. In other words, the further east the caravans would move the more the party apparatus was working, claiming that these were Banderavites who were coming with their tridents, to use them to kill your children, that these are horrible nationalists who were going to be using the trident as a spear. And so the further east the caravans moved, the more aggressive the reaction and the more resistance they were feeling in the various villages. They would stop and talk to people and after a while the locals would say – gee I didn’t realize you weren’t that bad. In fact as the caravans departed many of the locals said that they were going back to the village with a much more positive reaction. People were coming out of their homes to wave to them. But the festival was really very very moving. You had all these mostly western Ukrainians carrying out this pilgrimage; everybody was camping in this huge field and at that point very nationalistic. The speeches were, at that point in the late summer, early fall of 1990, becoming much more aggressive. The idea of sovereignty and of autonomy, and breaking away from Moscow, was much stronger at that point. So you had this two day period where you were camped out in a field near the grave of a famous Ukrainian historical figure and then the next day participating in a huge parade though the center of Zaporizhia. There were a hundred thousand people parading through the streets of Zaporizhia. I remember seeing local people crying, saying they hadn’t heard Ukrainian in the streets in about 50 years. There was also the reaction of others who looked at this as something out of a zoo, some sort of nightmare. But I think it was important because it was the first push into eastern Ukraine and the first showing contact of western Ukraine with the easterners who saw that they were not a bad people. That the idea of Ukraine is actually not a bad one. That nationalism isn’t synonymous with killing. But it was interesting to see the struggle between the communist party and the Western Ukrainians. I remember, where we were camping there were yellow and blue flags hanging on the telephone poles and the Communists from the local party organization would come by in a truck and rip them all down and put up red ones. The Western Ukrainians had brought with them kozaky, kozaks on horses, I think from Khmelnytsky, and they would run around with their horses, tear down all the red flags and put the yellow and blue ones back up again. It was great. It was really a kind of national revival. I did an article for the Wall Street Journal on the days of the festival. But there I really sensed the clash, the clash with eastern Ukraine, a place that seemed very sterile, totally neutered, totally de-Ukrainianized, totally Sovietized, and western Ukraine, a place that had really caught on to the idea of Ukrainian autonomy and independence and that was not that different from the feeling you had in the Baltics at the time.
S: And you were at this point still living in Moscow?
J: We were still living in Moscow and coming down to Ukraine every two or three months.
S: When did you actually move?
J: Well I saw the writing on the wall. It was pretty clear to me that the Soviet Union couldn’t stand together, although this was something that noone in Moscow was thinking and certainly noone in the western press was thinking. I had tried to write a few op-ed pieces about the inevitable breakup, but noone would publish them. At the time the prevailing view was that the Soviet Union was going to stay together but would decentralize enough to allow economic reforms to occur. My thinking was that the Soviet Union was an empire in the classic sense of the word, and if you’re trying to de-centralize an empire on an economic level, then the politics has to follow naturally. I couldn’t imagine a situation where they were going to de-centralize economic power, because by its nature you have to de-centralize economic decision making power in order to have a market economy, yet somehow maintain a centralized political system. It seemed to me it was a contradiction, it just couldn’t happen. In fact I’m just surprised the Baltics republics took as long as they did to break away. I think the west was very naïve to think that you could have perestroika, have all of this great economic reform yet keep the USSR together. The west wanted to keep the Union together at all costs because if the union breaks up we’re going to have all these new nuclear powers, we’re going to have to open embassies up in fourteen new countries. It was pretty clear to me, but nobody would listen, nobody would believe at the time that if you want to move forward with economic reform you are going to have to accept the inevitable consequence of the break up of the Soviet Union on the political level. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. And I knew that Ukraine was a huge country, with huge potential. But I needed a reason to go to Kiev and there certainly wasn’t a business reason to do it early in 1991. But fortunately, Bohdan Havrylyshyn was establishing an advisory council to the Ukrainian Parliament. In other words, he went to the Ukrainian Parliament and convinced them, convinced Kravchuk that it would be worthwhile to have a western advisory board giving advice to the Ukrainian Parliament and to give some credence to Ukrainian existence. He needed an on the ground person to run this advisory council. So I took a leave of absence for a year from Baker & McKenzie and we packed everything we had in Moscow into two train compartments and took the train down to Kiev and moved our things into room 710 at the Hotel Kiev. And it was great, because when we arrived at the train station in Kyiv, people from the Renaissance Fund were waiting for me, to pick us up in a van and take me to a meeting with Kravchuk at 5 o’clock.
S: Who was then…
J: …who was then the head of the Ukrainian Parliament. I didn’t have a suit on, I hadn’t shaved, I hadn’t done anything, I just had to quickly get dressed and then go to a meeting with Kravchuk. Actually, it was a meeting of the Presidium of the Parliament to approve the advisory council and to sanction its creation.
S: With whom had Havrylyshyn been negotiating to establish the council?
J: He did it directly with Kravchuk and the Presidium, relying on the democratic members. I think he was pretty close to Yukhnovsky, he was pretty close to Pavlychko, Drach and these people. At the same time, he was working with Kravchuk and Khomenko, who was the head of the Rada secretariat. He was also a deputy, but he was head of the secretariat of the Parliament. And so I came and my job was to be the on-the-ground person for the advisory council. And of course we had to find office space. The Rada gave us two offices. Actually Volodia Vasylenko, who after the independence became the ambassador to the European community, was instrumental in getting much of this going. I think Havrylyshyn used the Renaissance Foundation, he set up the Renaissance Foundation through Soros’ funding, and he used it as a springboard to propose the idea of this advisory council. Since he needed an on-the-ground person, I came down to do that. And you know, we had to set up the office. Khomenko was not very helpful, making it difficult every step of the way. But they finally gave us two offices at the old Oblast’ Party Headquarters on Lesia Ukrainka. And here it was really bazaar. I walk into this building that used to be the head of the Oblast’ Party organization. I had this big huge office that must have been the office of some senior party official, a typical Soviet Party office — my desk, and then another table coming out perpendicular to the desk and another big conference desk. Just getting the computers, getting everything set up was very difficult. I had to bring all the computers and things down from Moscow. I was the first person to be on Sprint mail in Ukraine and that allowed me to fax and communicate very easily with the west. But there were a large number of organizational problems in getting the office and the council set up.
S: How did you define your role? What was the work that you concentrated primarily on?
J: I had three roles. One was as an advisor in those legislative areas where I had some sort of expertise such as corporations, anti-trust, tax, foreign investments. In this role I worked directly with the parliamentary commissions on helping develop those laws, turning to the members of the advisory council for assistance to the extent they could assist or to other western experts to the extent they could. The other role was to spend a lot of time dealing with media, because there were very few westerners in Kyiv at the time, there were very few westerners who knew how to do a sound byte and people were becoming very interested in Ukraine in 1991. So I spent an awful lot of time helping journalists, helping them organize things, helping them set up meetings, because none of them had their on-the-ground fixers. It tended to be the reporters from Moscow who would come to Kyiv. They didn’t know anybody, many didn’t speak the language and I had the contacts and the phone lists. Every day I was getting to know more and more of the deputies, I was spending most of the day at the Parliament. I had my official pass that allowed me in to just about any building. So I spent an awful lot of time working with the media and helping reporters organize interviews. Through this I really learned how you can influence the media because you know, a reporter comes in from Moscow or from Frankfurt to do a piece. He doesn’t really know much about Ukraine. And so if you are a pleasant person and you seem like you’re really eager to help, you can shape the way the way the stories would come out. So a lot of these reporters would come and I would show them the democratic side of the story, that Ukraine is different from Russia. I was choosing what they were going to see since they often had very little idea as to what was going on. I really saw how the media, as much as it tries to be impartial, is really affected by the information it receives. So that was the second part of what I was doing. The third was coordinating the activities of the advisory council members themselves. I think there were ten original members on the council, there was Geoffrey Howe, Shirley Williams, Lester Turow from MIT. I don’t think he ever came to Kyiv unfortunately. There was Mark Lalonde, who was the former minister of Justice in Canada, Saburo Okita, who was a former foreign minister of Japan, I think he died just recently. George Soros. Bohdan Havrylyshyn was the chairman. Kurt Biedendorf, who I think was the head of one of the German States. There was also a Swede – Burnstrom-Linstrom, who was a former minister of trade of Sweden. So it was a very solid group of people and they would come very two or three months to Kiev. So I had to organize their various visits. I hated that part of the job because it was impossible to organize anything in Ukraine at that time. Nobody kept calendars, nobody had secretaries, everybody’s calendars and schedules were made on the fly, changing every five minutes. I remember the many meetings I had with people in the government at the time. Sometimes it was like talking to a rock.
S: In what sense?
J: In the sense that many of them were fairly unsophisticated, very old-line communist types. I remember one meeting we had with the advisory council and some government officials. I think it was Howe, Soros, Havrylyshyn and somebody else. And there was a gentleman named Mishchenko who was the Minister of Economy, Matvienko who was the first head of the National Bank, the deputy head of the Foreign Ministry, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and then Kravchenko who was the Minister of Foreign Economic Relations, the first one. The members of the advisory council were trying to talk about possible reform measures with these people and it was really like just talking to a wall. It was strange. Very few of them spoke Ukrainian well. They acted like old line party hacks who just took the old line Soviet bureaucratic view of things.
S: Which is what many of them were or….?
J: Almost all of them were because…well we can get into the state building problems that Ukraine faced at the time later. But these were the three areas that I was involved in — media, getting involved in legislative areas where I had some expertise and then coordinating the activities of the members of the advisory council.
