the imaginative conservative logo

false dimitrisAs a Catholic and a Pole, it is not easy to translate and publish these letters from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn about the Ukraine crisis. Solzhenitsyn writes about a common experience of suffering by Belorussians, Ukrainians and Russians not only at the hands of Communism, but at the hands of Catholicism and Poles. Yet anyone who has studied the 1600s and 1700s and knows something about the troubled and tragic relations between the United Kingdom of Poland and the Russian Empire knows that the suffering Solzhenitsyn writes about is real; no less real than the suffering of Catholic Poles in those times. Now, as then, we are witness to what the Russian mind no doubt sees as another attempt at taking advantage of Russian weakness by planting a False Dimitri into Russian affairs. Anyone who has studied those days, when Polish foreign policy sought to take advantage of a civil war amongst Russian peoples by sending False Dimitris to impersonate Tsars and claim the throne of Russia for themselves will no doubt see a parallel in the present NATO policy of supporting one Ukranian political group over another in a coup that took advantage of Russian and Ukranian weakness. To all those Poles or Americans who will now scream that I am betraying the Catholic and Polish cause by taking the “side” of the “enemy,” I would remind you that the Catholic Cause is the cause of Father Popieluszko, who took the side of his enemy by loving his enemy. It was also the side of a Second Vatican Council that sought to revive the Catholic faith and forever separate the institution of the Church from past avarice.

While Russians are no doubt also guilty of avarice, nothing will be achieved until all sides make amends with one another. Right now, the historic opportunity to move beyond the quarrels of history are being wasted in Ukraine largely because Solzhenitsyn’s appeals for a peaceful resolution, for voting at the local level, for respect for all national minorities, and against historical mythologies combined with unhealthy passions has not been heeded. Understanding is something impossible in War, where only survival and victory are important, and understanding is likely now impossible in southeastern Ukraine. The scars of the present war and its repercussions will determine the course of the next several decades of European history. Let it not be said, however, that everywhere, everyone succumbed to a silly illusion whereby a “resurgent Soviet Union” was to blame, when clearly—hard as it may be for us to so radically shift our paradigms out of Cold War thinking and into the 1600s—this conflict is a resumption of the sad history of those ages that Europe was said to have outgrown and progressed beyond: the ages when people kill one another over language and religion. The sooner we understand that this is the kind of civil war now taking place, the sooner we might have some hope of remedying it. And to those who would intervene: How would Americans, whether Unionists or Confederates, like it if Prussia, Britain, France and Russia decided to take sides in the American Civil War? These final translations of Solzhenitsyn ought to leave no doubt in the minds of Americans that whatever the solution to the Ukraine crisis, it does not rest in Cold War thinking. It rests in understanding the 1600s and the national conflicts in Eastern Europe which preceded Communism. And if Communism has anything to do with this conflict, we should look for lessons not in the Soviet Union, but in the Russian civil war and the Federation of Soviet Republics that preceded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The rest is left to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. –Peter Strzelecki Rieth


Fragment of a letter to the Confederation on Russian-Ukrainian Affairs at the Toronto Institute of Ukrainian Research at Harvard, April 1981, published in Russkoi Mysli 18.06.1981 (published in Russia for the first time in Zvezda in December of 1993):

Esteemed ladies and gentlemen,

My heartfelt thanks for your invitation to the conference. Unfortunately, it has been some years now that my present work has kept me from traveling and partaking in such public events. Your invitation gives me the right, however, to express certain thoughts of mine in written form. I fully agree that Russian-Ukrainian relations are amongst the most important of contemporary problems, at the very least they are essential for our nations. However, I consider it fatal to all if we allow for the excitement of the passions in this matter; the fire of the passions which grows around this matter.

In this present fanning of the flames of the passions, are we not witness to a certain disease we may call “the émigré disease?” It is a certain loss of bearings. If your conference aims for a just dialogue about Russian-Ukrainian affairs, you cannot for a moment lose sight of the relations between nations rather than between groups of émigrés.

