This article could have a different title, one that reflects the scholarly, political, and legal dimension: “The Holodomor of 1932-33 in Ukraine as genocide.” Historians must provide scholarly evidence, while legal experts and government officials must come to the legal and political conclusion that the Holodomor was an act of genocide. We must all ensure that the international community officially recognizes the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 as an act that falls under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It is our moral duty to the millions of our compatriots who perished as a result of terror by famine — they perished not as a result of famine but terror by famine.
QUESTION AT ISSUE
On Oct. 12, 2005, the Gramsci Institute in Rome hosted a scholarly seminar entitled “Stalin, the Soviet Famine of 1931-33, and the Ukrainian Holodomor.” The institute’s director, Professor Silvio Pons, and Professor Andrea Graziosi, dean of the University of Naples, proposed only one question for discussion by Italian scholars specializing in Russian and Ukrainian studies. How is the Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-33 different from the famine that was caused by the grain procurement campaign after the 1931 harvest, which encompassed all of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, and the famine that was caused by the grain procurement campaign after the 1932 harvest in all the Soviet republics except Ukraine? This wording of the question was meant to determine whether there are convincing scholarly arguments to justify studying the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation.
Few non-Italian scholars attended the seminar: I represented Ukraine and Oleg Khlevniuk represented Russia. Oleg Khlevniuk is better known in the West than in Russia or Ukraine, because his major monographs have been published only in English. Dr. Khlevniuk works at the State Archives of the Russian Federation and is rightly considered the preeminent authority on sources dealing with the Stalinist period of Soviet history.
We must thank those Western historians who have proven so responsive to a problem that concerns only us. On Nov. 10, 2003, a joint statement from 36 nations was published in connection with the 70th anniversary of the Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-33, which was officially adopted during the 58th session of the UN General Assembly. This statement does not contain a definition of this Ukrainian tragedy as an act of genocide, even though the wording of the draft statement included the word “genocide.” On Nov. 25, 2004, The Day published an interview with Ukraine’s permanent UN representative, Valeriy Kuchynsky, who described how this document was drafted. But it does not provide an answer to the question, why so many diplomats made it clear to their Ukrainian colleagues that they were not ready to include the word “genocide” in their statement. The answer was revealed only during the recent seminar at the Gramsci Institute. It turns out that Ukrainian diplomats failed to prove to the Third Committee of the General Assembly that the Soviet regime did exterminate the Ukrainians. The documents they presented only proved that famine claimed millions of lives in Ukraine in 1932-33. But this was known even earlier.
According to Khlevniuk’s authoritative statement, Soviet archival documents do not contain a straight answer to the question of why millions of Ukrainian peasants were exterminated. I said that we have exhaustive documentary evidence to answer the question of HOW the peasants were exterminated, but we do not have documents that state WHY they were exterminated. The perpetrators of the Kremlin’s horrible crime required instructions, which were later stored in the archives. Yet Stalin was not obliged to report to anyone about WHY he had used instituted terror by famine, a term first proposed by the British scholar Robert Conquest.
A convincing answer to the question of the motives behind this crime may be found only through a comprehensive analysis of many documents. In 2005 Ukrainskyi Istorychnyi Zhurnal [Ukrainian Historical Journal] carried articles by Andrea Graziosi and Gerhard Simon, the latter a professor at the University of KЪln and arguably one of the best Western experts on the nationalities policy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. These articles analyze Stalin’s terror by famine. Based on the conclusions of my Western and Ukrainian colleagues and drawing on my 20 years of experience researching the problem of the Ukrainian Holodomor, I will attempt to answer the question: why did Stalin exterminate the Ukrainians? Substantiating this answer will require a separate monograph that has yet to be written. But I am hastening to publish a newspaper version of this book. The Day publishes in three languages and has an online version, which means that it has a broad readership among the general public. This is especially important because the Holodomor is, at the very least, a historical problem. First and foremost, it is a deep and unhealed wound on the body of the Ukrainian nation. This wound will not heal unless we understand what we were like before the Holodomor and what became of us after it.
