In a moral quagmire


The book, Day and Eternity of James Mace, belongs to the most unexplored of all literary genres, the only of its kind that, instead of attracting a mass readership, tells the reader, “Move on, don’t linger; you won’t find anything interesting here; this is just a compilation of articles, which you have probably read in newspapers and magazines.”

In fact, this Masonic conspirology, so to speak, is absolutely justified in this case: Why usher a crowd into an alchemist’s laboratory? The pages of this book contain experiments with time as it was understood by Descartes and Mamardashvili (“Time is what makes an object different from itself”). Participation in this ritual requires changing your frame of mind by liberating yourself from daily trappings and shifting your perspective to things that really count. You must also admit that, regardless of the abundance of your knowledge, you don’t really know anything. Therefore, by all accounts books like this one have the effect of a psychoanalytical session, which is too risky for most people. “Why do I, so wise and successful, need these Freudian games?”

This is literature for the chosen few: “perception through recollection” (Mamardashvili). For those of you who may have forgotten, James Mace was an American historian, who defended his doctoral thesis on national communism in Soviet Ukraine at the University of Michigan and coauthored the world-famous report to the US Congress on the Ukrainian Holodomor. Since 1993 he lived in Kyiv, teaching political science at Kyiv Mohyla Academy and working as a consultant to the English-language digest The Day, where he published a weekly column. He died unexpectedly in 2004.

The last quarter of the book contains reminiscences about Mace, “a rara avis — too tolerant, too free, too brave, and at the same time responsible for his words” (Volodymyr Morenets). With the help of these fascinating recollections by a group of interesting people Ukraine is just beginning to repay its tremendous national debt to this descendant of the North American Cherokee tribe. But more on this later. Meanwhile, the following singular opinion, in my view, provides the key to understanding Mace’s journalistic writings: “A characteristic trait of Dr. Mace was his inability to adapt to injustice” (Klara Gudzyk).

To a researcher, injustice is when facts and documents unearthed while studying “history as exhumation” are subjected to an “orgy of officially orchestrated paranoia and forced orthodoxy.” And the whole world, which put him down as a fool, believed in “socialist realism, the Soviet commandment to portray life the way it ought to be in the eyes of the rulers.” The world believed in “bad harvests” and expropriations from the allegedly criminally “wealthy kurkuls.”

In bringing to light documents from 1932-33, Mace refuted these official explanations and in the manner of Descartes and Mamardashvili came up with a historical and philosophical axiom of his own: “The reason lies where there are no other reasons,” namely: “An established system of all-out violence against the individual..., which exploits the ideology of the mob — the ignorant, uneducated, or simply apathetic mass.... For Stalin and Stalinists, the main enemy was the class element. It could be present in any family or working collective, any town or village. Indeed, an entire country could become a country of class enemies, which is exactly what happened to Ukraine. That is why the entire republic was slated for complete extermination.”

James Mace’s works, written at different times and in different genres and compressed into a single book, enter into a chemical reaction with the formula “historian+journalist=historical philosopher.” In his fundamental conclusion (“The Holodomor was an act of genocide”) we see the mind of a political analyst and sociologist at work: “The forcible replacement of one national pattern of life with another..., the destruction of the biological structure..., and the expansion of the territory of death on an unbelievable scale.” And finally: “The use of famine as a weapon.”

“As my colleagues who have studied the Holocaust know, there are times when there are no words. Words are only symbols, and some things simply exceed our ability to symbolize.” At this point only one question can be asked: What made this horror possible? “ was impossible to exterminate so many [people]... without the involvement and participation in these actions of a great number of people who were in principle normal and decent individuals. This can be done in only one way — by divesting everyone of personal responsibility. That is why it was so crucial to have propaganda that was based on a big lie, which, in combination with terror, creates an alternate reality.”

This alternate reality proved so real that it changed the mentality of the whole nation. In essence, everything that Dr. Mace wrote is not political archeology but the history of a disease plaguing modern Ukrainian society, for which there is a clear diagnosis: “I have tried to understand how and why independent Ukraine has thus far been unable to transform itself in the ways we might think appropriate and its people deserve. For this reason I have found it useful to describe contemporary Ukraine as a post-genocidal society.”

To understand what a post-genocidal society is, you should read the book. Consider one of its characteristics that I have singled out: “The vampire of Sovdepia is still sucking its blood. It is difficult to see in the state something other than an enemy, difficult to believe in a state that has always fooled people.... For them the main thing was what Leonid Kravchuk aptly formulated as, ‘We have what we have.’ In this sense ‘we’ means the people who had ‘something’ under the Soviets, who still have ‘something’ and want to keep it.”

“After all, one of the basic goals of knowledge is to heal.”

Mace dreamed of creating a genocide institute in Ukraine, something along the lines of Israel’s Yad Vashem or Poland’s Institute of National Memory. It was meant to be a research institution with some of the functions of the obscure Institute of Strategic Research and the advisory powers of the now embattled National Security and Defense Council. For a country suffering from acute post-genocidal syndrome, “today the most important issue is how to protect the nation and the society against a political, economic, ideological, and psychological assault, how to defend Ukraine, how to keep it safe... Certain circles are scared by the mere sound of the words — research of the genocide, because they only know too well they will mean their political death.”

Could it be that this was the very reason that instead of a genocide institute we only have President Yushchenko’s order to establish a “Memorial Center,” a kind of All-Ukrainian Lenin’s Room-inside out? I recall Yury Shapoval’s obvious discomfort, when he was commenting on this presidential order in a live appearance on Channel 5 television. The following words of James Mace would have been most relevant then: “Add to this the fact that those in power and those advising them were brought up in an environment isolated from intellectual discourse in the outside world, and this renders most of them incapable of understanding even the most basic things.”

Then the thought hit me. Had a genocide institute been created during James Mace’s lifetime, would the Communist Party still have Ukrainians’ votes? Would this Soviet-defined “wise people” still believe pie-in-the-sky promises? “Is over a third of an entire country suffering historical amnesia? But since they do, it becomes scarier than anything Stephen King ever came up with.”

Finally, we come to the question of Ukraine’s national debt to James Mace. This American man “who had defended our dead” (Oxana Pachlovska) and “demanded that the whole world recognize the genocide of the Ukrainian people” (Mykhailo Slaboshpytsky) stands alongside some of our fellow countrymen, who have already found their way into the most recent history textbooks. Yet, much like there is no genocide institute, his explosive doctoral thesis and report to the US Congress on the Holodomor have not been translated and published in Ukrainian.

Moreover, it turns out that the tape recordings of Holodomor eyewitness accounts, which James Mace handed over to Ukrainian parliamentarians, are slowly going to ruin in the basement of the Parliamentary Library. They represent “the dark Iliad of the Ukrainian people” (Oles Honchar). Meanwhile, before that “... you had to pay to obtain access to especially important archival materials” (Natalia Dziubenko-Mace).

All the authors whose reminiscences are featured in the book remember James as a sanguine optimist who, even when he was gravely ill, answered the question, “How are things?” with an invariable “Fine!” Only through his wife’s recollections have we learned the cold behind- the-scenes truth: “Sometimes he would simply weep helplessly.”

The disease continues: “ You can’t save Ukraine from the Ukrainians.”

* * *

“Having lived here for six years, I can assure my readers that this is a country where literally anything can happen.” (James Mace).

Day and Eternity of James Mace. The Day’s Library. — Kyiv, Ukrainian Press Group, 2005. 386 pages.