S: What prompted the Western press’s interest in Ukraine in 1991? Why suddenly was Ukraine on the media horizon for them when it hadn’t been the year before?
J: Ukraine was the biggest republic outside of the Russian Republic in the Soviet Union. It was making noises that it might not agree with Gorbachev’s new Union Treaty. There was a fairly active Rukh movement, a national movement going on here. I think the media realized it had to cover other parts of the Soviet Union and so Ukraine was obviously the logical first…well the Baltics actually received the initial interest because they were ahead of the curve in terms of independence. But then once Ukraine started going the interest increased dramatically. Of course noone had reporters on the ground here other than Chrystia Freeland from the Financial Times. There were also a few stringers, but no full time real reporters. The news organizations were all sending people down from Moscow.
S: How much did the Western Press’s reporting on Ukraine impact the decisions the political leaders made here?
J: Well I don’t think they had a sense as to what the western press was writing about. They were just trying to sort out for themselves what they were going to do. At the time most of the western coverage was through Moscow’s eyes because the top reporters were all in Moscow and following the events in and from Moscow. Here you just mostly stringers, many of whom have since developed into very fine journalists. But in the beginning they just happened to be here and it was a great way to accelerate your journalistic career. But at that time, most everything was seen in the west through Moscow’s eyes.
S: At what point, if we can shift back to the government ministries for just a minute…at what point did Ukrainian ministries make decisions for Ukraine? When you met with Minister of Economy of Ukraine, were the effective decisions still being made in Moscow or did Ukraine have enough autonomy under USSR and Perestroika that they could make decisions that were relevant for Ukraine as then republic?
J: I think that in 1989 and 1990 most of the decisions were still being made in Moscow. In early 1991 things switched, Moscow turned over the registration of joint ventures to the republics, whereas prior to January 1 of 1991 you had to register every joint venture in Moscow. After that they decentralized and gave that power up to the Republics. You did have a Ukrainian Parliament but it was still part of the Soviet Union. You had Ukrainian legislation being passed and yet at the same time you had an overlay of the USSR legislation and very often you’d have conflicts and noone really knew which one had to be followed. So you had…it was kind of a dual track system and nobody really knew which one to follow and which one predominated. It was fair to say that there was absolute legal chaos in a sense that again you had the Soviet legislation still being churned out by the USSR Parliament and yet you had the Ukrainian Parliament starting to pass its own legislation. So I’d say 1991 was really a year of total chaos in the sense of what was really going on. By inertia things just carried out the way they were always carried out. But certainly up until the coup and independence it was very unclear as to who was in charge.
J: What was very interesting was the May Day Parade in 1990 when I came down with Margi. You would see this huge Communist Parade going down Khreshchatyk with all the banners and the red flags and everything and then you would see the small democratic parade almost on the other side of the street, sort of in parallel, going along, following the communists. And so that was the situation at the time. Officially it was all communists, yet you have this sort of democratic small little parade behind it. But I do remember seeing Ivashko below the Lenin statue in what is now called Independence Square…he was walking and my wife and I happened to be right next to him and all of a sudden a big crowd gathered around him. He spoke Ukrainian very well. He spoke good Ukrainian. It was the first time I’d seen a Ukrainian leader speak Ukrainian well…Shcherbytsky spoke very poor Ukrainian or none at all. It was a pleasant thing to listen to because you certainly didn’t hear any Ukrainian in any of the government offices at the time. Nowhere on the street would you really hear Ukrainian. Most of the signs were in Russian. That was interesting for me in the sense that it was my first contact with the street politics of the time. When I came back to Kyiv later was in the fall when the students had their hunger strike and they had taken over the entire area right below the Lenin monument at Independence Square. They set up tents and they had a rope cordoning everything off and I remember standing right next to the Lenin statue with Yurko Kostenko, who was a young member of the Democratic opposition at the time, a member of Parliament who would then become Minister of Ecology later on…and standing next to him and saying, “My God, what will all this result in? It’s mind boggling…here we are standing and watching this sort of thing and there are no water cannons, no police beating people up, these kids aren’t being arrested. It was very very interesting. I spent a couple of nights with the students. They were all camped out in tents and carrying out a hunger strike and they wound up in the end bringing down the government. It was a very very intense moment. They cut off Khreshchatyk. They laid down across the street and the head of the militia in Kiev, Nedrehaylo, I remember was a pretty good guy. He was a grandfatherly type. He would go and talk to the students. “So what are you guys doing? Come on, can you please do me a favor and leave?” It was really not an aggressive type of thing, it was more like a festival. Hundreds of people, constantly milling around the Independence Square area. What struck me was that there really wasn’t any sort of mass uprising. Ukraine really never had any kind of mass uprising, other than in western Ukraine where you did have huge rallies and perhaps the Zaporizhia festival where there was a huge rally, a hundred thousand people. But in Kiev it was all fairly tame. But the students did capture the moment. They carried out a hunger strike and they cut off Khreshchatyk. They were there for a couple of weeks and they did bring down the Masol government at the time. I have forgotten but I believe they had five demands that they wanted: parliament to convene and others. The government wound up caving and Masol’s government fell. The images I have are of a fairly peaceful situation. The police was not aggressive. It was more of a carnival atmosphere than a tense political situation. I remember the students spread out on their cots across Khreshchatyk cutting off traffic and the head of the Kiev militia walking around in kind of grandfatherly way, asking them to get off the street, trying to find a way of getting them off the street. Their political views were somewhat extreme. I have some tape recordings of some of the comments they were making at the time. The students at that point were talking about independence, anti-empire, things like that. Stepan Khmara who was a Deputy who had been arrested and would be arrested later – he would spend seven months in jail as a Deputy — which is another amazing fact that a Deputy can be arrested for really nothing and thrown in jail for seven months and nothing really happened. But he was there with them as well. And I do remember speaking with him quite a bit and he gave the impression of somebody who was very extreme, really too extreme for my tastes. You know, “Ukraine for Ukrainians only”, this kind of extreme brand of nationalism that I don’t agree with. I remember telling this to him — “You really have to tone your act down because the things you’re saying…if a western reporter comes and hears this, they’re not going to be very sympathetic to your cause. You know, “kick out all the foreigners”. “These other nationalities are hurting us” and things like that. It was pretty extreme. I have a snap shot image of the pretty extreme positions that these students were taking in private when you would talk to them. And I do remember telling Khmara, “you really have got to tone your act down because when western reporters come and you say this to a western reporter, you’re going to sound like some kind of fascist idiot. Which is probably not the image that you want to convey at this point in time.”
S: Do you know what it was that caused the students to organize themselves and to demand specifically the resignation of Masol?
J: I don’t know what triggered it. I just happened to get to Kyiv as the protest began. I sort of fell into it. What I don’t have a feel for is how the whole student movement started off, but I would imagine it went hand in hand with Rukh. The universities tend to be very politically active as it is. Many of the students were western Ukrainians. I do remember there was no western press present and of trying to call reporters in Moscow from the post office right behind the square..right next to the square is the main post office. They have this whole row of phones and they had some local phones on which you could only make local calls and others that you could make inter city calls. And I remember taking my kopeks and calling all the news agencies. Rick Inderfurth who was the ABC reporter at the time and saying “hey, get your people down here, there are a number of interesting things happening here”. I called some folks at NBC, CBS, trying to spark some interest in what was going on with these students because it really very interesting. The political discourse and the level and the stridency of the discourse had increased fairly substantially from when I had been in Kyiv in May 1990. So these are my impressions of the students, the images that I remember of the students.
S: Back to your work with Parliament… The Ukrainian Parliament’s known for being difficult to fathom what exactly was going on. With you, you were working with the Parliament on a daily basis with many Deputies. Can you describe your understanding of sort of structurally how it’s organized and how the behind-the-scenes politicking went on with various factions particularly during 1991?
J: In 1991 one had the sense that the democrats were fairly well organized and that they were a fairly cohesive unit. They were group around the so-called Narodna Rada, the National Council, which acted as the democratic faction within the Parliament. I think they made up about a quarter of the Deputies in the Parliament at the time, headed up by Ihor Yukhnovsky. There were 26 members in the presidium at the time, I believe. The presidium was made up of the committee chairmen, plus Kravchuk and the two Deputy Heads of Parliament, Pliushch and Hriniov. There were seven democrats out of the twenty-six, seven democratic members of the Presidium out of the twenty-six total members. I think it really was a democrat versus communist situation at the time and the issues were political. It wasn’t economic, it wasn’t economic reform, since almost none of the democrats knew much about economic reform. Reform, privatization, these were all buzzwords that they talked about but the big issue was political. The political issue was there going to be a new Soviet Union or not. Was there going to be a new Union treaty or not. That was the big issue over the summer of 1991. What would the new USSR look like?
S: The Union Treaty, USSR’s Union Treaty?
J: The new Union Treaty.
S: Do you have any sense of which groups in Parliament, which factions supported the Union Treaty and which didn’t and what their reasoning was behind it?
