May 18 marked the 70th anniversary of the Crimean Tatar people’s deportation. One of those who made a great effort to have the classified statistics of the true consequences of this tragedy disclosed is Ukrainian-born General Petro HRYHORENKO who publicly opposed the Soviet prosecution service’s falsification of the information about the Crimean Tatar people’s post-deportation losses and prepared a special speech, “Who Are the Criminals?” Yet the name of Hryhorenko, a human rights activist and dissident, still remains little known to the new generation of Ukrainians.
The Den editor-in-chief Larysa Ivshyna has made a Facebook post about Hryhorenko, calling him “Sakharov’s fellow fighter and modern-day statist.” “On reading your post, I recalled my acquaintance with General Hryhorenko,” says Colonel of Justice (Retired) Oleh LEONTIEV, Lviv-based lawyer and former military prosecutor, on a social networking site.
“I came to know about him when I studied at Moscow’s Red Banner Military Institute (VKIMO). In the 1985-86 academic year Professor Kondratiev from the Serbsky Institute of General and Forensic Psychiatry gave us lectures in forensic psychiatry. The professor was a free thinker in a way, for he told us about punitive psychiatry and ‘sluggish schizophrenia’ which dissidents were diagnosed with on a mass scale, about the way they were ‘treated’ with awfully painful injections of sulfuric solution in peach oil,” Leontiev said. “Among other things, he told us about General Petro Hryhorenko because he was a military serviceman and we were Military Justice Department students. The expert said that even generals could suffer from psychic diseases. Besides, he was talking about Hryhorenko’s ‘ailment’ in an ironic manner. As the ‘perestroika’ had not yet reached its peak but Samizdat was quite widespread, he told us to gather information about Hryhorenko on our own.”
“THIS KIND OF PEOPLE DID NOT FIT IN WITH THE OVERALL CONCEPT OF ‘SOVIET MAN’”
“Telling us about dissidents in general and Gen. Hryhorenko in particular, the expert pointed out that doubts about their mental health had emerged because it was considered strange when one advocated human rights and defended somebody else’s, not his or her own mercantile, interests, and this kind of people did not fit in with the overall concept of ‘Soviet man.’ Kondratiev also said that the Hryhorenko case provided grounds for doubting the adequacy of Soviet medicine. The main reason why Hryhorenko’s mental health was called into question was his struggle for the truth.
“Then I was sent to serve in Chimkent, Kazakhstan. The military prosecution office was located on Grigorenko Street – perhaps called after a communist namesake [in Russian. – Ed.]. In was 1987, when Literaturnaya gazeta, Ogonyok, and Novy mir were publishing a lot of revealing things, including the dissident movement.
“As the prosecution office was on Grigorenko St., I intentionally began to write ‘P. Grigorenko’ in the address, and all the others quickly followed suit. Sometimes I had the cheek to write the full name or rank, for example, ‘General P. Grigorenko St.’ I think some addressees knew the reason why I corrected the address. A ‘corrected’ address on official correspondence envelopes was perhaps the first ‘trolling’ of the system.”
“HRYHORENKO WAS IN FACT THE ONLY OFFICER, A GENERAL, IN THE DISSIDENT MOVEMENT”
What was the main reason why you showed interest in the phenomenon of General Hryhorenko?
“He interested me, above all, because he was a serviceman, a general, who, incidentally, hailed from Ukraine – a very essential fact, as he was far away from his home. It was very important for me, an officer at a military law-enforcement body, that there was a general who showed a real example of serving the people, not the Party’s interests. It was very important, taking into account service at the prosecution office – one should strive to be a morally unblemished personality, which requires having a certain role mode. As far as I know, Hryhorenko was the only officer, a general, in the dissident movement. Moreover, he did not become a general the way it is done today – by unlawful means or through connections. A person who was not afraid to lose his social and material status and came out against the system is undoubtedly a hero. What interests me in him is active protest against injustice and search for the truth. I have not read all his works, as there was no free access to them – I’ve only seen some quotations in political publications. I think Hryhorenko as a personality and his works must be popularized in society.”
Incidentally, the newspaper Den has published, as part of its “Armor-Piercing Political Writing” series, a book that comprises Petro Hryhorenko’s works Concealing the Historical Truth, Our Daily Routine, and On National Independence and Relationships between the Peoples of the USSR. This publication is popular among readers. It was actively discussed by students, members of the Lviv Debate Club.
