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Henry M. Robert

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Only 69 percent of Ukrainians consider Holodomor of 1932-1933 genocide
21 November, 2006 - 00:00

The majority of the adult population in Ukraine — more than 94 percent — have heard or read about the famine of 1932 — 1933. The best informed people are residents of the country’s central region (15 percent), somewhat less informed are the residents of eastern Ukraine (10 percent) and southern Ukraine (9 percent).

Based on information that they have heard or read about the famine of 1932 — 1933, more than one-third of Ukrainians believe that the famine was caused mainly by the actions of the Soviet government, while only 12 percent consider that the famine was mainly caused by natural phenomena. One-quarter of those who believe that the Holodomor was a deliberate action think that it was specifically aimed against Ukrainians.

These are the results of a survey conducted by the Kyiv International Sociology Institute (KMIS), entitled “The Ukrainian Population’s Thoughts on the Holodomor of 1932 — 1933: The Dynamics of Xenophobia in Ukraine in 1994 — 2006.” This material was prepared on the basis of data from a nationwide poll among Ukraine’s adult population, which was conducted by KMIS during the period of Sept. 8 — 14, 2006. A total of 2,015 respondents aged 18 and over, who live in villages, urban-type settlements, towns, and cities in all oblasts and the Crimea, as well as in Kyiv, were interviewed.

Approximately two-thirds of the respondents (61 percent), who said that the government organized the Holodomor of 1932 — 1933 deliberately, believe that it targeted all the residents of Ukraine, irrespective of their nationality. More residents of the western region consider that the Holodomor was aimed specifically against Ukrainians (30 percent), while only 13 percent of respondents from the central region think this; from eastern Ukraine (8 percent) and the southern region (7 percent).

Among the different age groups, the proportion of people who believe that the government organized the famine of 1932 — 1933 deliberately against Ukrainians is relatively the smallest among the oldest citizens, aged 60 and over (one in eight people, or 12.5 percent).

The researchers explain these discrepancies in the population’s interpretation of the Holodomor’s “direction” by the vagueness of scholars and politicians. Historians give different versions of this historical event, while politicians muddy the issue. “These figures testify to the absence of mechanisms of delivering important information to society,” says the historian and deputy director of the Institute of Ukrainian History Stanislav Kulchytsky. “The government has not provided scholars with such a mechanism.”

At the same time, 69 percent of Ukrainians who acknowledge that the Soviet government deliberately engineered the Holodomor is not a bad result. This historical memory has struggled through a curtain of silence.

“We have not managed to convince the population that the Holodomor of 1932 — 1933 was a genocide aimed specifically against Ukrainians,” says Dr. Volodymyr Paniotto, the director general of KMIS and a professor of sociology at National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. “But this shared grief should have consolidated us...I hope that these figures will give politicians something to think about.”

The spread of xenophobic moods is also not normal, Paniotto adds. The level of xenophobia rose between 1994 and 2001. True, the situation stabilized in 2002 — 2003, but it rose again during the 2004 elections, and in 2006 it rose again to the 2004 level. “One can hypothesize that if there is no increase in international tensions, the level of xenophobia will drop to the 2003 level,” the Ukrainian sociology expert said.

The following statistics are shameful, but they must be reported. Ukraine’s population is least biased in its attitude to Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians (although 0.2 percent said that they would never allow Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians into Ukraine); next come Russian-speaking Ukrainians, then Russians, and Belarusians. Next, at a certain distance come Jews, Poles, Frenchmen, Canadians, Americans, and Romanians. Ukrainians trust blacks and gypsies (these terms were used in the research) least: 40.7 percent of Ukrainians would not allow gypsies into the country, while 18 percent would not allow blacks.

Scholars explain this attitude to dark-skinned people by the fear of strangers, which is actually the definition of xenophobia. It is understandable that elderly people from the country’s remotest areas have the most fear of blacks. Generally, the older the respondent the higher the level of xenophobia. But the higher a respondent’s educational level, the fewer fears and less rejection there are. The level of xenophobia is higher in villages than in cities, and the bigger the city the lower the level of xenophobia.

The main factors that influence the level of xenophobia, scholars think, are the country’s economic situation, wars and conflicts in different regions of the world, which are widely highlighted in the mass media, and the use of materials aimed at the separation rather than consolidation of different linguistic-ethnic groups for purposes of agitation during Ukraine’s presidential elections.

By Viktoria HERASYMCHUK, The Day