At a recent international conference in Toronto devoted to the study of the Holodomor, an American scholar remarked on how difficult it is to keep up with new publications of secret Soviet documents, uncovered in Russian and Ukrainian archives. A Ukrainian archivist drew attention to the wealth of material, which is now available to researchers, but still has to be published. The truth of these remarks is borne out by Daniel Stone's article (Winnipeg Free Press, 2 December 2007), which is a striking example of historical interpretation based on insufficient mastery of old and new sources.
Daniel Stone looks for a "smoking gun" to the Ukrainian genocide, but finds none, and calls to his aid Michael Ellman who came up with the verdict "Not Proven". The quoted British scholar is a masterful polemicist, but he has never researched the famine in Soviet or post-Soviet archives, and the subject is not really his field of expertise. Dr. Stone could have done better by quoting the Italian scholar Andreas Graziosi or the French expert Nicolas Werth, both of whom had worked in the archives, know the documentation very well and have come to a different conclusion. Nicolas Werth, remembered for his contribution on the USSR in the Black Book of Communism, has come to the following conclusion: "On the basis of these elements [documents and their analysis], it seem legitimate from now on to qualify as genocide the totality of actions carried out by the Stalinist regime to punish by hunger and terror the Ukrainian peasantry". (Nicolas Werth, La terreur et le désarroi. Staline et son système. Paris, 2007. p. 133)
Werth is well aware of the famine in the Russian SFSR and in Kazakhstan, but recent documents have convinced him of "the strong specificity of the Ukrainian famine". Among these documents, two will suffice to illustrate the two elements of the UN definition of genocide: a) the "intent to destroy in whole or in part", b) "a national or ethnic [...] group, as such". On 14 December 1932, the Party and State authorities in the Kremlin blamed the national revival among the Ukrainians, in Ukraine and the RSFSR (with a population of 8 million Ukrainians), for difficulties in grain deliveries to the state and banned the Ukrainian language in schools, administration and mass media in the RSFSR, and introduced a more gradual Russification in the Ukrainian SSR itself. On 22 January 1933, a secret directive signed by Stalin and Molotov closed the borders between the Ukrainian SSR and the rest of the USSR to peasants who were fleeing Ukraine in search of food in Russia where it was more readily available. The same directive isolated the Northern Caucasus Territory, mentioning especially the Kuban region (over two-thirds Ukrainian) from the rest of the RSFSR (of which it was a part) and the Ukrainian SSR. As a result of the directive, during the next 6 weeks 225,000 Ukrainians were arrested. 85 % were sent back to their villages to starve to death and the rest disposed of in various other ways. Both these orders targeted not peasants but Ukrainians.
All serious scholars recognize that the human loss in Ukraine was at least 4 million; furthermore, the loss of life in the RSFSR was mainly in the ethnically mixed regions of Northern Caucasus, Middle and Lower Volga. The 1926 census pegged the Ukrainian population for USSR (outside Ukr.SSR) at 8 million; by 1937, the number of Ukrainians in the same regions declined to 4 million. A large part of the loss of half the Ukrainian population in Russia was due to the famine, but probably a greater part was due to registration of the survivors as Russians. The UN convention recognizes as one form of genocide the transfer of children from one group to another. Such a transfer affected whole Ukrainian families. There are other inconsistencies in Professor Stone's article, but those mentioned should be sufficient to show that the article does not have the scholarly candor expected from an expert in his field. When an author signs his name with his academic credentials he claims professional authority, and such authority carries responsibility towards his discipline and his readers.
Roman Serbyn, PhD
Professor of history (retired) Université du Québec à Montréal
Winnipeg Free Press | 04Dec2007 | Iryna Mycak
Letter to Editor
Re: No smoking gun (Winnipeg Free Press; Dec. 02, 2007)
The Holodomor, the famine-genocide in Ukraine of 1932-33, was the result of a genocide policy orchestrated by Stalin's communist regime to destroy the Ukrainian national consciousness and quash the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for independence.
It was not the result of a "disastrously mismanaged collectivization campaign which caused two very poor harvests." In fact, the harvests during the early '30s were bountiful. During the height of the Holodomor, the Soviet regime dumped 1.7 million tons of grain on the western markets. The Holodomor was also geographically focused, stopping precisely at the Ukrainian-Russian ethnographic border. The borders of Ukraine were strictly patrolled by the military to prevent starving Ukrainians from crossing into Russia in search of bread.
The Holodomor was clearly a genocide against the Ukrainian people and should be recognized as such by Canadians and the international community.
Ukrainian Canadian Congress
PRIME Minister Stephen Harper surprised his audience when he avoided calling the Ukrainian Famine a genocide last week during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the famine.
