Denial of the Holodomor
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Denial of the Holodomor (Ukrainian: Заперечення Голодомору, Russian: Отрицание Голодомора) is the claim that the 1932–1933 Holodomor, a large-scale man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine, did not occur or diminishing the scale and significance of the famine. Official Soviet propaganda denied the famine and suppressed information about it from its very beginning until the 1980s. It was also circulated by some Western journalists and intellectuals. It was echoed at the time of the famine by some prominent Western journalists, including The New York Times' Walter Duranty and Louis Fischer. The denial of the famine was a highly successful and well orchestrated disinformation campaign by the Soviet government. According to Robert Conquest, it was the first major instance in which Soviet authorities adopted the Big Lie propaganda technique in order to sway world opinion, and it was followed by similar campaigns with regard to the Moscow Trials and the denial of the existence of the Gulag labor camp system.
Cover-up of the famine
The Soviet leadership undertook extensive efforts to prevent the spread of any information about the famine by keeping state communications top secret and taking other measures to prevent word of the famine from spreading. When Ukrainian peasants traveled north to Russia seeking bread, Joseph Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov sent a secret telegram to the party and provincial police chiefs with instructions to turn them back, alleging Polish agents were attempting to create a famine scare. OGPU chairman Genrikh Yagoda subsequently reported that over 200,000 peasants had been turned back.
Stanislav Kosior sent a telegram to the politburo assuring that there was no major famine in the Ukrainian SSR. Joseph Stalin began to receive reports of Kosoir's deception and urged the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine to take appropriate measures to prevent a crop failure. An excerpt from the protocol number of the meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist party (Bolsheviks) "Regarding Measures to Prevent Failure to Sow in Ukraine, March 16th, 1932" shows Stalins feared that the severity of the famine had been understated, saying:
"The Political Bureau believes that shortage of seed grain in Ukraine is many times worse than what was described in comrade Kosior's telegram; therefore, the Political Bureau recommends the Central Committee of the Communist party of Ukraine to take all measures within its reach to prevent the threat of failing to sow [field crops] in Ukraine." Signed: Secretary of the Central Committee — J. Stalin
Soviet head-of-state Mikhail Kalinin responded to Western offers of food by telling of "political cheats who offer to help the starving Ukraine," and commented, "Only the most decadent classes are capable of producing such cynical elements."
In an interview with Gareth Jones in March 1933, Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov stated, "Well, there is no famine", and went on to say, "You must take a longer view. The present hunger is temporary. In writing books you must have a longer view. It would be difficult to describe it as hunger."
On instructions from Litvinov, Boris Skvirsky, embassy counselor of the recently opened Soviet Embassy in the United States, published a letter on 3 January 1934, in response to a pamphlet about the famine. In his letter, Skvirsky stated that the idea that the Soviet government was "deliberately killing the population of the Ukraine" "wholly grotesque." He claimed that the Ukrainian population had been increasing at an annual rate of 2 percent during the preceding five years and asserted that the death rate in Ukraine "was the lowest of that of any of the constituent republics composing the Soviet Union", concluding that it "was about 35 percent lower than the pre-war death rate of tsarist days."
William Henry Chamberlin was a Moscow correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor for 10 years; in 1934 he was reassigned to the Far East. After he left the Soviet Union he wrote his account of the situation in Ukraine and North Caucasus (Poltava, Bila Tserkva, and Kropotkin). Chamberlin later published a couple of books: Russia's Iron Age and The Ukraine: A Submerged Nation. He wrote in the Christian Science Monitor in 1934 that "the evidence of a large-scale famine was so overwhelming, was so unanimously confirmed by the peasants that the most 'hard-boiled' local officials could say nothing in denial".
Falsification and suppression of evidence
The true number of dead was concealed. At the Kiev Medical Inspectorate, for example, the actual number of corpses, 9,472, was recorded as only 3,997. The GPU was directly involved in the deliberate destruction of actual birth and death records, as well as the fabrication of false information to cover up information regarding the causes and scale of death in Ukraine. Similar falsifications of official records were widespread.
The January 1937 census, the first in 11 years, was intended to reflect the achievements of Stalin's rule. It became evident that population growth particularly in Ukraine failed to meet official targets—evidence of the mortality resulting from the famine and from associated indirect demographic losses. Those collecting the data, senior statisticians with decades of experience, were arrested and executed, including three successive heads of the Soviet Central Statistical Administration. The census data itself was locked away for half a century in the Russian State Archive of the Economy.
