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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

Post-genocidal society and the “black br ead of inf ormation”

28 February, 2006 - 00:00

As The Day already reported, on Feb. 17, the eve of the 54th anniversary of the birth of our dear colleague, the late Professor James Mace, Kyiv Mohyla Academy hosted a roundtable discussion in his honor. The event also featured the presentation of books from our late colleague’s personal library, which his widow Natalia Dziubenko-Mace donated to the academy. The topic of the discussion was “Ukraine as a Post-Genocidal Society: Realizing and Overcoming the Situation.” Most of the speakers digressed from the topic, however, focusing instead on historical details of the famine of 1933, perhaps because most of the speakers were historians. Below are extracts from those speeches that touched on the topic of the roundtable.


Larysa IVSHYNA, Editor-in-Chief of The Day:

“After we published the book Day and Eternity of James Mace, my colleagues and I traveled to many cities and held readers’ conferences in many universities. To a certain extent this enabled me to answer the question that is the subject of this roundtable discussion: “Ukraine as a Post-Genocidal Society: Realizing and Overcoming the Situation.” To begin with, I should say that Ukrainians lack the ‘black bread’ of information, which is why I often encounter incidents like the following. During a readers’ conference in Dnipropetrovsk one speaker said a really barbaric thing: that the famine was allegedly caused by the fact that the peasants consumed more than they could produce. What struck me is not only that this speaker, who was quite young, could make such a statement, but also the audience’s calm response and its readiness even to listen to this. This is excessive tolerance concerning an issue in which tolerance is absolutely unacceptable. I believe that this major lack of maximalism is also a measure and test of a post-genocidal society. There is genuine pathology, which is manifested in our political life, given the fact that a certain party, a parliamentary faction, is still enjoying voter support, even though its members turned their backs in parliament when an attempt was being made to raise this question. There are many other examples that are striking in that after all these years Ukrainians have made so little progress in making the fact of the Holodomor an axiom that may not be questioned.

“One time I presented the book Day and Eternity of James Mace to an American journalist. We published this book also in English on the off-chance that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would choose to use it in Ukrainian embassies’ efforts to prepare public opinion for 2007, when the Ukrainian delegation will attend the UN General Assembly to raise the question of recognizing the Holodomor of 1932-1933 as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. I will allow myself a digression: I will be very surprised if this happens in 2007, because a tremendous amount of preliminary work is required.

So, after I gave this book to the American journalist, I told her about the Holodomor and the problems with its recognition. She knew nothing about it despite working for many years as an editor for a major television company. After hearing me out, she asked why I needed this. I decided that I had to provide some argument to make it understandable from her point of view. Clearly, the truth is a great cause in itself. But I must also explain what this American had in mind: if we fail yet again at the UN with this truth of ours, which is not adapted, so to speak, to the political realities of the world, then this will truly be an indicator of our inadequacy on a completely new level. (In 2003, when Ukrainians raised this issue at the UN for the first time only to withdraw it later, this was again the responsibility of our political elite of those days.) And we must understand what we should do with our absolutely obvious, horrible, and difficult truth, and whether we are ready to influence public opinion, if we are not doing this yet, and to influence the politicians who have the nerve to be still only discussing intentions to create an institute of national memory. I would like people who are discussing this to report on why this has still not been done. As far back as 1992 James addressed the Writers’ Union and spoke to thunderous applause about the need to establish an institute of genocide. The paralysis in the implementation of this idea is also a serious consequence of the post-genocidal situation. Therefore, for starters we must separate what is alive from what is dead, and we should place our hopes in those who are alive by supporting and assisting them.

For example, the Ministry of Education has circulated instructions ordering schools to teach children about the Holodomor. I’m not sure if they consulted educators and psychologists on how to do this. Won’t the simple issuance of directives without providing adequate information and sources result in a devaluation of this extremely difficult subject?

Or can we simply hope for biological regeneration whereby the young generation will come out differently, unaffected by fear and related complexes? I think not, because in the existing system of coordinates the consequences may be far more complex. Unfortunately, no ground has been prepared, and people are often reluctant to accept this or think it is not worth opening old wounds. Therefore, this requires an adequate degree of culture, tact, the necessary dosage of information, and an understanding of what to present and how. Finally, I would like to mention what I personally find very pleasant. Before this roundtable I was told that the Faculty of Journalism at Zaporizhia National University has included in its introductory curriculum James Mace’s article “A Tale of Two Journalists: Walter Duranty, Gareth Jones, and the Pulitzer Prize” and it is now one of the exam questions. For me personally this was a very warm signal.”


