Such a huge-scale human tragedy as the 1932-33 terror by famine, which was engineered by Stalin’s criminal regime and claimed the lives of millions of Ukrainians, should be the subject of a straightforward, open discussion based on hard facts. This discussion should take place, above all, among the best qualified specialists who have an excellent grasp of this problem. Unfortunately, discussions of the Holodomor are dominated by political considerations, or to be more exact, political engagement. (Perhaps this is unavoidable to an extent, but we must not reconcile ourselves to this trend.)
In the May 9-10 issues of The Day , the historian Professor Stanislav Kulchytsky, one of the most competent experts on the Holodomor and a frequent contributor to our newspaper, recounted his debate with Russian historians about the origin, causes, scope, and consequences of the Great Famine of 1933. The Russian scholar, Professor Viktor Kondrashin, sent his reply to Kulchytsky’s articles, stating his views on the subject of Stalin’s terror by famine. Below is Prof. Kondrashin’s statement and Prof. Kulchytsky’s commentary.
To Viktor Kondrashin and everyone else: I am becoming increasingly convinced of the political astuteness of the CPSU leaders. In February 1956 they took the risk of revealing to the world the crimes of the party’s first general secretary. But they took their time — three decades, until December 1987 — admitting to the fact of the 1932-33 Holodomor, which by then was common knowledge, and all because the realization of the causes of the Holodomor would fundamentally destroy the imperialist historical memory that had been instilled for centuries in the minds of the population in the post- Soviet space. The Soviet past is part of this imperial memory.
I believe that the connection between the Holodomor and imperial consciousness is understood by everyone but accepted by few. This is what has led to the stormy polemics between Ukrainian and Russian politicians, social activists, and scholars. But one should not be afraid that Ukraine will hand Russia a bill for all those millions of destroyed lives if the international community recognizes the Holodomor as an act of genocide. This idea is promoted only by irresponsible journalists and politicians, who are rooted in their hatred of the moskali (Russians). The majority of Ukrainians realize the nonsensical and amoral character of this attitude.
Something else frightens Russia even more: the revelation of the true nature of the Holodomor may have a disastrous effect on its imperialist historical memory. Therefore, those who seek to protect it will turn a deaf ear to any kinds of arguments advanced by the Ukrainian side. However, we must continue to persuade our fellow countrymen and the rest of the world that the Holodomor was the result of terror by famine — in other words, an act of genocide. This is our duty to all those who died in the throes of starvation, to their unborn children and grandchildren, and to ourselves.
1. On April 9-10, The Day published the text of my presentation during a conference of Russian and Ukrainian historians in Moscow. Now, my opponent Viktor Kondrashin, who, like me, has been investigating the 1932-33 famine since the early 1990s, has responded to me on the pages of this newspaper. Perhaps it would be best to end this polemic. Is it worth publishing a response to a response? However, V. V. Kondrashin’s article is very significant. It should be considered first and foremost in determining the importance of the 1932-33 famine in the formation of our national historical memory.
Prof. Kondrashin is a world-renowned specialist in this field, and there are no experts in Russia who are of his caliber. Therefore, his arguments should be carefully studied and analyzed.
V. V. Kondrashin regards himself as one of those scholars who view the 1932-33 famine as the result of miscalculations in the Stalinist policy of accelerated collectivization and the industrial modernization of the USSR. He associates the famine with the confiscation of grain and does not see it as an invention of the Stalinists because, in his opinion, the 1891-92 famine was also the result of exports taking place during a famine. In other words, he likens Stalin’s policy in the economic sector to the policy of S. Yu. Witte and other tsarist premiers, who were exporting grain in order to import machines. Viktor Kondrashin even momentarily forgets that the 1932-33 weather conditions boosted the harvest (as Stalin himself assured), while in 1891 there was a catastrophic draught.
This is the sum total that my esteemed opponent says about his own position. All the rest is a critique of my position. Yet, strange as it may seem, V. V. Kondrashin had the possibility to devote many months to a study of my book, which was published in The Day ’s Library Series. But he has not made a single comment on the text. I say this because my book consists of articles that were published in 2005-07 and are well known to readers of The Day .