J: One had the sense that Gorbachev had let Rukh prosper and had permitted many of the national movements to grow because his philosophy was to reform the Soviet Union and I don’t think it ever entered his mind that the Soviet Union would ever break apart, that these countries would ever become independent. And that’s one thing I think the western press didn’t really appreciate. Yes, until the coup you couldn’t say that there was an overwhelming movement toward independence in Ukraine. There was in western Ukraine, but there was not in eastern Ukraine. In Kyiv it was a bit of a mixed bag with mixed thoughts on economic reform, autonomy, a different kind of union treaty or maybe no union treaty at all, but there wasn’t any clear cut, defined position on these issues. But I think Moscow didn’t do itself any favors. I have a photocopy of the draft of the new Union treaty with Gorbachev’s note to Kravchuk — you know the boss always writes instructions across the corner of the document – “Tovar’s Kravchuk, the draft Union Treaty for your approval.” Gorbachev had clearly presented it to Kravchuk and the Ukrainians as a fait accompli. And with respect to the Ukrainians, the Russians and Moscow were constantly acting this way. When Helmut Kohl came to Kyiv in the summer and met with Gorbachev, Foci and Kravchuk were treated as little kids who were given five minutes with Kohl at the end of his meeting with Gorbachev at Gorbachev’s dacha – a bit like a big shot letting some of the local neighbors meet his guest. The consistent attitude of Moscow was to treat the Ukrainian events as not very serious, to treat the Ukrainian Parliament as not very serious. This clearly got on the Ukrainian nerves. Now Gorbachev was sending this new treaty around to the various republics for approval and most of them were approving it. But the Ukrainian Parliament didn’t. Instead it postponed its decision. It was a cat and mouse game that Ukraine was playing. They couldn’t come right out and say that they wanted independence but they couldn’t also come out and say that they wanted a new Union Treaty because of the political turmoil going on in Ukraine. So they put off a vote on the new treaty until September 15th. The Parliament session ended in July so they decided to wait until September. The democrats were planning large demonstrations for September 15, 1991 to protest Gorbachev’s Union Treaty. Gorbachev thought he was going to have it all locked up and then all of a sudden, out of the blue, Ukraine postpones consideration of the draft until September 15 forcing Gorbachev to re-think everything. And then of course the coup occurred and it all became mute anyhow. But I think the political game at the time was for Rukh to try and gain as much sovereignty as possible. Some of them were talking independence sure…but it was not the thinking of the general political body, polity in Ukraine. But I do remember that after the vote to postpone the treaty discussion to the 15th, I went up to a communist deputy and asked him why he voted to postpone the discussion and he tells me that “I’m a Ukrainian too you know and I’ve got pride in what I am and we’re a big country and we don’t want to become part of another Soviet Union where nothing is really different.” The language issue was a big one because Gorbachev insisted that Russian be the official language of the new USSR and many of the Ukrainian democrats were not going to go for that at all. I think that independence wasn’t the key issue at the time but more of an attitude of “we want to get away from Moscow”. In what form, noone really quite knew since there wasn’t an overarching concept of what that new Ukraine was supposed to look like. It was simply “we don’t want the old union and the old structures that we had”.
S: Even within the communist party, within the deputies in Parliament, and the leadership of the communist party in Ukraine?
J: You had the democrats who were more inclined towards some sort of the independence or autonomy and the communist who were much less so inclined. But I do think even among the communists there was a feeling, as you have in the United States….I’m from Michigan, you’re from California…a feeling of rivalry with Russia, and so there was an attempt by the Ukrainian communists to pull away and develop their own power base. They were the majority. After all, the democrats and the communists together joined to postpone the treaty vote to the 15th. But it was a bit of a game. It would not be fair to say that, like in the Baltics, they wanted full independence, to hell with communism, to hell with the Soviet Union, lets get rid of it, as occurred in the Czech Republic or Poland. No. It was a very fluid, constantly evolving situation from zero to eventually, in December 1991, a hundred. It was an evolving situation with single idea for how to govern. There certainly was no plan, there wasn’t a master plan or anything. It just evolved. What they were sure of was that they wanted a different kind of relationship with Moscow, not the one they had, so they voted to postpone the Union Treaty until the 15th . But by then the coup happened and the issue became mute.
S: You were also involved in the visits of western political leaders and international financial institutions when they would make trips to Ukraine. Could you go through your experiences with some of those representatives as they were in Kiev?
J: Part of the problem was that there were perhaps 30 foreigners when we moved to Kyiv. We lived in room 710 in the Kiev Hotel. There were a couple of expatriates who lived there, a couple of people from the US Embassy, the French Embassy, the Canadian Embassy, there were John Stepanchuk and John Gundersen from the American Embassy, Nestor Gayowsky from the Canadian Embassy. In fact, I had come down with Nestor in 1991 when he opened up the Consulate because I was representing the Canadian Embassy at the time when they were carrying out their lease negotiations for their building in Kiev. I was still based in Moscow at the time but came down with Nestor when he arrived with all his suitcases to open up the Consulate at the National Hotel. The KGB was following us all around town that week. It was a pretty interesting experience. There were a number of Germans here, and there were a couple of Diaspora Ukrainians, some journalists, and Bohdan Kravchenko who was working at the Renaissance Foundation and who would later work with me at the Advisory Council. So there were very few of us. We lived in a bit of an island, an oasis…there was very little contact with the west, you couldn’t call abroad, you had to wait two or three hours, sometimes two days to book a phone call to the west. All the calls had to be routed through Moscow. Whenever we wanted to fly to the West we had to take the train up to Moscow, to buy food. There were no hard currency stores in Kyiv at the time other than the Cashton. The Dnepr had a little bit, but it was mostly booze and cigarettes and things like that. So we would take the nine o’clock night train to Moscow. It was a twelve hour train that would leave…there were no borders at the time and no customs checkpoints between the two countries…no customs barriers…so we’d take the nine o’clock train on a Friday night, get to Moscow at nine in the morning and we would have a car waiting in Moscow to take us shopping. There were a couple of hard currency stores in Moscow at the time and we would do our shopping, buy water, spaghetti, all the food. Then at nine o’clock at night take the train back to Kiev and nine in the morning on Sunday we were back in Kiev. We would do this once a month to stock up on food. Flying to the States, we would have to go to Moscow and fly Delta or Panama to the States. There was much going on here. The Ukrainian bureaucracy was one that took orders from Moscow. That’s it. They didn’t have to innovate, they didn’t have to think, they just sat here and basically took orders from Moscow. So when the Union fell apart, there was not much here. The Ukrainians didn’t have an army really, they didn’t have a Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations, they didn’t have a Foreign Ministry. They had one during the Soviet days but it was subordinated completely to Moscow. They had no national bank. They had to start all of that from scratch, in addition to moving from communism to capitalism, which is hard enough in and of itself. When you throw onto it the additional burden of trying to build up a state it made the situation all that more difficult. I remember going to the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations, just after it was set up, to a room not much bigger than this one with three tables and two phone lines and that was it…about six people sitting around. This for a country of 52 million people was the Ministry of Foreign Trade.
S: When was that?
J: In 1991, when the Ministry was first created. It was really very interesting to see how far behind the Ukrainians were in terms of having a competent, experienced bureaucracy and civil service. I remember they didn’t know how to handle all of the foreign dignitaries. All of this was new to them. They never had to do it before.
S: Who came to visit Ukraine during that time, during 1991?
J: Well I think that the first big visit was Helmut Kohl, when Kohl came with Gorbachev to visit.
S: What month was that?
J: I think it was sometime in May of 1991, if I’m not mistaken, and they met out at a fancy dacha that I think Shcherbytsky used to have. It was very very nice. I was able to get a spot on the media bus during the visit. Of course, there was a great deal of foreign media present because they were all traveling with Kohl for this visit. So Marga and I went out to where they were meeting and the impression I had was that Gorbachev treated the Ukrainians like little kids. And that didn’t sit well with the Ukrainians.
S: Was Kohl visiting the Soviet Union and it happened to be in Ukraine or was it a conscious decision to the best of your knowledge for him to come to Ukraine and send a message?
J: You know, I don’t know. I know he was in Moscow, and then from Moscow they came down to Kiev. But I think the impression we all had here was that Gorbachev wanted to show Kohl his dacha and, what the hell, let’s have a short meeting in Ukraine. You had a tension between the Soviet Union still existing in the international arena, yet domestically more and more power was shifting down to the republic level. And that’s what most in the west never realized. The most frustrating thing for those of us here on the ground was that the Bush administration kept hanging on to the idea of a unified Soviet Union. They thought it would be bad if the Soviet Union were to fall apart. We have to back Gorbachev, he’s our man and all of that. And yet when you’re on the ground in Kiev you saw that the breakup was inevitable and that the situation was never going to be the same.
S: When Bush visited Kiev did US policy change in any significant way? Did you get the impression that US political thinkers understood Ukraine as an independent entity?
J: Well I know the media changed. I worked with three of the US networks and with CNN and others. The stories they were doing were starting to focus on Ukraine going its own way and they were beginning to think of Ukraine in terms of more autonomy, more independence. So their slant was evolving to one where Ukraine was a very important player and if Ukraine joins the new Union it will exist and if it doesn’t we won’t since Ukraine really was the key. Whichever way Ukraine went was the way in which the Union was going to go. But I think Bush was part of the Washington Soviet Kremlinologist…pro Moscow, pro Russian orientation. Witness the suicidal nationalism speech. I was actually in the Parliament hall sitting six rows away from Bush because they let us sit in the deputies’ seats, in the deputies’ area. Bohdan Kravchenko and I were sitting next to each other listening to Bush and we couldn’t believe it. I said “What planet is he on? That’s completely the wrong message…the wrong orientation…the wrong way to look at things.”
S: Can you just review what your understanding was of Bush’s speech?
