Testing Gorbachev's Patience

With Lech Walesa-like flair, Mykhailo Horyn beats the drum for Ukrainian independence. PROFILE: UKRAINIAN NATIONALIST

LEON TROTSKY once said there could be no Russia without the Ukraine. Today, Alexander Solzhenitsyn is calling for creation of a Great Russian state made up of the three Soviet Slavic republics - Russia, Byelorussia, and the Ukraine. Rubbish, says Mykhailo Horyn, who has been saying this his whole life to such suggestions.

The slight, bushy-haired Ukrainian's mission to establish an independent Ukraine has cost him a total of 12 years in prison camps. Most recently, that mission brought him to Washington for meetings at the White House, State Department, Treasury Department, AFL-CIO, and with constitutional lawyers.

Back home, as the Ukrainian movement for full independence gains support, Mr. Horyn's mission increasingly could mean Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's worst nationalist nightmare. The Ukraine is the second-largest Soviet republic, with 52 million people, and is crucial to the geographical and economic integrity of the Soviet Union.

In a sense, President Gorbachev brought this upon himself. In 1987, under his policy of liberalization, Horyn was released from prison. Now Horyn is nearing the top of the Ukraine's pro-independence popular movement, Rukh, which controls 147 of 450 seats in the Ukrainian parliament. Currently in charge of Rukh's day-to-day political direction, Horyn is expected to be elected chairman of the movement at its congress this month.

That would itself be a sign of the times. Rukh's current chairman, poet Ivan Drach, was until recently a member of the Communist Party - a point that helped make him an acceptable compromise choice for leader a year ago when Rukh was formed. But that fact ``doesn't go down well now in this radicalizing situation,'' says Adrian Karatnycky, author of a forthcoming book on Soviet nationalities, ``The Hidden Nations.''

``In six months, Horyn will be forming a new government'' in the Ukraine, Mr. Karatnycky predicts. Such statements invite the comparisons to Lech Walesa that have become increasingly common. On first impression, the soft-spoken Horyn doesn't seem like the larger-than-life Polish activist, but in a Monitor interview he displayed the kind of absolute conviction that has won him many supporters - even in the more Russified eastern Ukraine.

Majority favors secession

One of Rukh's biggest challenges is to unify a republic that is divided between the western region, where Ukrainian language and culture dominate, and the larger eastern area, where one hears much more Russian than Ukrainian, at least in the cities.

According to Horyn, of the Ukraine's 52 million people, 11 million are Russian and 5 1/2 million Russian-speaking. Other figures put the ethnic breakdown of the republic at closer to 40 percent non-Ukrainian. Regardless, Horyn dismisses the notion that Ukrainians who don't know their native language or traditions lack the intensity needed to fuel a drive for independence.

``We felt for a long time that national consciousness was dictated by language, but we have realized this is not so,'' says Horyn, who is from the western Ukrainian city of Lvov.

``I came across this phenomenon speaking in very large factories in Kiev. There I met with the view that we shouldn't rush with this process of `Ukrainianization,' of bringing in the Ukrainian language. This was already attempted in our history, with Russification. The workers said, `Let's not repeat the same experience with Ukrainianization.'

``But on the question of creating a national state,'' Horyn continues, ``the workers said, `We all support you on this.'''

Horyn also cites a July opinion poll of Kiev residents, conducted by the research arm of Lvov's Rukh-controlled government, that shows 57 percent support Ukrainian secession. But, say some Ukrainian-American activists, it is likely that many of these people favor secession largely because they want to escape the collapsing Soviet economy.

Rukh has staged several events this year designed to heighten Ukrainian national awareness and unity. In January, it organized a ``human chain'' of up to 500,000 people stretching from Lvov and Ivano-Frankovsk to Kiev. This summer Ukrainian youths participated in a month-long ``culturological walk'' to villages in eastern Ukraine to hold meetings, bonfires, and rallies designed to inform people about Rukh and Ukrainian history and traditions.

In early August, a half million people (half from western Ukraine) gathered in Zaporozhye to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Ukrainian-Cossack state - a kind of ``Ukrainian Woodstock,'' one observer called it. Horyn calls it ``a revelation.'' [A one-day general strike, centered in Kiev, was scheduled to take place Oct. 1 to protest a new, Gorbachev-proposed union treaty for all the Soviet states.]

``I had thought that national revival would take 10 to 15 years,'' he says. ``Apparently, it will take only 10 months.''

Overall, Rukh's priority is the economy. Regardless of the republican parliament's recent declaration of Ukrainian sovereignty and adoption of a law on economic independence, the Ukrainian economy remains tightly woven into the Soviet economy.

At this point, the main aim is to preserve the Ukraine's existing economic connections with the other republics of the Soviet Union, while bypassing the central control mechanisms, says Horyn. The Ukraine has sent delegations to the republics to work out bilateral agreements on economic cooperation.

``For now, our economy will be oriented eastward; but we will eventually reorient toward the West and try to enter the `common European home,''' says Horyn, using one of Gorbachev's stock phrases.

Critics of Rukh worry that the movement, run by freed dissidents and intellectuals who by definition lack experience in governing, is almost dangerously naive in its hard push for complete independence.

In a meeting with Treasury officials here, Horyn says he encountered a preference there for maintaining the ``unitary state'' of the USSR to serve as a stabilizing factor in Europe and the world. But at the White House, he says, ``there was a certain understanding of what the Ukrainians want.''

Case for independence

Horyn rejects the idea that, in the eyes of the US government, the Ukraine has a weaker legal case for independence than the Baltic republics, whose 1940 annexation was never recognized by the US. He argues that the Ukraine is actually in a stronger position than Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia: Ukraine has its own seat in the United Nations and the Baltic states do not.

Never mind the fact that gaining separate seats in the UN for the Ukraine and Byelorussia was a maneuver by Stalin that had nothing to do with recognizing Ukrainian independence, Horyn says. The fact remains that the US, by going along with Stalin, recognized the Ukraine's separateness as a nation.

Rukh now hopes to make something out of that UN seat, a move that would challenge Gorbachev at his own game of boosting the UN's image and importance. Horyn says the Ukraine wants to replace the Moscow-appointed Ukrainian ambassador and send its own envoy - ``someone who will represent the interests of the Ukraine and not those of the empire.''

So far, that hasn't happened.

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