Anne Applebaum, wife of Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikroski, columnist of Washington Post and Slate, who writes about American and international politics, has recently visited Ukraine for the third time. In 2012 she has taken up the post of Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics and became the director of the project “Global Changes” in London-based Legatum Institute. Her articles are regularly published in New York Review of Books, New Republic, and Spectator. In 2001-06 she was a member of editorial council of Washington Post. Mrs. Applebaum visited Ukraine for the first time in the early 1990s, when she worked on her first book Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe, which was based on her travels around Ukraine, Lithuania, and Belarus after these countries gained their independence. In 2006 Mrs. Applebaum presented her second book The History of Gulag in Ukraine. The book was published by the publishing house “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” with the assistance of the U.S. Embassy. In 2004 the author was awarded the main book award of the United States – the Pulitzer Prize. This book was translated into more than 20 languages and became a bestseller in Europe and the United States. This time Mrs. Applebaum came to Kyiv to present her most recent book Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 within the framework of the U.S. Ambassador Forum. The book was published in 2012 and became the finalist of the National Book Prize. This book will be published in Ukrainian. Kyiv-Mohyla Academy will do this project. In fact, the lecture and presentation called “True Believers: Collaboration and Opposition in Totalitarian Regimes.” Mrs. Applebaum arrived in Kyiv from London, where she lectured, on February 7 and left in the afternoon on February 8. Before flying back to London she gave an exclusive interview to The Day where she explained why she decided to write history books and spoke about the new book she began writing. She also explained why it is not possible to set a new Iron Curtain at the present time.
“Because in order to understand the present you need to understand the past. And I found that in trying to write about this part of the world, which is not the only thing I write about, but I needed a deeper understanding of what happened before.”
Mrs. Applebaum, why was it important for you to address the topic of “Iron Curtain” after you wrote a book about Gulag?
“I started writing this book because in the course of writing my Gulag book I became really fascinated by the question of why people go along with it? Why do people go along with totalitarian regimes? And that made me think about what are the components of those regimes, what are the institutions that make them up. And I thought that this post-war moment in Central Europe was a moment when the Soviet Union had itself developed this system, it was a moment when it had a lot of self-confidence, because it just won the war, and it brought its institutions into places which never had them before. They were creating totalitarianism from scratch there, so I thought it would be a good place to understand how that happened and why.”
One critic wrote: ‘The most suspicious drawback of this book is that there is no detailed study of the Soviet motives for raping Eastern Europe and of things that the Soviets wanted.’ What would you say to that?
“I explain it in great length in the book. That was a controversial review. I spoke about the role of ideology in the occupation. What that person did not like about my book was that it contradicted a kind of revisionist theory of the Cold War that he prefers to mine. In the West, there is a disagreement about why the Cold War started. Did it start because of Stalin’s behavior in Eastern Europe and because of what happened in Poland in 1944-45, which the Allies knew about, or did it start because Truman was very anti-Soviet, and Americans provoked the Cold War? So, which was it? I believe that the archives show that the source of the original conflict with the West was this disagreement over Eastern Europe. And Frankel thinks different, he’s a part of the generation that is more critical of the American role in the Cold War. So, that is what that review is about.”
And what do you think about the motives of the Soviet Union?
“So, motivation is largely ideological. You know, why did they then hold on to it? You can argue that it was strategic, that they wanted this cordone sanitaire, they wanted this block between them and West. But I think you can’t really make differentiation between those things. Stalin believed in the triumph of international communism, that eventually Europe, and then the whole world will be communist. And the Soviet Union can’t really ever be safe until it’s surrounded by other communist states. In essence, it just ideological occupation, and it is explained in Chapter 2, when I talk about Lenin’s and Stalin’s policy in Eastern Europe in the 1920-1930s.”
What do you think about Putin’s ideololgy, proposals for renaming Volgograd into Stalingrad, and the overall glorification of Stalin as a successful manager in Russia? What might it all lead to?
“Since coming to power for the first time in 2000, Putin has certainly begun a process of the re-politicization of history: making history a political tool again. And this involved picking moments in history which can be focused on or glorified in order to prove the desired point. And this really is about establishing his legitimacy. There is a story he wants to tell: ‘Russia was great, Soviet Union was great, then in the 1990s it collapsed, and now I’m rebuilding it. And what I’m rebuilding will have some echoes from the past and it will remind you in all the best ways of the past.’ And he has very selectively chosen certain historical moments that he wants to remind people of. One of them is May 1945, the victory of the war, that is why they have this annual parades. He has been more careful about Stalin. He does not talk about collectivization or industrialization, he leaves a lot of Stalinism out. But he wanted to bring back the echo of Stalin in the context of war, in the context of this moment of victory and triumph. And some attached that sense of victory to himself.”
You mentioned the Holodomor, do you by any chance plan to write a book on this topic?
“I’m working on it. I might. The origin of that is that I was approached by the Harvard Ukrainian Institute. Ukrainians complain that their history is not known well enough in the West. But I don’t know if there is anything like the Harvard Ukrainian Institute, I mean, there’s no Harvard Polish Institute. There’s no equivalent of that: very well-funded, three professors at Harvard, they have a building there, they produce books and scholarships in Ukraine, it is a part of one of the best universities in the United States. And there are not that many countries that have a whole center dedicated to themselves at Harvard. So, there is more known about Ukraine in the West than you sometimes think.