J: You have different spins on it, but I was sitting in the audience listening to it and it seemed to me that he was saying “don’t break up the Soviet Union, these are bad tendencies, there’s strength in being together, don’t go down the path of suicidal nationalism”. I guess the White House spin on it was that he was trying to avoid another Georgian, Armenian or Nagorno-Karabakh situation. I don’t know. Who knows what he was actually getting at but certainly those of us in the audience understood it to mean…slow down any move toward independence. I think that maybe the nuclear issue was driving it. I don’t know.
S: How did the Deputies, the Parliament Ukrainian Deputies with whom you spoke react to his speech and to his visit?
J: I think the Democrats, I think everybody, reacted the way that I did. I didn’t really talk to the Communists much about it. Remember, that for most of the westerners that were here at the time, 95% of their contacts were with the democratic movement. The seven Deputies, the seven Democrats who were members of the presidium, that’s who I spent 95% of my time with. I did work with some of the communists because they were heads of committees that we were working with. But they weren’t generally very cooperative, they weren’t interested in any kind of real western assistance. The Rada secretariat, which was in Khomenko’s hands, was anti-dorodcha rada, against the advisory council.
S: And the secretariat consisted of?
J: The secretariat took care of all the day to day matters related to the running of the Parliament. The office space, all the logistical things. When I was setting up the advisory council, Khomenko promised me all kinds of logistical help and I wound up getting none of it. So the secretariat wasn’t very eager to help. The old guard wasn’t very eager to help. But I do think the westerns in Kyiv did play a very important role because, again, the media came and didn’t know that much about the situation in Ukraine and so they would turn to us for help. I spent a great deal of time with the foreign media, with media people. And I think the advisory council was good and it had some very prominent western politicians, ex-politicians who got to know Ukraine and would go back to their home countries and talk about the country as an important player. I think the Diaspora played a very important role not because it influenced policy but because it helps get the Ukrainian democratic political leadership to travel to the west. It helped them to see the west, to travel and to act as an initial bridge between Ukraine and the United States, Canada, Australia and other places. It was really the Diaspora that was initially inviting the democrats and organizing their trips. But eventually the Diaspora’s role, as it should once independence came, diminished and Ukraine became a normal country. Normal institutions were coming here, people who had no ties with Ukraine were coming here because it was their job and not because they had family ties to Ukraine. But initially the Diaspora played a very important role because it was the link between Ukraine and the west. It really was the link. Nobody else was really that interested in the country.
S: What do you see as the strengths and the weaknesses of Rukh and of the democratic nationalist movement in Ukraine during the time that you observed them?
J: Well I think it depends on the phase. I think they were very effective in the pre-coup and pre-independence phase. In other words, they were absolutely instrumental with respect to the idea of Ukraine, the national revival, the revival of the language and eventually independence. They were the reason why Ukraine became independent and you can, by looking back at history, say they were successful.
S: Why kinds of things did they do to achieve it? There’s a lot spoken about different factions within the democratic movement and different sort of people who had visions of what they saw Ukrainian nationalism to be.
J: I think you know that there was tension between the Khmaras, the extreme nationalists and the more moderates. They wound up splitting between those who were for Kravchuk and against Kravchuk. But I think at that time they were all pretty united around the language, culture, greater autonomy and eventually independence. And the way they did it was by screaming and yelling and talking and constantly being aggressive and speaking out and making a pain of themselves. I think they had enough votes to keep a quorum in Parliament from occurring. I do remember vaguely there were some procedural powers that they did have in Parliament, that they could use to hold things up. So it was really because they were very outspoken, aggressive and had significant support in Western Ukraine and within the Kiev intelligentsia. But just like the Russian empire which fell apart because of what happened in Petrograd and a few isolated instances there, in many way was what happened here in Ukraine. Whatever happened in Kiev was going to drive the rest of the country even though most of eastern and central Ukraine was largely oblivious to many of the things that were happening here in Kiev. That was really their tactic. Speaking out in Parliament, being aggressive about what they were saying. Where the democrats were extremely weak and they still are weak is on issues relating economic and governance matters. I mean they were pretty much a disaster on these issues. When you look at most of the people who were in Rukh they were political prisoners or writers or people with no experience in running a country. And they certainly had little idea on how to carry out economic reform or to run a market economy. But they were excellent at getting Ukraine to independence. They were not very effective in creating a state afterwards, or in governing it on a day to day basis.
S: Why do you think that they were allowed by the security forces and by the communist party to pursue a course that was very nationalistic during a time when these institutions still held great power in Ukraine?
J: Well I don’t know. That was the paradox that I could never really understand. Why was it that these things were happening. When you talk to Kravchuk he says that it’s because everything was run out of Moscow, the tone was set by Moscow. Moscow never envisioned that the Union would ever fall apart so it was pressuring the local party apparatus here in Ukraine to allow Rukh to exist, to let this nationalist thing flourish as a symbol of perestroika and the fact that we’re actually changing this society. But they never understood that it would eventually lead to the breakup of the Soviet Union. They thought that Rukh would be a sort of token opposition that demonstrated that the system was changing, reforming. And I guess, at least according to Kravchuk, it never entered Gorbachev’s mind that he would be presiding over anything other than a Soviet Union, albeit a reformed Soviet Union. So I don’t know. I was living in a sort of dream. Here I was, the son of Diaspora Ukrainians, former enemies of the people. I had my official ID, with my photo and a hammer and sickle on the cover. I was the executive secretary of the advisory council. I was able to get into most government buildings. I was able to enter the Parliament, the Cabinet Minister’s building. I felt like I was freely able to talk to just about anybody. I never felt that anyone was keeping me from doing what I wanted to. The secretariat of the Parliament wasn’t helping me logistically to set things up, but there were never any prohibitions. I never felt that I was in some way restricted in who I talked to or in what I did. I didn’t stray into military areas. I wasn’t there for that kind of work. It was almost like I was living in this dream. I would say often that this is just all too surreal, that it just can’t be like this. I mean what’s going on? Why was this all happening. Why did Moscow let it get so out of control was the one thing I never could figure out? That’s the big mystery. You really have to go into the KGB files to find out why they didn’t crack down earlier. And of course you then had the coup. The night before on the 18th, my wife and I and some Ukrainian friends went to Zaporizhia for the second Chevron Ruta festival.
S: And Chervona Ruta is….?
J: Chervona Ruta was a Ukrainian Rock Festival. The first one was held in 1989 in western Ukraine. It was very successful. It was a kind of Ukrainian Woodstock, a revival of Ukrainian rock and music and it was really good stuff. They decided to hold the second one in eastern Ukraine in order to build up Ukrainian consciousness there. It was a bit of a flop in the sense that the music wasn’t that great, there weren’t that many people who attended. I went with Boris Sobolev, who eventually became the Deputy Minister of Foreign Economic Relations and Deputy Minister of Finance.
S: What was his position at the time?
J: At the time there was an small group of young Turks who worked in Pavlychko’s commission, the Foreign Affairs Commission of Parliament. There was Serhiy Osyka, who eventually became Deputy Prime Minister, there was Boris Sobolev, lawyers such as Anatoly Dovgert, Vasil Kisil. These guys were in their late 30’s/early 40’s and were democratically minded, and they were working at the Commission. And so that’s how I was able to meet them, really through that Commission. We were working on the new Ukrainian Law on Foreign Investment and that is how I was able to get to know them. So I went to Zaporizhia with Sobolev and Oleksiy Levenets who was working at the time at the Ministry of Finance and who would later be the first lawyer that I hired when I opened the Baker & McKenzie office in Kyiv in 1992. While we were in Zaporizhia I remember walking along the Dnipro the afternoon before the concert with Oleksiy and noting that the situation was just crazy. Here I am in Kiev, a Diaspora Ukrainian, freely walking around with you, talking about things that would have been completely subversive just five years ago, that would have been totally subversive conversations, people leaving and entering the country fairly freely. There has to be a counter revolution, there has to be some kind of opposition. It just can’t go on like this. It’s all just moving too quickly and degenerating too quickly. And Oleksiy replies, yes it’s interesting, there has to be a counter-revolution. We then flew back to Kyiv. Actually the concert was on the 17th of August and we flew back on the night of the 18th . And then on the morning of the 19th…at I believe around seven in the morning, I get a phone call from Oleksiy and he says, “remember what we were talking about yesterday, walking along the river?” I said yes. Well, he says, turn on the TV, there’s a coup in Moscow. And so we turned on the TV and all you could see was a performance of Tchaykovsky’s Swan Lake and the constant repetition of Decree number one of the coup committee, the committee that had been formed in Moscow. Marga’s initial reaction was to get out of the country quickly. She had been through a number of coups in Argentina and she wanted out. I said no, no, we’re not leaving. This is really, really too interesting. And so I took my tape recorder and I went over to the office of Pavlychko’s staff at Sadova 3, that was where the Foreign Affairs Committee met, and I went there. Oleksiy Levenets and Sobolev were there and we turned on the radio and started listening to what was happening. It was interesting to see how people were trying to figure out on which side of the fence to sit. There was Evhen Kucher who wound up getting into a lot of trouble in the Ukrainian Embassy in Canada where he was sent after independence as a first officer or something and where he wound up creating a scandal. But he was one of those fence sitters. Many people were sitting on the fence at that time, people who really weren’t committed democrats, now all of a sudden were thinking. I remember Kucher running over to the safe, getting all his diskettes, destroying all his diskettes because who knows what’s going to happen after the coup. And as we meet in Sadova 3 wondering what’s going to happen now, listening to all the news reports…radio reports, official radio reports. Then we started getting faxes from Havrylyshyn’s office in Geneva with Herald Tribune articles about what was happening in Moscow. Also, we could call Moscow freely, we could call abroad freely. At that point I realized that this can’t be much of a coup. These guys are a bunch of bozos. They haven’t cut off communications. We’re able to communicate with the outside world. We’re getting faxes from Geneva. You would think that they would cut off all the communication, seal off the country. None of that was happening. So I spent a couple hours with these guys listening to the radio and TV and then I went over to the Parliament building. On the second floor, outside of what was then Pliushch’s office, because Kravchuk had his office on one side and Pliushch had his office on the other side, many of the democratic deputies were sitting around listening to Radio Liberty, because that was the key source of information that we had as to what was really going on. And so they’re all huddled around the radio, Chornovil and the other democrats huddled around, and then all of a sudden Kravchuk comes out of his office. And it must have been right after the Varrenikov visit. It was probably around nine or ten in the morning. I remember Chornovil running up to Kravchuk and saying, Mister Kravchuk do something. We have to define ourselves. We have to support Yeltsin. We have to back him. And Kravchuk in his typical evasive way, says, well you know, what’s going to be is going to be, everything’s under control. And everybody is waiting for a reaction from Kravchuk. Which way was he leaning? Was he going to get on the tank with Yeltsin or wasn’t he. What was happening? And then a few of the democrats came up to me, Horyn’ and a couple others and said, we have no idea of what’s going on. Can you give us a hand? So I called Bill Keller who was a New York Times reporter in Moscow every hour to give him updates as to what was going on here and to get from him information as to what was happening in Moscow. I’ll never forget the scene outside Kravchuk’s office and in the Parliament building with all these democrats. You couldn’t see a communist anywhere. Communists were nowhere to be seen. Only the democratic deputies went to the Parliament building. Only the Democratic Deputies were hanging around, milling around, trying to figure out what’s going on. And all of them huddled around this one radio listening to Radio Svoboda, trying to figure out what was happening. And I remember Kravchuk coming out, Chornovil running up to him and Kravchuk telling him everything’s going to be fine, don’t worry about it. So we’re waiting and waiting…
