The 2012 Summer Olympics are underway in London. From the opening ceremonies this Olympiad was marred with controversy and insensitivity. Forty years ago at the Munich Summer Olympiad, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered savagely by Palestinian gunmen. The state of Israel requested that these victims be honored with a moment of silence at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympiad. The International Olympic Committee declined, but did carry out a moment of silence with a small gathering at the Olympic village beforehand. No matter what reasoning was given by the IOC, this slight was inexcusable. The killings in Munich were witnessed by the entire world. The small and clandestine memorial forty years later was an attempt to diminish the tragedy.
Almost eighty years ago, more specifically, in the latter half of 1932 and the first quarter of 1933 policies were put in place by the Kremlin which resulted in the murder by starvation of millions of Ukrainians. In August 1932 Josef Stalin, disappointed with the collectivization results in Ukraine, sent a letter to his top executioner there Lazar Kaganovich. Stalin wrote:
“The most important issue right now is Ukraine. Things in Ukraine have hit rock bottom. Things are bad with regard to the party. There is talk that in two regions of Ukraine (I think it is the Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions) about 50 district party committees have spoken out against the grain-procurement plan, deeming it unrealistic. The situation in other district party committees, people say, is better. What does this look like? This is not a party but a parliament, a caricature of a parliament… Unless we begin to straighten out the situation in Ukraine, we may lose Ukraine… Things cannot go on this way. We must:…set the goal of transforming Ukraine as quickly as possible into a real fortress of the USSR, into a genuinely exemplary republic…”
What followed was a diabolical plan to bring the Ukrainians to their knees. Starvation in Ukraine and the Kuban region of Russia, heavily inhabited by Ukrainians became widespread. At the height of the famine, on January 22, 1933 Stalin issued a directive instituting a police action to prohibit the massive departure of farmers from Ukraine and the Kuban region. No other areas of the USSR were singled out prohibiting departure “in search of bread.”
Over the years Ukrainians worldwide and since independence the governments of Ukraine, until the current regime took over, have sought international recognition of the Famine of 1932-33 as a Genocide of the Ukrainian people. The originator of that term in the 1940’s, a Jewish attorney Raphael Lemkin not only identified the 1932-33 Ukrainian Famine as Genocide, but specifically related to it as one of the draftsmen of the UN Genocide Convention. The UN document specifically extended the definition of Genocide to “time of peace” as well as time of war.
Over the last decade some twenty countries have recognized the Ukrainian Famine as Genocide. That number should be significantly higher except that the Russians have waged an unabashed counterattack meant to diminish the Famine’s significance. Many in the international community being the unprincipled players within a generally irreverent and amoral global amalgam have acquiesced in favor of what is politically expedient.
This behavior is not a concerted effort against Ukrainians. Rather it is a generic affliction. An example may be made of Ukraine which has not recognized the Armenian genocide because of Turkish relations. Likewise Armenia has not recognized the Ukrainian Famine for lack of reciprocity.
Israel has not recognized the Ukrainian Famine or the Armenian Genocide, although the latter is currently under discussion. Singling out Israel by name is not selective nor unfair. Israel is the ostensible safe haven for Jews persecuted over millennia and alleges a moral imperative. Further, at least on Ukrainians, Israel has no political expediency considerations. Russia is not Israel’s friend. The explanation surmised is that in order to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, Israel is reluctant to identify the genocides of others.
This reasoning, if the surmise is on target, is very specious, since these tragedies are unrelated, and diverse in circumstances. The Jewish and Ukrainian genocides are similar only in number of victims. However, a selfish approach to history undermines any moral imperative that Israel may possess on the egregious suffering of the Jewish people. With the upcoming 80th anniversary of the Ukrainian Famine and renewed global efforts by Ukrainians for recognition, we can only hope that Israel and others even those deterred by Russia’s muscle flex will come around.Insensitivity to the suffering of others is not only selfish, deprives one of moral authority, but most importantly, lessens all of us as human beings. The 2012 London Olympiad is the most recent example. The IOC should be ashamed. If Israel fails to recognize the Armenian genocide for Turkish considerations, then Israel should be ashamed. If Israel declines to recognize the Ukrainian Famine as genocide, then it loses its moral authority and we are all lessened as human beings.