Monday, January 17, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Moves to Close Ukrainian Institutions in Russia

Paul Goble

Staunton, January 17 – Apparently confident that now it can do so without objections from the Yanukovich government in Kyiv, Moscow has disbanded the Federation of National Cultural Autonomy of Ukrainians of Russia and is setting the stage for closing the Ukrainian library in the Russian capital by continuing its seizures of “extremist” literature there.
The Russian government, like its Soviet predecessor, has never been supportive of the more than five million ethnic Ukrainians living there, refusing to open any Ukrainian-language state schools even as it has complained about closure of some of the many Russian-language schools operating in Ukraine.
But in recent weeks, Moscow has moved against even the few Ukrainian institutions that do exist inside the Russian Federation. On the basis of a March 2010 appeal by the Russian justice ministry, the Russian Supreme Court on November 24 “liquidated” the Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of Ukrainians of Russia” as a legal person.
According to Vladimir Semenenko, the former head of that former institution, the Justice Minsitry made three specific complaints about the group’s “diversions.” First, Semenko gave an interview to Radio Liberty. Second, the group organized a public conference on Ukrainian studies in Russia. And third, its leaders took part in commemorations of the Great Famine.
On January 13, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that the closure was based on the autonomy’s political action. He said that that the autonomy had been shuttered because its leaders “were engaged in political activity directed at undermining Russian-Ukrainian relations” (
Meanwhile, Russian interior ministry officials have been conducting searches for “extremist” literature in the Ukrainian Library in Moscow. The latest of these occurred last Friday. Both Ukrainian embassy officials and Russian ones insist the library has not been closed, but the librarians there say that a court case is hanging over them and it.
Natalya Sharina, the library’s director, said the MVD officers had come from the anti-extremist section and had behaved in such a threatening way that members of her staff had called for emergency medical help. She acknowledged that the library was still open, but said the “criminal case” was going on “in parallel” (
Foreign Minister Lavrov, also on January 13th, insisted that “no on has closed the library of Ukrainian literature.” But he added that “there really were seized several books which are now being studied on the basis of our legislation which prohibits the distribution of nationalistic ideas.”
In discussing both these cases, commentator Vitaly Portnikov says that “in contemporary Russia one must not be surprised by anything.” But in order to make sense of what Russian officials are now doing against Ukrainians, he recalls an event in which he was a participant at the end of the 1980s (
At that time, the Moscow city Komsomol organization summoned representatives of the recently founded Jewish, Ukrainian and Belarusian youth groups in the Russian capital to a meeting. The Komsomol city organization secretary wanted to know why Portnikov, who is Jewish, was involved with a Ukrainian club.
“I somewhat angrily noted,” Portnikov recalls, “that until recently for the study of Hebrew, Jews had been sent to the camps, and now Jews are being blamed for a knowledge of Ukrainian. ‘ Ukrainians are worse than the Jews,’ the secretary responded. ‘Jews will at least leave, but Ukrainians want to destroy our great land.’”
At the time, Portnikov says, he “did not devote important to this insane dialogue because I could not imagine that Ukrainians in Russia could find themselves in the position of Jews of the 19440s and 1950s, that [Moscow officials] would stomp on their books with dirty boots” or close Ukrainian institutions as they had done earlier with Jewish ones.
But as the latest events show, he concludes with obvious sadness, “it turns out that even this is possible.”

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