It is not just the fact that my book was not reviewed. V.V. Kondrashin overlooked my criticism of those of my colleagues who regard the Holodomor as Ukraine’s Holocaust. I am convinced that the tragedies of the Jewish and Ukrainian peoples had a different character. The Nazis persecuted the Jews precisely because they were Jews, whereas Ukrainians were not exterminated because they were ethnic Ukrainians. The Kremlin started by depriving the Ukrainian countryside of all foodstuffs and then proceeded to save those who could still work in the fields. The Holodomor was the result of terror by famine, not of ethnic cleansing. Ukrainians would have died anyway, but it is necessary to distinguish between these forms of repressions in order to comprehend the nature of the Holodomor. Whether by ethnic or national criteria, the Holodomor falls under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Russia first reacted to our statements about the reasons behind the qualitative distinction between the USSR’s 1932-33 famine and the Holodomor in Ukraine after the appearance of V.V. Kondrashin’s article. Hence, the importance of this article, which discusses the fact that the Kremlin confiscated all foodstuffs in two regions with a predominantly Ukrainian population: the Ukrainian SSR and the Kuban. In the other grain-producing regions people died of starvation only because of the state grain deliveries. V.V. Kondrashin’s response to these statements was predictable: “Show me the document!” This is precisely what the leaders of the current Communist Party of Ukraine have always said.
It is true that we do not have individual documents attesting to the confiscation of beets, onions, dried fruit, and everything else as fines in kind that were imposed on state grain delivery “debtors.” But we know that such fines in kind were instituted as a punitive measure, and that the party and government adopted resolutions on enforcing fines in kind in the form of potatoes, meat, and fatback. We have Stalin’s telegraphed instruction, which in a roundabout but clearly understandable way orders searches of peasant homes to find nonexistent stores of grain.
Finally, there are hundreds and hundreds of eyewitness accounts stating that all foodstuffs were confiscated during these searches under the pretext of the state grain deliveries. There is Stalin’s directive to blockade the looted villages. There is also a secret directive forbidding anyone even to say the word “famine” (except in top-secret party- government documentation). Although this was a secret directive, it remained effective until Dec. 25, 1987, so try to prove that it did not exist. The above-mentioned documents and eyewitness testimonies attest to the creation in the Ukrainian countryside of conditions that were incompatible with life.
Professor Kondrashin writes that the famine did not target specific nations because the famine was the result of a political decision. Aleksandr Tvardovsky wrote the following about the person who had completely usurped control of the party and society: “He could make entire nations suffer from his state wrath. Is it worth listing these nations?”
Prof. Kondrashin says that I made the unforgivable mistake of mentioning the blockade of the Ukrainian SSR and the Kuban without mentioning the blockade of the Lower Volga area. Where is my mistake? The blockade of the two Ukrainian regions is a fact. The blockade of the Lower Volga area is also an element of the genocide. But this is a Russian region, and I suggest that Viktor Kondrashin act here. I think that millions of people of various nationalities whose blood was used to mix the concrete foundation of the Soviet system may be regarded as genocide victims.
I could dwell on other points in V.V. Kondrashin’s article, but I think that what I have stated above is enough for our readers to figure out where our positions coincide and where they differ.
2. V.V. Kondrashin is categorically against calling the Holodomor an act of genocide, and this is understandable. What disunites us is not the understanding of the subject of our research to which we both have dedicated a considerable part of our life, but the political situation. I visited Moscow several times in 2007-08 and spoke with Russian scholars about the problem of the Holodomor. Each time I was reprimanded and accused of being led by the nose by the government and making statements in keeping with the Law of Ukraine on the Holodomor as genocide.
I can state with some degree of satisfaction that I was involved in the ratification of this law. My colleagues and I prepared a thick folder of evidential material for every member of the Ukrainian parliament on the eve of the deliberation of the president’s draft law. In my first book about the Holodomor, which was published before the collapse of the Soviet Union, I also talked about genocide, but I did not go into the subtleties of this political and legal concept. How else can one describe the deaths of millions of people during the course of a well-planned and scrupulously camouflaged operation?
I deliberately use a colon in the title of my latest monograph, Holodomor 1932- 1933 rr. iak henotsyd: trudnoshchi usvidomlennia (The Holodomor of 1932-1933 as Genocide: Perceptual Difficulties). It truly is difficult for us recognize our past, to realize what actually happened to us. Half of Ukraine is unable to understand how that “workers and peasants’ government” could kill millions of people — children, women, and old people — by means of famine. But for some reason, everyone forgets that the individual executions, which everyone knows about from the 20th Congress of the CPSU, also numbered in the millions. For some reason, people are forgetting how the military commanders led by the Generalissimos achieved victory. They did not care about the cost, and the lives of Red Army soldiers that were fruitlessly lost also number in the millions. I am not saying that the historical memory of the Russian people is being imposed on us. What we are dealing with is an imperialistic and thoroughly falsified memory.