“There has been a lot of academic work done on the Holodomor in the last two decades. Enormous amount of work was done, including oral history, monographs, publication of documents. But there haven’t been any books written for more general audience. And the Harvard Ukrainian Institute asked me if I would consider doing that, because that’s what I do, I write books for general audience. And the answer is yes, I would like to do it, I’m just beginning to work on it now, they asked me some time ago, but I had to finish this other book.”
Since you are also a wife of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, could you tell what Europe lacks to be able to help Ukraine integrate into the EU?
“This is sort of what we have just been talking about. I think there is a lot of confusion in Europe. I think, people would like to see the integration of Ukraine, but the impulse to integrate, the impulse to be part of the West, to adopt Western institutions really has to come from Ukraine. I have heard this from more than one person, that the current Ukrainian government often thinks that this is some kind of bargain: they can bargain with the West, they can bargain with Russia. They think they can say to the West: ‘We want this arrangement, or else we’ll go with Russia.’ This is not how it works. The West will say: ‘Go with the Russians.’ Joining the EU is like the Anschluss: you accept this acquis communautaire, this set of laws and regulations, you agree to adopt them, and then you can join. And if Ukraine was interested in moving closer to the West, it would begin this process of adopting the laws and the habits of the West.”
But many countries that are now the members of the EU had the prospects of membership in this organization. Ukraine, unlike Poland or Hungary and some other countries, does not get such prospects. Do you think it is right?
“It is not me personally who does not give that perspective. I think Ukraine has the perspective of membership, but your country has been very ambivalent about how much it wants to join. Ukraine is a harder case because it’s big, just like Turkey, it’s the same problem. And the size means that the joining of the West would require a lot more work. But if Ukraine is serious about wanting to eventually join the West in some form, whether through partial or full EU membership, it would have to begin to westernize itself. In other words, it would have to begin to undertake economic and political reforms in that direction. And that is what Poland and Hungary did in 1990. And the other thing that Poland and Hungary had was the luck of timing, because the EU in 1990 was an institution that had a lot more time and energy for this process of absorbing people. And the EU in 2013 is not interested, they have other problems, you’re not their central problem.”
It is well known that Poland and Hungary were under Soviet occupation for 40 years and most of the territory of Ukraine was occupied for 70 years. How does this factor affect the fact that change and reforms occurred much faster in the countries of the socialist camp than in Ukraine and does culture play a significant role in the implementation of transformations?
“I think yes, it makes a big difference. Of course it makes a big difference that you were under Soviet control for 70 years. The other big difference – and we actually almost started talking about it a second ago – is that in Poland and Hungary some processes of change began 10 years earlier. So this creation of civil society in Poland, the self-organization of people, began in the late 1970s. So the fact is that the Poles organized their Solidarity movement in 1980, which was 10 million people. And this process of people organizing themselves and deciding things for themselves was going on for 10 years before 1990. That may be even a more important difference. So some of the things that you’re experiencing now, they did 30 years ago. And that’s partly because the Poles had a shorter period of occupation and a stronger memory of the past, and also because the Polish communist regime was so weak, and by the 1980s it was so incompetent, whereas here I think in the 1980s it was actually very strict, and had much more strict control.”
What about the role of culture since in one of your articles you mentioned that Latvians were able to better deal with the crisis than the Greeks because of their culture.
“I don’t think there is anything fundamental about culture. Cultures change, and places change, and people behave differently, and particularly if you can change the legal system, and you can change the institutional structure of society, then you change the way people behave and think. So I think there is no rule about it that Ukraine always has to be this or that, it can change. But I think the problem of Ukraine is that it has been trying to change it from above, and it has to change from below. And the American ambassador last night said something really interesting to me about some people becoming more active in local government and regional government and creating greater transparency and anti-corruption programs in smaller places. That’s great. That’s from where you can get your next generation politicians, your alternative lead that can run the country.”
Mrs. Applebaum, you studied the history of Gulag. Would you agree that totalitarianism rests not only on camps and violence but also because a new type of man is being created?
“Yes. In fact there’s a chapter in my new book which is called Homo Sovieticus, which is the expression you know, and the chapter is exactly about this: how – because this was done in Central Europe, too – you create people, who not only are friendly to the state, but will never be enemies because they cannot even think outside of what the state wants them to teach them. It was a deliberate effort to create such people, you know. It didn’t succeed, but there was an attempt to try it. It just didn’t succeed in everybody. Yes, there is a legacy of that as well in this country, in Russia, and also in Poland, actually, and Hungary.”
Do you think it is possible that in the future there might emerge a new Iron Curtain on the border of Poland and Ukraine which will separate Europe from non-European countries?
“It won’t be the same, because the Iron Curtain in the past was also the product of the Cold War, you know – there were literally soldiers on both sides guarding it. And I think the current situation is more gray and complicated, and it’s less simple than that. And maybe I have trouble with my imagination, but I cannot imagine Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia becoming a new Soviet Union, with a single foreign policy – there have been too many changes. And because you don’t have that, you’ll always have (I mean the Poles and the Ukrainians will always have) their own special relationship. You know, there’s business back and forth… So no, I don’t see it. I mean, even if Putin were to try that, and he sometimes hints at that rhetorically that he would like for that to be there, I don’t think that institutionally or militarily or psychologically you could create that again. No, I don’t think so. I hope – maybe, I’m too optimistic.”