On Nov. 1, 2007, the 34th General Conference of UNESCO, consisting of 193 countries, unanimously adopted the resolution “Remembrance of Victims of the Great Famine (Holodomor) in Ukraine.” Recalling the 1932-33 Holodomor, which claimed millions of innocent Ukrainian lives, the UNESCO General Conference stated that the Holodomor tragedy, caused by the cruel actions and policies of the totalitarian Stalinist regime, should be a warning to the present and future generations with the goal of upholding democratic values, human rights, and rule of law.
The Ukrainian media instantly noted that the word “genocide” is missing from the text of the resolution. It is common knowledge that Ukraine insists that the 1932-33 Holodomor be recognized worldwide as genocide of the Ukrainian people.
During a press conference held by President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine, attended by journalists from five Ukrainian print publications, The Day’s correspondent asked the Ukrainian head of state to comment on the UNESCO resolution and say whether he thinks it is in line with the Ukrainian vision of the tragic events that occurred 75 years ago.
“It is not too late. We must understand that informing the entire world about the tragedy — the great famine of 1932-33 — is not a matter of one calendar year. We should understand clearly that this issue entails very many challenges that the Ukrainian nation is facing. What happened yesterday (Nov. 1. — Ed.) in fact proves that the work that Ukraine and its political forces and diplomacy have done in the past two years has been duly recognized by 193 countries that passed a unanimous decision yesterday. It is very important for me that for the first time the world community has passed such a high- level joint decision on recognizing the Great Famine of 1932-33. This is the most important victory of yesterday. Other, more specific, details of this tragedy are our future work. Excuse me, but if it took our society 73 years to have a parliament that recognizes this as the Holodomor, can we reproach the world? For 73 years we were afraid to say clearly that this is so, but now are demanding that 193 countries do what the nation itself, Ukrainians themselves, the leaders themselves did not have enough courage to do.
“I think we have received three messages. First, we have proved to the world that this is not an exclusive tragedy of the Ukrainian nation: this is a tragic page that should be known and commemorated throughout the world. Second, it is significant that the UNESCO General Conference is also marking the 75th anniversary of this tragedy. Third, it is important that with this resolution UNESCO has recommended that the signatory countries make sure that this course of history, this truth, will be part of curricula and educational programs in every country of the world so that they will better understand the tragic nature of this event in Ukraine. I think these are the three strongest messages of which we can be proud. For, above all, this is about our tragic history and the ideas that we would like the world to accept.”
We requested a comment from our regular contributor Stanislav Kulchytsky, whose book Why Did He Exterminate Us? Stalin and the Ukrainian Holodomor was published this year in The Day’s Library Series.
Professor Stanislav KULCHYTSKY:
“Online publications reacted to this event on the day it took place. Ukraine’s Internet space is almost entirely filled with Russian mass media, so the headlines typically said, ‘UNESCO fails to recognize the 1932-33 famine as genocide.’ So The Day’s expert should comment on both the event and the first reactions to it.
“This event was predictable. The international community expressed sympathy with the Ukrainian people because this tragedy is now known to a certain number of people who are shaping public opinion in every country. This is a major achievement for our diplomats, journalists, statesmen, and academics. This is another step in understanding the tragic history of our people by those who until very recently could not even find Ukraine on a map.
“Following standard procedure, our diplomats drew up a draft UNESCO resolution. The actual resolution included the most important provision of the draft: an appeal to UNESCO member states to disseminate information about the Holodomor by including it in educational and research programs so that the generations to come will learn the lessons of this tragedy. It is also important that the recommended appeal was in the form of a UNESCO resolution. In 2003 the UN marked the 70th anniversary of the Holodomor by adopting a lower-status document — a joint statement by a group of countries. The Ukrainian delegation’s attempts to grant the document resolution status were thwarted at the time.
“Very soon, on the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor, Ukrainian diplomats will again be urging the UN to recognize it as an act of genocide. We have a year during which the president of Ukraine intends to proclaim a year in honor of the memory of Holodomor victims. I think we will do a lot during that year to convey the magnitude of this tragedy to the Ukrainian public and people in other countries. Will these efforts be enough to convince Russian politicians and ordinary people that the 1932-33 famine in the Soviet Union had a qualitatively different form — the Holodomor — in Ukraine? I doubt it, and not because we will be insufficiently convincing. So far Russia and a large number of Ukrainians who support the Party of Regions do not want to enter into a dialogue on this issue. This unwillingness is linked with today’s circumstances, not with a different viewpoint on the events of the 1930s. This is the main obstacle.
“What should be done in this situation? That which the UNESCO conference unanimously advised us in the Holodomor resolution: to disseminate information on the Holodomor by making it part of educational and research programs. If the UN fails to recognize the Holodomor as genocide in 2008, which is quite possible because of Russia’s negative position, we will go on working. All of us, in both Ukraine and Russia, must learn from the lessons of the past. The past must not ruin our future, the lives of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.”