By Andrew Pleshkevich, Moscow
Letter to the Editor, The Moscow Times
Friday, Jun. 27, 2003. Page 9
In response to "Ukrainian Famine," letters by E.Morgan Williams
and David Brandenberger on June 20. Those letters were written
in response to "One Pulitzer That Should Shake the World," a
comment by Matt Bivens on June 16, The Moscow Times.
In the past, Soviet apologists such as Bernard Shaw denied the Ukrainian
famine's existence. Now, it seems, others are prone to deny its importance.
In their letters, David Brandenberger and E. Morgan Williams question
Matt Bivens' portrayal of the famine as a Ukrainian genocide. Let's consider
some more facts about the famine. [see editor's note below about the
major error contained in this statement]
In 1932, Stalin ordered grain requisitions in Ukraine to be increased by
44 percent. Because peasants were forbidden from receiving grain until
they met their personal quota, this meant starvation for Ukraine's rural
population. Military, police and volunteers were sent into villages to
ensure compliance, and the penalty for being caught with "illegal" grain
-- even for a child -- was death.
Data from the Soviet census confirm that the tragedy that resulted was
immense. On Dec. 17, 1926, the population of the Ukrainian Soviet
Socialist Republic was 29,042,934. By 1939, the count had increased
by 1,917,287 to 30,960,221.
And yet, according to these same sources, the Ukrainian population grew
by 2.36 percent throughout the 1920s. Continuing at this rate over the
twelve-year period from 1926 to 1939, the population of Ukraine should
have increased by 10,287,985 to 39,330,919.
The difference between the projected and reported increments is 8,370,698.
Taking into account that many of these "missing people" did not starve to
death but were, instead, the result of a drop in the birthrate during the
famine, Bivens' quoted figure of around seven million deaths is not
The death of millions of people can hardly be dismissed as mere "neglect,
incompetence and disdain for rural culture," as Brandenberger suggests.
While it is true that collectivization caused famine and death in other
republics, the extent was not nearly the same as in Ukraine. Millions of
Poles, Gypsies and others perished in Nazi concentration camps during
the Holocaust, but the tragedy is rightfully considered a Jewish one. When
we take into account the liquidation of Ukraine's cultural elite during the
1930's, Stalin's numerous Ukrainophobic comments and Russification as
a whole, Bivens' claim that the famine was an ethnic genocide is not off
Andrew Pleshkevich, Moscow
EDITOR'S NOTE ABOUT MAJOR ERROR IN THE LETTER ABOVE:
The comment found above in the letter to the editor of The Moscow Times
by Andrew Pleshkevich of Moscow, "In their letters, David Brandenberger
and E. Morgan Williams question Matt Bivens' portrayal of the famine as a
Ukrainian genocide. Let's consider some more facts about the famine,"
is NOT accurate at all in terms of the letter that I, E. Morgan Williams,
wrote to Matt Bivens, at the Moscow Times or in terms of what I strongly
believe about the tragic events that occurred in Ukraine in 1932-1933.
In my letter I did not question at all Matt Bivens' portrayal of the famine
as a Ukrainian genocide. I actually do believe strongly the famine was
an act of genocide against Ukraine and her people for sure. I do not
know or understand how Mr. Pleshkevich came to the conclusion he
did about what I wrote.
I happen to agree with what Mr. Pleshkevich wrote in his letter to the
editor except for the statement he made about his impression concerning
what I said in the letter I wrote.
The following is the letter I wrote to Matt Bivens and sent to The
Moscow Times. I did not send it as a letter to the editor but only to
start some discussion with Mr. Bivens about one point he made.
(1) The following was published by The Moscow Times on June 20, 2003.
Matt Bivens' claim that the Stalinist regime "engineered a mass
famine -- one so neatly political that it stopped precisely at the
Ukrainian-Russian internal border" is entirely incorrect. That the
famine did not stop at the Ukrainian-Russian internal border is
well known, well-documented and written about in many, many
This enormous error should be corrected immediately as it indicates
a gross lack of knowledge about what actually happened in the
Soviet Union between 1932 and 1933, and how far it spread.
E. Morgan Williams, Washington"
Many of those who deny the famine was a genocide against Ukraine
are happy to point out that there were actually pockets of famine in
other parts of the Soviet Union. Famine was used as a weapon to
destroy family farms and farm families in some places outside Soviet
I did not agree totally with the following comment Mr. Bivens had in
his original article, " That same year, the Stalin regime sealed the
borders of Ukraine, ordered the confiscation of grain, and engineered
a mass famine -- one so neatly political that it stopped precisely at the
Ukrainian-Russian internal border."
As I said those who deny the genocidal aspect of the famine in Ukraine
like for those who believe it was a genocidal famine to make such
comments as the one above as they know they can show there were
other pockets of famine in some of the important agricultural areas of
Recognizing there were actually pockets of famine in other parts
of the Soviet Union in no way takes away from the fact that what
happened in Ukraine can be easily classified as a genocidal famine.