The subsequent 1939 census was organized in a manner that certainly inflated data on population numbers. It showed a population figure of 170.6 million people, manipulated so as to match the numbers stated by Joseph Stalin in his report to the 18th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party that March. No other census in the Soviet Union was conducted until 1959.
Soviet campaign in the 1980s
The Soviet Union denied the existence of the famine until its 50th anniversary, in 1983, when the worldwide Ukrainian community coordinated famine remembrance. The Ukrainian diaspora exerted significant pressure on the media and various governments, including the United States and Canada, to raise the issue of the famine with the government of the Soviet Union.
While the Soviet government admitted that some peasantry died, it also sought to launch a disinformation campaign, in February 1983, to blame drought. The head of the directorate for relations with foreign countries for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), A. Merkulov, charged Leonid Kravchuk, the chief ideologue for the Communist Party in Ukraine, with finding rainfall evidence for the Great famine. This new evidence was to be sent to the Novosti press centers in the U.S. and Canada, denouncing the "antidemocratic base of the Ukrainian bourgeois Nationalists, the collaboration of the Banderists and the Hitlerite Fascists during the Second World War." Kravchuk's inquiry into the rainfalls for the 1932-1933 period found that they were within normal parameters. Nevertheless, the official position regarding drought did not change.
In February 1983, Alexander Yakovlev, the Soviet Ambassador to Canada, in a secret analysis "Some thoughts regarding the advertising of the Ukrainian SSR Pavilion held at the International Exposition "Man and the world" held in Canada" put forward a prognosis for a campaign being prepared to bring international attention to the Ukrainian Holodomor which was spearheaded by the Ukrainian nationalist community. Yakovlev proposed a list of concrete proposals to "neutralise the enemy ideological actions of the Ukrainian bourgeoise nationalists".
By April 1983, the bureau of the Soviet Novosti Press Agency had prepared and sent out a special press release denying the occurrence of the 1933 famine in Ukraine. This press release was sent to every major newspaper, radio and television station as well as University in Canada. It was also sent out to all members of the Canadian parliament.
On 5 July 1983 the Soviet Embassy issued an official note of protest regarding the planned opening of a monument in memory of the victims of the Holodomor in Edmonton attempting to smear the opening of the monument.
In October 1983, the World Congress of Ukrainians led by V-Yu Danyliv attempted to launch an international tribunal to judge the facts regarding the Holodomor. At the 4th World Congress of Ukrainians held in December 1983, a resolution was passed to form such an international tribunal.
Former Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk recalled that he was responsible for countering the Ukrainian Diaspora's public education campaign of the 1980s, marking 50 years of the Soviet terror famine in 1983: " In the early 1980s many publications began appearing in the Western press on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most horrific tragedies in the history of our people. A counter-propaganda machine was put into motion, and I was one of its wheels." The first book on the famine was published in Ukraine only in 1989, after a major shake-up that occurred in the Communist Party of Ukraine when Volodymyr Ivashko replaced Volodymyr Shcherbytsky and the Political Bureau decided that such book could be published. However, even in this book, "the most terrifying photographs were not approved for print, and their number was reduced from 1,500 to around 350."
The United States Congress created the Commission on the Ukraine Famine in 1986. Soviet authorities were correct in their expectation that the commission would lay responsibility for the famine on the Soviet state.
Denial outside the USSR
According to Patrick Wright, Robert C. Tucker, Eugene Lyons, Mona Charen and Thomas Woods one of the first Western Holodomor deniers was Walter Duranty, the winner of the 1932 Pulitzer prize in journalism in the category of correspondence, for his dispatches on Soviet Union and the working out of the Five Year Plan. While the famine was raging, he wrote in the pages of The New York Times that "any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda", and that "there is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition."
Duranty was well aware of the famine. He said in private to Eugene Lyons and reported to the British Embassy that the population of Ukraine and Lower Volga had "decreased" by six to seven million. However, in his reports, Duranty downplayed the impact of food shortages in Ukraine. As Duranty wrote in a dispatch from Moscow in March 1933, "Conditions are bad, but there is no famine... But—to put it brutally—you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs."
Duranty also wrote denunciations of those who wrote about the famine, accusing them of being reactionaries and anti-Bolshevik propagandists. In August 1933, Cardinal Theodor Innitzer of Vienna called for relief efforts, stating that the Ukrainian famine was claiming lives "likely... numbered... by the millions" and driving those still alive to infanticide and cannibalism. The New York Times, 20 August 1933, reported Innitzer's charge and published an official Soviet denial: "in the Soviet Union we have neither cannibals nor cardinals". The next day, the Times added Duranty's own denial.
