The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

Or How inherited Soviet structures block any real reform

By James MACE, Ph.D
Professor of Political Science
Kyiv-Mohyla Academy National University
The Day Weekly Digest
Ukrainian News in English
Kyiv, Ukraine
September 3, 2002


The V International Congress of Ukrainian Studies was held on August 26-29, 2002, organized by the International Association of Ukrainian Studies, Ukrainian National Academy, and Fedkovich University of Chernivtsi, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Science and Ministry of Culture and the Arts.

The congress was attended by 230 scholars from abroad and more than 500 domestic counterparts from 37 Ukrainian cities. The program included meetings of sections embracing practically every aspect of the Ukrainian studies (language, literature, culture, history, political science, philosophy, and much more), also round tables dealing with a range of issues from surzhyk [a crude mix of illiterate Ukrainian and Russian], being considered as a lingual and social phenomenon, to Ukrainian national security; conferences and exhibits.

In addition, the congress elected a new association president, Professor Mark von Hagen of Columbia University (New York).

The Editors are happy to offer excerpts from the speech, delivered during the closing plenary session, by Prof. James Mace of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy National University and consultant to The Day:

Prof. James Mace: Despite its officially proclaimed "European choice," Ukraine is greeting EU and NATO expansion somewhere from the sidelines. The European Union even gave Ukraine a consolation prize, EU neighbor status, simultaneously with such renowned champions in the European integration process as Belarus and Moldova.

This shows that the West currently sees all three countries as being on the same level. Clearly, the train of expanding Euro-Atlantic has already left the station, with Ukraine standing on the platform holding a bouquet of aromatic words like "special relationship" and "partnership," without any real content.

Consider Poland, which in 1991 had an economy about the same size as that of Ukraine, yet the Poles confirm their European choice with deeds, while Ukraine still waffles between Europe and Eurasia. All who wish Ukraine well cannot help but watch the process without regret.

The problem is not at all bad leaders making the wrong decisions. Anyone who has ever had even minimal contact with the political process in any country will confirm that a politician is not at all a free man. He has only limited freedom of maneuver within the context of those forces capable of blocking, restricting, or forcing that politician's decisions.

The recent Internet discussion on the Famine of 1933 - did it take place in the context of essentially Ukrainian or overall Soviet history? - was really only an attempt at self-defense primarily by former opponents of the so-called totalitarian model as Cold War ideology, those who once expended great effort to prove that the horrors of Stalin's terror and repression were exaggerated, those then prepared to write anything to get their visas and access to Soviet archives.

At present, these archives are controlled by other authorities willing to hear about the Russian people being the legal successor to all those great attainments of the Soviet Union, but this Russian people assumes no historical responsibility for the crimes of the Stalin regime and suffered "just like the rest," that is, as part of the "all-Soviet people." Is this not trying to have one's cake and eat it too?

To better understand the current problems faced by the post-Soviet states, one ought to discard the patterns and approaches of the old "history of the USSR" once taught everybody here and admit that, even within the Soviet empire, different peoples and republics continued to have their own distinct, albeit interconnected, histories, which gave rise to the different problems currently inherent to the various post-Soviet states and peoples.

Much effort has and will be made to study the purges and ruinous essence of Stalinism in Ukraine. Yet, if we want to bring into focus this country's current problems, let us attempt to analyze the consequences of Stalinism, identify what structures and processes have ensued from it, and how they are evolving in today's Ukraine. This could well serve as the starting point...

I propose this thesis: the main reason for Ukraine's limited success in meeting the challenges of our age is that it has suffered far greater damage, and in a different way, under the Soviets than anyone could have understood ten years ago. Until now there has been no large-scale and effective discussion about the nature of these obstacles and inevitably long road to overcoming them.

Stalin's policy in Ukraine was an act of genocide in the sense formulated by Rafael Lemkin when he coined the term in 1944. The Holodomor Manmade Famine clearly falls under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Still, terms are not the main thing.

The point is that Stalinism created a fundamental break in the development of a more or less typical national movement, so that now it seems most useful to start on the history of the modern Ukrainian state by referring not to 1917 or 1991, but, paradoxically, to the 1950s. That is precisely why today's Ukraine is essentially distinct from the typical European nation-state arising out of such a national movement.

In Ukraine, as elsewhere in the Soviet Union at the time, Stalinism destroyed or assumed such strict control over the slightest manifestation of independent action in the social, economic, cultural, scholarly, and other domains, that it often made little sense to speak, for example, about agriculture and culture as separate spheres, for they were only components of a single Party-state Leviathan.

Stalin tried to control literally everything, and, with the aid of terror, he was temporarily successful.

In 1991 we all made a fundamental if unconscious mistake when we thought we were witnessing the appearance of a new independent state. Now it is clear that it was actually the gaining of independence of a pre-existent but less than independent state. In reality, the same people continued doing same things, and further development went on from there.

Today, postcommunist Ukraine is no longer simply the independent former Ukrainian SSR, but in a subjective sense - where citizens share common national values, a common understanding of who they are - there is still no truly Ukrainian Ukraine in the sense that Poland is Polish and the Czech Republic is Czech.

The fundamental political issues are clear: European competence vs. the surviving Soviet mentality; transparency vs. opacity; business - especially small business - vs. traditional enterprises; private farming against the collective farms; being Ukrainian as a manifestation of being European vs. Eurasianism, civil society vs. an easily manipulated mass of atomized individuals; national identity within European models as a separate component of the universal treasure-trove human civilization vs. nonexistence.

Ukraine cannot forever live like Hamlet, it must address fundamental problems.

The recipes are all known. In April 2000, Leszek Balcerowicz said in an interview with Krytyka that, after a decade of Polish experience, any even more or less competent economist could tell what Ukraine needed to secure economic growth: maximum freedom of economic activity, and that is possible only by reducing state regulation and structures to the minimum.

Obviously, Ukraine's problems are not only economic. We hear voices calling for returning to oneself. Recall the interesting book, Ukraine: Return to Itself, written by Oleksandr Suhoniako, president of the Ukrainian Association of Banks. Yet it is difficult to return somewhere you have never been.

Only when the people of Ukraine become fully conscious of all the wealth of the heritage of their past, their culture and history, that there is such a state as Ukraine and such a people as Ukrainians, only then will Ukraine become capable of stepping onto the path from which it was taken by repressions, manmade famines, ruthless economic, political, and cultural barbarism, analogies to which it is difficult to find in the annals of human civilization the terrible name of which is genocide.

Only then will Ukraine be what its heroes fought for: a state of, by, and for its own people.

By Prof. James Mace, Professor of Political Science
Kyiv-Mohyla Academy National University, Kyiv, Ukraine
The Day Weekly Digest, Kyiv, Ukraine, September 03 2002