I have often said, and will repeat again, that no one can use force to compel some people to remain a part of their country. None of the sides of this conflict can use force, whether against their opponents, against their own people, against the nation, against even the smallest of national minorities which happen to be attached to them—because every minority contains its own minorities. This is why in all cases we must seek to gauge and then respect local opinion. This is why all problems can only be solved by local residents, not by far away émigrés quarreling with one another and deforming all sentiments.

I feel authentic pain at the lack of tolerance present when discussing Russian-Ukrainian relations. (This is fatal to both nations and beneficial only to their enemies.) I feel this pain because I myself am both Russian and Ukrainian in my lineage and, in terms of the relations between these two cultures, I have never noticed any antagonism. I have often written and spoken on the subject of Ukraine and of its nation, of the tragedy of the Holdomor famine. I have many old Ukrainian friends, I have always known about the Russian and Ukrainian suffering which stood in one column as suffering experienced under communism.

In my heart, there is no place for a Russian-Ukrainian conflict and if, God forbid, such a conflict should ignite, I can tell you this: Never, under any circumstance will I go or allow my sons to go and take part in a Russian-Ukrainian war. I pledge this no matter how hard various insane people might try to tempt us into such a war.


“A Word to Ukranians and Belorussians,” written and published in the 1990s in “How to organize Russia”:

I myself am, essentially, half Ukrainian. I spent my early childhood growing up to the rhythm of Ukrainian dialect. I spent most of my time on the war front in the bitter realms of Belarus; a nation whose poverty and hospitality I have come to love. I speak now to both not as a foreigner, but as one of them.

Yes, our nation has been divided into three distinct parts only because of the bitter sorrows of the Mongol invasions and of Polish colonization. These recent ideas, that a separate “Ukrainian nation” has existed since the IX century with a separate non-Russian language are all lies. We—all of us—have our origins in our beloved Kiev, “whence Russia cometh” according to the chronicles of Nestor, and whence Christianity cometh to these lands. We were governed by the same Princes. Jaroslav the Wise divided Kiev, Novogrod and all of the lands from Chernihov do Riazania, Muromu and Bielooziera between his sons. Vladimir Monomah was at once the prince of Kiev and of Rostov-Suzdalsk; and it was there, we saw only unity in service to the Metropolitan Bishops. The nation of Kiev Rus built the Principality of Moscow. In Lithuania, in Poland, the Belorussian inhabitants and the Lower Russians all considered themselves Russians and fought against Polonization and Catholization. Returning these lands to Russia was an operative idea in the minds of all of these people as an ideal of unity.

Yes, it is painful and embarrassing to recall to mind the decrees of Alexander II forbidding the use of the Ukrainian language in publications, and later in literature. But, it did not last long. And it was from these murky relics of the middle ages both in terms of state and church politics that the fall of the Russian state system was brought about.

But the hell raising socialist council from 1917 was also brought about as a compromise by politicians rather than as the result of the express will of the nation. And when it left the Federation, announcing the separation of Ukraine from Russia—it did not ask the nation for its opinion.

I already had the chance to answer the questions posed by Ukrainian nationalist émigrés, who all keep telling the Americans that “Communism is a myth, the world was always threatened by Russia, not by Communists.” In the American Senate, there is a resolution that has existed for 30 years proclaiming that it was “Russia” which occupied China and Tibet. Communism was a “myth” that Russians and Ukrainians all experienced on their own hides in the cellars they were forced into by the Cheka since 1918. It is a “myth” of the sort that destroyed both people and crops. It gave up 29 Russian regions to famine, drought and genocidal hunger between 1921-33. Together, we survived Communist collectivization, whipping, and mass executions. Do these bloody experiences not unite us?

