The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


By Peter Worthington, Toronto Sun
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, November 2, 2003

Why would The New York Times, the world's most influential newspaper, feel required to consult a Columbia University professor who is an expert on the old Soviet Union (Mark von Hagen) on whether a Pulitzer Prize awarded to its Moscow correspondent, Walter Duranty, should be revoked? Surely Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and his editors know better than anyone that Duranty was, arguably, the greatest disgrace to honest journalism in American history.

That may seem an extreme statement, but given the scope of the mischief Duranty made - consciously and effectively - in his reports from Stalin's regime, "disgrace" may be an understatement.

Apparently, the Pulitzer Prize board of directors reacted to a request initially inspired by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and endorsed by American Ukrainian groups, urging Duranty's Pulitzer be rescinded.

The Pulitzer board asked the Times to comment on withdrawing the prize, but instead of responding directly, the Times asked for Prof. von Hagen's opinion.

Von Hagen read Duranty's reports and found them dull, lacking in balance, uncritical of Stalin, a disservice to readers. When interviewed by the Times, von Hagen was more candid and said, in effect, the Pulitzer should be rescinded. Not complying would taint the "honour and glory" of the Times.

Ukrainian famine

That still doesn't explain why publisher Sulzberger felt he should ask. Not only did Duranty fail to accurately report the Ukrainian famine that killed up to 10 million - created by Stalin to bring Ukraine to heel - but Duranty put a pro-Soviet spin on all his reporting, cunningly disguised as objectivity.

His contemporaries knew it. Only "liberal" readers of the Times believed Duranty's reports of Stalin's virtues in the 1930s.

In his book, Out of Step, the late, great Sidney Hook recalls that Duranty "was of more value to Stalin than the entire Communist party of the United States." At the height of the Ukrainian famine he wrote glowingly in The New Republic of the economic recovery and prosperity and contentment of the people under collectivization. According to a contemporary journalist in Moscow, Eugene Lyons, Duranty called famine "undernourishment" and starvation a "disease of malnutrition."

Commemorative Emblem Used by the Holod Committee to Focus on the Famine-Genocide of 1932-33 in Ukraine, Winnipeg. H. Dmytryshyn, was chairman of the Holod Committee

David Caute, in his book, The Fellow Travelers, rips Duranty and liberals of that day as "celebrating the birth of the industrial revolution in urban Russia 150 years late, or the arrival of the wheel in rural Russia a millennia late." Duranty covered the great show trials of Stalin's comrades in revolution - Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Trotsky in absentia and scores of others. He believed their confessions of spying for the British.

The late Malcolm Muggeridge, Moscow correspondent for The Guardian, saw Duranty for what he was but Muggeridge was dismissed as pathologically anti-Soviet.

Lyons says Duranty was "a lifesaver for the embarrassed Stalinists" by depicting the victims of Stalin's 1937 purges as "just a lot of Dostoevsky characters enjoying self-torture and indulging their Slav souls!" At the time, The New Republic opined editorially that "the weight of evidence supports Mr. Duranty's view" that the treason trials were real, and the victims guilty as charged.

We now know, of course, that Stalin coerced ludicrous confessions from victims through continuous torture, or by torturing or killing their families unless they confessed.

In his best-seller, The Red Decade, Eugene Lyons tried to define what made Duranty tick, then considered the wisest and most objective and trustworthy reporter in the world.

Lyons says Duranty never showed emotion or reacted to sufferings in Stalin's Russia, and justified it to colleagues that he was hardened from the horrors he'd witnessed in World War I.

Stalin 'deserved' victory

Lyons differs, and quotes from Duranty's book, I Write as I Please, in which he says "Russia is Asiatic ... Stalin deserved his victory ... his policies were most fitted to the Russian character and folkways in that they established Asiatic absolutism."

In other words, Russians responded only to the whip.

One of Duranty's favoured cliches was "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs." He even viewed the mass sufferings in the USSR as necessary for progress, and compared human misery with the vivisection of animals in the name of science.

"I'm a reporter, not a humanitarian," Duranty would boast. He felt "moral judgments" weren't for him. In fact, his "moral judgment" was to glorify Stalin while pretending to be detached and remote.

This attitude won approval from The New York Times, which believed Duranty knew more about Russia than any of his contemporaries. Lack of passion in his writing enhanced his credibility - that he was just a reporter, reporting.

Last week, Sulzberger was quoted in his own paper as saying that cancelling Duranty's Pulitzer might smack of the Stalinist penchant for air-brushing photos of purged figures, and set a precedent for revising judgment in light of later facts.

One would certainly hope so! Duranty's Pulitzer taints an otherwise honourable journalistic award. Again, what took the Times so long?