….and then I don’t remember if this was on the afternoon of the19th or the 20th , but Kravchuk came out on Ukrainian television and gave his famous “do nothing” speech. But we’re all waiting for some kind of a reaction from Kravchuk. On the afternoon of the 19th I went over to the Union of Writers Building on what was then call Orzhenikidze Street across from the Central Committee Building. In the building there were all these press conferences that Rukh and the democrats were holding. Volodia Filenko, Sashko Yemets, Lukianenko…and we were sitting in the audience, listening to all the reports and rumors from Moscow and their reaction to the reports. The big issue was…is this a coup or is this a constitutional action that is happening in Moscow or is this a coup? Is this an unconstitutional overthrow of the government? Of course the democratic leaders came out with an official position that it was an unconstitutional overthrow of the government and indicated that they were backing Yeltsin. During the night of the 19th, actually during that whole coup period, I met with Les Taniuk at around 11 o’clock at night in his room — he lived in room 1601 I think and we were in room 710 in the Kiev Hotel. I went up to Les’ room and he would give me a blow by blow summary as to what had happened. The principal political battle in Ukraine was that the democrats wanted to force a meeting of the Rada presidium and to have the presidium approve a resolution backing Yeltsin. And this is something that Kravchuk didn’t want to do. And he kept waffling. In the meeting was held but only seven of the 27 democratic members of the presidium signed a declaration supporting Yeltsin. I remember going to Hriniov’s office in the Parliament building and remember walking around the Parliament building while all this is going on. I walked into Hriniov’s office and was there when he called Yeltsin to let him know that the seven democratic members of the presidium had issued a declaration in support of Yeltsin and the democratic movement which was unfolding in Moscow. But I don’t remember if it was the night of the 19th or the night of the 20th. It may have been the night of the 20th when we were in Hriniov’s office. Because I think the presidium met on the night of the 19th and didn’t come to any kind of decision. And then on the 20th Kravchuk had a speech. I don’t remember. I have to look in my notes. But then again, I was in the room when Hriniov picks up the phone and he’s talking to Boris Nikolaevych, telling him on behalf of the Ukrainian democrats, we hereby support your position. I think Marta Diaczok may have been there, Natalka Fedoshchak, Mary Mitsiv..all of us were sort of milling around, in and out of offices, waiting for Kravchuk to come up and get on the tank. And then he went on television. I was in Pavlychko’s office with Sobolev listening to it. We thought that the speech was really pathetic. We were all expecting him to say this is a coup, this is horrible. He basically came out and said well this is a Russian, this is a Moscow problem. It has nothing to do with us…we’re going to carry on…everything’s calm here…we’re going carry on collecting the harvest. This is really an internal Russian problem, and it doesn’t have anything to do us. Let’s just keep calm and let the Russians sort out their problem. We were very disappointed since we were all looking for some sort of firm stance from Kravchuk and instead he was sitting on the fence. What was Kravchuk’s position? Where was he on all this? And he says that he turned in his party card on the afternoon of the 19th . My sense is that he was sitting on the fence, waiting to see how things developed, and when it became clear that it was going in one direction, he went with the flow. My clear impression on the 19thand the 20th is that Kravchuk was clearly sitting on the fence, clearly waiting to see what was happening. What he felt in his heart of hearts I don’t know. Maybe he had to take that position based on what Varrenikov told him in that meeting. Perhaps Varrenikov told him we’re going to invade…I have troops outside of Kiev and they’re going to come and invade if you do this that and the other. I don’t know. You would need to talk to him and ask him what happened in that meeting. But my impression at the time was that Kravchuk was sitting on the fence and we were all very disappointed that, unlike Yeltsin who got on the tank, he was playing both sides, waiting to see how things turned out.
S: Did any communist leader or a more conservative leader in Ukraine take a position for or against?
J: At the time most of the ex-pats there were having very little contact with the communists. Almost all the contacts were with the democratic movement, so I spent most of the time with them. So I really have their perspective on things. The place where we all congregated was at the Union of Writers Building. That was where all the press conferences were being held, where Rukh and the democrats were trying to sort out their strategies and having meetings as to what they’re going to do. There may have been much more going on at the Rukh headquarters, over on Ploshcha Peremohy. Irene Jarosevych would be the person to talk to since she was more on the inside with Rukh. I don’t know what was going on over there. I didn’t spend much time over there. So there may have been also a hub of activity over there as well during this period. It was really just fascinating….watching events on TV and listening to foreign radio. And I knew that the coup was in trouble because they had just hadn’t cut things off. We were getting faxes from Geneva, calling abroad, no problem. Calling Moscow, no problem. Nobody had been arrested. It was all very strange. Two days. Boom. It was over.
S: When did the tide start turning in Ukraine and the government structure and Parliament in general aside from democratic forces support Gorbachev and Yeltsin?
J: I don’t know if there was any single event. I think for me the defining moment was when they postponed the Union Treaty. Had Ukraine signed the Union Treaty in June or July of 1991 and not postponed it until the 15th of September, I think the Union would have survived and Gorbachev may have survived another five years. Eventually it would have ended but I think it would have been another five years. But when Ukraine put off the treaty discussion until the 15thand I think this may have been a typical Kravchuk move to muddle things…well let’s just muddle things along on the assumption that the more you put it off, eventually something will happen…you just avoid the hard decision. Because, really, it was truly unclear what people wanted here, how it was all going to turn out. And I think that was for me the defining moment because that is what in many ways really triggered the coup. Had Ukraine signed the Treaty at that point there probably would not have been a coup. It would have been all over. And so for me that was the key. In terms what happened after the coup…
S: How did you see the coup progressing? When was it clear from the Kiev perspective?
J: It was pretty clear by the night of the 20th or say the morning of the 21st that it was pretty much over. And I really don’t know, I don’t remember what happened on the 21st and 22nd. I don’t have a clear…I have to go back and look at my notes…but I think….I remember the Union of Writers building, going over to the Parliament Building, trying to go into the various commissions, just trying to figure out what was happening. Everyone was milling around trying to see what was happening. There was one…they did seal the Building of the Central Committee and I don’t remember if they did that after…yes it was after the Independence. For me the 22nd…21st, 22nd are a kind of a blur and then on the 23rd things picked up again. The evening of the 23rd was a very interesting evening for me. As Andy Warhol says everybody has their 15 minutes under the sun and I think the 23rd was mine. That day I went over to the Parliament Building. On the third floor a meeting of the democrats was taking place. Yukhnovsky, Holovaty were there. Ivan Zayets was there. I’m just trying to think of some of them. Yemets was there. Filenko, Horyn’, Hriniov were there. They were engaged in a debate as to how to react to the coup and to the events in Moscow. And the democrats were split into two camps. There was a group that wanted to first declare independence and then worry about the communist party and banning the party and reforming the military and the KGB. And there was another that said no, we don’t want to live in a socialist Ukraine. The first thing we have to do is destroy the communist party, get rid of it, and then worry about independence. Hriniov and many of the eastern Ukrainians were pushing for the latter position, let’s get rid of the party first. And you had the traditional democrats, the Drachms, the Yukhnovsky’s and Holovaty who said that we should declare independence first and then worry about getting rid of the communists later. Surprisingly, I think Skoryk may have been on Hriniov’s side. Skoryk, Larysa Skoryk may have been on Hriniov’s side to get rid of the communists first and then worry about independence later. But there clearly was a divide among the democrats. They didn’t know what to do. They were also working on and debating the texts of the Declaration of Independence and a number of draft decrees that they wanted to pass the next day. The Parliament was going to meet the next day on the 24th in emergency session to discuss how to react to the events that had occurred in Moscow. At around nine in the evening, Ivan Zayets comes up to me, he was a democratic Deputy, and he says John we have these thirteen decrees (I think the number was 13) that we need to have Parliament approve tomorrow a decree banning the communist party, depoliticizing the military, depoliticizing the KGB. Freeing Khmara was another one. Providing amnesty to Khmara who was in jail at the time. But we don’t have any way of making photocopies of these decrees so that we have copies to distribute to the deputies to vote on tomorrow in Parliament, during the Parliamentary session. And I said well why don’t you just give them to Khomenko to copy. He’s the head of the head of the Secretariat, that’s his job…he’s supposed to make copies of all these things. And Ivan said no, no, no, we can’t give the documents to him since the communists control the Secretariat and the copies will never get made and we won’t have anything to give to Parliament tomorrow to vote on. I had just received a box of paper from our Moscow office, a week before, and I had a small Canon PC 2 or whatever it’s called, PC 7 photocopy machine. So I went over with Bohdan Kravchenko to the advisory council offices, grabbed the copy machine, took it back to the Writers’ Union with the paper and from there we moved over to Sadova 3 to Alexander Yemets’ office because he had another very small Minolta copy machine. There, I and a student from Kiev University and one of Yemets’ aides, the three of us spent from eleven at night until six in the morning making four hundred copies of each of these thirteen decrees. Since we didn’t have that much paper, we had to shrink each copy down and put for copies of each document on one sheet and then cut it into four. We had to make 400 individual copies because the copiers could only make one copy at a time and had no multiple page feeder capability. And so we worked all through the night and it was incredibly thrilling for me, I mean here I am photocopying these historic documents 400 times. And so we finished around six in the morning…
S: And what happened in Parliament the next day?