This is the only statement in Mr. Bivens important article that I
had some questions about.
The other letter to the editor that Mr.Andrew Pleshkevich,
Moscow, refers to in his letter to the editor, the one by David
Brandenberger, Cambridge, Massachusetts, does actually raise
questions about the concept of the famine being classified as
Why Andrew Pleshkevich lumped the comments in my letter in with
what Mr. Brandenberger's stated in his letter I do not know.
As I have stated the conclusion and statement by Mr. Pleshkevish
about my letter is NOT accurate or appropriate.
(2) Here is the letter that Mr. Brandenberger wrote to The Moscow
Letter to the Editor, The Moscow Times, June 20, 2003
In response to "One Pulitzer That Should Shake the World," a
comment by Matt Bivens on June 16 , [The Moscow Times,
Matt Bivens is certainly correct that Walter Duranty distorted the
nature of the famine during Stalin's collectivization drive. But Bivens
perpetuates a different set of myths by alleging that the famine was
"engineered" and that it "stopped precisely at the Ukrainian-Russian
In fact, millions of peasants starved to death between 1932 and
1933 not only in Ukraine, but in southern Russia and Kazakhstan
as well. And although the Stalinist leadership exacerbated famine
conditions through its neglect, incompetence and disdain for rural
culture, it is not at all clear that this was a premeditated act of
genocide directed against the Ukrainian nation.
David Brandenberger, Cambridge, Massachusetts
(3) The following is the original article written by Matt Blivens and
published by The Moscow Times on June 16, 2003.
ONE PULITZER THAT SHOULD SHAKE THE WORLD
The prize in question was won in 1932 by Walter Duranty for "excellence in
reporting" out of the Soviet Union
OPINION, Moscow on the Potomac
By Matt Bivens from Washington for The Moscow Times
Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 16, 2003. Page 10
WASHINGTON -- America's most coveted journalism award is the Pulitzer
Prize, and The New York Times has collected 89 of them. But now one of
those Pulitzers is being challenged because the honored reporter was a
Is this about Jayson Blair, the whiz kid whose faked articles have deeply
embarrassed his paper? Yes and no.
The prize in question was won in 1932 by Walter Duranty for "excellence in
reporting" out of the Soviet Union. That same year, the Stalin regime sealed
the borders of Ukraine, ordered the confiscation of grain, and engineered a
mass famine -- one so neatly political that it stopped precisely at the
Ukrainian-Russian internal border.
The Soviets called it "collectivization," the forcing of millions of people
into collective farms. Ukrainians in America refer to it as the Holodomor --
roughly, the Famine-Genocide -- and they consciously use a capital "H" in
imitation of the Holocaust.
The Holocaust -- the killing of about 6 million Jews, along with some 3
million Soviet POWs and thousands of Gypsies -- is woven into the textbooks,
the consciousness and the monuments of nations everywhere.
And the Holodomor? It claimed some 7 million innocents. At its height, while
the Soviets exported thousands of tons of grain to the West, Ukrainians were
dying at a rate of 25,000 per day. Yet no one has heard of it. Every
November, the U.S. president sends a short letter to Ukrainians marking the
tragedy. Other than that, it passes virtually unmentioned.
To understand how the Holodomor slipped down the memory hole, one has to
look back to the 1930s. The Great Depression was on, and in the West
communism was admired or feared. That, plus the Soviet practice of deporting
critics, soon filled the Moscow foreign press corps with apologists for
Duranty was not alone. (Another apologist, Eugene Lyons of UPI, repented and
wrote one of my favorite books, "Assignment in Utopia." Check out chapter
XV, "The Press Corps Conceals a Famine," at
But Duranty was unusually cynical. He would talk about millions of famine
deaths, and then add, "But they're only Russians," and, "you can't make an
omelette without breaking eggs." And incredibly, he won the Pulitzer for
reporting in 1931 on Stalin's Five-Year Plans.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Holodomor, and in January the
Ukrainian Congress Committee of America launched a campaign to have
Duranty's Pulitzer rescinded. The Pulitzer board is formally studying that.
But in the past, the board has split hairs, arguing that Duranty's Pulitzer
was for reporting that predated the famine and had nothing to do with it,
while The New York Times has taken the position that its own pages have
since denounced and debunked Duranty's work, and his Pulitzer is displayed
with an asterisk to that effect at Times' headquarters. And that's
apparently good enough.
So, a cub reporter publishes a string of articles that plagiarize or
embellish upon some pretty minor realities -- and this provokes a monster
mea culpa on the front page detailing the paper's sins, followed by the
resignations of its editors. Meanwhile, another reporter is known to have
been a serial liar, someone who actively worked over many years to cover up
the equivalent of the Holocaust -- and The New York Times admits as much,
yet feels OK holding on to his Pulitzer.
Doesn't that tarnish the other 88?
Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, writes the Daily Outrage
for The Nation magazine, New York. www.thenation.com. Letters-to-the
The Moscow Times, Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 16, 2003
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