There have been a couple of anniversaries of note in Ukraine lately.
On the more pleasant side, this past weekend there were ceremonies in Kyiv to mark the 1020th anniversary of the acceptance of Christianity by Volodymyr, prince of the Kyivan Rus. In 988, Volodymyr accepted Christianity from Byzantine missionaries, and also issued an “executive order” to his subjects in Kyiv to do likewise. The entire population of the city proceeded en masse along Kyiv’s main thoroughfare into the Dnipro River for a mass baptismal ceremony; that main thoroughfare is still there, and has henceforth been known as “Christening Boulevard.”
But there’s also a darker anniversary this year – the 75th anniversary of the brutal endgame of the “Holodomor”, the “Holocaust of Hunger” engineered by Stalin and Kaganovich.
I’ve written before in this space about this awful event, but I won’t cite any of my earlier posts – since the piece I cite below is so good.
But as a brief background, by about 1930 the Soviet Union was teetering on the brink of collapse – for the simple reason that communism just doesn’t work. But to true communists, this violation of the “proven” inevitabilities of history was unthinkable; something had to be done.
As Stalin and his henchmen surveyed the landscape, they faced three major problems:
1) The main base of support for communism was concentrated in the cities; however, city-dwellers were rapidly souring on communism, since food was in increasingly-short supply at ever-increasing prices.
2) Having abolished the market economy, the Soviet Union was drastically short of “hard currency” and was in desperate need to find some way to acquire more of it.
3) With the abolition of large estates after the revolution, the peasantry in the countryside had acquired land – upon which they were happy to farm and lead their own lives; they had absolutely no interest in the strange communist nonsense espoused by the city-dwellers. The most prosperous of the peasantry was concentrated in ultra-fertile Ukraine – the true breadbasket of Europe.
Stalin and Kaganovich came up with a diabolical and hellish plan to address all three of these problems in concert. They would impose requisition quotas on the recalcitrant peasantry that far exceed both production and stored amounts of foodstuffs – effectively confiscating all food from the rural regions. This would literally starve the peasantry into submission, while also providing ample supplies of foodstuffs – supplies which would be channeled to the cities (to make more food available and at lower prices) and sold externally to bring in hard currency.
I’ll stop my own discourse here and refer the reader to a bracing-but-superb piece on this topic by the magnificent Simon Montefiore.
This is a forgotten episode that needs to be remembered.
Now, 75 years after one of the great forgotten crimes of modern times, Stalin’s man-made famine of 1932 and 1933, the former Soviet republic of Ukraine is asking the world to classify it as a genocide.The Ukrainians call it the Holodomor – the Hunger. Millions starved as Soviet troops and secret policemen raided their villages, stole the harvest and all the food in villagers’ homes. They dropped dead in the streets, lay dying and rotting in their houses, and some women became so desperate for food that they ate their own children.If they managed to fend off starvation, they were deported and shot in the hundreds of thousands. So terrible was the famine that Igor Yukhnovsky, director of the Institute of National Memory, the Ukrainian institution researching the Holodomor, believes as many as nine million may have died.
Between four and five million died in Ukraine, a million died in Kazakhstan and another million in the north Caucasus and the Volga.By 1933, 5.7 million households – somewhere between 10 million and 15 million people – had vanished. They had been deported, shot or died of starvation.As for Stalin, he emerged more ruthless, more paranoid, more isolated than before.Stalin later told Winston Churchill that this was the most difficult time of his entire life, harder even than Hitler’s invasion.“It was a terrible struggle” in which he had “to destroy 10 million. It was fearful. Four years it lasted – but it was absolutely necessary.”Only in the mind of a brutal dictator could the mass murder of his own people be considered “necessary.”
I’ll just provide those, but read the whole thing – it’s a bit lengthy and it’s very difficult to read in places, but it must be read.
Of late, there has been a great deal of controversy about whether or not this crime should be formally labeled as a genocide – as many Ukrainians believe that it should. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has objected vigorously, seeing it as an indictment of Russia and Russians in general – while pointing out that not only Ukrainians were targeted (both inside and beyond Ukraine itself). In reply, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has agreed with that assessment, but has noted that we presently have no greater or higher term to assign to such a crime; he also noted that the culpability should not be assigned to Russia or to Russians, but to Stalin, Kaganovich, the Bolsheviks, and the entire communist system.
All of this arguing may be beside the point, as we become trapped in our own words. “Genocide” is supposed to refer to mass-murder specifically directed at the elimination of a particular group (or group) on the grounds of race or ethnicity. Mass-murder on the grounds of social class or net worth is no less of a crime; we may need some new words to cover this and state things clearly.