J: The next morning at around 8 am, I went to the Parliament building and gave all of the copies of the documents to Volodia Filenko. He took the box of documents and laid out the documents on the table at the entrance to the Parliament hall. It was interesting to see the communists kind of panic. They showed up the next morning and all these documents were there for them to vote on. So you kind of think to yourself, I don’t know if there would have been an independent Ukraine…they wouldn’t have had anything to vote on if they didn’t have copies of all these documents. Then the parliamentary session started on the 24th. There was a huge crowd outside the Parliament building. A huge crowd waving flags, listening to the session and the debates through large speakers that had been place outside.
S: What was the crowd like? It was pro-Ukrainian nationalism?
J: Oh absolutely. There was a sea of yellow and blue flags. You could stand on the second floor in the waiting area outside the Parliament chamber, outside the chamber itself and you could look out the window to the front of the building and the square was a sea of yellow and blue flags. And then the session started. And the procedural debates, started — which decrees to adopt and in what order and how to present them and what was going to happen. I was in the upstairs gallery and I remember one scene when Hurenko got up to speak. He was sitting in the back and he had to get up and walk down the aisle to the podium to speak….
S: And Hurenko’s position at that point was…?
J: Hurenko was the General Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party at the time. And he got up and in the front row there was a young Deputy called Ivasiuk and Serhiy Holovaty and Ivan Zayets, all Kiev Deputies. They’re all sitting in the first front row next to the podium. And I remember Hurenko walking down the aisle. Many of the democratic seats were concentrated in the lower section of the floor…as you look from behind the hall, on the lower right hand side…the presidium sat on the right hand side, way on the right, and right in front of them was where Holovaty and Ivasiuk and Zayets and all of the Kiev democrats sat…most of the Kiev Deputies were democrats at the time. And Hurenko starts walking down the aisle toward the podium to speak and the Kiev democrats all just got up and just started screaming at him, swearing at him, almost ready to physically attack him. You son of a…I think I even recorded it on the movie recorder…this incredible outburst and Hurenko screaming back at them – is this the kind of democracy that you want? There you go. You are nothing but a bunch of hoodlums and things like that. But that scene was really intense. I don’t remember much of the debate but I do remember when they took a break, I would go out and see all the people and attend the meeting of the democrats while they argued about whether to first go with independence or whether to ban the communist party, procedurally how do to handle all these issues. What I did miss, and I think Marta Kolomayets and Marta Diaczok were there, was the meeting of the communists. They were downstairs, meeting to discuss what to do and how to respond to the democrats initiatives. Unfortunately I was taping the democrats and all their internal debates and I didn’t go to the communists meeting. It was a much more interesting meeting which I regret I didn’t go to. Marta Kolomayets told me about it later. She said, you know you’re sitting there listening to the communists debating among themselves. Hurenko and his colleagues arguing among themselves…what do we do…what do we do…what do we do…and Hurenko saying we have to vote for independence, there’s no other way. But you should talk to Marta get from them the full story of what happened at the communist meeting when they decided to vote for independence.
S: But they were clearly caught off guard? The Communists by…?
J: Well they were caught off guard because Moscow…things just blew up and all of a sudden out of nowhere they have to make a decision. And people do say that many of the Ukrainian communists voted for independence because they were afraid of Yeltsin. They were afraid if they stayed in a union with Yeltsin, a democratic union, they would lose a great deal of power. It was a combination of factors. The democrats voted for independence because they wanted it. Some of the communists voted for independence because they were national communists. I think like Moroz and people like that. But there were other communists who felt that if they wanted to maintain power they would have to get as far away from Yeltsin as they could. And if we’re independent we have more room for maneuver then being subsumed within a Yeltsin lead democratic, everyone thought at the time, Russia. In any event, you should talk to Marta because she was at that meeting. I remember Marta telling me that Hurenko got up and says we have no choice, we have to vote for independence and others saying no, no, no…but in the end he browbeat the communists into going in and voting for independence. And then when they voted and approved the Declaration of Independence and all of the other decrees, it was vote after vote after vote. It was very moving. But then the second big scene…I just remember three things…I remember the democrats arguing at the break, I remember when Hurenko went up to speak and everyone just attacking him and the third one was when it finished, when the voting finished, when the vote for independence passed and the session ended and all the democrats stayed in the chamber and they brought into the chamber a huge Ukrainian flag from the outside, which I think was the one that was flying over the Parliament building…I don’t know where they got it…it was a huge Ukrainian flag…and they brought it in, and you could see this flag being carried in on everybody’s shoulders. They carried it through the hall, up to the podium and it covered a quarter of the floor space of the Parliament, of the chamber. And all the democrats, Pavlychko, Taniuk, all of them standing around the main podium singing the Ukrainian National Anthem. The communists had all gone by then. So it was a pretty amazing day. But my biggest impression…when you look back at 1776 in the United States or maybe the French Revolution or any of these moments when countries become independent, you look back at it from a hundred year historical perspective and they seem like such momentous events. But in a sense I lived through the five days when Ukraine became independent. And because you’re so much a part of it, it seems at the time fairly routine, hohum…because there was no shooting, killing, bombs falling…it just was a great deal of political emotion and debating. At the time it didn’t seem as grand. It is only after some time has passed and you have pulled away from it that you get a great sense of what happened. When I went home for Christmas in 1991 to the States, my father had saved all of the newspapers from that time. And there you really see what happened…you know, huge headlines…Soviet Union falls apart, break-up of the Soviet Union, Soviet Empire ends. It’s only then that you really realize, my god, you were part of something that’s really incredible…and I never thought it would be that way. When you’re in these historical events they never seem that historical to you until you step away and look at them with the perspective of the passage of time. Because in a newspaper you get everything condensed into one page. Whereas while you are experience the event itself, it doesn’t seem as dramatic I guess. It really wasn’t until I came back out and saw the newspaper articles that I realized, my god we really did witness something that was pretty amazing.
S: So after independence was declared the real work began, right? the state building.
J: Yes, then the real work began.
