The columns I wrote earlier this year on the background to the Ukrainian crisis have generated numerous responses, and I am grateful to all of those who have commented. In looking at what has transpired since they appeared in February, I continue to think back on the work of the late economist and ambassador, Lev Dobriansky, who is the person most responsible for America’s understanding of the importance of Ukraine in the realm of global politics.
Lev was born in 1918 in New York, the son of Ukrainian immigrants. He studied at New York University, where he received his Ph.D. under the guidance of professor James Burnham. In the 1930s Burnham was an ardent follower of the Trotskyite wing of the Communist Party, but he underwent an awakening, and became an equally ardent conservative, serving as an editor of William F. Buckley’s National Review. His influence on Lev was profound.
In 1948, Lev came to Washington to become a professor in the Economics Department of Georgetown University. Following in Burnham’s path, he became politically vocal about the plight of the millions suffering under Soviet Russian domination. In 1959, his activism resulted in Congress passing Public Law 86-90, establishing the National Captive Nations Committee as a vehicle to inform Americans of the nature of Soviet Russian imperialism. To that end the law set in place the third week in July as National Captive Nations Week. Locally, both the late Don Miller and I had the honor to serve on the committee.
Lev followed in Burnham’s tradition of opposition to the policy of containment of communism, instead calling for its rollback and ultimate defeat. When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, he had been one of the principal architects of its collapse. True to his Ukrainian heritage, Lev saw the importance his ancestral homeland had played in its role as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union. He called for the U.S. to treat Ukraine and the other subjugated peoples as independent nation states, rather than as subjugated captive peoples. In one of his books, U.S.A. and the Soviet Myth, he explained the critical role that Ukraine played in propping up Soviet imperialism, and why it was, from the Russian perspective, imperative for it to be controlled by Moscow, and that was precisely what he wanted to tear down.
Today, the Soviet Union is no more, but Vladimir Putin, who rose through the gory details of the KGB, the state security system, is attempting to pull back under Russian control all of the peoples of the former Soviet empire. The underlying philosophy of Moscow being the Third Rome, and thereby having the right to rule over other peoples, is alive and well under Putin. Like dominoes, he wants them to fall, first Crimea in 2014, and now the goal is Ukraine.
One of Lev’s many initiatives in calling awareness to the importance of Ukraine was his successful lobbying to have a statue of Taras Shevchenko, the 19th-century “Bard of Ukraine,” erected as a public memorial in Washington. At the groundbreaking, 20,000 people were present, and even more at the dedication.
In the 1990s Lev set out on a new course, fathering the concept of a national memorial for the victims of communism. The project garnered widespread approval from both political parties, leading to its construction at the intersection of Massachusetts and New Jersey Avenues, near the U.S. Capitol. President George W. Bush spoke at the dedication ceremony in 2007. The following January, the great Cold Warrior died in Springfield at the age of 89.
The Dobriansky legacy for our understanding of communism and imperialism remains profound. In 1980 he and his wife, Julia, came to the Northern Neck, and enjoyed being part, albeit briefly, of our local scene. In Washington we have a statue of Shevchenko; in Kyiv the Ukrainians should have a statue of Lev Dobriansky. They owe him much.