My opening remarks are addressed to the government. I cannot say that the Ukrainian Institute of History is excluded from the process of making decisions relating to Holodomor issues, which take the form of presidential decrees. Decision makers consult the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences, but the scholarly community’s recommendations are not always taken into account. As a case in point, with his decree of July 11, 2005, the Ukrainian president ordered the Cabinet of Ministers a bill to parliament by Nov. 1 “On the political and legal assessment of holodomors in the history of the Ukrainian people.” However, I am not familiar with the text of this bill. Moreover, I am certain that in the Ukrainian nation’s history there was only one Holodomor, which is enough for all time.
This decree instructs the government to “resolve the question of creating” the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory (UINM) before the Day to Commemorate the Victims of the Holodomor and Political Repression, which will be observed this year on Nov. 26. An institution of this kind is crucial, as it would convey the knowledge collected by academics and scholars to society. However, the presidential decree does not propose a mechanism for creating the UINM. As evidenced by the Israeli and Polish experiences of creating similar institutions, Ukraine will face major challenges relating to the funding and staffing of the institute, defining its functions and drafting laws to incorporate this institution into the existing system of departments and organizations. It is inexpedient to restrict the efforts to create the UINM to a single item in the presidential decree, which merely declares intent to create it.
The presidential secretariat is already making plans to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor in 2008. I hope that such steps will put an end to the old practice whereby the government raises the subject of the Holodomor only on the eve of major anniversaries. Creating an Institute of National Memory is the first step to making this work systematic and effective. It is also important to convince the Ukrainian public and the international community that the Holodomor of 1932-33 was no accidental phenomenon of unknown origin, but the result of terror by famine, i.e., genocide, which was applied by the totalitarian government.
EARLIEST ATTEMPTS TO EQUATE THE HOLODOMOR WITH GENOCIDE
In equating the Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-33 with genocide, scholars primarily face terminological difficulties, which is why the analysis of this problem must begin with terminology.
The term genocide (the killing of a nation) was coined by the Polish lawyer Rafael Lemkin, who first used it in his book, Axis Rulers in Occupied Europe, published in 1944. Lemkin used this word to describe the total extermination of Jews and Gypsies on Nazi-controlled territories. With this understanding of the term genocide, the UN General Assembly stated in its Dec. 11, 1946, resolution: “...genocide is a crime under international law which the civilized world condemns, and for the commission of which principals and accomplices — whether private individuals, public officials, or statesmen, and whether the crime is committed on religious, racial, political, or any other grounds — are punishable.”
Since history has known many cases of mass extermination of human beings, and in view of the continuing threat of their recurrence, the UN decided it was necessary to introduce the notion of genocide into international law. This laid the legal groundwork for establishing international cooperation to combat such crimes, including those committed by individuals constitutionally vested with supreme power. On Dec. 9, 1948, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Article I of the convention reads: “The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.” Article II contains a definition of genocide: “[G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
The convention was adopted by 56 attending members of the UN General Assembly and opened for signature, ratification, and accession. It became effective as of Jan. 12, 1951, i.e., on the 90th day after 20 instruments of accession or ratification were deposited with the UN Secretary General. Since that time this convention has been an instrument for preventing genocide. Its effectiveness increased significantly after the end of the Cold War.
The legal norms formulated in this document did not fully guarantee that all cases of mass extermination of human beings would be identified as genocide. Only the Holocaust of World War II fully corresponded to them: the Nazis either exterminated Jews wherever and whenever they found them, or placed them in conditions that were physically unsuitable for life. In effect, the convention was developed when the memories of the Holocaust were still fresh. There was another reason why cases of mass extermination that occurred before the Holocaust were not always identified as genocide. Legal experts were unwilling to make exceptions to the basic principle of jurisprudence, i.e., that the law has no retroactive effect.