…and so we got all these people together to come up with political commercials to be aired on Ukrainian television in support of a yes vote in the December 1991 referendum on independence. We turned room 710 of the Hotel Kiev into a command center. We had these guys who were professionals at doing political commercials. Marc Nuttle helped us with the strategy, how we envisioned these commercials looking and what we were going to try to achieve. And then Marc and Sal Russo stuck around and then Russo had to leave. So really it was Tony Marsh and the two…the cameraperson and the editor that were the critical to the process…who stayed. And I was a lawyer. And Boris was a…I don’t know what Boris Vyshnevsky was. He ran a business, he had his own business or something in Canada. So that was the team. We had to find the camera people, we had to get the voices, the people to do the voices for the commercials, we had to come up with the scripts which Les Taniuk helped us with. We had to do the props. We had to get the props made. So we would go out…we found some cameramen, we would go out and do the shooting. Boris and I would do most of the interviewing, the shots that we needed because we were the only ones of the foreigners who could speak Ukrainian. The other Americans handled the creative and technical issues related to the production of the commercials. So we would shoot all day, then at around midnight we would go into the state TV studios on Khreshchatyk and work from midnight to six in the morning editing. We would alternate every other night. Boris would go one night. I would go the other night. We could not have done the work with the help of Tania, I think her name was Tania, an employee from State TV who had volunteered to help us. She was doing the actual editing on the equipment and was up all night for six straight days while we were doing of this. It was actually fantastic to see how these commercials were made and how it all worked. We had to find music since they had a very poor library at the state TV. We had all kinds of trouble with the editing machine. It was not working well and Ukrainian TV management was not being very cooperative. We had to do the subtitles, we had trouble with the voice over. They gave us a lousy person to do voice over. They gave us Sefonov, I think that was his name, who was the old soviet voice of Ukrainian TV and not at all appropriate for the type of commercial we were doing. So we got Kyrylo Stetsenko who was a DJ, rock and roll type, who had a rock and roll program on Ukrainian TV and he did the voice over for two of the commercials. It was very intense. We would shoot all day and then edit these commercials at night. The American specialists who were doing the commercials didn’t know where to make the cuts because they didn’t understand Ukrainian. So I would sit with them and they would say, alright I want to cut it here, what did she say? What word do we cut? And there I was, a lawyer, making the final decision on where to make the editorial cuts…where to cut. Because they didn’t know….they would guide me in terms of what they wanted out of the scene but what word to cut was my decision. Since they didn’t know the language, they weren’t able to do that. And we worked our tails off. I think it was for almost a week or ten days. A week or ten days. And we produced four commercials. One was a six minute commercial. The Americans were delighted that we were not limited to exact thirty second spots as was the case on US TV. We weren’t limited to….a minute twenty or a minute fifty. It didn’t matter because they would be showing the commercials on Ukrainian TV. They said that when they did political commercials in the States for political campaigns, you would get thirty seconds, sixty seconds, period. Since we didn’t have major time constraints, we produced on long commercial, a six minute one. In it we had very nice background music and a series of man on the street interviews with people from different strata of society talking about why they wanted an independent Ukraine. The theme of the commercials and the theme that was driving independence at that time was that Ukraine and the Ukrainian people were going to be better off economically with independent than if they were to stay in the USSR. Ukraine independence, other than for the Western Ukrainians and the intelligentsia in central Ukraine, was not a national phenomenon in a sense that “we want to be independent because we’re Ukrainians…we don’t care what economic system…we want but we just want independence because that’s just the way we want to live”. Like the Baltics. The Baltics wanted independence because they wanted to be independent. Period. The French, because they’re French. Not because they’re going to live better or worse. It was pretty clear to me that most people voted for an independent Ukraine in the referendum because they felt they would live better. If they felt they would have lived better under the Soviet Union, then they would have been for the Soviet Union. That, in my view, was a driving force for independence. And that’s what we were targeting the commercials at. We were trying to convince people that they were going to live better in a free Ukraine, economically, than they would if Ukraine were to remain part of any kind of union. So we had one six minute commercial in which we interview all of these people on the street. We did a second one with children playing, building homes in nursery school…you build a nation together just as you build a home together. We had to get these props of homes made and we found architects that did it in two days. It was a miracle how quickly they were able to do this. The third commercial we shot at the train station, where people were asked as they were getting on the train “where you going?”. They would be carrying eggs, or a TV or bread. They would answer “Oh I’m going off with a bag of eggs.” “Where you going?” “We’re going off to Moscow? Where you taking that TV? Oh we’re taking off to Moscow. Where you going with that bread? Oh, taking it off to Moscow because they don’t have any bread up there. They need Ukrainian bread.” This was the theme of the commercial – that after independence Moscow would no longer be sucking Ukraine dry. So we went to the Kyiv train station. It was the train to Moscow that we used for filming the commercial. The Moscow train leaving with all these Ukrainian goods. Unfortunately, this was the one commercial that Ukrainian TV refused to air. The fourth commercial was with Ukrainian celebrities. We interviewed Russian speaking Ukrainian celebrities and asked them why they supported an independent Ukraine. We interviewed Valeri Borsov, who won the gold medal in the 100 dash, I think in the ’72 or ’76 Olympics. And he was the Minister of Sport at the time. We interviewed a female basketball star, the writer Les Taniuk, Amosov who was a famous cardiologist in Ukraine. He actually started Ukrainian cardiology, started the practice of cardiology in Kiev. That was the fourth commercial. Ukrainian TV ran all but the train station commercial, the one with the train, taking things to Moscow. They didn’t want to run that one. But after we finished we went to Okhmakevych, who was the head of Ukrainian TV. We went to his office, slapped down the tapes and said, you didn’t think we could do it? Here it is. Here are four commercials. He put them in the video cassette player. He said, boy this is fantastic. He called in all his staff. He told them that they should be embarrassed, the typical Soviet browbeating of staff. Rather than blame yourself for poor leadership (at the beginning he was very reluctant to help us and to make the State TV facilities available to us – caving in the end by letting us use the equipment from midnight to six am) blame the staff. Here are these foreigners…they come in, they don’t even know the language. And look at these commercials that they’re coming up with in ten days. And they wound up playing the commercial many times on the central TV channel and on some of the regional TV stations. So they got a lot of play. I don’t know what kind of impact the commercials had but the first one, the long one where we did the various man on the street interviews, they presented it not as a commercial for independence but as a news item on the news program. They did it kind as a news item as if it were a story by a reporter who went around and interviewed people on the street about what they thought about independence. Boom, that’s the news item. When the referendum took place, everyone was surprised since it in every single oblast, even in Crimea.
S: Where were you during the referendum?
J: We were here in Kiev. We went with a few people, as observers, to some of the polling stations. And then when it became clear the referendum had passed, all the democrats got together in a hotel…I think it was in the Lebed. The Lebed near Ploshcha Peremohy, down in the basement. They had a big…actually I think it was on the ground floor…they had a reception there, one that the democrats, Rukh had planned. And the first country to recognize Ukraine was Poland and Canada was the second country. Nestor Gayowsky, the Canadian counsel general, came over to the party and announced to everybody that Canada had just recognized Ukraine and that he had just gone to visit Kravchuk at his dacha to tell him that Canada had recognized, had recognized Ukraine. And then of course, the big issue was, why wasn’t the United States recognizing Ukraine? Again, the U.S. is always behind the eight ball on this issue. Again, clinging to the idea that the Union has to stay together. The US put all its eggs in the Yeltsin basket. Before it was Gorbachev and we have to put our eggs in one basket I guess. And so we waited…why is the U.S. taking so long? And the U.S. kept waiting and waiting and waiting. And I forget, it was a month before the U.S. recognized Ukraine. And then the floodgates opened up. Embassies opening up left and right. Foreign business coming in left and right. It was really a very exciting period. It was the beginning of state building. Creating a National Bank, building up an army, getting plugged into the international institutions.
S: But the IMF had already made a visit to Ukraine.
J: The case of the IMF was interesting because…again I don’t remember if it was before the coup or after the coup. I think it was after the coup. I went over to Volodymyr Pylypchuk’s office at the Rada Commission on Economic Reform, one afternoon, at around five o’clock, to talk to him about one of the draft laws that I was working on with his staff. And he’s sitting there and he has a whole bunch of guys in his room. And I come in and he says, “Oh John, I’m glad you’re here. Why don’t you sit down to these people? They’re from the International something or other…I don’t know what they want but I’ve got to take a plane and go home this evening. Talk to them, see what they want and let me know.” Well it was the IMF. It was Peter Hole who was the head of the European division at the IMF at the time. It was the IMF team coming on a mission to do the initial assessment of what was going on in Ukraine. And I asked him how things were going? He says, ah, nobody wants to talk to us, nobody wants to do anything with us, nobody knows even who we are, and nobody’s giving us the time of day. And I said, well what is it that you need? And he said well we need an official letter from the Ministry of Finance or from the Prime Minister or from Parliament, an invitation to come to Ukraine and to start working with the initial engagement of the Fund with Ukraine. And I said, well what do you need? Well, we need this letter. And I asked whether a letter from Pylypchuk would be good enough, a letter from the Commission on Economic Reform? And they said, well it’s not great but better than nothing. So I went and drafted a letter to Camdeseus in English, translated it into Ukrainian and a couple of days later tracked Pylypchuk down in Parliament. I said you have to sign this letter because this is the IMF. And he says, what is the IMF? I told him that this was an invitation for the IMF to come into Ukraine. It’s very important for Ukraine. I gave him the Ukrainian translation. I said that I had some letterhead from his Commission and that I had just photocopied the letter to Camdeseus on his letterhead in English. I said you’ve got to sign it. He says, OK, and signs it. I then faxed it off to the IMF and that was the formal start of Ukraine’s relationship with the IMF. In fact, Peter Hole, he’s no longer working on Ukraine, but when I run into him he always says, that you are really the reason we were able to start dealing with Ukraine. It would have happened eventually, but at that point if I hadn’t walked in it would have taken a great deal longer because nobody in Ukraine was giving them the time of day. So I drafted the invitation to Camdeseus: please Ukraine would like to…the IMF guys told me what the invitation had to say. We would like assistance on this and that and please send your teams. And it still was a nightmare for the Fund, because even after that the IMF still had trouble getting the Ukrainians to respond, in spite of the Pylypchuk invitation. It still took the Ukrainians a long time to engage. But these are the kinds of things, like photocopying the Declaration of Independence or doing this letter for the IMF, that you wonder if it’s all fate. What if that hadn’t happened. Would things have turned out differently if we hadn’t had that stupid Xerox machine or paper. There was a big problem with paper. Xeroxing the Declaration of Independence, what would have happened on the 24th ? But the referendum was a big high. And really after I began winding down my activities at the Advisory Council that were to end in April 1992. So really I only had four months left. I was sort of winding down. I really just had two more projects that I wound up working on. One was to work on the Constitution.
S: Could talk a little bit about the Constitution?
