The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

Reporter Walter Duranty turned a blind eye to one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century. For that, his 1932 Pulitzer Prize should be revoked, says Ukrainian-Canadian LUBOMYR LUCIUK

The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, October 29, 2003 - Page A21

Clever in crafting words, a bon vivant, ever engaging as a dinner companion, Walter Duranty was much in demand in certain circles. He was The New York Times's man in Moscow in the early 1930s, and for supposedly "distinguished" reporting from there there, he was awarded the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for Correspondence. What Mr. Duranty really was however, was Joseph Stalin's apologist, a libertine prepared to prostitute accuracy for access.

Much of this was known at the time, hence the deprecating references to him as "Walter Obscuranty." More tellingly, writer Malcolm Muggeridge, a contemporary, said that Mr. Duranty was "the greatest liar of any journalist I have met in fifty years of journalism."

Dr Lubomyr Luciuk
(Click on image to enlarge it)

Despite being one of the few eyewitnesses to the politically engineered Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Soviet Ukraine, in which millions were deliberately starved to death on the orders of Stalin, Mr. Duranty nevertheless spun stories for The New York Times dismissing all accounts of that horror as nothing more than bunk, or malicious anti-Soviet propaganda.

He knew otherwise. On Sept. 26, 1933, at the British Embassy in Moscow, Mr. Duranty privately confided to William Strang, the embassy's charge d'affaires, that as many as 10 million people had died directly or indirectly of famine conditions in the USSR during the past year. Meanwhile, publicly, Mr. Duranty orchestrated a vicious ostracizing of those journalists who risked much by reporting on the brutalities of forced collectivization and the ensuing catastrophe, Mr. Muggeridge among them.

Even as the fertile Ukraine, once the breadbasket of Europe, became a modern-day Golgotha, a place of skulls, Mr. Duranty plowed the truth under. Occasionally pressed on the human costs of the Soviet experiment with communism he did, however, evolve a dismissive dodge, canting the infamous words, "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs."

To honour the memory of the many millions of victims of this crime against humanity, an international campaign was initiated on May Day this year, calling upon the Pulitzer Prize board to posthumously revoke Mr. Duranty's award. This month, a second phase of the effort began with a letter-writing campaign to Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times, asking him return Mr. Duranty's prize regardless of what the Pulitzer Prize board decides.

Walter Duranty

From around the world, tens of thousands of postcards, letters and e-mails have now been sent, recalling the 70th anniversary of the famine, underscoring Mr. Duranty's perfidiousness and how his duplicitous reports helped cover up one of the greatest acts of genocide in 20th-century Europe. This crusade's momentum was enhanced by an independent report penned by Columbia University historian, Mark von Hagen. He concluded that Mr. Duranty had knowingly distorted the news, before, during and after his particularly odious bout of famine denial.

There are sophists who retort that Mr. Duranty was recognized for what he wrote before he bore false witness about the Holodomor, as Ukrainians refer to this genocide. Those willing to be so indulgent with Mr. Duranty seem oddly comfortable with ignoring how he betrayed that most fundamental principle of journalism: the obligation of reporting truthfully on what is observed.

Others argue that we are engaged in an exercise in revisionism. They miss the point entirely. No one wants Mr. Duranty to be deleted from history. He must be remembered for exactly what he was -- a shill for the Soviets.

No matter how good a scribbler Mr. Duranty may have been, he was, foremost, a teller of lies, who helped Moscow cover up reality as millions starved to death. The Great Famine of 1932-1933 was Ukraine's holocaust. That this fact is only now being understood has much to do with the determined efforts of scoundrels like Mr. Duranty. Certainly, others also served Stalinism, out of conviction, for profit, for perks. But none of those others came to be distinguished with a Pulitzer Prize, regarded as print journalism's most prestigious award.

The men and women whose principled labours have earned them the honour and distinction of a Pulitzer Prize, or those who might aspire to that select company, should be revolted at knowing that within their ranks there remains a blackguard who, Janus-like, turned a blind eye to one of history's greatest atrocities while casting the other about in wrath against journalists who reported that truth. Quite simply, Mr. Duranty's continuing grasp on a Pulitzer Prize soils all Pulitzer Prizes. It must be returned or revoked.

I have not always seen eye-to-eye with David Matas, a B'Nai Brith Canada advocate. And so, when he informed me of his disagreement with the exculpatory editorial stand of The Globe and Mail (Mr. Duranty's Award -- Oct. 25), I found his message not only welcome, but remarkable, evidencing just how inclusive is revulsion at the thought of Mr. Duranty continuing to hold this prize. Mr. Matas wrote "If hindsight is indeed 20/20, why should we continue to insist on being blind?" In truth, I have no idea.

Lubomyr Luciuk, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, initiated the current campaign to revoke Walter Duranty's Pulitzer Prize.