The famine of 1932-33 was a forbidden topic in the USSR. At the 20th party congress of the CPSU in 1956 party leaders finally dared to speak out about the Stalinist terror that primarily targeted the Soviet-party nomenklatura and intelligentsia. However, they concealed the terror by famine in collectivized villages until the last possible moment. The Stalinist taboo on mentioning the famine was broken only after the Ukrainian diaspora succeeded in persuading the US Congress to create a temporary commission to investigate the events of 1932-33 in Ukraine.
Led by the late James Mace, the congressional commission had no access to Soviet archives. It collected most of its information from emigres who had survived collectivization and famine and ended up in North America after the Second World War. Of course, Holodomor survivors could not figure out the crafty stratagems of Stalin’s policies, but their victim’s instinct told them that the Soviet government meant to physically destroy them. Based on hundreds of eyewitness accounts, James Mace’s commission recreated the real picture of those events and presented a final report to the US Congress in April 1988.
Interviews conducted in Ukraine since 1988 have confirmed the tendency recorded by James Mace: recalling events from half a century earlier, Holodomor survivors sensed the authorities’ intent to punish “saboteurs” of the grain procurement campaign by starving them to death. Individual documents that have been unintentionally preserved in archives confirm that this is what famine victims felt. An anonymous letter sent from Poltava in August 1933 to the editorial offices of the newspaper Komunist, which was written by an individual with a higher education, judging by the content and style, even claimed to be a summary of Stalin’s national policy: “The physical extermination of the Ukrainian nation and the exhaustion of its material and spiritual resources are [some] of the most important points in the criminal agenda of Bolshevik centralism.”
The congressional commission called the 1932-1933 famine in Ukraine an act of genocide. Yet this conclusion was not based on documents but on subjective judgments of Holodomor survivors. Moreover, the purpose of the commission was to establish facts (which it did, brilliantly) but not to provide a legal assessment of them. Therefore, after the commission completed its work, Ukrainian organizations in North America decided to seek legal help. The World Congress of Free Ukrainians initiated the creation of the International Commission of Inquiry Into the 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine, presided over by Professor Jacob Sundberg. Representatives of the Ukrainian Diaspora in North America appealed to the most outstanding jurists, who because of their high public and scholarly status had sufficient credibility with the international community. In November 1989 Sundberg’s commission published its verdict, naming excessive grain procurements as the immediate cause of mass famine in Ukraine, and identifying its preconditions as forced collectivization, dispossession of wealthy kurkul peasants, and the central government’s desire to curb “traditional Ukrainian nationalism.” Thus, the jurists not only recognized in the Holodomor the Kremlin’s desire to impose an alien lifestyle on the Ukrainian peasants, they also identified a national component in this act of terror. The Ukrainian Holodomor was therefore identified as genocide.
Sundberg’s commission determined that the principle of the non- retroactive nature of laws applies only formally to the UN Convention of Dec. 9, 1948. They pointed out that this principle applies to criminal law, whereas the Convention is outside of its boundaries because it does not pass verdicts. The Convention only encourages nations to cooperate in preventing and condemning genocide.
Addressing those who opposed the identification of the Holodomor with the crime of genocide only because the term “genocide” did not exist before WWII, the International Commission of Inquiry asked: was it possible before the war to freely destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group?
The answer is obvious. Relying on the above arguments, the commission stated in its final report: “Commission feels justified in maintaining that if genocide of the Ukrainian people occurred, it was contrary to the provisions of the international law then in force” [This sentence was misquoted in the Ukrainian original, which omitted the word “if” — Ed.]
This verdict was based on the facts available to the commission. It stated, however, that the inquiry into the Holodomor must continue to document with additional facts the conclusion that it was an act of genocide, i.e., to reinforce its source base.
