Was Holodomor, a catastrophic Soviet famine of 1932-33, an ethnic genocide against Ukrainians or was it an unintended result of criminal Soviet mismanagement, which prioritized political and economic goals over millions of human lives?
Canada agreed on the answer to that question in 2008 when the country became the first nation to declare the famine an act of genocide and established a national Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (Holodomor) Memorial Day. (Saskatchewan, Alberta and some other provinces passed similar legislation as well). The U.S. joined other 30-plus countries on that position in the end of 2018. The rest of the world either recognizes it as a crime against humanity, criminal act, tragedy or as ethnicity-blind famine.
Even though it seemed that for Canada the topic has been out of the question for over 10 years, last week the sparkles went flying again in Alberta where a group of students called for the lecturer to be fired over calling Holodomor a “myth.”
What happened there and what has Dougal MacDonald found that in his opinion overrides the previous research?
Like with many major historical events, especially those that happened in the USSR where everything was covered with layers of secrecy labels, paranoia, and often-times stupidity, it’s hard to say with a 100 per cent certainty what exactly happened and why. There are also many sides to the story.
However, the evidence suggests that, first, in 1932-33 some grain-producing areas of the Soviet Union including parts of Ukraine, the Volga River region in Russia, parts of Kazakhstan and some others experienced severe droughts. Second, due to industrialization, the demand for grain was growing, but much-needed food from producing, but already starving regions was redirected to republics, which the Moscow Soviet government considered a priority. Third, severely strict measures were applied to peoples in the regions experiencing a famine. And finally, pheasants were systematically prevented from leaving their starving villages, which helped to keep the image of the successful Soviet state Stalin was creating clear and to ensure that the West, a lot of which at that time was falling for the beautiful idea of all-prosperity communism, would remain blind. (There is much more to say about the times and decisions that were made, worsening or affecting the tragedy, but unfortunately, the column is only so long. Holodomor Reader by Bohdan Klid is one of the well-written pieces on the topic).
At the same time Soviet Ukraine, the Russian all-time closest ally and one of the strongest and the wealthiest countries in the communist union, had demonstrated the passion for more autonomy. Most people nowadays have heard about Stalin’s paranoia, appetite for power and total indifference towards humans’ lives. A pinch of doubt was enough for the “Great Helmsman” (as ironical as it is, Stalin received this name in 1934) to arrest or execute millions. But was he aiming at erasing Ukrainians as a nation? I don’t have enough knowledge to answer that question. But I know at the least that everything was done to ensure that the “fraternal people” were drained of blood, weakened and terrified to act or speak up.
For decades the famine was buried under layers of lies. However, the revelation of documents and first quiet, but steadily gaining voices testimonies uncovered the scale of the crime.
So what did MacDonald state? According to his research, Holodomor apparently was a Nazi-concocted myth to destroy the image of the USSR, the theory that, in my opinion, fails in most spots. For many, the topic is still controversial, but even Russia, which doesn’t recognize Holodomor as genocide, stating that there is no proof that it was organized along ethnic lines, condemns the Soviet policies and recognizes the famine that claimed millions of lives.
With the freedom of speech, MacDonald has all the rights to express his views on his Facebook page, but it’s a bit weird to see not just someone, but a professor with access to information and interest in the topic, trying to rewrite history.
The entire situation felt like an attempt to once again manipulate the sensitive (and unfortunately highly political) topic to get some sparks going, to attract attention and once again to pick on the liberal government.
But the bottom line is, today it’s impossible to deny that millions of people starved to death. It’s impossible to deny that not only nothing was done to improve the situation, but steps were taken to worsen it. It’s impossible to deny that many lives could have been saved, be it a different country, regime and time. And it’s impossible to deny that Holodomor is still a bleeding wound.
And like with any trauma denial only delays healing, which needs recognition and reconciliation.