In Austria, already in 1848, the residents of Galicia called their National Council the “High Russian Council.” However, in the partition of Galicia under Austria, due to Austrian poison, there was born this bastardized non-national language called “Ukrainian,” littered with German and Polish words, and the temptation was born to unlearn the Russian language of the Carpathian Ruses. The temptation was born for total Ukrainian separatism. This temptation is visible in the leaders of the Ukrainian émigrés today; in their primitivism and ignorance, in their claim that St. Vladimir was a “Ukrainian.” This is insane madness. They say—Long Live Communism so long as Muscovites are terminated!

Of course, we cannot separate ourselves from the pain felt during the deadly suffering of the Ukraine under Soviet times. But why this coup: to slice off Ukraine (and in an area where old Ukraine never existed, in an area of wild fields where the settlers roamed)—in Novorossiya or Crimea, in the Donbas and almost to the Caspian sea? And if we speak of “national self-determination,” then the nation should decide independently about its fate. Without a universal vote, it is impossible to decide the matter.

Today, separating Ukraine means separating millions of families, millions of people: what a concentration of people! Entire Russian gubernatorial regions with Russians in them, so many people who do not know which of the two nationalities to choose as their own! So many with mixed ethnic roots! And within the population itself there is not even a hint of intolerance between Ukrainians and Russians.

Brothers! Why this brutal division? This is a fantasy of Communist Times. Together we survived the Soviet days; together we found ourselves in the jaws of terror, together we were delivered from those jaws! And over these two centuries; how many excellent men were there at the very crossroads of our cultures. Mychailo Drahomanov said “We are indivisible and unmixable.” With a warm heart and with joy, a great path should be opened for Ukrainian and Belorussian culture; not only on the territory of Ukraine and Belarus, but in Greater Russia itself. Without any coercion; without forced Russification (but also without forced Ukrainization, as took place at the end of the 1920s); without any limits on the development of culture and of schools—schools with both languages available to be learned by children, and with parents free to choose which language their child will learn.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
"All comments are subject to moderation. We welcome the comments of those who disagree, but not those who are disagreeable."
4 replies to this post
  1. Thank you! There’s no end to such madness. Next? Freedom for South West Central Ukraine and death to South East Central Ukraine!

  2. What next?

    Well, we can expect the Ukrainians to eventually attack Przeymsl and other cities and regions of Poland while the Polish government is busy moving to Brussels after having been bought – just like the London government in 1939 which patriotically high tailed it out of Poland through Romania and sat around England pretending to be running things for the next 50 years.

    I am starting to understand General Bering more and more these days. After all – given the incompetence of the London government, who else were the members of the People’s Army supposed to fight for?

    The fact that the Polish army is not now, in alliance with Hungary, putting men on Ukraine’s Western border and cooperating with Moscow to put pressure on Kiev to put down the Right Sector militias is treason or stupidity or both.

    Slovakia borders Ukraine on the West and understands that the Ukrainians could eventually turn their army on Slovakia.

    Hungary borders Ukraine on the West and understands that the Ukrainians could eventually turn their army on Hungary. Hungary is actually USING its army for the real purpose a nation has an army: self defense.

    What the Western media does not report and does not understand is that the SAME forces that believe Novorosiya to be historical Ukraine and were – this summer – willing to send an army against Ukrainian citizens to prove it are also convinced that extensive regions of eastern Poland are also “historical Ukraine” – and it is only a matter of time, if the present Ukraine coup regime lasts, until they will turn their armies and their ambitions against Poland.

    It is not Russian invasion Poland should fear – it is Ukranian invasion.

    Poland is run by traitors and fools.

    The situation is utterly depressing.

    Only Victor Orban knows what he’s doing – and the Prime Minister of Slovakia. The Chechs are also relatively wise. But really – only Orban has a realistici assessment of the situation and all of Eastern Europe’s fate is in the hands of Hungary now.