POLITICIZATION OF THE HOLODOMOR ISSUE
We all remember how important the question of the 1932-1933 famine was in the late 1980s-early 1990s: it helped people break old stereotypes and reevaluate Soviet history. This subject became a lethal weapon in the hands of those who had fought for the republic’s independence. After all, the death sentences for millions of Ukrainian citizens had come from outside Ukraine.
It seemed that after independence the question of the Holodomor would become the exclusive province of historians. Indeed, historians started to explore it in a systematic and comprehensive manner. But it also became a popular issue in the political arena. Political opponents extracted convenient facts from scholarly publications on the famine of 1932-1933, while ignoring their overall significance. None of them managed to prove anything to their opponents because nobody was interested in ascertaining the truth. It was easy to predict the outcome of these struggles between politicians and scholars of various stripes. While the former had unlimited access to media outlets, thereby shaping the public opinion, the latters’ voices did not reach society and died away in the meager press runs of books and brochures.
Let us listen closely to the words of Levko Lukyanenko, the long-time Soviet political prisoner, Ukrainian parliamentarian, and chairman of an association of Holodomor researchers. Addressing a Nov. 15, 2002, scholarly conference, he said: “The members of the Association of Researchers of the Holodomors in Ukraine and other scholars have amassed a large number of documents that prove that Moscow deliberately planned and carried out the Holodomor in Ukraine in order to curb the national-liberation movement, decrease the number of Ukrainians, and dilute the Ukrainian ethnos (nation) with Muscovites, thus preventing Ukrainians from struggling to get out from under Moscow’s control in the future.”
It would seem that these words echo the above-mentioned anonymous letter to the editors of Komunist, which we can now support with documentary evidence. However, there is a substantive difference between them. The anonymous author of the 1933 letter was justified in faulting the Bolshevik party leadership for the Ukrainian Holodomor. Meanwhile, with all the documents uncovered by contemporary historians at his disposal, Lukyanenko unjustifiably expands the Bolshevik-dominated Kremlin to the size of Moscow, while referring to the Russian people pejoratively as “Muscovites.”
The “colonization” by representatives of the dominant Soviet nation of the national republics (especially the Baltic nations and Ukraine) was not Stalin’s idea alone. This policy was in fact designed to stem national liberation movements. However, these Russian resettlers (military personnel, intellectuals from the technical and humanities spheres, and skilled workers) had no idea of the Kremlin’s strategic plans, nor did Russified Ukrainians, who had experienced assimilation, voluntary or otherwise, throughout the centuries, not just decades. How could the millions of so-called “Muscovites” who currently reside in Ukraine respond to the Holodomor according to Lukyanenko’s interpretation? Because of the irresponsible actions by individuals whose primary concern was their own political career, our tragic past started to divide Ukraine instead of consolidating its citizens. We felt this during the presidential elections of 2004.
The opposing side also fueled interethnic tensions. The leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Petro Symonenko, spoke during the Feb. 12, 2003, parliamentary hearings in connection with the 70th anniversary of the Holodomor. He could no longer deny the fact that there was a famine in 1932-1933, because Volodymyr Shcherbytsky had confirmed it in 1987. However, much like his predecessors, Symonenko blamed the famine on drought and misrepresentations of grain procurements in raions and oblasts. According to Symonenko, the Politburo of the CPSU’s Central Committee condemned the misrepresentations and demanded criminal prosecution of those responsible. Such blatant lies could be uttered before the archives were opened during Gorbachev’s perestroika. On the 70th anniversary of the Holodomor such statements were shameless blasphemy.
A natural question arises: Why do representatives of the extreme right— and left-wing political forces politicize the Holodomor issue by exchanging contradictory statements without believing one bit in them or caring about establishing the truth? This question is easy to answer because the same fate has befallen other historical problems. No one is crossing swords over the revolution of 1905-1907, and its centennial is passing completely unnoticed. The situation with the Holodomor or the problem of the OUN and UPA are different because they are part of the life experiences of the current generation of Ukrainian citizens, who were participants in those events, or the children of these people. People tend to have differing opinions on events in the not so distant past, whereas all politicians try to please the public. Therefore, let us have a look at the people.
