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Wales Online | 11Jan2012 | Aled Blake

Was Western Mail journalist Gareth Jones killed for defying Stalin?

He was the pioneering journalist who exposed the deaths of 10 million people at the hands of Stalin’s regime. Now, investigative reporter John Sweeney tells Aled Blake he will never give up trying to find the killer of former Western Mail journalist Gareth Jones

Gareth Jones publicised one of modern Europe’s worst humanitarian disasters.

He uncovered the great famine in the Ukraine in the 1930s, which killed millions and has been blamed on the tyranny of Soviet dictator Stalin’s ruthless regime.

But Jones’ reports were ridiculed by Pulitzer Prize-winner Walter Duranty, who reported in the New York Times that there was no famine and very few deaths.

Jones had defied a state ban to go and see the disaster himself -- he was later killed in China and his death remains a mystery.

There is speculation that he was killed by Chinese and Soviet secret service agents, while there is another theory that he was assassinated by Japanese spies.

Now, BBC documentary maker and journalist John Sweeney -- known for his investigations for the likes of Panorama and Newsnight -- has followed in the footsteps of Jones through the Ukraine.

Mr Sweeney described Jones as a “hero” and said: “I think it’s quite likely that Stalin ordered Jones’ execution because he defied Stalin and told the story of the appalling famine.”

He highlighted the assassination of Stalin’s old adversary, Leon Trotsky, who was killed in Mexico -- as well as the deaths of many White Russians, the Communists’ opponents in the Russian Civil War, around Europe.

These killings pointed to Barry-born Jones being similarly targeted by secret police from the Soviet Union’s NKVD, said Mr Sweeney.

In the Radio 4 programme, But They Are Only Russians, Mr Sweeney follows in the footsteps of Jones and speaks to some of the famine’s survivors.

The harrowing story of the Ukraine famine -- the Holodomor -- was hushed up by the Soviet Union and there has been a similarly secretive attitude in the post-Communist Russia.

People were so desperate for food in the famine between 1932 and 1933 that some resorted to cannibalism.

Many historians agree that the famine was a premeditated act of ethnic cleansing on behalf of Stalin, who was stamping out a rise in Ukrainian nationalism.

Mr Sweeney said he hoped that presidential elections this year would usher in a more open government which would see Soviet archives released to the public – but that was more hope than optimism.

“I think [Jones] was set on by the NKVD and it was they who effectively ordered his death,” he said.

“Wouldn’t it be great if one day there is a new government in Russia and they will open up the secret police archives and the truth will be told?

“I want to know the truth about the death of Gareth Jones, he was a great man and a great reporter.

“The Ukraine is a troubled country and even now you get a sense of how ridiculously brave he was in going out there.

“It really was the back of beyond and the old people I spoke to out there had these horrific stories of the famine.”

Mr Sweeney said Jones “told the truth about Stalin”.

“It was before the great George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 and I do feel people on the left, like George Bernard Shaw and HG Wells, went to Russia and licked the boots of Stalin -- but they were very wrong,” he said.

“Stalin was in many ways no better than Hitler -- 10 million people died in that famine.

“After 1945 the people of West Germany did their best to face up to their awful history of Hitler, but that hasn’t happened in modern Russia with Stalin.

“You go to a Metro station in Moscow and there are pictures of Stalin on the wall. The story is not being told properly to the current generation.

“In many ways Stalin is worse than Hitler because his malignant influence is being felt in his own country to this day.”

Jones and fellow reporter Malcolm Muggeridge are now revered in Ukraine.

Discussion of the famine was strictly suppressed, and Ukrainians themselves have only become fully aware of the events since the fall of communism.

When Jones announced at a press conference in Berlin on March 29, 1933, that millions were starving in Ukraine as a result of Stalin’s five-year-plan, several foreign correspondents rushed to rubbish the story.

The most vocal was Duranty of the New York Times. He dismissed Jones’ eye-witness account as “a big scare story” and insisted there was “no actual starvation”.

In May 1932 the New York Times printed Jones’ response to the controversy. In a furious attack on the coterie of foreign correspondents, Jones congratulated “the Soviet Foreign Office on its skill in concealing the true situation in the USSR”.

Jones, who was born in Barry in 1905, was regarded as one of the most talented journalists of his generation. He wrote for the Western Mail, The Times and The Manchester Guardian as well as the Berliner Tageblatt and American newspapers.

Mr Sweeney said the famine was the “great underreported crime of the 20th century”.

He said: “It’s possible Jones was killed by the Japanese in China, but the German guy travelling with him thinks it was Stalin.

“The whole thing reads like a thriller. This man was a great Welshman and his memory should be kept alive.

“The people who tried to tell the story were silenced and we owe it to them to find out what happened.

“As long as I’m alive I will always be digging and pressing, trying to find out the truth about this.

“There is no reason for the Kremlin to keep the secret police archives locked up from 1933. I will keep on asking them to open them up. What have I got to be afraid of?”

But They Are Only Russians is broadcast on Radio 4 tomorrow fri at 11am


Subterranean:  4:38 PM on 12Jan2012

Being the psychopathic mass murderer that he was, Stalin would have had no qualms about murdering anyone who crossed him. He was no better than mafia boss Al Capone, but on a much grander scale, and with more oppotunities and the means to kill whoever he wanted.

Indeed, like all murderous dictators throughout history, not even his own family and closest friends were safe if his paranoia deemed that they too were a threat to his power.

The famine that Jones reported on was not to be exposed, as Stalin wanted the world to see him and his regime as the model for a future communist society.

Of course, he cared not a jot for the welfare of his people. His only concern was self preservation. Sound familiar? Take a look at North Korea or Burma for the modern version of what paranoid leaders inflict on their victims.

It's always been a mystery to me how one man can have such a devastating effect on millions. Why do those millions allow it to happen, when clearly, one bullet would solve the issue altogether.

Attempts were made on his life of course, just like they were on Hitler's, but is there truth in the saying that the devil looks after his own? Does Satan really throw a defensive wall around these evil towrags, that they are immune to the justice that they so deserve?

Both Stalin and Hitler escaped the justice that should have been inflicted upon them, but as has been pointed out, Stalin's fate in one way was worse, because his image still dominates post Soviet Russia. Unlike Germany where Hitler has been recognised for the evil that he was, and the Germans have tried to make reparations to the victims of Nazism.

No such reparations have been made to any country that fell under the communist heel, and Putin, from what I see of him, seems to fancy himself as a latter day Stalin or uncrowned Tsar.

There again, the Russians have always been slaves, and Putin's regime seems to confirm that they will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

I hope I'm wrong, because the Russian people are a warm hearted and welcoming people once you get to know them. It would be sad to see them ground under heel of another despot like Putin for another indeterminate period of time.

 11:07 PM on 12Jan2012

Without doubt, Gareth Jones' heroic endeavours in peeling back the lies from this historical episode should be recognised.

But, no matter how hard the Russians try to cover up this story, it won't go away -- a recently published memoir opens with a personal account of the Holodomor, and describes the horror of living under Soviet rule: