Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Principle of Genocide by Famine: Ukraine's Holdomor

This editorial, “Man of principle” is from the National Post, Dec.1, 2007:

“This week, a rival newspaper ran a headline that had the Nobel Prize-winning anti-land mine campaigner Jody Williams asking, "Where's Canada's leadership in global issues?" There's no sense pretending: By "global issues," the Virginian scold means " my issue," which Canada is no longer pushing for quite as aggressively as it did under prior Liberal governments.

The funny thing is that "leadership" is ordinarily a code word in politics for doing and saying things you believe in, even when others judge them unpopular. On that score, the current prime minister has recently had quite a remarkable run of "leadership" in foreign policy.

Last month, for instance, he met personally with the Dalai Lama, pontiff of Tibetan Buddhism and leader of Tibet's government-in- exile. The Chinese Communists consider it a grievous insult to treat the Dalai Lama as what he patently is -- the living representative of a state and a religion that have been conquered and oppressed by a rapacious neighbour. A spokesman for China's foreign ministry called the meeting "disgusting" and claimed it had "seriously undermined Sino-Canadian relations." There is very little to be gained for Mr. Harper politically in meeting with someone like the Dalai Lama; if there are single-issue Tibet voters, they're unlikely to go Conservative en masse, and a band of ragtag, dispossessed monks is not going to present the PM with some showy, prearranged trade deal either. He did it because the Tibet situation is an unrectified, unredressed outrage, and putting gentle pressure on China is the only practical means we have of preserving hope for a satisfactory resolution in the future.

The Prime Minister wasn't finished delivering sharp elbows to major world powers. His government plans to go ahead with hearings and a House of Commons resolution on the "comfort women" from conquered nations who were forced to serve as sex slaves during the Second World War. An awkward process of framing the statement in a way that limits the harm to Japanese relations is underway, but any mention of Japanese war crimes is likely to antagonize the current Japanese government, whose leader has denied the existence of comfort women.

Meanwhile, the PM was front and centre on Thursday at a somber Ottawa ceremony to mark Stalin's 1932-33 terror-famine in the Ukraine, which is still constantly being minimized and recast as an accident by pro-Russian historians. Although he avoided using the term "genocide," he left no doubt where he stands on the issues of whether the famine was consciously engineered and who it was directed at, speaking of "what was done to the Ukrainian people" and stating that "The main instrument of Stalin's persecution of Ukrainians was collectivization."

This stance will win him no new friends in Russia, or with the international leftists who still see (or wish people to see) Stalin as a well-intentioned brute. Its only merit is that it is the truth, and standing behind the truth cannot be wrong.

The Liberals talked a good game about using Canada's moral authority in the world to exercise "soft power." But were they equally attentive to building up that authority, or employing it in the service of historical memory?”


Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is to be commended for not falling in with the Walter Duranty-esque ‘it was a just a bad harvest’ crowd.

For anyone out there interested in the background of the Ukrainian famine, a good place to start is to read Roman Serbyn’s (Professor-Emeritus of History, University of Quebec) essay, “The Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933 as Genocide in the Light of the UN Convention of 1948”.

Another is a six-part essay by Stanisalv Kulchytsky, “Why did Stalin exterminate the Ukrainians?” which I read in “The Day Weekly Digest”(starting in issue #33 Oct.25, 2005, then issue #34, #35, #37, #38, and lastly #39, Dec.6, 2005) which can be found on the AUR Action Ukraine Report website.

Written from his point of view as a Soviet historian scholar, Kulchytsky depicts how the famine’s knowledge was suppressed within the Soviet Union, and how during the final years before its disintegration, he was in a position to access many disturbing documents during the course of his research, and how his world-view changed when confronted with his unearthed facts. His story is unique in that it gives a perception of the “discourse” prior to, then after, the Soviet collapse. He writes of his scholarly contact, during the cold war, and then his eventual friendship with American historian James Mace, who was researching the famine from the west, not having the privilege to have seen the documentation which Kulchytsky had been able to view.

When Harper said in the editorial above that "The main instrument of Stalin's persecution of Ukrainians was collectivization", I thought of this article, even though I read it first two years ago.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from Kulchytsky:

“My own reassessment of values took place under the influence of my study of Holodomor history. In 1981 I published a book entitled Partiia Lenina – Sila Narodnaia [Lenin’s Party – the People’s Strength], which was designed for Soviet School children. I was being honest with them because I believed in what I was writing. I believed not only because I was raiswed in this faith. Built by forceful means, the Leninist “commune state” became harmonious in its own peculiar way, when there was no longer any need to use force.

