To the Editors.
Amar touches on but does not really explore any of the key issues that Applebaum and more recent writers in the West have tried to address and that are central to any discussion of the Famine, also known as the Holodomor, nor does he explore the current state of discourse on this subject in Ukraine itself. But even if one leaves all of that aside, Amar's attempted treatment of Ukrainian nationalism is altogether wrong-headed both conceptually and factually. Ignoring current analyses in political science, Amar appears to treat the term "nationalist" in line with traditional Soviet and contemporary Russian messaging about "nationalists" that groups together anti-Soviet dissidents and nationalists in the former USSR with contemporary Ukrainians who support European integration and wish to create distance between themselves and the so-called Russian World.
With respect to facts, Amar's depiction of Ukraine as supposedly being run by nationalists is wrong. Ukraine has one of the lowest levels of support for nationalist political parties in all of Europe. In the 2014 elections, Ukrainian nationalist parties failed to enter parliament, and in the 2019 elections the nationalist presidential candidate came in ninth with less than 2 percent of the vote. Ukraine has had a Jewish prime minister for the last three years and now has a Jewish president.
Amar attempts to portray the former presidents Viktor Yushchenko and Petro Poroshenko as being different from Ukraine's other presidents by claiming that their periods in office were supposedly dominated by state policies promoting "nationalism." So according to Amar, Yushchenko was the first Ukrainian president "to initiate an aggressively nationalist memory politics--again, while also making the famine a priority" (164). This is simply untrue. During President Leonid Kuchma's two terms in office (1994-2004), Ukrainian historiography and the textbooks prepared for use in Ukraine's schools had already incorporated narratives about the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), as well as about Ukrainians who fought in other non-Soviet forces, into the teaching and writing about history. Yushchenko merely integrated this new writing of history into his presidential decrees.
Amar's depiction of decommunization as leading to a "wave of honoring World War II nationalists with monuments, plaques, and street names" (164) too has little basis in reality. In most cases, monuments to Lenin have not been replaced by those dedicated to Stepan Bandera. In the majority of instances in which place names have been changed, such names have reverted from Soviet communist names to old local names or to entirely new ones, such as when Dnipropetrovsk became Dnipro.
It is truly perplexing why Tarik Amar and Kritika chose to miss an opportunity to launch a discussion on the contemporary state of scholarship on the Holodomor, which opportunity was afforded by the publication of Red Famine. Instead, Amar's long review of Applebaum's book was used as a stage for an altogether different objective, that of attacking real and imagined "Ukrainian nationalism" with the Cold War, Ukrainian emigres, Yushchenko, Poroshenko, Russian information warfare, and decommunization serving as collateral damage.
Dept. of Political Science
National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy
Kyiv 04070, Ukraine
Tarik Cyril Amar responds:
Taras Kuzio is not content with my approach to reviewing Anne Applebaum's Red Famine, which is his right. I hope he will find a venue to review it in his own manner.
It is, however, not the first time that he has attacked me or other colleagues working on Ukrainian history. His attacks are usually intemperate, factually erroneous, and triggered by anything he feels is too critical of either the violent aspects of the history of modern Ukrainian nationalism or the denial that has, unfortunately, flourished around that legacy. I do see a pattern. Therefore let me be clear: Kuzio has no right to distort my views.
Thus he feels that my treatment of nationalism resembles Soviet or "contemporary Russian" (he presumably means official or state-inspired Russian, really) ideas. That is an absurdly incorrect statement. Obviously, my approach is informed by state-of-the-art international literature instead. If Kuzio is trying to score a political point here by imputing "Russland-Verstehen" or "useful idiocy" in Russia's favor, there is nothing to discuss: such rhetorical devices may be common in some nationalist parts of the Ukrainian "diaspora" (thankfully not everywhere there), but they have no place in academic--or any reasonable and fair--debate.
Kuzio feels that describing Ukraine as "run by nationalists" would be "laughable." His assertion that I have offered such a description is entirely baseless, however. I wish he had read carefully what he wishes to attack: my argument is that Ukrainian memory and history politics have been nationalist, often shaped and, unfortunately, also run by nationalists (for instance and especially, Ukraine's former de facto memory and history minister Volodymyr Viatrovych). If Kuzio cannot identify a meaningful difference between that--my real--position and the one he has mistakenly tried to ascribe to me, then there is nothing I can do about that.
Kuzio wishes to contest my implied difference between the former president, Viktor Yushchenko, and his predecessors. He is free to do so. His own interpretation of this issue clashes with the evidence and significant state-of-the-art research and literature.
Kuzio's most fundamental criticism is that, in his irate view, I have mis-proportioned and abused ("used as a stage") my review of Red Famine by spending too much time on its context in history and memory politics and how this relates to questions of Ukrainian nationalism and the denial of the latter's dark sides. I have explained why this is necessary in my review in great detail, with constant specific reference to Red Famines statements and, as I believe, glaring omissions.
My review of Red Famine is very critical. It is, in my view, not a good or helpful book. I did, however, have the respect to do what Kuzio seems unable to do with my much shorter text: read it very carefully and argue with the work itself and not with a caricature.
Dept. of History
College of Social Sciences and Humanities
(1) Tarik Cyril Amar, "Politics, Starvation, and Memory: A Critique of Red Famine," Kritika 20, 1 (2019): 145-69.
(2) Skovorody vul.