The Gulag Archipelago
Part 5, Chapter 2
(written 1968; published 1974)
It pains me to write this as the Ukraine and Russia are merged in my blood, in my heart, and in my thoughts. However, extensive experience of friendly contacts with Ukrainians in the camps has shown me how much of a painful grudge they hold. Our generation won’t escape from paying for the mistakes of our fathers. To stamp one’s foot and shout, “This is mine!” is the easiest option. It is far more difficult to say, “Those who want to live, live!” Surprising as it may be, the Marxist teaching prediction that nationalism is fading hasn’t come true. On the contrary, in an age of nuclear research and cybernetics, it has for some reason flourished. The time is coming for us, whether we like it or not, to repay all the promissory notes of self-determination and independence; we should do it ourselves and not wait to be burnt at the stake, drowned in a river, or beheaded. We must prove that we’re a great nation, not with the vastness of our territory or the number of peoples in our care, but with the greatness of our deeds, and with the depth of ploughing what we shall have left after those lands that won’t want to stay with us secede.
With the Ukraine, things will get extremely painful. Nevertheless, one has to understand the degree of tension they feel. As it’s been impossible for centuries to resolve it, it’s now down to us to show good sense. We must hand over the decision-making to them… federalists or separatists, whichever of them wins. Not to give in would be mad and cruel. The more lenient, patient, coherent we now are, the more hope there’d be to restore unity in future. Let them live it, let them test it. They’d soon understand that not all problems are resolved through separation. Since in different Ukrainian regions there are varying proportions of those who consider themselves Ukrainians, those who consider themselves Russians, and those who consider themselves neither, there’d be many difficulties there. Maybe, it’d be necessary to have a referendum in each region and then ensure preferential and delicate treatment of those who’d want to leave. Not the whole of the Ukraine in its current formal Soviet borders is indeed Ukrainian. Some regions on the left bank [of the Dnepr] clearly lean more towards Russia. As for the Crimea, Khrushchyov’s decision to hand it over to the Ukraine was totally arbitrary. What about Carpathian (Red) Ruthenia? That’d serve as a test, too… whilst demanding justice for themselves, how just will the Ukrainians be to Carpatho-Russians?