Then the eternal values propagated by the Soviet government came to the fore. Of course, I saw the double standards, but played them down as imperfections of human nature. I felt the lack of freedom, but justified it by the need to survive while being “surrounded by capitalists”. Indeed, what can a bird in a cage tell you about the sky?

After several years of exploring the Holodomor, I realized that the Soviet government was capable of exterminating people – millions of people. What could one’s attitude be to such a government and its ideals after realizing what the Holodomor really was?

In 1991 two younger colleagues and I published the book Stalinism in Ukraine. The title itself is proof I was clinging to the term “Stalinism”, which is still popular in the West, and did so in an attempt to save the idea of social equity by blaming everything on Stalin.

Later, I realized that the millions of lost lives were the result of the implementation of Lenin’s idea of the “commune state”. If personalized, the communist idea should be called Leninism. In its party dimension it should be called Bolshevism.”

Kulchytsky’s depictions of Soviet collectivization, of ‘terror by famine’, are frightening.

Another book is “Harvest of Sorrow”, Robert Conquest’s definitive book on the famine, another must-read.

However, the morbidly technical debate over whether the Holodomor can (or should) be recognized as “genocide” simply continues to drag on. It’s politics all over again, with sides nitpicking and spinning yesterday’s evidence, motives, and opportunities for today’s gain.

Like in this story by Henry Meyer, which appeared in the National Post on Dec.1, 2007, the same day as the National Post editorial at the top of this entry:

Stalin 'most successful leader' of USSR:manual

MOSCOW - Josef Stalin may have been a mass murderer, but he was first and foremost a great leader.

That rewriting of the history of the ruthless Soviet dictator who killed millions of real and imagined enemies comes from a new manual for Russia's high school teachers endorsed by President Vladimir Putin. The book exemplifies Russia's growing nostalgia for its bygone superpower days -- a sentiment Mr. Putin stokes at every turn in his quest to dominate Russia politically for years to come.

Tomorrow's parliamentary elections will likely make his United Russia party almost as powerful as the Communists were in the Soviet Union. Much of his overwhelming popularity stems from his ability to reinvigorate Russia's patriotic pride. He has gained support by confronting the West with Cold War zeal and has paid little price for clamping down on dissent with similar intensity.

Stalin ruled as head of the USSR's Communist Party from 1922 until he died in 1953. His security forces routinely imprisoned or executed people suspected of disloyalty. During the Great Terror of 1937-38, when the purges peaked, about 1.5 million people were arrested and 700,000 shot, according to Memorial, a Russian human rights group. In all, at least 15 million people were killed or died in labour camps.

Millions more perished from famine after widespread state confiscation of farm land, or collectivization. Tens of thousands of others died of hunger or exposure when Stalin deported entire ethnic groups to Central Asia, including Chechens and Crimean Tatars accused of collaborating with invading Germans during the Second World War.

The new teachers' manual-- A Modern History of Russia 1945-2006- - refers to the purges without enumerating the victims, specifically mentioning only 2,000 killed in the late 1940s.

While it calls Stalin's rule "cruel" and says he engaged in "political repression," it also declares him the USSR's "most successful leader" because his tactics transformed the country into an industrialized counterweight to the U.S.'s military and economic might.

"The result of Stalin's purges was a new class of managers capable of solving the task of modernization at a time of a shortage of resources, loyal to the executive power and faultless from the point of view of discipline," it says.

Many Russians already view Stalin favourably. In a May poll by the independent Levada Center in Moscow, 54% said Stalin, who defended the nation from Hitler's armies and ultimately led it to victory in the Second World War, did "more right than wrong." Half deemed him a "wise leader."

At a meeting with teachers at his residence in June, Mr. Putin said the new manual will help instill young people with "a sense of pride" in Russia. He argued Stalin's purges pale in comparison with the U.S. atomic bombing of Japan. "We shouldn't allow anyone to impose a feeling of guilt on us," he told the teachers.

The President elaborated at a memorial for Stalin's victims this fall at a firing range near Moscow where 20,000 people were executed during the Great Terror: While Russians should "keep alive the memory of tragedies of the past," he said, "we should focus on all that is best in the country."”

