March 8, 2009
Moscow – Russia has issued the first of three volumes of documents on the Soviet Union’s catastrophic famine of the early 1930s. Russian officials claim the widespread starvation was the result misguided Kremlin policies, but in Ukraine the famine is considered an act of genocide.
|The scholars’ conclusion is consistent with the Kremlin’s position the famine was not limited to Ukraine and that its victims, mostly peasants and landowners, were targeted not because of their nationality, but rather their social class.|
The first of three volumes on the Soviet famine of the early 1930s consists of about 6,000 documents, many recently declassified by Russian authorities. The publication follows decades when the very mention of the famine was prohibited, even by those who survived it.
The book and accompanying DVD were presented by Russian historians and archivists at a Moscow news conference on February 25.
The scholars’ conclusion is consistent with the Kremlin’s position the famine was not limited to Ukraine and that its victims, mostly peasants and landowners, were targeted not because of their nationality, but rather their social class.
The United Nations defines genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. There is no mention of class.
Result of Misguided Policies?
Historians say Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the confiscation of grain in fertile regions of Russia, Kazakhstan, the northern Caucasus and Ukraine not only to break widespread opposition to collectivization, but also to increase grain exports to buy weapons and fund industrialization. Russian historian Viktor Kondrashyn says famine was the result of misguided policies.
Kondrashyn says there was no intent behind the famine. He says nobody, not even Stalin, wanted or planned the famine. The historian says it was the result of mistakes and miscalculations behind a poorly planned collectivization policy.
Some Consider ‘Holodmor’ Act of Genocide
Ukraine’s National Memory Institute deputy director, historian Vladyslav Verstiuk, categorically rejects Kondrashyn’s claims. He points to a message Stalin delivered in January 1933, in which the dictator issued a threat specifically to Ukrainian peasants, “give us your grain, or you will be punished.”
In Ukraine, the famine is known as the Holodomor or death by starvation, and is considered an act of genocide.
Verstiuk adds Stalin wanted to break what was considered to be a disobedient republic to make clear to others his intent to create a highly centralized Soviet state.
Verstiuk says the Soviet Union of the 1920s was not at all similar to the Soviet Union that people still remember, a unitary post-war state that was only formally divided into constituent republics. This model, he says, came into existence after the Holodomor. He adds that the breaking of Ukraine was seen as a way of subordinating other republics under absolute obedience to Stalin, which indeed happened.
Verstiuk notes that forced starvation in Ukraine’s rural regions was accompanied by famine in large Ukrainian cities, which did not happen in urban Russia. He also points to so-called passportization measures enacted in 1933 to prevent Ukrainians from leaving their republic in search of food, and to the simultaneous execution of Ukraine’s independent-minded leaders and intelligentsia.
He says Russian-language schools replaced Ukrainian ones and newcomers from other Soviet republics were sent to areas devastated by starvation.
Verstiuk says no one tried to escape from Russia to Ukraine. Instead, he says there was planned relocation of peasants into Ukraine, and notes documentation of a special Resettlement Committee that directed tens of thousands of people into areas depopulated by the famine.
But the head of the Russian State Archive, Vladimir Kozlov, rejects claims of genocide in Ukraine.
[efoods]Kozlov says not a single document exists that would even indirectly suggest that a strategy was adopted against Ukrainians that was different from other regions, moreover, a strategy aimed at genocide.
Vladislav Verstiuk says no document is likely to be found, because Bolsheviks were not so simple-minded as to put such intentions in writing. But he notes the Kremlin did not change its policies over several years, even when presented early on with evidence of widespread starvation, a point confirmed by the director of the Russian State Economic Archive, Yelena Tiurina.
Tiurina says documents completely reject the recently accepted legend that the center did not know what was happening in local areas. She says the center knew everything perfectly well, down the smallest details.
Victims of Stalin’s rule
President Viktor Yushchenko, center left, and his wife Kateryna lay flowers at monument to victims of Soviet-era famine during commemorative ceremony in Kyiv, 22 Nov 2008
Russian officials have accused Ukrainian leaders of politicizing the famine and of seeking to drive a wedge between the peoples of both countries. Russia and Ukraine also disagree about the number of famine victims.
Valeriy Tishkov, a scholar at the Russian Academy of Sciences, has called for an accurate analysis and chastises Russian historians for allegedly inflating the number of victims in Russia in response to Ukrainian estimates, which run between 6 million to 10 million victims in Ukraine. Both sides agree that millions perished of artificially induced hunger throughout the USSR.
In November, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko recalled the victims of Stalin’s rule.
President Yushchenko says Ukraine bows its head with brotherly respect and sympathy before all peoples beside Ukrainians who suffered under Stalin’s regime, including Russians, Belarusians, Kazakhs, Crimean Tatars, Moldovans, Jews and dozens upon dozens of others. The Ukrainian leader also urges former Soviet Republics, above all the Russian Federation, to collectively condemn the crimes of Stalinism and the totalitarian Soviet Union.
The Kremlin has not responded to Mr. Yushchenko’s call, and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev declined an invitation to attend last November’s 75th anniversary commemoration of the famine in Kyiv.
A number of countries have recognized the Holodomor as genocide, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Italy, and Poland.