Three generations are represented in our society: grandfathers and grandmothers, and their children and grandchildren. Living at the same time with them is a small number of representatives of adjacent generations, i.e., great- grandparents and great-grandchildren. Let us analyze the life experience of each generation.
I will begin with grandparents born before 1920 inclusive. This is the generation of the 20th century, which experienced countless disasters and a great deal of suffering. This generation survived the Great War of 1914-1918, the Civil War and interethnic wars after the fall of the Russian Empire, the famine of 1921-1923, industrialization, collectivization, and the Holodomor of 1932-1933, the Great Terror of 1937-1938, World War II of 1939-1945, postwar destruction, including the famine of 1946-1947. I am quite familiar with this generation thanks to my profession and as a result of personal communication with these people. I still communicate with the youngest representatives of this generation. My exchanges have been especially fruitful with Vasyl Kuk, the last UPA army commander; Bohdan Osadchuk, the Berlin-based professor and the oldest active journalist in Europe; and Petro Tronko, the former deputy prime minister for humanitarian policy of the Ukrainian SSR, who occupied his ministerial seat for 17 years.
With the exception of those who lived outside the Soviet Union’s borders until 1939 and 1940, the representatives of this generation were the “builders of socialism.” The Bolsheviks, whom Lenin called “a drop in the people’s ocean,” built their “commune state,” as defined by Lenin, together with the people. The concerted action of the party and the people was achieved with the help of two slogans: “Those who are not with us are against us!” and “Unless the enemy surrenders, he will be destroyed!”
Mass repressions were the main method of building a “commune state.” They continued even after this state was built and had passed a test of strength during the Soviet-German war, and until the death of Joseph Stalin. Once the repressions had almost wiped out society’s political activity, the Kremlin chiefs switched to other methods of administration: propaganda and indoctrination.
I belong to the generation of those born between 1921 and 1950. These people were raised in the Soviet school and were not affected by the mass repressions. The older representatives of this generation are the veterans of WWII, who now rightfully enjoy society’s respect. As a rule, how they picture the past differs from the way subsequent generations view it. And this is not only due to their understandable idealization of their youth.
When the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners, who were “rehabilitated” by Stalin’s successors, returned to their homes from the GULAG, Lidiya Chukovska made her famous declaration: “Two Russias have encountered each other: the one that did time, and the one that put the former behind bars.” However, there was also a third Russia, much like a third Ukraine, Kazakhstan, etc., which did not take part in the repressions and was not subjected to them. The representatives of my generation formed the largest percentage of these people. After returning from the GULAG, our fathers kept silent, as a rule. Perhaps they did so not only because upon their release they had signed a “pledge not to disclose information.” Perhaps they did not want to complicate the lives of their children, who out of ignorance could start saying bad things about the Soviet government. Finally, they feared for their own lives, because in that country parents were responsible for children and vice versa. Such responsibility was viewed as the norm. We lived in a kingdom of crooked mirrors, but didn’t realize it. There was no longer any need to deport us, because we respected or even loved the Soviet government. We knew the things we could discuss in public, and it seemed normal that there were things that were best kept private. A case in point is the famine of 1932- 1933. Young and old knew that it had occurred, but we also knew that it should not be discussed — period. My foreign colleagues who study the Holodomor and whose numbers are growing do not understand this. They try to find explanations in our national character or talk about how the KGB intimidated the population. To fully understand the Soviet people’s behavior and way of thinking, they should have been born and raised in this country.
Soviet citizens’ dependence on the government was not just reinforced and not even so much by standard repressions, such as extermination or imprisonment. The government was the universal employer and could fire anyone, if necessary. Almost everyone who “misbehaved” could end up like a beached fish.
Notably, the chekist selectors spent a decade imprisoning or exterminating the most active part of the population. Society was becoming conformist for two main reasons: the percentage of dissenters was progressively declining, while the percentage of people raised in the Soviet school was increasing as part of a natural process.