    The time to solve these problems through democracy and voting is over. People voted for Yanukovich. NATO and the USA overthrew his government – and now nobody in Ukraine is going to believe that going to vote for somebody will do any good.

    Only a tyrant can save them now; if they do no establish one – then Eastern Europe must be ready for Right Sector to eventually pour into Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – or at least make the attempt.

    If this sounds like hysteria: well – after Polish statesmen actually supported Svoboda, Right Sector and the Maidan (an event where Ukrainians called for invading Poland) – then I have ZERO faith in anything these people have to say. They have proven their supreme incompetence starting with Smolensk – ending with Maidan.

    So, God be with Victor Orban! Maybe, just maybe – while he’s busy saving Hungary, his efforts will also save Poland.

  3. ….If Solzhenitsyn wants to reach back to the 1600s for a dubious analogy to justify Russian intervention in Ukraine, then the Ukrainians are more than justified in reaching back to the last 200 odd years of Russian imperialist suppression of Ukrainian culture. Starting with banning the teaching of their language in schools and progressing all the way through to the mass starvation and deportations of the Holodomor and the Great Terror of the 1930s.

    Not only did Stalin starve, slaughter and deport millions of Ukrainians, Belarusians, Poles, Jews and other ethnic minorities, he also purged and executed those same minorities out of the NKVD and the Communist Party. By the time the Germans invaded in June of 1941 All the bureaucracies of the Soviet Union were dominated and controlled by ethnic Russians and Stalin’s own Georgians.

    All while Stalin and his Russians were slaughtering these minorities he was moving ethnic Russians into the towns and villages that had been vacated by his machines of death.

    All the various constituent republics of the Soviet Empire didn’t declare their independence out of some great love of for their Russian occupiers. The list of their resentments and grievances is almost endless.

    So then if Russia is allowed to prevail in carving up Ukraine as it sees fit, what does this foretell for the similarly “Sudatenized” areas of all the other former Soviet Republics?

  4. Mr. Martin,

    very good question, and some interesting points. I will attempt to address them:

    First, we must distinguish between my opinions and those of Sholzenitzyn, who has been dead for quite some time.

    On Sholzenitzyn:

    Insofar as I can see, Sholzenitzyn is not “justifying Russian intervention”, but making two political arguments: 1) any people, who feel themselves to be a nation, have the right to peacefully break away from a state that they have previously been tied to. Thus, Sholzenitzyn argues that Ukrainian independence needs no historical justification, only a “movement of the heart” to justify seperation from Russia (perhaps you did not read all 4 of the Sholzenitzyn texts I translated, you will find them under my author profile). Sholzenitzyn does NOT oppose the right of Ukrainians to independence. 2) Sholzenitzyn argues that although Ukrainians have the right to break off from the Federation of Soviet States and the Russian Federation, they SHOULD NOT.

    You do, I trust, understand the distinction. It is normal democratic politics: I, for instance, believe Americans have the right to vote for Hillary Clinton, but I would argue they should not. Does this make me a reborn Hitler and Stalin? Of course not.

    Sholzenitzyn, himself half Ukrainian, had a right to argue for Union, just like Lincoln did in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Harry Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided begins with sweeping praise and analysis for Douglas’ patriotism, even though Jaffa is a Lincoln supporter. Mature people understand that it is possible for passionate political disagreement to exist amongst patriots. Please give Mr. Sholzenitzyn and other Russians and Ukrainians the right to be passionately opposed to you about the destiny of their (not your) nation without questioning their patriotism en mass.

    Sholzenitzyn’s argument is not so much a historical analogy, it is a use of history – including especially the history of suffering, common suffering under Poles and Communists to argue that Ukrainians and Belorussians and Russians are all one nation, not three.

    [Unlike you, who appear incapable of seeing your own country (which judging from your blog appears to be Israel, not America) critically – I am capable of seeing where Catholic Poles may have acted badly towards their Slavic and Christian brothers in the East and therefore in the interest of mutual understanding, try to see things from the Russian point of view despite how difficult this is for those who suffered on account of Russia. You seem totally oblivious to this fact.]

