Students from Ukraine who came to study at Stanford, as well as members of the local Ukrainian community and Stanford faculty, listened the talk given by Sergei Plokhy, Harvard University professor Thursday. The lecture was the first event in this school year’s Ukrainan Studies Program at Stanford. Among his numerous books and articles, there are a book about Yalta and a book about origins of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Although the theme, the deal between Stalin, Churchill and FDR in Yalta in February 1945 on the organization of the postwar Europe, sounded familiar to the most of the audience, the angle offered by Prof. Plokhy was completely or at least partly unusual to the scholars and non-scholars alike: the fate of the Ukrainian Catholic Church that was secretly decided at this meeting. The subject of the church wasn’t on the negotiations agenda; however, special aide to FDR, Ed Flynn, was given the task to meet with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch and after that, with the pope in Vatican. “The pope tried to prevent FDR and Churchill from concessions to the Communists,” Plokhy said.
In his talk, Plokhy gave the chronology about Flynn’s mission. It coincided with Stalin’s assignment for the NKVD’s division in charge of religion matters, headed by Georgi Karpov. In the memo given to Karpov with Stalin’s signature, a plan for special operations was designed. Destruction of the Ukrainian Catholic Church was planned as the number one provision; establishing good relations with “old Catholics,” or Roman Catholic Church, was the second task; and the third task provided for expansion of the Russian Orthodox Church over reoccupied western Ukrainian lands.
However, the lecturer stressed out that the Ukrainian Catholic Church sought that time, in 1944, a kind of reconciliation between Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the Soviet occupiers. Metropolitan Andrey Sheptycki, the highest hierarch in the Church, tried to meet with the Soviet administration in L’viv. Moreover, the Ukrainian Catholic Church provided charity work for the wounded Soviet soldiers in L’viv and western Ukraine, he said. At first, they offered a special hospital for them; however, the Soviet command rejected this proposal. Then they collected a donation of 2,000 Soviet roubles for establishing such a facility by the Soviets themselves. Nevertheless, all attempts of the Ukrainian Catholics to avoid the cruel civil war in the postwar Ukraine were rejected by Stalin’s regime. Immediately after Flynn’s meeting with the pope, the Soviets arrested Cardinal Yosyp Slipyi, who replaced Metropolitan Sheptycki after the latter’s sudden death in October 1944. The arrest of Slipyi occurred days before FDR’s death, Plokhy said.
Plokhy argues that Yalta agreements provided the background for destruction of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. “Stalin interpreted Flynn’s mission in his own way: that the Allies care about Poland’s Catholic Church, or the Roman Catholic Church, but they don’t care about what’s going on within the Soviet Union. Therefore, Stalin could do in the USSR whatever he wanted even though he should make some concessions on Poland issue.” Seeing that the Ukrainian Catholics are subject of the Vatican, which is very hostile to Communism expansion into Europe, Stalin made his own decision: to destroy this church completely. In 1946, a high-ranking church hierarchy was called for dissolution of the church and “re-unification” with the Russian Orthodox Church. The adherents of the Ukrainian Catholic Church were severely persecuted, arrested and sent to GULAG. The Ukrainian Catholic Church was restored during Gorbachev reform movement.
Plokhy concluded that destruction of the Ukrainian Catholic Church happened as an aftermath of Yalta negotiations, which he calls “unforeseen consequences.” It happened because of the gap between the negotiating partners. “They spoke different languages not only in terms of the difference between FDR’s and Churchill’s English and Stalin’s accented Russian but in terms of political and cultural values,” he said. On the part of Western negotiators, especially American delegation, it was, in the lecturer’s words, “complete misunderstanding of whom they were dealing with, what the Soviet Union was, what was dictatorship, and what were relations between church and state in the USSR.” The western allies tried to convince Stalin to preserve democratic and religious values in the Eastern Europe which went under the Soviet control, while Stalin thought exclusively about expansion of the Soviet Empire and about spheres of influence. In addition, the western allies were in more weak position than Stalin because at that time Soviet troops stood at Oder while the Allies were stuck in Ardennes.
Such misunderstanding lead the West even to dealing with illegitimate NKVD-reestablished “Russian Orthodox Church,” which was in fact uncanonical. This church was created under NKVD control in late 20s after murdering the last true Russian Patriarch Tikhon who refused to collaborate with atheist Communists. Nevertheless, the U.S. Congress urged Stalin to prove that the Soviet state does not persecute religion, as the Soviet Constitution provided that religion was “private matter of Soviet citizens.” So, Stalin reestablished the Russian Orthodox Church under NKVD control, and that action was welcomed by the U.S., Plokhy said.
The most terrible aftermath of such “misunderstanding” was not only the destruction of the Ukrainian Catholic Church but annihilation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church at the same time. Moreover, the negotiations in Yalta prepared the foundation for the division of Europe between democratic West and pro-Communist East, Plokhy stressed out. As a result of “unforeseen consequences” of dealing with the Communist dictator who did not give up his plans to expand into Europe, the “internal Iron Curtain still exists between the Eastern European countries and former Soviet western lands, especially in Ukraine,” Plokhy concluded.
The Ukrainian community feels such aftermaths. The aggressive reassertion of Ukraine by the same uncanonical KGB-controlled Russian Orthodox Church under the current administration of President Yanukovych seems to be somewhat successful due to the forcible attachment of the Soviet-occupied Ukraine to this church that lasted more than half-century.
Unfortunately, the audience should leave promptly because the hall was about to close. However, a brief discussion occurred outside of the hall. The participants expressed appreciation for the new insight into one of the most essential problem of contemporary Ukraine, the problem of restoring its independent church.