Tarik Cyril Amar, Per Anders Rudling, and Andreas Umland
As organizers of the workshop “Russian and Ukrainian Nationalism: Entangled Histories” (Columbia University, April 22-23), we wish to respond to Taras Kuzio’s allegations in The Ukrainian Weekly (May 19, 2013), which badly misrepresent this event.
We would not like to speculate about Taras Kuzio’s motivations. But his text is so misleading that – for reasons of space – we can only respond to some of his distortions. Readers should be aware that the comments below represent the “tip of the iceberg”; his description and the real workshop have very little in common indeed.
Some of Kuzio’s polemical assault is based on innuendo. Kuzio alleges that “some of the workshop organizers and participants … support restrictions on freedom of speech and promote stereotypes of Ukrainians.” This statement is false – whoever precisely it is aimed at and whoever precisely it seems to invoke as “authority” in its odd combination of big claims and vague references. There is no truth to it in general or with reference to this workshop in particular.
Kuzio makes dark allegations (“minefields”) about (unnamed) invitees who declined and, according to his version of events, gave as their reason the organizers’ alleged bias. Where to begin? We made an effort to invite participants representing a broad variety of views, including Kuzio. On the whole, we were successful. To our regret, some of these invitees, however, chose not to participate, without giving their reasons, which is, obviously, their right. Surely, Kuzio understands, however, that that was beyond our control. If he now makes bizarre allegations about the organizers’ putative bias repelling those they actually invited, then we really do not see how to unwrap such a convoluted, implausible, and, in effect, very unfair “logic.”
Kuzio complains that the workshop was not strong enough on Russia and on the entanglement of Russian and Ukrainian nationalisms. In reality, there was a slight asymmetry, which was an outcome of real-world constraints, such as who would be available to speak etc. Maybe he needs to recall that workshops are meant to be about work-in-progress. If he feels uncomfortable with the inherently unfinished nature of workshops, he needs to come to terms with the format, not level incorrect allegations at organizers. There is no basis at all for Kuzio’s attempt to “politicize” the structure of the workshop or impute to the organizers some sinister, again politically motivated bias or concealed agenda. We would urge him to make an effort to interpret our work in the collegial good faith it – and we – deserve.
Kuzio misrepresents the interaction at the workshop with Volodymyr Viatrovych as evidence of “unacceptable intolerance.” This, again, is a massive distortion. Before the Q&A session in question, the chair announced – as repeatedly before and for every panel (Kuzio seems to have missed or forgotten all these announcements somehow) – that audience reactions should be short and concise, so as to accommodate as many participants as possible and have time for a real, many-sided discussion.
Viatrovych joined the workshop for only one panel and came late, escorted by Boris Potapenko, President and Executive Director of the League of Ukrainian Canadians (LUC). Both displayed a lack of interest in the workshop as an academic event. Viatrovych spent much of the time on his Facebook account (where he announced that he had a recording of the session, made, it seems, surreptitiously and without informing anyone or asking for consent).
When Viatrovych’s Q&A turn came, he simply disregarded all basic rules and began to read out a statement of several pages in Ukrainian, translated by Potapenko (doubling the time needed). An exception was made for this, reluctantly indeed, which was not due to the chair’s “grumpiness,” imputed by Kuzio, but to the fact that Viatrovych was openly flouting simple rules, civility, and others’ right to have their say too. With the exception of Taras Kuzio, (3:42 minutes), Viatrovych was given more time (3:38 minutes) than anyone else. (Regarding the dinner during the workshop and its pre-set list of invitees, of such concern to Kuzio, it seems, we really have to decline to spend time on such especially far-fetched reproaches.)
Thus, in reality, Viatrovych’s regrettable behavior imposed on the organizers – and the chair in particular – the obvious obligation to keep him from turning the panel into his private podium for what was shaping up to be a long speech from the audience. In fact, if anyone tried, in effect, to suppress others’ speech here, it was Viatrovych by what looked like an attempt at a deliberately sensationalist “take-over” or, perhaps, the making of a “scene,” subsequently “reported” (very misleadingly, again, it probably goes without saying) on Facebook and on the website of the LUC. We are genuinely surprised that Taras Kuzio’s text supports such methods.
This is not the proper place for a detailed discussion of Volodymyr Viatrovych’s work, centered on a national (to use a neutral term) politics of history at least as much as on history. Yet Kuzio’s depiction of a well-published senior scholar and researcher, such as John-Paul Himka, as “controversial” and Volodymyr Viatrovych as an avatar of “free speech” and victim of “intolerance” is absurd. No less absurd, and very disturbing is Kuzio’s fundamentally and, as we think, irresponsible, misrepresentation of the contributions of other scholars, such as Anton Shekhovtsov.
Additional details could be added, but there are other important issues to discuss, such as Kuzio’s odd rendering of the discussion about Mykola Lebed: In their internal correspondence US intelligence referred to Lebed as a “a well-known sadist and collaborator of the Germans.” In New York, he was identified by other Ukrainians as a leader responsible for “wholesale murders of Ukrainians, Poles and Jewish (sic).” Taras Kuzio insists that, in the postwar period, Lebed also led Prolog. Nobody ever denied or diminished this fact. It, however, makes it no less true that Lebed had leadership functions in the OUN(b), which was also conducting ethnic cleansing. These facts – not, in Kuzio’s suddenly curiously delicate language “certain allegations” – may still be uncomfortable for an analyst who seems unable to appreciate that an academic workshop is precisely the right place for presenting and debating such research. What we consider an indispensable part of the researcher’s professional duty, he derides as “obsession.” We disagree with him profoundly. His text reveals him generally challenged by distinguishing like from unlike: he also compares Lebed to Nelson Mandela. Mandela deserves much better; so does serious research.
We hope that our response will help readers see Kuzio’s text for what it is: almost entirely unreliable and a great disservice to public debate.