by Taras Kuzio for Radio Free Europe
RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report
Vol. 4, No. 23, 12 June 2002
In April and May, a curious and, at times, highly charged discussion raged
over the "Internet List H-Russia" on the 1932-1933 famine in Ukraine that
led to the deaths of anywhere from 5-10 million people. The discussion is
curious in that it was taking place a decade after the USSR collapsed and
Ukraine established itself as an independent state. The continued denial in
this discussion of the artificiality of the 1932-1933 famine in Ukraine
reflects widespread double standards.
First, there is a strong refusal among academics and journalists to place
Soviet and Nazi crimes against humanity on the same level. The ideological
preferences of some academics are allowed to interfere with their scholarly
research. How else can we understand Western scholars whose decades-long
infatuation with economic changes in the 1930s has included trying to
explain away Stalinist crimes against humanity and the 1932-1933 famine as
neither "artificial" nor part of a drive against "Ukrainian bourgeois
nationalism?" The Soviet project, unlike the Nazi one, allegedly had "good
intentions" that were warped by Stalin.
Second, objective discussion of the Ukrainian famine suffers from continued
Russophile domination of Western history writing on Russia and in Western
European post-Sovietology (primarily area studies). As with recent Ukrainian
studies of the famine, Western historians have largely ignored the radical
changes in post-Soviet Ukrainian historiography and continue to be
influenced by 19th-century Russian nationalist writing where Ukraine (and
Belarus) are treated as subsidiaries of the Russian (read East Slavic)
nation. Oral memoirs on the famine collected from Ukrainian emigres "are
highly unreliable," West Virginia University Professor Mark Tauger claimed
in the "Internet List H-Russia" discussion. Yet, scholars do not deny the
authenticity of oral memoirs for studies of the Holocaust.
The Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU), then still a republican subsidiary of
the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, came under pressure between
1987-1990 from the cultural intelligentsia, informal groups such as Rukh and
Memorial, and investigative journalists in Moscow and Ukraine who sought to
unveil "blank spots" in Soviet Ukrainian and Ukrainian history. Finally, in
February 1990, the KPU acknowledged that a famine had taken place in Ukraine
that it blamed on "Stalinism." The covering up of the famine, the KPU
claimed, had "hindered scientific understanding and an objective, moral, and
political assessment of a national tragedy.".
After Ukraine became an independent state in January 1992, the famine
question became the subject of countless books and scholarly articles,
memoirs, and documents based upon hitherto closed KPU archives. A "Black
Book on Ukraine" consisting of 1,000 pages of documents was published by
Prosvita in Kyiv in 1998. In the first half of the 1990s, Ukrainian scholars
redefined the famine as "genocide" or "terror-famine," and a monument was
erected in central Kyiv. In September 1993, then-President Leonid Kravchuk
called the death of one-fifth of Ukrainians "genocide." In November 2001, on
the Day of Remembrance for these crimes, President Leonid Kuchma talked of
"tens of millions" of Ukrainians who died in war, the "famine-terror," and
American-born Professor James Mace, who formerly headed the Washington-based
U.S. Commission on the Ukrainian Famine in the 1980s and is currently at the
Kyiv Mohyla Academy, wrote in 1995 that the famine was "the central
question" for Ukrainian history. Mace remains convinced that the famine was
primarily directed at Ukrainians. After the U.S. commission closed, Mace was
unable to obtain academic employment in the United States; his cards had
"been marked" as a "biased Ukrainian nationalist emigre."
Many Western academics at that time, and at present, continue to see studies
of the famine published in the 1980s by Robert Conquest as "replete with
errors and inconsistencies" and as "another expression of the Cold War,"
Professor Tauger argued in the "Internet List H-Russia" discussion. Mace
responded in the discussion by describing Tauger's "baseless statistical
circumlocutions" as "garbage."
Reading the "Internet List H-Russia" and Western, English-language academic
publications on Eastern Europe leads to the impression that the large number
of post-Soviet Ukrainian studies on the famine listed in the 2001 book "The
Famine-Terror in Ukraine, 1932-1933: A Bibliography" published in Odesa-Kyiv
are mainly ignored by Western scholars working on the Stalin era. The fact
that these works are in Ukrainian, and not in Russian, the traditional
language of Sovietology and post-Soviet studies, is no excuse not to use
them. Unfortunately, there is still a stubbornly held view that Russian is
sufficient for research into, and writing on, Ukraine (and Belarus).
Famine denial fails to deal with the question of why, if the famine took
place throughout the former USSR, it has only left an imprint on Ukrainian
consciousness. Ukraine was sealed off by the authorities, foreign
journalists were prevented from visiting famine areas, foreign assistance
was refused, and grain continued to be exported during the famine. Why is
such a memory of the famine not present in the Russian consciousness if it
was not just directed at Ukrainians?
On the 60th anniversary of the famine, President Kravchuk described the aims
of the famine as an attempt "to uproot the entire Ukrainian soul," adding
that "unacceptable living conditions were created to destroy a nation."
Western scholars have yet to appreciate the extent to which
denationalization in contemporary Ukraine and Belarus is the product of the
famine and Stalinist terror in the 1930s to 1950s.
In a 1991 book published in Kyiv, Lidia Kovalenko defined the famine as
"dukhovna ruyina" (spiritual ruin). The destruction of the Ukrainian
village, the national communist intelligentsia, and the Ukrainian
Autocephalous Orthodox Church; an end to "indigenization" (Ukrainization);
and a return to Russian nationalism in historiography all occurred at the
same time in the first half of the 1930s.
According to a study by Raphael Lemkin published by the Carnegie Endowment
for International Peace, genocide can also refer to selective state actions
"aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of life of national
groups" in areas such as language, culture, religion, national feeling, and
dignity. This view of genocide directed against Ukrainians in the 1930s was
presented at the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Convention for the
Prevention and Punishment of Crimes of Genocide in 1998 by Ukrainian
Permanent Representative to the UN Volodymyr Yelchenko.
"To deny the genocide of Jews quite rightly brings opprobrium. Surely to
deny the terror famine of 1932-33 ought to provoke the same response,"
Professor Elizabeth Haigh of Saint Mary's University argued in the "Internet
List H-Russia" discussion. Famine denial, however, continues unabated. This
is a fact that led Canadian Dr. Bohdan Krawchenko, vice rector of the
Academy of Public Administration Under the Ukrainian President, to describe
the discussion on "Internet List H-Russia" as "absurd and fundamentally
immoral" and a "total abrogation of the responsibilities of intellectuals."
Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East
European Studies, University of Toronto.