The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine, 1932-1933 (Holodomor)
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"Facing Past Suffering"

By Prof. James Mace
"The Day"
November 28, 2000

On Friday evening (November 24, 2000) an artistic soiree and a day long conference on Saturday were held to mark Ukraine's greatest tragedy, the Manmade Famine of 1932-33, what Ukrainians call 'Holodomor", a term notoriously difficult to translate but perhaps best conveyed as plague of starvation, something like the Black Death without microbes. It is unseemly for peoples to compete over which of them suffered more when they were victimized, Bosnian Moslems or Kosovar Albanians, Gypsies or Jews, Armenians or Cherokee Indians, or for that matter the Medieval Bulgarians from the eleventh century Byzantine Emperor Basil II Bulgaroctonos, who had the entire defeated enemy host blinded, leaving only every tenth man one eye to guide the rest home. Many nations have their own special wounds inflicted upon them by history, and remembering them is a unique part of their sense of who they are, what gives them identity.

Having begun research on the Ukrainian Famine almost two decades ago and having written about it a great deal, it is a tragedy that has long weighed like a stone on my heart. As staff director of a US government commission on the subject in 1986-1990, I collected and published three volumes of oral histories on it. I know the historical context explaining why Stalin did it, the official showing how he did it, and as an interlocutor and editor shared the human suffering of those who lived through it. This is not the place for a lecture on history, there is plenty for you to read from what I have been publishing since 1982. Stalin did it because he wanted direct unlimited power throughout the Soviet Union, and to get it he has to crush the main thing in his way, an unfree but still somewhat self-assertive Sovietized Ukraine.

He did it by ordering unrealistic quotas of grain to be taken, then other food seized as fines, and used this as an excuse to eliminate those responsible for not being able to obtain what did not exist. And the human suffering of this country, in principle among the most favored on earth in terms of agricultural wealth and resources, cannot be conveyed except in the worlds of those who witnessed and experienced it. Just as it is emotionally impossible for someone to study the Holocaust without being moved to the point that one's spirit becomes at least half Jewish, it is the same with the Ukraine's central tragedy.

Perhaps this is why I now live here and spend so much of my energy trying to understand what was done to this people and what scars from it this country still bears. As I argued at Saturday's conference, the problems of contemporary Ukraine can best be described as those of a country that still marks the psychological and physical scars of genocide, not only on the individuals who survived the unmitigated evils of Stalinism but of this nation as a whole, one that was so crippled by it that when independence came, it had only the structures, which had emerged from the post-Stalinist period, to give its statehood content.

Those structures were peopled and their replacements selected by those who were themselves products and simultaneously victims of that system. They were by and large completely unprepared for the challenges that they then had to face in a world they had been isolated from for over half a century---challenges political, economic, moral, intellectual, and, in a word, global. As I read the press and learn even more disgraceful things from personal sources, things that simply cannot be printed, I begin to wonder if this country will ever be whole. I beg God, that it will be, and like any person of goodwill, finding himself in my place, am trying to do my bit to help."

"Facing Past Suffering"
By Prof. James Mace,
Consultant to "The Day"
"The Day", The Ukrainian Press Group
Kyiv, Ukraine
Issue No. 34
November 28, 2000

Larysa Ivshyna,

Luidmyla Humenuik,
English Language Bureau


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