‘Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.’ George Orwell’s grim commentary on the nature of political propaganda applies in few parts of the world more than in today’s Russian-backed, separatist-controlled republics of eastern Ukraine – the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk ‘People’s Republics.’ In their zeal to obey Kremlin orders to eliminate any reminders of Moscow’s legacy of terror in Ukraine (and elsewhere), the rubber-stamp ‘parliament’ of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ has voted unanimously to dismantle and destroy all monuments to the victims of Stalinist repression in general, and – in particular – of the manmade famine that decimated Ukraine from 1932-33. Having seized control of the present, Russia’s proxy separatists are erasing the past, consolidating their power for an indefinite future.
As most people should know, in the early 1930s the Soviet regime forcibly starved the inhabitants of fertile areas of Ukraine, the North Caucasus (now part of Russia) and Kazakhstan, all regions that were once largely ethnically Ukrainian. By starving productive Ukrainians to death, the Kremlin furthered two of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin’s policy imperatives: ‘dekulakization’ (liquidating affluent and better-off farmers who were recalcitrant toward Soviet power) and ‘collectivization’ (replacing private property in land with ‘collective farms’ controlled by the Soviet Communist Party).
The late historian Robert Conquest wrote this in the introduction to his study of this episode in history, The Harvest of Sorrow:
Fifty years ago as I write these words, the Ukraine and the Ukrainian, Cossack and other areas to its east – a great stretch of territory with some forty million inhabitants – was like one vast Belsen. A quarter of the rural population, men, women and children, lay dead or dying, the rest in various stages of debilitation with no strength to bury their families or neighbors. At the same time, (as at Belsen), well-fed squads of police or party officials supervised the victims.
This was the climax of the ‘revolution from above’, as Stalin put it, in which he and his associates crushed two elements seen as irremediably hostile to the regime: the peasantry of the USSR as a whole, and the Ukrainian nation.
In terms of regimes and policies fifty years is a long time. In terms of individual lives, not so long. I have met men and women who went through the experiences you will read of as children or even as young adults. Among them were people with ‘survivors’ guilt’ – that irrational shame that they should be the ones to live on when their friends, parents, brothers and sisters died, which is also to be found among the survivors of the Nazi camps.
At a time when the capitalist United States was experiencing the Great Depression, the communist Soviet Union – ruled by the autocrat Joseph Stalin – sought to reap the global propaganda benefits from exporting grain in vast quantities, making it appear that the new ‘workers’ state’ was flourishing with a surplus of food while the ordinary people of the exploitative West suffered from privation and poverty. In fact, hunger plagued the Soviet empire at the time, and Western countries did make attempts to render aid. But Stalin refused any outside help. Conquest continues:
[I]n 1932-33 came what may be described as a terror-famine inflicted on the collectivized peasants of the Ukraine and the largely Ukrainian Kuban (together with the Don and Volga areas) by the methods of setting for them grain quotas far above the possible, removing every handful of food, and preventing help from outside – even from other areas of the USSR – from reaching the starving. This action, even more destructive of life than those of 1929-32, was accompanied by a wide-ranging attack on all Ukrainian cultural and intellectual centers and leaders, and on the Ukrainian churches. The supposed contumaciousness of the Ukrainian peasants in not surrendering grain they did not have was explicitly blamed on nationalism: all of which was in accord with Stalin’s dictum that the national problem was in essence a peasant problem. The Ukrainian peasant thus suffered in double guise – as a peasant and as a Ukrainian.