And there's this story, "Great Famine anniversary in Ukraine" by Maria Danilova, (Associated Press Writer,Nov 23, 2007):

"KRASYLIVKA, Ukraine - After authorities broke into Yakiv Atamanenko's home in autumn of 1932 and confiscated the family's food, his mother and two brothers died of starvation and their bloated bodies were tossed among others in a freshly dug grave on the outskirts of this farming village.

Atamanenko and other survivors here said one of their neighbors, Oleksandra Korytnyk and her husband, ate their two children. "They cut their children into pieces and ate them," recalled Atamanenko, now a frail, gray-haired 95-year-old.

In the end, he and others said, the Korytnyks died as well.

On Saturday, Ukraine marks the 75th anniversary of the terrible famine of 1932-33, engineered by Soviet authorities to force peasants across the former U.S.S.R. to give up their privately held plots of land and join collective farms. Millions perished.

Now President Viktor Yushchenko is leading an effort to gain international recognition of Holodomor — or death by hunger, as it is known here — as a crime rather than merely a disaster, by labeling it an act of genocide.

Long kept secret by Soviet authorities, accounts of the Great Famine still divide historians and politicians, not just in this nation of 47 million but throughout the former Soviet Union.
Some are convinced that the famine targeted Ukrainians as an ethnic group. Others argue authorities set out to eradicate all private land owners as a social class, and that the Soviets sought to pay for the U.S.S.R.'s industrialization with grain exports at the expense of starving millions of its own people.

The dictator Josef Stalin's collectivization drive affected the entire U.S.S.R, but was particularly calamitous for Ukraine, which had some of the former Soviet Union's richest agricultural land. The campaign coincided, as well, with the Kremlin's efforts to root out a growing Ukrainian nationalist movement.

Estimates of the number of people who perished in Holodomor differ, but there is no doubt the death toll was horrific. Yushchenko estimates 10 million Ukrainians died, while Stanislav Kulchitsky, a Ukrainian historian, believes the number is closer to 3.5 million.

Authorities set production quotas for each village. But these quotas generally exceeded crop yields and in village after village, when farmers failed to meet their targets, all their food was confiscated.

Residents were prohibited to leave their homes — effectively condemning them to starvation.
In Krasylivka as many as 1,017 people — roughly the village's present day population — died in the course of that terrible year, according to a list of the victims compiled by village authorities. Elders say the famine nearly wiped out the village.

Villagers tell stories of their neighbors collapsing in the street and dying. Driven to despair, people ate whatever they could scrounge: leaves, dirt, birds, dogs, rats and — several witnesses said — even each other.

Olena Yaroshchuk, 94, her wrinkled face framed by a green kerchief, said she filled her aching stomach with grass. "Those who could survived, those who couldn't — that was the end of it, one house after another — almost all died," she said.

Kulchitsky, a leading famine researcher, argues the famine was a genocide aimed at Ukrainians who resisted Soviet rule. "The conditions authorities created for the Ukrainian peasantry were incompatible with life," he wrote in a recent article.

But Heorhiy Kasyanov, a top historian with the National Academy of Sciences, says the issue is more subtle. "There is no hard evidence that there were concrete statements or actions aimed at destroying ethnic Ukrainians by someone else. I don't have a clear answer whether or not it was genocide."

The Ukrainian parliament has already labeled the famine genocide. So has the United States, and some other countries. But Russia, the legal successor to the Soviet state, resists the label.
Under international law, genocide is defined as deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial or ethnic group. Moscow insists the famine also targeted other groups, including Russians and Kazakhs.

"There are no grounds to talk about genocide. We can talk about 'sociocide' — the extermination of peasants, a political crime on the part of Soviet leadership," said Andrei Petrov, a historian with the Russian Academy of Sciences.

But another Russian historian said Holodomor was one of many acts of genocide by Stalin against the peoples of the former Soviet Union. "It was genocide in the direct sense of this word — it is the killing of people, the killing of the Ukrainian people," he said. "The same must be done for the Kazakhs, the Russians and peoples of other territories."

Ukrainian politicians are themselves divided on the topic. The genocide vote in parliament last year was boycotted by the party of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who draws his support from Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, as well as the Communists.

Even in Krasylivka, people say the issue is complicated. Many survivors blame the Soviet government for the famine. But many also say that the cruelty of the local authorities compounded the tragedy."

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