Kyiv Post | 26Apr2010 | Natalia A. Feduschak

Europe takes up Holodomor debate this week

LVIV, Ukraine -- After two years of often intense negotiations, Ukraine looks poised to score a major political victory this week when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is expected to declare the country’s 1932-33 famine a criminal act.

Olha Herasymiuk, a member of Ukraine’s delegation to PACE, said there is every indication that the body will call the country’s Holodomor a crime against humanity, but won’t go as far as calling it genocide.

Europeans “didn’t want to put the question as genocide because of the relationship with Russia. They aren’t ready for that. But this resolution is acceptable to us,” Herasymiuk said.

Ukraine’s Holodomor was a man-made famine instigated in 1932-33 by Josef Stalin that left some seven million people dead. Some Western historians have argued the famine was resultant in part because of Stalin’s ambitious collectivization policies. Ukrainians, however, have said the Holodomor was part of a larger campaign by Moscow to ensure their people remained subjugated to Russian rule.

PACE will meet in Strasbourg, France from April 26-April 30, 2010. Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych is expected to address the council on April 27, 2010, although it is unclear if he will discuss the Holodomor resolution, which will be taken up by the Europeans the next day.

Garnering international recognition of the Holodomor was a cornerstone policy of Yanukovych’s predecessor, Victor Yushchenko. Since his election two months ago, Yanukovych has distanced himself from the famine, going as far as removing the Holodomor section from the presidential website which Yushchenko had initiated and updated throughout his five-year term.

Even though some members of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions have publicly spoken out against the resolution, the documents the party provided as attachments to the decree indicate the Holodomor was criminal, Herasymiuk said.

Kyiv has lobbied PACE to recognize the Holodomor as genocide against the Ukrainian people since 2008 and in that year submitted a proposal to the Council to discuss the issue.

While the PACE draft resolution pays tribute to those who perished from hunger in the 1930’s in other former Soviet republics, particularly Kazakhstan, Moldova and Russia, it pays special heed to the tragedy suffered by Ukrainians.

“The report honors the memory of all those who perished in this human disaster, and strongly condemns the policies of the totalitarian Stalinist regime, which led to the death of millions of innocent people, as a crime against humanity,” noted rapporteur Mevlut Cavusoglu in a statement posted on the PACE website.

He noted that his own fact-finding mission to the region leaves “no doubt that the Soviet regime bears the responsibility for the deaths of millions of people in Ukraine as a result of its actions and policies, and is guilty of the crime against its own people.”

Among its points, the resolution calls on Council of Europe member states and those from the former Soviet Union to open their national archives for further study of the famine, refrain from exerting political pressure on scholars and historians and to not prejudge the outcome of independent scientific research.

One of the goals of the resolution is to ensure the Holodomor becomes part of international lexicon, as much as is the Holocaust, Herasymiuk said.

In a statement posted on its website, Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party welcomed PACE’s review, but said the famine should be treated as genocide.

Volodymyr Telishak, a historian at the Ukrainian Institute for National Memory, which has dedicated significant study to the Holodomor, said, however, it was less important that the famine be called genocide.

“In Ukraine, it is seen as genocide under a law that was passed in 2005. What’s more important is that it is qualified as a crime by the Parliamentary Assembly,” he said. “The problem we have now is that the Russian leadership is rebuilding history where Stalin is at the center.”

Many historians said the Holodomor was Stalin’s obsessive determination to squash any attempts by Ukrainians at statehood..

“Ukraine was the Trojan Horse of the Soviet Union,” said Yaroslav Hrytsak, head of the Institute for Historical Research at Lviv’s Ivan Franko National University. “If the state would have lost Ukraine, then Stalin would have lost power.”

Ukraine’s peasantry favored private property, while Ukraine’s Communist Party was dominated by intellectuals who showed their opposition to Moscow’s policies. In time, many of the party members also perished during the Holodomor.

“His evil genius was to kill the spirit of protest in the people,” Herasymiuk said.

Russia had resisted the resolution. But because it comes on the heels of the April 10 plane crash in western Russia that took the lives of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 other individuals, the Holodomor resolution may put Russia’s leadership in a particularly awkward position.

Kaczynski was on his way to pay homage to some 20,000 Polish officers who were murdered by Soviet authorities in the Katyn forest near Smolensk when his plane crashed. For decades the Soviets denied the secret police had killed the officers, blaming the massacre on the Nazis. Moscow only recently admitted the Soviet leadership was to blame.

“If we look at what happened at Katyn, then we have to judge Stalin.” Hrytsak said. The quandary from Moscow’s point of view is that if Stalin was a criminal regarding the Poles, then he was a criminal regarding Russians as well.

“That question creates discomfort,” Hrytsak said. “Russia is now at a crossroads of (how it approaches) national memory. The Holodomor isn’t the final point in the discussion, or the final act.”

Natalia A. Feduschak is the Kyiv Post’s correspondent in western Ukraine. She can be reached at [email protected].