Academic journal article Kritika

The "Transnationalization" of Ukrainian Dissent: New York City Ukrainian Students and the Defense of Human Rights, 1968-80

Academic journal article Kritika

The "Transnationalization" of Ukrainian Dissent: New York City Ukrainian Students and the Defense of Human Rights, 1968-80

Article excerpt

In the last decade, the history of human rights has experienced a period of unprecedented development: in particular, the 1970s have been identified as a global turning point. (1) The so-called Breakthrough narrative has rightly underlined the importance of the process, which led to the Helsinki Accords, and of its consequences. In the last few years, this interpretation has been more widely contextualized and made more complex by including non-Western and transnational actors from the 1960s and 1970s. (2) This article continues this line of research by combining it with scholarship on connections across the East-West divide. (3) Studies have demonstrated that, from the second half of the 1960s on, Soviet intellectuals and dissidents tried to address international public opinion,

I would like to acknowledge my gratitude to the Harriman Institute of Columbia University, which granted me a Petro Jacyk Visiting Professorship, and to the Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine, which granted me a Visiting Scholarship at the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies of the University of Toronto, without whom I would not have been able to carry on my research on the Ukrainian diaspora in America. hoping that it would help them in their fight to reform and, later, destroy the Soviet Union. (4) Although it is plausible that Soviet non-Russian nationalities in the West played a central role in building and conserving Western countries' relationships with their original homelands beyond the Iron Curtain, little research has been dedicated to this topic, which is usually left to speculation. (5) This article addresses questions of the reception of Ukrainian dissent in Ukrainian communities in the West, Ukrainian emigres' evolving sense of national belonging, and their attempts to influence East-West relations through an analysis of the activities of two organizations: the New York City Ukrainian Students Hromada (Community) and New York's Committee to Defend Soviet Political Prisoners. Although both were small in comparison with Ukrainian emigration organizations as a whole, their relevance to this topic comes from their originality and specific political orientation. Together, they shed light on the dynamics characterizing the history of Ukrainians in the West during the Cold War. (6)

Disaffection with Traditional National Organizations

The leading group among Ukrainian emigre communities in the West was composed of the so-called third wave: people who left Ukraine during and after World War II and, after a period in refugee camps in Europe (hence the definition of "displaced people"), found a new home in a Western country (mainly the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and West Germany). (7) Because of their involvement in the nationalist movement and the partisan struggle during World War II, these people tended to have strong anti-Soviet feelings and to be politically very active: in their new countries of residence they took over the emigration associations and caused a marked decline in leftist and Sovietophile organizations, which remained stronger only in Canada. (8) The climate of confrontation between the superpowers found its supporters in Ukrainian emigre communities, and those supporters were quite disappointed when in the late 1950s the US administration started looking for peaceful coexistence with its communist opponent. (9) The 1960s were a decade of sour confrontation within Ukrainian communities between those who favored a reconnection with the Ukrainian mainland and those who opposed any contact in the belief that the Soviet Union was just looking for another way to infiltrate its agents into the West. (10) In spite of this lively debate, the leadership of the Ukrainian communities in the United States remained in the hands of the ultranationalist faction led by Lev Dobriansky, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, the umbrella organization of US Ukrainian associations. …

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