British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge (who went hopefully to live in the Soviet Union in 1932, but soon became disillusioned) said of Duranty that he "always enjoyed his company; there was something vigorous, vivacious, preposterous, about his unscrupulousness which made his persistent lying somehow absorbing." Muggeridge characterised Duranty as "the greatest liar of any journalist I have met in 50 years of journalism." Others have characterized Duranty as "the number one Useful Idiot for Lenin first, and later for Stalin."
An international campaign for the retraction of Duranty's Pulitzer Prize was launched in 2003 by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association and its supporters. The newspaper, however, declined to relinquish it, arguing that Duranty received the prize for a series of reports about the Soviet Union, eleven of which were published in June 1931. In 1990, the Times admitted that his was "some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper."
Some historians consider Duranty's reports from Moscow to be crucial in the decision taken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to grant the Soviet Union diplomatic recognition in 1933. Bolshevik Karl Radek said that was indeed the case.
By prominent visitors to the USSR
Prominent writers from Ireland and Britain who visited the Soviet Union in 1934, such as George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, are also on record as denying the existence of the famine in Ukraine.
In 1934 the British Foreign Office in the House of Lords stated that there was no evidence to support the allegations against the Soviet government regarding the famine in Ukraine, based on the testimony of Sir John Maynard, a renowned famine expert who visited Ukraine in the summer of 1933 and rejected "tales of famine-genocide propagated by the Ukrainian Nationalists".
The height of denial was reached during a visit to Ukraine carried out between 26 August – 9 September 1933, by French Prime Minister Édouard Herriot, who denied accounts of the famine and said that Soviet Ukraine was "like a garden in full bloom". The day before his arrival, all beggars, homeless children and starving people were removed from the streets. Shop windows in local stores were filled with food, but purchases were forbidden, and anyone coming too close to the stores was arrested. The streets were washed. Just like all other Western visitors, Herriot met fake "peasants", all selected Communists or Komsomol members, who showed him healthy cattle. Herriot declared to the press that there was no famine in Ukraine, that he did not see any trace of it, and that this showed adversaries of the Soviet Union were spreading the rumour. "When one believes that the Ukraine is devastated by famine, allow me to shrug my shoulders", he declared. The 13 September 1933 issue of Pravda was able to write that Herriot "categorically contradicted the lies of the bourgeoisie press in connection with a famine in the USSR."
The lack of knowledge of the famine was observed by English writer George Orwell, who commented that "huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English Russophiles". In 1945, Orwell wrote, "[I]t was considered equally proper to publicise famines when they happened in India and to conceal them when they happened in the Ukraine. And if this was true before the war, the intellectual atmosphere is certainly no better now." Nigel Colley has written on the influence of the Ukrainian famine, and the Holodomor denial of Duranty, on Orwell's book Animal Farm.
In the 1980s, the Soviet Communist Party approached the Canadian Communist Party to engage journalist Douglas Tottle to prepare counter-propaganda materials under the title "Fraud, Famine and Ukrainian Fascism". Before final publication, the official reviewers of the tome in Kiev suggested that the name of the book be changed, as stated in their explanation "Ukrainian fascism never existed".
In 1987, Tottle published his controversial book as Fraud, Famine, and Fascism: the Ukrainian Genocide Myth from Hitler to Harvard. His book, published by Progress Publishers in Toronto, appeared around the same time Ukrainian Communist party leader Volodymyr Shcherbytsky publicly acknowledged the famine, in December 1987. As a result, the book was subsequently withdrawn from circulation. In a review of Tottle's book in the Ukrainian Canadian Magazine, published by the pro-Communist Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, Wilfred Szczesny wrote: "Members of the general public who want to know about the famine, its extent and causes, and about the motives and techniques of those who would make this tragedy into something other than what it was will find Tottle's work invaluable" (The Ukrainian Canadian, April 1988, p. 24), on which historian Roman Serbyn commented that "in the era of glasnost, Szczesny could have rendered his readers no greater disservice". Some of Tottle's material appeared in a 1988 article in the Village Voice, "In Search of a Soviet Holocaust: A 55-Year-Old Famine Feeds the Right".
In 1988, the International Commission of Inquiry Into the 1932–33 Famine in Ukraine was set up to establish whether the famine existed and its cause. Tottle was invited by the commission to attend the hearings, but he ignored the request. While the commission was organized along judicial lines, it had no judicial power to compel witnesses to attend or testify. However, Tottle's book was examined during the Brussels sitting of the commission, held between 23–27 May 1988, with testimony from various expert witnesses. The commission president Professor Jacob Sundberg subsequently concluded that Tottle was not alone in his enterprise to deny the famine on the basis that material included in his book could not have been available to a private person without official Soviet assistance.
