The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


From: Roman Serbyn,
November 12, 2002


Roman Serbyn writes:
I'd like to present my ideas on the choice of terms for the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide. They are somewhat different from those of Bohdan Vitvitsky.




From: Bohdan Vitvitsky


Bohdan Vitvisky (B.V.) - A point for discussion. We complain that the Famine does not receive the attention it deserves, yet we are not even smart enough to realize that one of the first steps that needs to be taken is to settle on a single, or at most two, distinctive name(s) for said historical event.


Roman Serbyn (R.S.) - I agree that it would be preferable to have one distinctive name for the event.


B.V. - We refer to it as the "Ukrainian Famine," the "Famine of 1932-33," the "Famine-Genocide," just to name three of the numerous names in use. The victimization of the Jews by the Nazis, on the other hand, has two distinctive names: the "Holocaust" and "Shoah."


R.S. - The Ukrainian term Holodomor is as "international" as the Hebrew term Shoah was several years ago, and it can be used as a synonym for and with a more readily recognizable English term.

The "Ukrainian Famine" should be used only in a specific context and not by itself because there were other Ukrainian famines besides the 1932-1933 one (1921-1923, 1946-1947). The "1932-1933 Famine" identifies the period, but does not translate the essence of the event, which was genocide against the Ukrainian nation.


B.V. - Conquest has referred to the Famine as the "Terror Famine." That strikes me as a good choice, although not the only one. One could then further describe the event as the genocidal Terror Famine to capture the point that the Famine was part of a broad campaign to make Ukrainians disappear as something resembling a normal nation.


R.S. - I do not favor "Terror Famine" for several reasons:

Neither "famine" nor "terror" project the idea of "genocide". The discussion today is not whether a famine occurred in Ukraine or not; no serious historian or knowledgeable individual would argue that there was no famine. The dispute is whether the famine was a genocide and if so, who was its target: Ukrainians or peasants?

The expression "terror famine" is a neologism in which the noun "terror" is used as an adjective to describe the famine. The term terror is now a la mode, but for this very reason its sense has become diluted, and the word has been turned into a tool of propaganda. It does not serve our purpose of promoting the idea of genocide with regard to the famine.

The Oxford dictionary defines "terror" as: a) extreme fear, b) a terrifying person or thing, c) organized intimidation ; terrorism. On the other hand, "genocide" is "the deliberate extermination of a people or nation". Terror and genocide are thus quite different, and the first is not equal to the second.


B.V. - ("Famine-Genocide" is not a good choice: is "Famine" here an adjective for "Genocide"? Are they both nouns? If it's not immediately obvious, and it's not, we're shooting ourselves in the foot.)


R.S. - I think that "Famine-Genocide" (with or without the hyphen) is better than the others. It focuses on the fact that the Genocide was executed by means of a forced famine. The more important word here is "Genocide". A still better term is simply the "Ukrainian Genocide". This is the way other genocides are most often referred to (Armenian Genocide, Cambodian Genocide, etc.). There are historical reasons why Ukrainians insisted on the term "Famine", but they should no longer bind us today.

I would, therefore, opt for the following usage, in order of preference:

    1) Ukrainian Genocide
    2) Famine-Genocide
    3) Holodomor (as an alternating synonym)

Any other opinions?

The Famine: Toward a Definition
Published on E-POSHTA, Keeping You Informed & Proactive!,  November 12, 2002

Editor's Note: Roman Serbyn is co-author of the book entitled "Famine in Ukraine, 1932-1933" and is a professor of history at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada.