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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

Intellectual Europe on Ukrainian Genocide

21 October, 2003 - 00:00

Vicenza, with its Renaissance atmosphere and European courtliness, was the ideal setting for discussing such a sensitive and painful topic as the Holodomor, and on October 16-18 the Onlus Institute for the Research of Social and Religious History sponsored an exceptional international conference on the topic. Scholars from Italy, Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Germany, the United States, and Canada took part. The conference ended with a resolution urging Italian Premier and President of the European Union Silvio Berlusconi and President of the European Commission Romano Prodi to support efforts to gain international recognition of the Ukrainian Famine of 1932- 1933 as an act of genocide.

Organized by the institute’s director, Prof. Gabrielle de Rosa, and Prof. Oxana Pachlowska of the University of Rome under the patronage of the president of Italy, Ukrainian ambassador to Italy and the Holy See, the region of Venice, and the Commune of Vicenza, the conference brought together a number of the leading scholars in the field. For those of us who came from Ukraine, the high point was undoubtedly meeting our colleagues from Russia — Nikolai Ivnitsky from Moscow and Viktor Kondrashin from Penza. Professor Ivnitsky, whose work on the collectivization of agriculture from the 1960s onward has long won him legendary status in the field, turns out to be a Ukrainian from Belgorod oblast, who told me about the problems he faced when his village school was switched from Russian to Ukrainian in 1933: none of the children knew the language. His contribution on Stalin’s role in the Holodomor, based on Russian archival documents, some of which can be used but not directly cited, was outstanding. Prof. Kondrashin was kind enough to bring along a book published last year, Golod 1932-1933 godov v sovetskoi derevne (The Famine of 1932-1933 in the Soviet Countryside), which he co-authored with Prof. D’Ann Penner of the University of Memphis. Although the work seems to have been intended to prove that other parts of the Soviet countryside starved in 1933 (which it most certainly did), our Russian colleagues admitted that certain specific things happened in Ukraine and the then mainly Ukrainian Kuban, which perhaps led them to abstain on the final conference resolution. Interestingly, the book was published in a series called American Studies of Russia, and carried a great deal of misinformation about the US commission where I once worked, drawn from one Stepan Merle, who decided some years ago to write on why the commission was created without bothering to look up its legislative history, and that of Mark Tauger, whose argument — that the 1932 harvest was so bad that Stalin was forced to starve the peasants in order to feed the cities — is not taken seriously by either Russians or Ukrainians who have studied the topic. One suspects, however, that such intellectual faux pas were more the work of the American co-author than of this scholar who has indeed made a major contribution to expanding our understanding of the tragedy of 1933.

After the customary introductory addresses by Prof. De Rosa and Ukrainian Ambassador to Italy Borys Hudyma, I was unexpectedly asked to deliver the first paper on why what happened in Ukraine was genocide, since the scheduled speaker, Prof. Orest Subtelny of York University (Canada) could come only the second day. This actually tallied perfectly with former Ambassador (successively to Israel, Mexico, the United States, and Canada) Yury Shcherbak’s presentation on the legal aspects of genocide. Special mention should be made of the paper by Prof. Gerhard Simon of Cologne (Germany) that provided an excellent overview of the general context of changes in Soviet nationality policy during the period. Saving the best for last, Yury Shapoval and Stanislav Kulchytsky were assigned to the final session of the conference, but throughout the discussions of various papers, they presented the Ukrainian case so well that there was little more that I could add. A more detailed account of the conference will appear in a later issue.

Still, it was most rewarding that Ukrainian and Russian scholars could meet, share their knowledge, and discuss their differences in such a civilized and beautiful setting together with colleagues from other countries. Prof. De Rosa described the event as representing intellectual Europe, while the conduct and content of the conference indicated that this is a Europe with which Ukraine has already become integrated. For all that has been and will be said about Ukraine’s European integration, this is the most important type of integration, for intellectual integration provides the surest basis for all the other stages of integration to follow.

By Prof. James Mace, Consultant to The Day