The issue of the Holodomor has been a point of contention between Russia and Ukraine, as well as within Ukrainian politics. According to opinion polls, Russia has experienced an increase in pro-Stalin sentiments since the year 2000, with over half viewing Stalin favourably in 2015. Since independence, Ukrainian governments have passed a number of laws dealing with the Holodomor and the Soviet past, with the latest being the "Decommunization laws" of 2015. The Russian government does not recognize the famine as an act of genocide against Ukrainians, viewing it rather as a "tragedy" that affected the Soviet Union as a whole. A 2008 letter from Russian president Dmitry Medvedev to Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko asserted that the famine "was not targeted at extermination of any single nation", and accused Ukraine of exploiting it for political ends. In November 2010 a leaked confidential U.S. diplomatic cable revealed that Russia had allegedly pressured its neighbors not to support the designation of the Holodomor as a genocide at the United Nations. According to another leaked document, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described Israel's recognition of the Holodomor as "historical revisionism".
In 2006, the All-Ukrainian Public Association "Intelligentsia of Ukraine for Socialism" published a pamphlet titled "The Myth of the Holodomor" by G. S. Tkachenko. The pamphlet claimed that Ukrainian Nationalists and the US government were responsible for creating the "myth." Russian publicist Yuri Mukhin has a published a book titled "Hysterical Women of the Holodomor", dismissing Holodomor as "Russophobia" and "a trump card of the Ukrainian Nazis." Sigizmund Mironin's "Holodomor in the Rus" argued that the cause of the famine was not Stalin's policies, but rather the chaos engendered by the New Economic Policy.
Russian state media ran several articles denying the severity and causes of the Ukrainian famine.
On 28 November 2006, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed a law recognizing the 1932–1933 Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. The voting figures were as follows: supporting the bill were BYuT—118 deputies, NSNU—79 deputies, Socialists—30 deputies, 4 independent deputies, and the Party of Regions—2 deputies (200 deputies did not cast a vote). The Communist Party of Ukraine voted against the bill. In all, 233 deputies supported the bill—more than the minimum of 226 votes required to pass it into law.
A draft law "On Amendments to the Criminal and the Procedural Criminal Codes of Ukraine" was submitted by President Yushchenko for consideration by the Ukrainian Parliament. The draft law envisaged prosecution for public denial of the Holodomor Famine of 1932–1933 in Ukraine as a fact of genocide of the Ukrainian people, and of the Holocaust as the fact of genocide of the Jewish people. The draft law foresaw that public denial, as well as production and dissemination of materials denying the above, shall be punished by a fine of 100 to 300 untaxed minimum salaries, or imprisonment of up to two years. The draft law, however, failed to receive support from incoming President Viktor Yanukovych, who, following his inauguration in 2010, declared: "it would be wrong and unfair to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide against one nation"—this among a number of actions seen as his pursuing a more Russocentric policy. However, in 2011 he stated: "Terrible years of totalitarianism have been a spiritual catastrophe: numerous churches were demolished, hundreds of thousands of peasants, workers, and intellectuals were physically eliminated or sent to the Gulag camps, almost every Ukrainian family suffered," and in 2012 affirmed: "This crime has changed the history of Ukrainian people forever. It has been one of the severest challenges of Ukrainians. Holodomor not only killed people, but also had the purpose of causing fear and obedience."
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The Soviet Union dismissed all references to the famine as anti-Soviet propaganda. Denial of the famine declined after the Communist Party lost power and the Soviet empire disintegrated.
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After over half a century of denial, in January 1990 the Communist Party of Ukraine adopted a special resolution admitting that the Ukrainian famine had indeed occurred, cost millions of lives...
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He (Duranty) had become creatures of the Soviet censors
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He [Prince Andrew, Duke of York] stated the following story related to him recently by Azerbaijan's President Aliyev. Aliyev had received a letter from President Medvedev telling him that if Azerbaijan supported the designation of the Bolshevik artificial famine in Ukraine as 'genocide' at the United Nations, 'then you can forget about seeing Nagorno-Karabakh ever again.' Prince Andrew added that every single other regional President had told him of receiving similar 'directive' letters from Medvedev except for [Kyrgyz president] Bakiyev.Cite journal requires
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The FMs discussed expanding bilateral economic ties, and Lavrov raised Russian concern that Israel was partaking in 'historical revisionism' that sought to blame Russia for the Ukrainian famine of the 1930s.Cite journal requires
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