“It is very good. The Ukrainians should read more General Hryhorenko. Actually, his works should be part of school, military and juridical college curriculum.
“Hryhorenko proved with his own example that one must set oneself and pursue a seemingly unattainable goal – and he or she is certain to achieve it. He proved this by supporting the right of the Crimean Tatar people to come back to their historical homeland. His struggle for the national liberation of peoples enslaved by the USSR, the successor to the Russian Empire, is worthy of respect. Hryhorenko’s works are still topical today at least because he managed to change and shape the world’s opinion about the necessity of the USSR’s collapse. Following in the footsteps of Hryhorenko, we should also establish now a worldwide front to fight imperial Russia until it is destroyed as reincarnation of the USSR, an evil empire.
“Today, when Ukraine is in a tense sociopolitical situation, we must also recall Hryhorenko’s unique approach to human rights. He in fact proved that they are universal. This universality of rights is part of the Convention on Human Rights (in 2005 I did advanced studies under a program of the Council of Europe and the then Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine on the application of the Convention’s provisions to prosecution practices. These studies were discontinued in the Yanukovych-Pshonka times). So the main problem of Ukrainian prosecutors in learning, understanding, and implementing the Convention was that they were unaware of the universality of human rights, and that, unlike laws, these rights cannot be clearly defined and ‘listed.’ As a matter of fact, Hryhorenko’s methods and approaches to the comprehensive nature and universality of human rights are an instrument for understanding and applying of the Convention. European Court rulings are a good example of the ‘development’ of these rights.”
“HRYHORENKO FOCUSED ON THE LIBERATION OF PEOPLES FROM THE EMPIRE, BUT THESE IDEAS ARE BANNED IN RUSSIA”
Why do you think the thinking Russians do not remember General Hryhorenko or make use of his intellectual legacy?
“Communicating with my friends who live in Russia and are friends of Ukraine, I noticed that their key viewpoint is as follows: ‘We agree that Crimea was stolen.’ But they will add, unable to restrain a joyful smile: ‘It’s still nice, you know.’ Hryhorenko focused on the liberation of peoples from the empire, but these ideas are banned and unpopular in Russia. Nor is he known, unfortunately, in Ukraine. Can our people recall many names of dissidents? Maybe, only those who lived in the USSR and listened to the jammed foreign radio programs can do so. The same thing is with Hryhorenko – he is widely known in the narrow circles.
“In his activities, Hryhorenko showed a difference between ‘the right’ and ‘the law’ in a state, as he fought against the ‘people’s’ communist regime. There is not and cannot be a state in which ‘the right’ reigns supreme. But there was a state, where ‘the law’ reigned supreme, – it is Nazi Germany. The Law was strictly observed there – it is a proven fact that a ticketless passenger was shot dead. But this infringes the basic human right – the right to live. The Law triumphs, but the Right is ignored. Hryhorenko’s struggle against the Soviet system was aimed at having the declared rights understood and put into practice.”
Petro Hryhorenko was a military strategist. In particular, he explained in detail why the USSR had suffered in the first years of World War Two. What should the Ukrainian military take from his legacy today, in a state of war?
“According to Hryhorenko, the root cause of the USSR’s failures in the first period of World War Two lay in military tactics and the appointment of personnel. He was one of the first to openly point out and criticize the purge of the officers’ corps on the eve of the war, which eventually led to mass-scale losses. Stalin’s slogan ‘cadres decide everything’ only confirmed that results depend on the quality of cadres. This is all too obvious now: the human potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been severely undermined, which must not be hushed up. There still are a lot of the so-called armchair generals with low moral and professional qualities. Ukraine’s former defense minister Teniukh of cursed memory is, in my view, a person of low morals. He appointed the traitor Rear Admiral Berezovsky as commander of the Ukrainian Navy and was never held responsible – either by law or in purely human terms. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are in bad need of efficient commanders. There are a lot of young patriotic officers, majors and lieutenants, who have served in peacekeeping forces and cooperated with military specialists from civilized countries.
“As for tactics as a cause of defeats in the first battles, Hryhorenko rightly noted that the USSR had been preparing for an offensive war, paradoxical as it might sound in Soviet historiography. Later, his ideas were picked up and developed by political writers, such as Viktor Suvorov. Ukraine must drop political correctness and begin to build an echeloned line of defense against the Russian aggressor or, still better, join NATO.”