Our own national memory is not snow- white either. Those who are constructing it and introducing it into the consciousness the younger generation are from the past. It is difficult to free oneself of the Soviet past. I know this from my own experience. All attempts to produce new myths — nationalist ones, these days — invariably end disastrously. Nationalistic myths are one of the reasons behind the split consciousness of contemporary Ukrainian society.
Oleksandr Chalenko is a political observer who writes for the newspaper Segodnia . In its Nov. 3, 2007, issue he wrote the following about himself: “In her childhood my little mother, who was born at the beginning of the war and miraculously survived another famine — in 1947 — was terrified by her relatives’ stories about how their village was dying during the 1933 famine; how a woman in a neighboring village ate her sister, a mother ate her small son; about a village where all the people died because they rebelled against the grain confiscations and the authorities seized all foodstuffs.”
But Chalenko does not express his attitude to these facts (having entirely correctly emphasized one conspicuous detail: “The government seized all foodstuffs from the peasants”) but instead, broaches an altogether different subject. He quotes the answer of an acquaintance (with which he fully concurs): “You must understand. I cannot and do not want to deal with this because the nationalists have ‘co-opted’ our tragedy as their own myths and ideology. They have taken away our memory, our misfortune and made it their own. This is now allegedly their ‘theme.’ In reality, they are interested not in the tragedy of my relatives who died at that time; what they need is another reason to brand the ‘Muscovites.’”
Chalenko’s position is so clearly stated that there is no need to comment. However, it is worthwhile quoting another person, namely, Kost Bondarenko. This very popular political scientist in Ukraine also began by talking about his own story: “My family lost a minimum of six members during the Famine. These are the ones I know about. My father’s three brothers and sisters died during the Famine. In my village there are graves of those who died in 1932-33 — not only at the local cemetery but even next to buildings. My elderly relatives told me about the horrors of that period. I have my own reasons for hating all those who organized the Holodomor. I have my own accounts to settle with the Soviet system, but...”
Bondarenko then formulates an amazingly feeble conclusion that serves as the basis of his attitude to the Holodomor: “Genocide is when one nation massively exterminates another.” His consciousness cannot bear this dreadful conclusion because it concerns both Ukrainians and Russians. His whole life experience rebels against it, and he finds the following horrific explanation of the tragedy of the Ukrainian people: “The famine was the result of local authorities’ desire to curry favor with the Moscow leadership. And the famine was organized by Ukrainians themselves, who are sitting in Kharkiv and sending instructions about collecting grain.”
Straight off, I would like to emphasize the difference between Chalenko and Bondarenko’s knowledge of the subject under debate. There was a famine in Ukraine in 1932-33, like in other regions of the USSR, but there was something else: the Holodomor. The Holodomor took place after the famine, and it was caused not by “grain collections,” as Bondarenko believes but by the fact that “all foodstuffs were confiscated from the peasants,” as Chalenko says. Is there a difference? This difference is precisely what explains the incomparably higher death toll in the Ukrainian SSR and the Kuban, compared to other regions.
But let us return to Bondarenko’s ideas. In reading the press, he must have repeatedly encountered statements to the effect that the Russian people are guilty of destroying the Ukrainians. Why did such claims form his view of the essence of genocide? Is it only because the voices of extremists are always the loudest?
3. There is another reason for the split in the historical consciousness of Ukrainian society: the powerful informational influence of our large neighbor. I don’t want to accuse either the owners of television channels and newspapers, or our leaders, who are quite reliably controlling both their own media and others in our country. The imperialist consciousness was formed over centuries, which is why people of liberal convictions have nothing to do in Russia. Imperialist consciousness is quite massive.
Russia regards Ukraine as a limb of its own body that was forcibly amputated. This is understandable, considering that Russian historians of world caliber have always mistaken the society for the state, and vice versa. The events that took place a thousand years ago on the banks of the Dnipro River have been described as a part of their national history, since their country was ruled by the Riuryk dynasty. For 337 years our people were forced to conform to the overall imperialist standard.
As a result, Ukrainians became like Russians, and Russians became like Ukrainians. This resemblance does not bother anyone. But, please allow us to be similar but different. Do not lay claim to our territory, half of which was conquered for us by the empire. Do not lay claims on us, even though in the last 1,000 years we have become absorbed in your midst, just as you have in ours. Leave us our historical memory; it is unique and we can take pride in our past.
Russia is a vast country with huge natural resources. Why does it need us? Such trends will not lead to anything good. A lot of blood has been spilled for Ukraine’s independence, a lot of destinies have been maimed simply because we wanted to preserve ourselves and separate ourselves from others. Let us respect our respective pasts and the views of each side on our joint future.