    Sholzenitzyn has the right to make his argument for Russian Union as did Viktor Yanukovich and his Party of Regions have the right to pursue their policies. So long as popular sovereignty was respected.

    You write of the language bans, the terror and starvation of the 1930s as if you did not read Sholzenitzyn’s letters which I translated. Sholzenitzyn uses these events as the basis of his argument that the experience of suffering ought to unite these peoples, not divide them.

    In this Sholzenitzyn follows Dostoievski’s view of suffering in the Russian soul as central. Dostoievski, after all, believed his death sentence to be the greatest gift he ever recieved. You do not, sir, understand the Russian soul and the view of suffering in Russian Christian culture, if you think that your examples might dissuade a Russian from unity. The more examples of suffering you give, the more you raise the patriotism of the Russian soul which views suffering as our lot on Earth and views the Russian comportment towards suffering as a sign of his superior nature (but Americans who understand suffering primarily as having less gadgets and money wouldn’t understand this, thus their silly economic sanctions which are equal to men telling a fish “do what we want or we’ll throw you in the water!”)

    As to this portion of your post:

    “Not only did Stalin starve, slaughter and deport millions of Ukrainians, Belarusians, Poles, Jews and other ethnic minorities, he also purged and executed those same minorities out of the NKVD and the Communist Party. By the time the Germans invaded in June of 1941 All the bureaucracies of the Soviet Union were dominated and controlled by ethnic Russians and Stalin’s own Georgians.

    All while Stalin and his Russians were slaughtering these minorities he was moving ethnic Russians into the towns and villages that had been vacated by his machines of death.”

    Well, this made me yawn, quite frankly.

    Are you intent on teaching Sholzenitzyn something about how bad Stalin was? Do you really think that any number of adjectives and synonyms will suffice to convince us that you know more about Stalinism than Alexander Sholzenitzyn? Will you conjure for us a testamony of suffering under Stalin more vivid than Sholzenitzyn?

    Please sir, show all of us what a brave anti-Communist you are – 25 years after the fall of the USSR and six decades after the death of Stalin: show us all how you are more anti-Communist than Sholzenitzyn and the Russian people who suffered Communism.

    So there sir, is my defense of Sholzenitzyn, but now I will speak for myself – because my opinions are not identical to Sholzenitzyn, though close.

    On My Opinions:

    The father of post-war Polish conservatism and most intelligent man in post-war Warsaw, Mr. Henryk Krzeczkowski (himself a prisoner of Gulags, a victim of Stalinist torture and a soldier who fought on the Eastern front all the way to Berlin in the greatest and bloodiest war in human history – so refrain please from teaching him about suffering as you tried to teach Mr. Sholzenitzyn) once said something about the type of arguments used by you, sir, which I think you should ponder:

    Do not transform political science and history into a murder story or a crime novel. If you wish political thought to be useful in solving political problems,
    then it is best to make arguments which are strictly historiological and not sophmoric over generalizations.

    Your entire paragraph about Stalin actually does not communicate anything iseful sir. Is it merely a rhetorical volley, or is your historical understanding actually that limited?

    Rather than lecture you, I will ask you to please answer the following questions:

    – When was the nation of Ukraine born?
    – Do you support the borders agreed at the treaty of Riga?
    – Are you an advocate of Promethianism?
    – What is your opinion about Stephan Bandera and the UPA?
    – What is your opinion of Operation Vistula?
    – What is your opinion on the Soviet Republic of Donetsk?

    When you reply, we can pick up our discourse on Stalin.

    As to this:

    “So then if Russia is allowed to prevail in carving up Ukraine as it sees fit, what does this foretell for the similarly “Sudatenized” areas of all the other former Soviet Republics?”