Indoctrination and propaganda proved successful after the period of mass repressions because the Soviet system showed the people many advantages compared to the pre-revolutionary system. The system enslaved the person politically, but ensured a minimum level of its material and cultural welfare, whether this person wanted it or not. In the Soviet period alcoholics underwent “reeducation” in therapeutic sanatoriums, and there were almost no homeless persons.
What anticommunists cannot understand is that the Soviet government’s care for the people was not dictated by moral duty, but was a precondition of its existence. In order to emerge, the communist system had to destroy private enterprise in all its forms, i.e., take over the job of feeding, healing, educating, and entertaining the entire population. The commune state was so drastically different from states in which citizens had political freedom that it should be viewed as a civilizationally different phenomenon. This state did not even hide the lack of political and national freedom in the general accepted sense. At the same time, it labeled these freedoms “bourgeois democracy” and “bourgeois nationalism,” while espousing the “loftier” values of “socialist democracy” and “socialist internationalism.”
Communism also demonstrated its “significant accomplishments” on the republican level. It gave Ukraine internationally recognized Soviet statehood (a founding member of the UN!), increased its pre-revolutionary industrial capacity many times over, turned it into a culturally developed republic, and fulfilled the dream of many generations of Ukrainians: the reunification of ethnic lands.
It is extremely difficult to convince the many representatives of my generation that the civilization in which they spent the better part of their lives was built on the blood and bones of the previous generation. Many of my peers a priori refuse to believe that the Soviet government could deliberately exterminate people. There are many who still believe that “enemies of the people” really existed. A post- genocidal society, as defined by James Mace, is a sick society.
People born between 1950 and 1980 belong to the third generation of Ukrainian citizens. Long ago this generation outnumbered all the other generations, and after the Orange Revolution its representatives ousted almost all of their parents from managing the affairs of state and society. This generation, and the preceding generation, was not separated by a barrier in the form of a pledge not to disclose information. This is why few of its representatives share their parents’ stereotypes and biases, especially since they live in an age of transformations, i.e., a time when the established underpinnings of life become unstable.
When the commune state collapsed and vanished as a result of growing external and internal pressures, it was replaced not by a Western-style social state but primitive capitalism. Quite naturally, many representatives of the third generation, much like their parents, are nostalgic for the Soviet past. Citizens find it hard to take for granted historians’ assertions to the effect that the Soviet system under Lenin and Stalin could be built only with steel and blood-plenty of blood.
We must bear all this in mind when we want to convince the public that terror by famine was a tool of “Soviet construction” on par with other forms of terror. We should not fault our parliament for not having shown any interest in the Holodomor until 2002. Parliament is the mirror image of society. We should be happy with what has already been accomplished. At a special session on May 14, 2003, the Ukrainian parliament adopted an Address to the Ukrainian People in Connection with the Famine of 1932- 33. It defined the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. With 410 parliamentarians present, the document was passed by a mere 226 votes, i.e., the minimum required.
On the fourth Saturday of November 2003, marking the Day to Commemorate the Victims of the Holodomor, only the state-owned television channel UT-1 dedicated air time to the 70th anniversary of the Holodomor by airing a 30-minute program entitled “The Bells of Popular Memory.” Meanwhile, private television channels broadcast the usual weekend fare of entertainment shows, comedies, and erotic films.
Nothing has changed even now. In a commentary published in the Aug. 17, 2005, issue of the [Russian-language] newspaper Segodnia on a proposal to plant high-bush cranberries known as kalyna on all the Dnipro slopes in Kyiv in memory of Holodomor victims, a female journalist addressed a question to herself and her readers, which was framed in the banner headline: “Is this not a lot of sorrow for Kyiv?”
Historians have their work cut out for them to convince society of the need to face the problems of the Holodomor. Only when we accomplish this will marginal politicians let go of this issue.