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Monday, November 24, 2008

Remember the Holodomor, Don’t Let History Repeat Itself!

On November 22, 2008, Ukraine commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor, the manmade famine that killed at least 3 million Ukrainians in 1932-33.

The Holodomor, which means death inflicted by hunger, can be considered one of the most successful genocidal policies pursued by Stalin and the Soviet leadership. In just a year, Ukraine went from breadbasket of Europe to mass grave. Soviet grain requisition squads raided Ukrainian villages, depriving the villagers of the very last food supplies they needed to survive.

The period between fall 1932 and spring 1933 saw entire rayons (counties) littered with dead or dying people whom local authorities piled up on carts and buried Auschwitz-style.

This happened in Kyiv, too...

...and in Kharkiv.

Starvation drove people to insanity and cannibalism. To ensure that no one would escape, the Soviets surrounded famine-stricken rural areas with NKVD troops, similar to the blocking troops they later used during WW II.

Scores of elderly survivors bear testimony to this heinous crime against humanity, which killed thousands of Russians, Jews, Greeks and other minorities living in Ukraine, but targeted primarily Ukrainians.

The death certificate below states it clearly: "Причина смерті — зазначити докладно: Українець." ("Cause of death — provide details: Ukrainian.")

Sergio Gradenigo, the Italian Consul in Soviet Ukraine, sheds more light on the story. In a dispatch from Kharkiv, then-capital of Soviet Ukraine, Gradenigo wrote this:

The current disaster will lead to the colonization of Ukraine, mostly by the Russian population. This will change its ethnographic nature. In all probability, we will not have to speak about Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in the very near future and, consequently, there will be no Ukrainian problem because Ukraine will in fact become part of Russia.

Gradenigo saw it coming. The Holodomor did just that: It broke the will of the largest non-Russian ethnic group in the USSR, altered Ukraine’s ethnic makeup, and destroyed a potential stronghold of resistance to the Soviet regime. In line with Stalin’s thesis about intensified class struggle, the Holodomor wiped the kurkuli (well-to-do farmers, kulaks in Rus.) off the face of the earth, along with much of the selyanstvo (peasantry), thus finalizing collectivization.

The exact number of the dead will never be known. Moscow archives remain off limits to Ukrainian scholars. Decades of Soviet secrecy add up to more than a decade of unwillingness by post-Soviet Russia’s to cooperate on the matter.

Death toll estimates vary from 3 to 7 million. Some stats speak for themselves.

In 1933, the average life expectancy in Ukraine dropped to 10.8 years for females and 7.3 years for males. The 1926 Soviet Census put the number of Ukrainians at 31,194,976. By 1937, that number had shrunk to 26,421,212. In contrast, over the same period, the number of Russians rose from 77,791,124 to 93,933,065.

The only ethnic group that shows a comparable net population decline is Kazakhs, sliding from 3,968,289 in 1926 to 2,862,458 in 1937. The steep decline resulted from collectivization and its local policy of forced sedentarization, which starved more than a million Kazakhs, a nomadic people, to death.

These numbers set the manmade famines in Ukraine and Kazakhstan apart from the deadly natural famines that raged on in Russia at the time and were caused by crop failure rather than collectivization.

Aside from achieving Stalin’s genocidal goals, the Holodomor also helped achieve some of his modernization ambitions. The requisitioned grain contributed to Soviet grain exports to the West, allowing the Soviet government to import the equipment and know-how for industrialization.

The Western public totally missed the Holodomor. Much of the credit goes to influential reporter Walter Duranty of the The New York Times. Being a Stalin apologist, Duranty, painted rosy pictures of the “communist experiment,” but privately admitted that 10 million might have perished from food shortages.

Western correspondents Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones tried to get the message through — only to be ignored or dismissed. In 1933, the United States established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union — as thousands of Ukrainians were dying every day. The West got the grain, Stalin got the glory.

Today, the United States and many other countries recognize the Holodomor as genocide. British and American scholars Robert Conquest and James Mace made a great effort at raising Western awareness of the Holodomor.

Meanwhile, Russia leads the way in Holodomor denial.

Russia’s strategy: deny the artificial nature of the Holodomor; lump the Holodomor together with the natural famines of the era; use its leverage with the UN, EU, international organizations, foreign governments and Western media to thwart Ukraine’s Holodomor recognition efforts.

Naturally, Russia fears the legal responsibility that would arise from admitting guilt while being the sole legal successor to the Soviet Union. What Russia does not seem to fear is Stalinism repeating itself.

At a time when Germany is doing everything to shake off Hitler’s legacy, Russia is doing everything to make Stalin’s legacy shine.

Putin-era history textbooks rationalize Stalin’s repressions as a managerial expediency. In fact, the new edition of textbooks for Russian school children describe Stalin as a “successful manager.”
So how long before the Stalin school of management makes a successful comeback?

Can Russia be at peace with itself and its neighbors without recognizing and repenting the wrongs committed by its regimes?



Marta Salazar said...

Велике спасибі за вашу посаду ...

Ulas Ergin said...

Taras said...

Thank you, Marta, for your constant interest in Ukraine and for sharing it with your readers!

Величезне спасибі!

Taras said...

Thank you, Ulas!

I’ve seen the trailers and YouTube fragments.

It’s a heart-wrenching story.