Serhiy BILOKIN, historian:

“Modern historiography is progressing on two different scales: the general state perspective with pathological generalizations, and biographical essays on individual historical personalities. Now historians are approaching an in- between scale. It is best revealed in studies on the everyday life of society. Aside from the social aspect, primarily social security, the medical-biological aspect is also studied. The Bolsheviks never made a secret of the fact that they had been conducting selective breeding of a new type of population in an attempt to create a uniform ‘Soviet’ people. Apart from applying radical measures against certain groups, the Bolsheviks influenced the remaining population. (Unfortunately, qualitative criteria have yet to be scientifically determined, and nobody has explored the nature and pace of regeneration.) In any case, this degraded the very human substance of people. If people did not die immediately, their life expectancy declined and their quality of life worsened. Understandably, victims of revolutions, people who had endured the camps and work on timber harvesting sites saw their health deteriorate substantially. There are historical sources from that period. Unfortunately, nobody has yet analyzed the history of illnesses of people who left those camps alive and the large body of memoirs from the standpoint of medical history. I think this question should be analyzed as part of the larger picture. Representatives of the nomenklatura and all levels of law enforcement organs also saw their health decline. The fact that Soviet practice also deformed the members of the Bolshevik elite came as a surprise even to them. Nervous disorders were an occupational hazard among Cheka officers.

Attempts to destroy the enemy’s best representatives have been recorded in many countries and in all historical epochs: ancient Greek tyrants, Poles who fought against Cossack chiefs, etc. The Bolsheviks may not have been the first to do so, but they used such methods most actively. Ruling for several decades, those in power sifted through every social class and stratum, eliminating their best representatives.

For decades it was forbidden to speak about human genetics or eugenics, the science of human improvement through better breeding. The fact is, among all other sciences in the USSR such sciences as human genetics, medical genetics, ethnic genetics, anthropogenics, and eugenics were banned. In the beginning they existed quite openly. Eugenics centers were organized in Ukraine and employed many scientists. In 1928 Oleksandr Bohomolets, whose name is familiar to all of us, was appointed one of the deputy heads for the study of racial pathology and geographical spread of disease. People’s Commissar of Health Mykola Semashko was a member of a eugenics society. Delivering a speech in Berlin in 1925, he publicly stated that the USSR was implementing a policy of eugenics. He failed to mention, however, that it was negative eugenics, i.e., essentially a policy of counter-eugenics.

How can people be healthy after living through direct genocide, two World Wars, and Bolshevik terror? What physical or moral health can you expect when the population of huge territories was subjected to decades of systematic terror, periodic famines, and total ideological brainwashing? Selection of a new breed of population, about which Bukharin, Trotsky, and others wrote, had been going on since day one.

To date world science has examined only one side of this issue, taking into account only harmful chemical substances, exposure to all kinds of radiation, and other mutagens that can enter cells and distort their genetic code. This phenomenon is called mutation. When mutagens affect DNA in human fetuses, such embryos either die or people are born with hereditary defects. In addition, mutations in somatic cells cause cancer and immune disorders, and reduce life expectancy. The totality of distortions of human genetic information, which undermines humanity’s hereditary health, is called genetic burden.

However, because it did not have our historical experience, world science did not study closely or at all the mutations of social origin. Ukrainian science has a tremendous amount of historical and human material at its disposal. We have long perceived our country as a post- genocidal society, which is something we discuss while remembering our colleague. Unexpectedly for us and the entire world, the Orange Revolution revealed unquestionable abilities for regeneration in a nation to which we have the honor of belonging.”


Yuriy SHCHERBAK, former Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Ukraine:

“An American once said that there are people who look back, like historians, and people who look ahead, like businessmen, who plan their production. We have to think and combine these two things. On the one hand, we must of course comprehend more and more profoundly the historical processes that have taken place. On the other hand, we must look to the present and try to predict what can happen in the future.

You all know that on Jan. 25, 2006, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution entitled ‘Need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes.’ The resolution condemns mass killings, deaths in concentration camps, deportations, torture, slave labor, and other forms of mass physical terror, along with punishments of people on ethnic or religious grounds, violations of freedom of conscience, opinion, and expression, freedom of the press, and absence of political pluralism.

In a clause that sparked especially heated debate, the resolution states that the collapse of totalitarian communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe was not followed by international investigations of crimes committed by these regimes. Perpetrators of those crimes were never brought to face an international court, as this was done in the case of the atrocious crimes of Nazism. This is a very serious thing that has to be discussed. And it is a very good thing that the Council of Europe — this collective body, this collective conscience of Europe, so to speak, an organization committed to defending human rights — raised its voice to speak out about the specifics of communism that still exists.

The resolution states that in a number of countries (and I doubt that they listened carefully to Petro Symonenko’s speeches and are aware of the situation in our parliament) there are communist parties that not only refuse to repent but also disregard all the information that is open to public opinion. As a result, public understanding of the crimes committed by the communist regime is very weak, the resolution emphasizes. PACE is certain that historical knowledge is one of the preconditions for preventing a repetition of similar crimes in the future. I want to add that PACE condemned the Ukrainian Holodomor in a separate resolution, and 85 assembly members supported it, but, unfortunately, this part was not included in the resolution that was passed.

I think that Kyiv-Mohyla Academy could organize a scholarly, scholarly-political, or legal conference on ways to structure the system of education for schoolchildren, students, and society in general in such a way as to secure adequate understanding of these crimes. There is still no such understanding because we have quickly passed from one state to a market economy stratosphere in which completely different qualities have developed in people, and many simply do not want to hear about crimes, corpses, murders, etc. I think that Mrs. Ivshyna raised an important question, and it seems to me that it is very important how the Holodomor is perceived now.

We always think that we are unique, but I recently traveled to Ireland and was greatly surprised to learn that they have a famine experience of their own — a famine that claimed 1.5 million lives. I wrote about this in The Day (Ukrainian issue no. 12, Jan. 31, 2006 — Ed.). It took close to a hundred years to overcome the consequences of this famine. Speaking of the biological aspect, modern Ukrainians represent the fourth or fifth generation after the Holodomor. The genetic blueprint of Ukrainians has regenerated. It’s a different matter that society has not fully regenerated in intellectual and spiritual terms. I think in this case we should discuss not only famine-genocide but also infocide. We lived in an absolutely closed environment, isolated from sources of information. Only now the last one or two generations of new people are following a normal path.

Israel, Poland, Cambodia, and Sierra Leone experienced their own genocides. Each society recovers from genocides differently. For example, Israel now sponsors trips to Poland for almost all young Israelis to see what Auschwitz is. For them it’s almost like a trip to Disneyland. That is, it no longer touches their heart and soul. We have to understand this, for a nation cannot be in a state of tension, in black mourning at a time when there are so many pleasant things and entertainments for young people. The world is globalizing, and we must think of a way to preserve national memory while not overdoing it. Otherwise, all this talk of genocide will be futile.

I also ask myself how we can overcome all of this. I think only by introducing democracy into our society. But there is also another serious truth that we should ponder. Democracy alone can lead to Balkanization if it comes without economic growth and prosperity. In this connection we again face the question: What is Ukraine’s strategic path? How can we overcome this and become a different society? I would like to say that our society’s choice of what it wants to be like is very important. I would like to quote former Chancellor Schroeder, who said an important thing: “We are not interested in industrial potential (this is a German saying, this at a time when all of Germany is based on industrial potential); we are interested in society’s human potential and intellectual capital. We will invest most heavily in this, and these very factors will determine the security of countries in the 21st century.”

Therefore, the proposed subject of this roundtable is much broader. Let us think of ways to overcome the post-genocidal state of our society. Today we are commemorating James Mace. Encounters with him were incredibly important to me and left the most wonderful impressions and memories. He is a true hero of Ukraine. Larysa Ivshyna once told me: such and such (I will not mention names) received the Hero of Ukraine title, while James Mace was only honored with the Order of Yaroslav the Wise. This, of course, raises questions about the current state of our society. For even those who proclaim national-democratic slogans are far from the ideals we expect. But I think that this subject is very serious and very profound, and this discussion should be continued.”