None of this history has ever been convenient for subsequent governments in Moscow, whether Soviet or post-Soviet. The official Kremlin line today is that – if indeed there was a famine at all – it was a tragic accident, and in no way deliberate. How, indeed, could Russian President Vladimir Putin admit that the Soviet authorities committed de facto genocide by starvation in the 1930s at a time when he is attempting to encourage popular nostalgia for the Soviet era? More specifically, as the current Russian regime implements a policy of destroying all imported food in reaction to international sanctions, it would be counterproductive to shed public light on the history of hunger in Russia itself during the last century. As the journalist and author Masha Gessen writes in a recent article, ‘A Country Haunted by Starvation Burns Its Food,’ in The New Yorker magazine:
The entire history of the twentieth century in Russia is possibly best told through a chronology of hunger. There were the post-Revolutionary manmade famines that killed millions in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and what is now Russia. The famine designed by Stalin was followed by one invented by Hitler: the single most traumatic and best remembered narrative of the Second World War in Russia comes from the Siege of Leningrad, during which hundreds of thousands died of starvation. The postwar years in the Soviet Union were hungry. A brief period when most people seemed to have enough to eat followed, only to give way to the crippling food shortages of the nineteen-seventies and the rations introduced in the late eighties. Then came the hell for many people that was the nineties, with its multitude experiences of hunger. Some people remember the utterly barren store shelves in 1991. Others recall the salary arrears of the mid- and late nineties, when state-enterprise workers would not see payments for many months at a time and the lucky ones lived off their land allotments, where they planted potatoes.
Then there were the unlucky ones. In 1999, I interviewed squatters who were living in a dilapidated building in the Far East; they had come there from a nearby village in search of food. Prior to moving, they, like the rest of the people in their village, had spent a month eating supplies salvaged off a ship that had wrecked nearby. A young woman said that her sister had lost a two-month-old baby after she had given him powdered milk from the ship. She had no breast milk because she was so malnourished. If any of my interlocutors at the time are still alive, they are among the majority of Russians of all ages who have personal experience living with hunger or the immediate risk of hunger. Since the beginning of this century, Russia has experienced unprecedented prosperity, but the memory and threat of hunger is less than a generation away.
Thus, the political mood in Russia today, as in the time of Stalin, is that the country and its people have such an overabundance of food that foreign imports are not only unnecessary; they are unwelcome. The wiping from history of the 1932-33 famine, which Ukrainians call the ‘Holodomor,’ is part and parcel of this mood. But whatever the Russian people and their government may decide for themselves, the rest of the world has a duty not to let an unspeakable tragedy and wide-scale atrocity committed by the Soviet regime in the 1930s be forgotten. As the date for the dedication of a new memorial in Washington, DC, to the victims of the Holodomor approaches in November, it falls upon the civilized world to ensure that the brutal indifference currently gripping Russia does not succeed in rewriting this horrific chapter of human history, and in whitewashing tyranny and mass murder.
Censor.NET ~ 17 August 2015
The ‘DNR’ militants have decided to cleanse the territory under their control of monuments to the victims of the Holodomor and political repressions.
Such decision was taken on August 16th at the plenary session of the so-called ‘People’s Council of the DNR,’ Censor.NET reports with a link to the ‘Fourth Estate.’ The initiative for the destruction of monuments was made by DNR ‘MP’ Valery Skorokhodov.
Video of Valery Skorokhodov introducing his bill in the DNR ‘People’s Council’
‘This proposal arose in connection with the fact that the monument was erected without the approval of the territorial community, and with the aim of establishing historical justice. In addition, we propose adoption of additional measures in the prescribed manner to dismantle monuments and memorials to the victims of political repression and the Holodomor in the town of Snezhnoye,’ he said.
Other ‘members of parliament’ present in the courtroom supported Skorokhodov by unanimous vote. They called the destruction of monuments to victims of famine and repression a ‘restoration of historical justice.’
‘The ideological descendants of the Stalinist mass-murderers believe that victims of hunger do not have the right to be remembered and should be forgotten. It’s in any case amazing how there can be so much stupidity and malice in humans. And then they also say that the Holodomor was not a genocide of Ukrainians… Well, of course, this is evident too. They’re trying to kill still more, even than those who died 80 years ago, to dance on their bones. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know whether there will be a day of remembrance of the famine victims organized by the ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ as a holiday feast with a barbecue?’ Ukrainian blogger and journalist Denis Kazansky commented on the news.