J: The big problem was there was never…Ukraine still has in 1996, in January, its soviet constitution. At independence, all they did was take the soviet constitution and throw the presidency on top of it with no clear understanding of the powers of the president, the Parliament, the Prime Minister. So there was a real constitutional crisis here. A Commission was created by Parliament at independence to draft the constitution. And I became involved with the drafters George Soros, who was funding my work on the Advisory Council, was willing to fund a trip by the drafters to Prague. So I took the five drafters of the constitution. Volodia Vasylenko, Leonid Yushkov, who’s since died, a gentleman named, Masiuk, Anatoli Masiuk who was the staff person in the Parliament in charge of drafting the constitution, Petro Martynenko who was a lawyer in Kiev, he was able to make the trip, and a deputy named Nosov, a deputy on the committee that was drafting the constitution. So I took these give guys to Prague and we locked ourselves in a room at the Central European University with six constitutional experts from the west. And the twelve of us locked ourselves in a room and went over the draft constitution that the Ukrainian group had put together, line by line. And it was really kind of cool. You’re sitting there and they’re discussing: do we have one chamber, two chambers, literally re-drafting and re-commenting. What came out of these sessions was a draft that later became known as the Prague Constitution. When the group came and presented the draft that they had worked on in Prague to the full Constitutional Commission which, I think, was heading up by the President, it was rejected by the communist because it was infected with this western virus, western ideas, and western concepts. So they rejected it.
S: Were there substantive objections as well?
J: Well who knows. There were a large number of members on this constitutional committee and everyone would throw in ideas. It was all a political battle. Who was going to run the country? The President, the Parliament, or the Prime Minister? It was all about power. And the constitution wasn’t being drafted with the goal of creating something for the next four hundred years. It was being drafted around the concept of who was going to run the country after this constitution is drafted and approved. And that’s what it was really all about. So the communists rejected this draft constitution. This was 1992 and we’re now in 1996 and we still don’t have one. There have been a number of subsequent drafts and it now seems like they have agreed to some sort of draft and they’re moving forward. But the draft we came up with in Prague was not a bad draft constitution. And the Ukrainians who went with me were very good. I acted as a translator, facilitator, during the Prague meeting, listening to the discussion, writing down their comments. We had an expert from Germany, a couple from the U.S., some were from the UK, someone from Hungary. All pretty well known constitutional experts who were there. And the Ukrainians listened and they came back with what was a fairly good draft of the constitution. And it was rejected and then the huge turmoil and economic issues took over and they just weren’t able to sort out the political battle. And so we’re still without a constitution right now.
S: But this brings up one rule that foreigners, or that the non-Ukrainian population in the world is interested in things Ukrainian, has played in developing Ukrainian independence. Can you think of other examples of where foreigners have played key roles?
J: Again, as I said earlier the Ukrainian Americans, Canadians and Australians played a very important role early on. In 1990 and 1991. When nobody knew about Ukraine, nobody really cared about Ukraine. They were the link between the west and the Ukrainians, certainly with the democrats. And they were the ones that were…someone like Havrylyshyn organizing trips and seminars and the Renaissance Foundation and the Advisory Council. So all of the early technical assistance to Ukraine, however limited, was largely driven by the Ukrainian Diaspora. Most of the journalists, all the journalists, except for a few that were here early on, the stringers, were Ukrainian Canadians or Ukrainian Americans, mostly women by the way, who were coming over to work as journalists here in Ukraine. So the role of Diaspora Ukrainians was very important at the beginning. But once Ukraine became an independent country, then the IMF and the World Bank and everybody else took over, as they should. And you began having normal international bilateral relations and then experts started coming who had no ties to Ukraine, they were just specialists in their areas who happened to be assigned to Ukraine. Take for example the anti-trust law that I worked on. It was a very poor law as initially drafted by the Ukrainians. I was able to get comments from many of the members of the Advisory Council and the Ukrainians actually changed the anti-trust law based on those comments. It’s still not great, but it’s much better than the initial draft. In other cases, they didn’t listen. Like the corporations law. They went ahead with it in spite of comments from Western experts and now they have to live with a bad corporations law. So I think there are instances, specific instances, where foreigners have helped. But generally my sense is that Western technical assistance, much of it, is a waste of money. At the end of the day the Ukrainians have to develop their country themselves. And I think the best way to do it is to take young people from here, send them abroad for training and then bring them back and let them teach their fellow countrymen because most of these technical aid programs are just a boondoggle for western advisors. The Ukrainians are so wrapped in creating a state, preoccupied with their own political intrigues, and their politics that the process of getting anything done here is so difficult. Foreigners can be parachuted into some ministry, they’ll provide their suggestions, but it all gets lost in the Ukrainian political shuffle. Technical assistance only works if you have a minister who says: “I’m appointing these three westerners and I will listen and implement everything that they say.” Then it might work. In fact I found that in the beginning most of the technical assistance was really a pain, because you would be working and these foreign advisors would come in and many of the parliamentarians would spend all day long meeting with different technical assistance groups, day after day after day, and not doing any real work. The foreign advisors and contractors would come with their same questions, same lack of understanding of Ukraine, all trying to get up to speed. And after a while, it was becoming counter-productive.
S: Who were the key individuals in your opinion and what did they do to achieve Ukrainian independence?
J: I think the key people from the democratic side were, Ivan Drach, Dmytro Pavlychko, Mykhailo Horyn, Volodymyr Filenko, Hriniov, Larysa Skoryk…the people that were the activists, Serhiy Holovaty, Ivan Zayets, Volodymyr Pylypchuk, Ihor Yukhovsky, Viacheslav Chornovil, the people who were the dissidents, the leaders of the democratic movement. Clearly they had a huge impact, they stuck their necks out, they were the ones who said things when they had to be said. On the other side I think some of the credit has to go to Kravchuk. He didn’t do it as a true believer. He didn’t support independence from day one. But in the end of the day he did stage-manage the process and he was leading the country when Ukraine became independent. So I think these were really the key people. And the students. I think students in 1990 when they brought down Masol’s government, crystallized in many ways the apex of that whole movement as it was here in Ukraine. And I think western Ukraine had a big role to play. Western Ukraine was like the Baltics and it was always there. It screamed the loudest and thus had more weight proportionally if you take its weight within the country, in terms or population and economic power, in the political arena it had proportionally much more weight and influence than it really should have. Mostly because eastern Ukraine was largely inert, with inert communists in charge. So I think that the western Ukrainians had a huge role to play by lifting the whole issue of national consciousness and by being so vociferous and so radical.
S: In this part of the world people talk about revolutions from above meaning that political change tends to happen by sort of organized fiat and not by mass movements coming up from below. I guess our last question is to what extent do you think that that does or does not describe the process of Ukrainian independence?
J: I don’t think there’s one concept that can describe it because for me what occurred in Ukraine is a unique historical phenomenon in the sense that you had fifty two million people, a country the size of France, that had been dominated for so long and kicked around for so long, a people who’s language had been subordinated to Russian, another peoples’ language, a country with tremendous regional differences in terms of patriotism and the independence issue. Eastern Ukraine pro-Russian, central Ukraine fifty-fifty and western Ukraine pro-independence. The issue of the Soviet Union breaking apart, at least initially with Gorbachev, was a top down phenomenon, with Gorbachev allowing these democratic movements to start. It had been up to the Ukrainian leadership at the time, they would have snuffed it out. Yet ironically those who wanted to snuff it out in the early days would up snuffing out Gorbachev at the end of the day. So you have historical, linguistic, religious differences, all within an empire and during the breakup of the empire the west didn’t fully recognize Ukraine, didn’t appreciate the different language, different culture, different people, where the Ukrainians themselves were divided: some wanted it, some didn’t want it, some could care less…an extremely interesting sociological phenomenon, the likes of which Europe has perhaps never seen. A country with nuclear weapons, huge industrial potential…it’s really an extremely interesting phenomenon. But I think if you were to come up with an over-arching framework to analyze it, I would say that it was a combination of western Ukraine and the democratic movement sewing the seeds for change in Ukraine. What kind of change nobody really knew. There was never any clear vision. This was coupled with the powers in Moscow sowing the seeds for some kind of change without having a very clear vision of what that changes was going to look like. But then the course of events just took over, overtook the people. What you had was a kind of spontaneous chain reaction that was not planned, that was not foreseen and that just happened. You can’t say that the Ukrainians fought for their independence in a sense that the Baltics republics fought for theirs. You can’t say there was an enormous ground swell of support among all Ukrainians. However, you equally can’t say that independence just dropped from the sky as it was in the case of Turkmenistan or the Kyrgyz Republic. Remember Belarus – most of them didn’t even want it. Independence just fell into their laps. That sort of conclusion about the situation in Ukraine would not be fair either because there were significant segments of the Ukrainian population that wanted change and with time wanted independence. But it wasn’t a massive ground swell. Nor was it like England giving Zaire or giving Kenya its independence saying ok we’re going to willing give you your independence because Moscow never intended to do it that way. The center wanted to make implement some changes, give the republics some limited autonomy. But they never envisioned that Ukraine was going to become independent. So really there was no plan. There was a whole series of differing phenomenon and you can’t characterize it as one…this is what happened. All you can say is Ukraine became independent but it was not the result of a well thought out and executed plan. It was really not by design. It was not because either Moscow wanted independence or the Ukrainians wanted it. It was a slow evolutionary process where events spun out of control, where events moved faster than politicians were able to react and the next thing you knew, Ukraine was independent. And that’s also part of the problem now. The country became independent unexpectedly, gradually being accepted by the people, but really what was driving it was economics, the desire for a better economic life by most of the population. And now that economically the country’s doing poorly I personally have some fear support for independence may decrease. Because independence did not come about as a result of passionate patriotism. It was a combination of things and a lot of it was driven by a desire for a better economic life.
S: Interesting to watch. Thank you very much for your time.
J: Thank you.
The transcript for this interview has been edited and may differ in places from the video interview.
Розмовляла Сара Сіверс, Київ