His decision reflected the debate that rages over exactly what lay behind the tragedy. Historians are still debating the motivation behind the famine and the number of people killed by it. As well, the meaning of the word 'genocide' needs to be clarified.
There is no doubt that the famine of 1932-1933 was one of the major tragedies of the 20th century and, like the Holocaust, Armenian, Cambodian, and Rwandan massacres, it was man-made.
Photographs and oral testimony by survivors are heart-rending and should be studied. The famine of 1933 differs from the others listed above, however, in that there were no mass arrests, concentration camps, and murders by shooting gassing, or stabbing. The closest parallel to the 1933 famine is the Irish Famine of 1846-48 which, many Irish believe, was caused by the British to suppress Irish nationalism.
The 1933 famine was the product of Stalin's disastrously mismanaged collectivization campaign which caused two very poor harvests in 1931 and 1932. Fields were poorly sown, poorly weeded, and poorly harvested throughout the Soviet Union. Farm animals were taken from individual peasants and housed in poorly built and poorly maintained collective barns, where 50-75 per cent died. The whole country was on short rations.
As shortages loomed in 1933, Stalin decided to supply the cities first and let millions of peasants die between December 1932 and June-July 1933, when the new crop was ready to eat. Food was rationed in the cities, but the urban population survived. The Soviet government cut back grain collections in spring 1933, much too late to save lives. The 1933 harvest was not bad and famine came to an end. Peasants were allotted small individual plots of land to prevent famine from recurring.
Ukraine was the centre of the 1933 Famine and the Ukrainian Soviet Social Republic suffered about 50 per cent of the deaths while Ukrainians living in adjacent regions also died in large numbers. Death rates were high in the Bread Basket provinces of Ukraine, North Caucasus, western Siberia, and Kazakhstan, which were subject to ruthless requisitioning. The efforts to settle the nomadic Kazakhs in Central Asia aggravated famine in that region.
It is impossible to know with certainty because record-keeping was inexact, falsified, and destroyed during the Second World War. Modern scholars deduce the death toll by examining birth and death rates in the 1926 and 1939 censuses, and estimated the number of people who went "missing." Many of these "missing" persons had died while others represented births that had not occurred. Few scholars try to pinpoint any particular year, although it is obvious to everyone that most of the deaths occurred in 1932-3. The most recent scholarship puts the death toll in Ukraine at about three million lives, lower than some earlier estimates. That was about 10 per cent of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Scholars do not agree. Many Ukrainian scholars and some non-Ukrainians see the Ukraine targeted to destroy Ukraine's ability to resist Soviet Russian control and link the Famine to the arrest of Ukrainian cultural leaders in 1929-30. Many non-Ukrainian scholars see the causes as economic -- Stalin wanted to force through his nationalized economy and didn't care how many lives it took. The case against political motivation rests on the Soviet-wide food shortages, the substantial number of Russian and Kazakh famine deaths, and the absence of Ukrainian deaths in cities. Death rates in Kazakhstan were at least twice as high as in Ukraine. The famine in the Siberian grain belt was worse near the railways than it was in remote villages because Soviet authorities concentrated their efforts there. This suggests that Ukraine suffered so badly because it was both productive and accessible.
Definitions vary. The UN definition revolves around intent and there is no clear proof, no "smoking gun," that the Soviets intended to kill Ukrainians because they were Ukrainian and the British scholar, Michael Ellman, recommends the old Scottish verdict of "Not Proven." A more general definition of genocide based on massive losses that could have been prevented would recognize a Ukrainian genocide, he adds, but it would also recognize a Kazakh genocide and a Russian genocide in those years. Regardless of whether this was "genocide," it was mass murder.
There are many parallels between these two famines as well as some differences. Both came at a time of political tension. About 10 per cent of Ukrainians and Irish died in their Great Famines, although the Ukrainians died in eight months and the Irish in two years. Both died as a result of crop failures, although the Irish potato blight was a genuine natural disaster and the Ukrainian crop failure was induced by government mismanagement. Most of the Ukrainians and Irish could have survived their famines if their governments had distributed the available food to the people who needed it most. If the Soviet state had not sent so much food to the cities, Ukrainian peasants would have survived. Irish peasants would have survived if the British government had not allowed rich Irish farmers, especially noble landowners, to sell their wheat surpluses to feed the English industrial cities, even though that government had forbidden past grain exports during famines. Ideology playe! d an important role in both tragedies. The Soviets had blind faith in Communism and the British had blind faith in capitalism. Both ignored the human costs.
Daniel Stone is a professor of East European history (retired), University of Winnipeg.