• Українська
  • Русский
  • English
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

Two faces of terror

A comparison between Ukraine’s 1932-33 Holodomor and the famine in the USSR in 1932-33
16 October, 2007 - 00:00

The book Chomu vin nas nyshchyv (Why Did He Destroy Us?) by the historian Stanislav Kulchytsky, The Day’s regular contributor, is the latest addition to our newspaper’s Library Series. Professor Kulchytsky’s book, which is being carefully studied in various regions of Ukraine, examines the causes and strategy of the Stalinist regime vis-a-vis Ukraine in the early 1930s. Parts of this book were serialized The Day in 2005-07. The main subject of the book is the 1932-33 Holodomor. There is another problem that has become the subject of heated debates, especially among Russia’s historians, who have produced a comparative analysis and assessment of the Holodomor in Ukraine in 1932- 33 and the famine that was suffered by Russia in those very same years. It is difficult to refute the fact that hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people died in many regions of the former USSR during this period, precisely the point that is emphasized by the uncompromising opponents of recognizing the Holodomor in Ukraine as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people.

Not so long ago, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine formally requested Professor Stanislav Kulchytsky to prepare data that would include a comparative analysis. He did so and has now kindly agreed to allow its publication in The Day.

The debate on the Holodomor in Ukraine dates back to Robert Conquest’s The Harvest of Sorrow (1986). Some say that peasants were destroyed, while others insist that it was Ukrainians who were targeted. Other cases of genocide, against the Armenians and the Jews, have left their mark on this polemic, which was politicized from the very outset, and neither side is hearing the other. What made the situation worse was the fact that Stalin used Aesopian language when he was writing to his associates and that he carefully and skillfully concealed his crime against the inhabitants of the Ukrainian SSR (of course, primarily Ukrainians). Finally, this polemic was triggered by the fact that neither side is familiar with the specifics of the Leninist-Stalinist revolution “from above,” which lasted from 1918 until 1938.

The Holodomor in the Ukrainian SSR and the Kuban area (at the time these regions were united under the term “Ukraine”), the famine in Kazakhstan (which stemmed from a different source and was not a terror by famine), and the Great Terror of 1937-38 are all elements of communist construction in a multinational country created by “iron and blood” [author’s emphasis]. Ignorance of the history of the Holodomor is only one instance of our practically total amnesia. Another striking example is the celebration of Victory Day on May 9 or the claim that fascism existed in Germany.

A brief description of the topic in which the Ministry of Internal Affairs is interested is found in my article “The Mysteries of the Ukrainian Holodomor” (Polityka i chas, the journal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, no. 5, 2007, pp. 38- 45). Here you will find the most noteworthy theses.

There are monthly statistics that reflect natural movement of the population according to region (to the raion level). In Ukraine this data is distorted, especially in the months with the highest mortality rate because even civil registrars were dying. However, a distortion can be corrected, and this was done.

Statistics show that in the European part of the USSR in 1932-33 the death rate was higher than the birth rate in seven regions. In three regions famine was observed in urban areas, while the countryside had a positive balance in terms of the population’s natural movement (e.g., the Urals, the Middle Volga, and the North). In these regions famine was caused by the fact that they had been struck from the ration card system.

This same famine factor was present in four other regions: the Ukrainian SSR, the Northern Caucasus, the Lower Volga, and the Central Chernozem Oblast. But here, particularly in the Ukrainian SSR, the highest mortality rate was in the countryside, and the famine was explained by the fact that grain had been confiscated from the peasants.

The third famine factor is germane only to the Ukrainian SSR and the Kuban (one of the 11 districts of the Northern Caucasus). This factor existed at the same time as the others listed above, but only for a limited period: November — December 1932 (on a comparatively limited territory that had been placed on the “blacklist”; and in January 1933, in those villages that had not completed the state grain delivery plan (i.e., more than in 90 percent of villages). The essence of this operation, which the Chekists masked as state grain deliveries and carried out with the aid of local poor peasants, was to seize everything edible from the peasantry.

When the grain was taken away, peasants who did not have well-managed farms, who had no other food starved to death. In the first half of 1932 famine in the Ukrainian SSR was the result of the ruthless state grain delivery plans, which claimed some 150,000 poor peasants. In order to stop it, Stalin curbed grain exports and purchased small amounts of grain abroad. Discussions of the destruction of Ukrainians by famine precisely because they were Ukrainians — like the Armenians in Turkey or the Jews in Germany — are irrational. The fact that poor peasants took part in the Stalinist action to confiscate all food products in January 1933 is simply explained; they were given a percentage of the confiscated food; otherwise they would have died. In the second half of 1932 the state confiscated all the grain from Ukraine.

Foreign scholars, armed with numbers, are perfectly correct when they state that the Ukrainian SSR and the Kuban received the lion’s share of the food aid that the state issued to the starving regions of the USSR. Proceeding from this data, they (Robert Conquest included) now cannot believe that genocide took place. They do not understand that the nature of the Ukrainian genocide is fundamentally different from the nature of the genocides against the Jews or Armenians.

Stalin was confiscating food from the peasants in order to save them from starvation by feeding them through the collective farms during the spring sowing campaign of 1933 [ sic]. In the Ukrainian countryside, which was starving for the second year in a row, a colossal social explosion was brewing (like the one in January-March 1930, when Stalin was forced to suspend collectivization for half a year in the entire country). To forestall this explosion, the peasantry had to be deprived of all foodstuffs under the pretext of state grain deliveries, and then be hand- fed. The effectiveness of this policy had been tested in 1921, when grain was being procured in the starving southern gubernias of Ukraine in order to “put an end to kulak banditry.”

Terror by famine, which culminated in the Holodomor, cannot be considered separately in isolation from other Kremlin actions: Postyshev’s persecution of the Ukrainian intelligentsia in 19333, the halving of the membership of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine in 1933-37, and the destruction of the Politburo of the KP(b)U in 1937 (except for H. Petrovsky, who accidentally survived). Ukraine was already a state within the USSR (in his correspondence with Stalin in 1932 L. Kaganovich refers to it as a country). After 1932-33, it became a Soviet republic. Stalin stopped fearing Soviet Ukraine’s separatist moods and allowed the transfer of the capital city from Kharkiv to Kyiv in 1934. An ethnographic Ukraine suited him.

Documents that confirm Stalin’s genocide against the citizens of Ukraine in 1932-33 have long been published, but they must be properly interpreted. Stalin perpetrated this act of terrorism (like his Great Terror) with the aid of a limited number of associates, who were subsequently purged (with the exception of Kaganovich and Molotov).

In September 2007 my book Why Did He Destroy Us: Stalin and the Holodomor of Ukraine) was published as part of The Day’s Library Series. Any number of copies can be printed. The complex problems relating to the forcible implantation of communism, which are connected with the Holodomor, are presented in a manner accessible to the average reader. In my opinion, the genocide carried out against the Ukrainian people should not touch on the Russians’ national feelings or the Russian Federation’s state interests. However, all my attempts to have my version of these events carried by Russian publications have failed.

In November 2007, Nash Chas Publishers will issue my book The Holodomor of 1932-1933 in Ukraine as Genocide: Difficulties in Understanding (1,128 pp.), compiled by the historian Ruslan Pyrih). In collaboration with this publisher the Institute of Ukrainian History is planning to reissue the four-volume collection of Holodomor eyewitness accounts that were originally collected by James Mace’s commission and published in Washington in 1990. Both of these works have a documentary base on which the conception of the Holodomor as an act of genocide is constructed.

Stanislav Kulchytsky is the deputy director of the Institute of Ukrainian History at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.