    It is incorrect, sir, to draw an analogy between the Sudetenland and the former Soviet Republics. The political status of lands taken from Germany on account of aggressive relentless war cannot be compared to lands seperated from Federal Soviet Russia through popular soveriegnty and voting.

    It is demeaning to Germans, the greatest majority of whom died fighting for their nation in the Suddetenlands during World War I to suggest that the blood of thousands of Germans spent, all for Chechoslovakia to arise on the map is equal to peaceful creation of the post-Soviet nation states.

    You do realize, by the way, that your bringing up the Suddetenland brings to mind one of the two biggest lies propagated about World War II: that it was for the soveriegnty of Chechoslovakia and that Munich was the epitomy of capitulation and appeasement.

    These are lies because the exact same result which Hitler peacefully achieved at Munich were duplicated almost identically when Communism fell and the Chechs seperated peacefully from the Slovaks according to popular soveriegnty.

    So really sir, you are not only wrong in your analogy but in your thinking. You succeed sir in insulting German patriots who bled in World War I more than any other part of Germany and insulting Russians who suffered Communism and died fighting fascism. Congratulations on this amazing achievement.

    As to your argument sir: Russia is not “carving up Ukraine”. Russia is not invading Ukraine. Russia is doing everything possible to stabilize Ukraine, as anyone followimg the diplomacy and peace talks in Minsk knows.

    Please stop trying to paint the Russian people who defeated Nazism as Nazis.

    Lastly, with regard to this:

    “In a recent piece attheimaginitiveconservative.orgauthor Peter Strzelecki Rieth reaches back into Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s works about not “abandoning” ethnic Russians in Ukraine. He even makes a dubious analogy of the “false Dimitris” of the 1600s to justify Russian intervention in Ukraine. He even forwards the absurd idea that Ukraine should more fear an Polish invasion than a Russian one! What a load of horse feathers”

    What is dubiois in my analogy to the Time of Troubles and the False Dimitris?

    Tymoshenko and Kliczko are German agents, like Bandera before them, and Nuland and Piat were directly involved in leading the violent coup that toppled a democratically elected President and installed a regime which has sent tanks and fighter jets against its’ own citizens.

    What is so different about sending foreign agents to create war amongst Russians now and endanger peace in Europe and sending foreign agents to pose as Tsar Dimitri and endanger peace in Europe in the past?

    Frankly sir, if you stood up for the American constitution with half the passion and confidence with which you stand for Zionism, you would be more credible. But the last thing Europe needs is another war, and people of your persuasion are posion peddlers who do not care that Poland, Ukraine, Russia and the Baltic states will be destroyed in your war – all you care about is turning the attention of the American people away from the domestic tyranny that has grown in their midst and focusing it on phantom enemies.

    You will notice sir that Alexandr Sholzenitzyn appealed for peaceful voting and always respecting the results. America and the EU failed to do this and brought war to Europe. Thus, unlike Sholzenitzyn, I find it hard to contain myself when I am confronted by this anti-Russian rhetoric which could lead to a wider war which, no matter who wins it will destroy everything good that the people of Eastern Europe have achieved.

    I admit that given that at every step there is either propaganda around me or outright support of a good and kind Catholic people to the armies of the Ukrainian oligarch in the form of bullet proof vests etc etc – which is tragic and terrible – so my rhetoric is likewise of heightened nature.

    Finally – to all patriots of the West who persist in Russophobia:

    How much of Western civilization, of British liberalism and tea sipping, of French equality and lacite, of German and Polish culture would have been able to develop over the centuries if the Tsars has not kept the Asian hords at bay and Chrisrianized such a large chunk of the Asian continent?

    Rather than blame Russia for being “backwards” you all might want to think what we all owe the Tsars!

    It is a pity that we cannot – like Sholzenitzyn and other greater people – stand above our narrow national sentiments and see the bigger picture – this is what Christianity ought to allow us to do.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: