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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

In the merciless light of memory

Security Service of Ukraine holds roundtable on declassified archival materials about the Holodomor and political repressions in Ukraine
4 September, 2007 - 00:00
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

“For nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest.” This is what Hitlers, Stalins, Pinochets, Pol Pots and their ilk forget when they destroy innocent people — from thousands and hundreds of thousands to dozens of millions. Ukraine needs to know the terrible documented truth about the millions of our compatriots who were mowed down by Stalin’s scythe of death. This is no exaggeration because the Holodomor period (as well as the entire stretch of the 1920s and 1930s) is a pivotal era of Soviet history, and the attitude to this period depends to a large extent on its interpretation and assessment.

What is needed above all is the political will to make public the documents about the crimes of Stalin’s tyranny, which until recently were top secret. We can now say that Ukraine’s political leadership does have this will. On Aug. 27, in pursuance of President Viktor Yushchenko’s instruction to make a further study of the history of political repressions against the citizens of Ukraine and Ukrainians living abroad and the president’s decree “On Measures to Mark the 70th Anniversary of the Great Terror — the Mass Political Repressions of 1937-1938,” the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) hosted a roundtable debate “The 1932-1933 Holodomor and Political Repressions in Ukraine in Documents from the Archives of the Security Service of Ukraine.” The organizers of the roundtable also launched the book Rozsekrechena pam’iat. Holodomor 1932-1933 rokiv v Ukraini v dokumentakh GPU NKVD [Declassified Memory: The Holodomor of 1932-1933 in Ukraine in the Documents of the GPU NKVD], which contains declassified documents on Soviet political repressions in Ukraine.

In his speech acting SBU head Valentyn Nalyvaichenko emphasized that today there can be no secrets, cover-ups, or distortions with respect to the political repressions. “The Ukrainian secret service is opening up all the available archival materials on this subject to the Ukrainian public and the world community and is inviting researchers, historians, and all committed individuals to cooperate,” he noted.

“The SBU does not doubt that the Holodomor was anything but genocide of the Ukrainian people, a pre-planned and pre-conceived crime, and documents confirm this. Our task is to map out a strategy for reviving the Ukrainian people’s national memory, and we are pinning special hopes on the Institute of National Memory, recently established in keeping with President Viktor Yushchenko’s decree.” As for the SBU’s concrete actions to achieve this extremely important goal, Nalyvaichenko announced that the SBU has already formally requested Russia’s Federal Security Service and its counterparts in the Republic of Kazakhstan to help in the work of checking the lists of victims of repressions and furnishing the required archival documents.

Vasyl Danylenko, deputy chief of the SBU archives, spoke about the history, importance, and need for this publication. He noted that this study is the first comprehensive publication of documents from the GPU NKVD on the Holodomor, which will be of paramount scholarly and practical importance. Researchers will be greatly interested in the documents that expose the Holodomor’s “triggering mechanism,” including minutes of the AUCP(B) Politburo meeting on Sept. 16, 1932, which laid down the procedure of applying the draconian law “On the Theft of Socialist Property” (popularly known as the “five ears law”). The documents contained in the book show that the GPU — both on the All-Union and Ukrainian republican level — was actively involved in suppressing the Ukrainian peasantry.

Ukrainian filmmaker Alexander Dovzhenko, whose comments were also recorded by secret agents and reported to the authorities in 1933, said very clearly at the time, “The Ukrainian countryside is dying. Ukrainian villages are on the brink of extinction.” These documents are being published for the first time, as are the photographs taken by a peasant from Baturyn, named Bokan, which are a damning indictment of the terror by famine.

In her speech historian Valentyna Borysenko focused on the great importance of oral testimonies in Holodomor studies because researchers throughout the world value precisely this kind of information, especially when it comes from children, who can memorize even the minutest details. Borysenko noted that Robert Conquest and James Mace, the world-acclaimed Holodomor researchers, had always relied on this kind of evidence.

Many of the roundtable participants spoke warmly and with extreme gratitude about the late James Mace whose publications were frequently published in The Day. Askold Lozynskyj, head of the Ukrainian World Congress, recalled that Mace used to tell him (and was prepared to bolster his view with figures) that if there had been no Holodomor, the population of Ukraine would have reached 100 million by the late 20th century. The audience listened with rapt attention to Dr. Bohdan Futey, a judge on the US Court of Federal Claims, who summed up the findings of the International Commission of Inquiry into the 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine (Sundberg Commission, 1988-1990) which was set up on the initiative of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians. The documents of this commission as well as those of the US Congress- sponsored Commission on the Ukraine Famine (in which Mace was the powerhouse) are still important and necessary.

The Sundberg Commission, which does not, however, believe that the Soviet leadership aimed to destroy the Ukrainian nation once and for all, arrived at the following conclusion: “The majority of the commission believes that the Soviet government deliberately used the Holodomor, once it began, to pursue its policy of denationalization. This policy flouts the moral foundations on which all of humankind rests. Without a doubt the top leadership of the USSR bears responsibility for this.”

Some speakers proposed that the actions of Stalin and his associates be classified as “crimes against humanity” on the grounds that calling these misdeeds “genocide” will raise some purely juridical problems because the relevant UN convention that gives the definition of genocide was approved in 1947. Therefore, it would have been a retroactive application of the convention to the crimes that were committed well before it was adopted. However, others presented a different, no less convincing, argument: the massacre of the Armenians, which was committed by the Ottoman Empire even earlier, in 1915, has been recognized as genocide by the vast majority of the world community.

Karl Jaspers, a prominent 20th-century German philosopher, wrote: “The machine of terror becomes powerful when those who do not wish to have anything to do with this machine also come to be terrorized.” To a large extent these words explain the causes of the terrible events that were discussed at the SBU roundtable. The search for the truth must continue, and new secret police archival documents must be revealed to the public.