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Repercussions of the Holodomor reverberate today

Nov 19, 2019 | Editorials, Featured

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

This Saturday, November 23, people around the world commemorate the horrendous act of genocide which has come down in history to be known as the Holodomor.

This is the act of genocide by which Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin attempted to wipe out Ukrainians as a national entity by starving millions of people to death.

It has been described as a classic case of genocide by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish legal expert of Jewish origin who wrote the United Nations definition of the term. He described the Famine as a four-pronged attack by the Communist regime against the Ukrainian nation with the intent to destroy: (1) the intelligentsia (“the national brain”); (2) the national churches (“the soul of Ukraine”); (3) the independent peasants (“the repository of the tradition, folklore and music, the national language and literature, the national spirit of Ukraine”); and (4) the cohesion of the Ukrainian people by forced in- and out-migration with the aim of changing the republic’s ethnic composition by reducing the number of ethnic Ukrainians and increasing the number of non-Ukrainians.

And here we get to the crux of why the memory of the Holodomor is so relevant to the reality of Moscow’s current aggression in Ukraine. Those millions of Ukrainians who were starved to death were replaced by ethnic Russians. And those millions of Ukrainians who survived, but were forbidden even to speak about it, became so traumatized, they buried their culture and their national will deep in the ground strewn with the bones of their relatives, friends and ancestors. Many of their descendants became russified. They became “Russian speakers”.

And it is the “defence” of “Russian speakers” that Stalin’s successor in mind, spirit and deed – Vladimir Putin – claims as an excuse to justify his brutal aggression against Ukraine. The genocide of the 1930s has led to the invasion of today.

That is what makes it so critical for Putin’s Russia to deny the Holodomor, or — failing to repudiate outright a very clear historical fact — to minimize it to the greatest degree.

The first of the fallacies being perpetrated is the myth that the Holodomor was not a genocide — merely a tragedy. This myth is propagated by Moscow and echoed by its stooges, like former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

It basically goes like this: the Holodomor wasn’t a genocide of Ukrainians because other nationalities suffered deaths as well.

Well, that’s the equivalent of saying the Holocaust wasn’t a genocide of Jews because other ethnic groups were also killed.

Even though both Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin committed mass murder on a gargantuan scale that involved people of all kinds of backgrounds, Jews were specifically targeted in the Holocaust and Ukrainians were specifically targeted in the Holodomor. That’s what makes both actions genocide.

The other refuge of Holodomor detractors is to question the numbers. Some academics have even gone so far as to suggest that Ukrainian nationalists cooked up the figure of 7 to 10 million in order to play up their martyrdom.

Let’s then see where these numbers came from. First, the 10-million figure came directly from the perpetrator of the Holodomor himself — Joseph Stalin — in a private conversation with Sir Winston Churchill, which the British statesman later recorded in his memoirs. Second, it was echoed by Stalin‘s biggest apologist and most notorious Holodomor denier, New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, in a secret briefing recorded by the British Embassy and later released publicly.

Most important, however, is that the 7–10 million estimate (and we stress that it remains an estimate) is an internationally accepted number that was included in a Joint Statement on the Holodomor issued at the United Nations on November 10, 2003, and signed by 26 delegations including those of Canada, the United States, Ukraine and the Russian Federation – yes Putin’s Russia (14 years ago that is).

Today one often hears the figure of 4 million being bandied about. This is a result of new demographic studies. Quite notably, these studies include only the territory of the 1933 Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic – not the ethnic Ukrainian territories of the 1933 Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic – most particularly the overwhelmingly Ukrainian region of Kuban where the Ukrainians as a cultural entity were virtually annihilated.

But, on what basis can demographic studies be made? Unlike the Nazis, who kept meticulous records of their genocide, the Soviets deliberately covered up the Holodomor figures. When the results of the 1937 Soviet census were compiled, Stalin immediately ordered them destroyed and sent all its organizers to the Gulag as saboteurs, because the census showed damningly low population figures. Then, a subsequent census in 1939 was adjusted so that the figures conformed to Stalin’s wishes. So how can any accurate analyses be made?

Nevertheless, whether the actual figure was 4 million or 10 million – and we will never know the truth – the fact remains the Holodomor was a genocide.

The third – and most insidious attack on the historical validity of the Holodomor is that it is a “Nazi lie”. This is fueled by continuous Russian propaganda which labels Ukrainian nationalists as “Nazis” and is picked up in the West by Kremlin apologists and sycophants – including some in Canada itself.

During the Soviet era, the Holodomor monument in Edmonton was sporadically defaced with graffiti using the term “Nazi lies”. But it wasn’t until 2016 that some individual of unknown background showed up at a solemn Holodomor commemoration at City Hall lofting a portrait of Joseph Stalin over his head and shouting “Nazis” and “Liars”.

At the 2017 commemoration, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson decided to give an impromptu reference to that incident once he had finished delivering his prepared remarks.

“I was amazed as how peaceful the response was. That faced by someone who had hate and a false sense of history in his heart, you very quietly escorted him out,” he started.

“I would have wanted to do more than quietly escort him out. I think many of us did. But it speaks to the quality of this community, to the quality of our democracy, to the sense of calm and humanity that pervades an event like this. I was very proud of you. And I ‘m grateful to be here with you today. Grateful that no one has disrupted this event. But it illustrated exactly why we need to continue to do this. Until there is no more confusion about this, no more denial of the evil that happened. Such that the memory of those 10 million people can be properly honoured by everyone,” concluded Iveson.

Yes, we must continue to commemorate the Holodomor. We must continue to commemorate it in order to honour the memory of those who were victimized. We must continue to commemorate it in order to ensure that such evil incarnate never be repeated again. But we must also continue to commemorate it because the repercussions of the Holodomor reverberate today.

Note: This is an updated version of the editorial we ran on December 1, 2017. 
We ran it once again in the print issue for the benefit of those who may not have read the earlier one of forgot it, because nothing has changed during the past two years. Thus, everything we wrote two years ago applies today.

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