[Original] [Letter to Miliband]

ePoshta | 12Apr2008 | Steve Komarnyckyj, [W.Z. Comments]

UK Government refuses to recognise the Holodomor as a genocide

I am forwarding you the research which the UK government uses to justify their refusal to recognise the Holodomor as a genocide. These documents, which include official advice circulated within the British Government and an email from an anonymous "expert" official have been obtained under Freedom of Information.

I would be grateful if readers of e-POSHTA considered writing to the UK Government commenting on the research which they have used to justify a refusal to recognise the Holodomor as a genocide -- this would begin at least to generate some pressure for change, particularly if people were then to forward their criticisms to the British government and demonstrate that the arguments used in these documents are deeply inadequate.

I actually feel embarrassed as a British person -- the documents are lamentably poor and deeply Ukrainophobic.

Mr. David Miliband
Foreign Secretary
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London SW1 2AH
[email protected]

Ask the Foreign Secretary for the academic material used to provide replies by the Europe Minister on the Famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine and any internal emails associated with the production of this material. Once people have the material they can send a detailed critique -- I am happy to suggest or highlight the numerous inaccuracies in the document. Only consistent pressure can change the UK government's position on the Holodomor and their support is a key to international recognition.

He will pass your request on but he needs to know.

Yours truly

Steve Komarnyckyj
[email protected]
Editor of http://www.holodomor.org.uk/
RAGE Activist

Internal Document � dated 30 November 2006


1. I attach a note which looks at the Ukrainian (Soviet) famine of 1932-3. I am grateful to �� for comments on an earlier draft.

2. Main points:

The famine has become a major political issue in Ukraine during the last 25 years, largely as a result of lobbying by the Ukrainian diaspora, the break-up of the USSR and its utility in support of nation-building in independent Ukraine (paras 2-3);

The consensus among historians is that the famine killed 3-6 million Ukrainians. Several factors caused the disaster. One was a policy of deliberate starvation by the Stalin leadership. The most controversial issue is whether the famine was an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. The evidence suggests not (paras 4-8);

The Kremlin opposes Ukrainian calls for the famine to be classed as genocide. This is a sore point in the bilateral relationship. But Russian views are complex (para 9); and

HMG's line on the famine is sound, but will probably need up-dating. In terms of language and handling, the Armenian 'genocide' may offer lessons (paras 10-14).

3. Comments welcome, as ever.

Research Analysts
Foreign & Commonwealth Office



1. This note looks at the Ukrainian (Soviet) famine of 1932-3. It covers the main areas of debate, in particular the question of whether the famine should be regarded as genocide. It also offers some thoughts on handling, drawing on the experience of the Armenian 'genocide'.


2. The Ukrainian (Soviet) famine (holodomor)[1] of 1932-3 attracted relatively little attention until the mid-1980s.
[W.Z. This "lack of attention" was because knowledge and information of the Holodomor was deliberately suppressed and downplayed by the various governments of Europe and the United States at that time and subsequently. There is absolutely no doubt that the governments of Britain, France, Italy, Germany and the United States were informed of the Holodomor by their secret services and their diplomatic missions located within the Soviet Union.]
It had long been a rallying-point before then for the overwhelmingly anti-Soviet Ukrainian diaspora, who held it up as proof of the murderous and anti-Ukrainian nature of the Soviet regime. But successive Soviet leaderships denied that it had taken place. Little serious academic research was undertaken. Soviet historians, with a few exceptions, echoed the Kremlin line. Their Western counterparts were more active and inquiring, but were hamstrung by lack of access to sources. It is only during the last quarter of a century that the famine has become a major issue of historical and political debate. The initial impetus came from the West, largely as a result of lobbying by the Ukrainian diaspora, which focussed its activities on marking the 50th anniversary in 1983. The results included a series of US congressional initiatives (notably, a congressional resolution and a congressional commission of investigation). Serious academic studies began to appear. A watershed was the publication in 1986 of Robert Conquest's Harvest of Sorrow. A second factor was the process of political reform in Gorbachev's USSR which provided greater scope for hitherto taboo subjects to be examined with greater freedom. The relaxation of controls also fed an upsurge of national unrest across the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, where the famine became a symbolic issue for the independence movement.
[W.Z. The Ukrainian independence movement has existed for centuries, ever since its incorporation into the Tsarist Russian Empire. At the end of WWI, Ukraine declared its independence on 22 January 1918 and the union of Eastern and Western Ukraine was proclaimed on 22 January 1919. Unfortunately, this independence was short-lived because the Western Powers cynically supported the division of Ukrainian ethnographic territory between the Bolshevik Russian Empire (Soviet Union) and Poland. Indeed, the Holodomor was specifically designed to crush this independence movement.]
The rising nationalist tide forced the Soviet authorities to shift their position on this issue, as on many others.[2] It was generally accepted in Ukraine by the time the USSR broke up that the famine had indeed taken place.

3. After languishing as a pubic issue for several years in the 1990s, the question acquired renewed prominence towards the end of the decade, as the regime of President Kuchma sought to use it as a way of building domestic political support. Having introduced a day of commemoration (26 November) in 1998, Kuchma went further in 2002 and signed a presidential decree asserting that the famine had in fact been 'genocide' against the Ukrainian nation. A parliamentary resolution in 2003 reiterated this view. More controversially, Ukraine later that year tabled a resolution to the UNGA calling for the famine to be recognised as genocide under the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. (It withdrew the draft, following Russian counter-lobbying and expressions of EU disagreement. It instead agreed a joint statement, co-signed by 25 countries including Russia, which referred to the famine as a 'national tragedy'.[W.Z. Illustrating the cynicism of 'realpolitik' !]) The Orange Revolution of 2004 brought to power individuals, notably President Yushchenko, who are convinced that the famine was genocide and who see this interpretation as a central part of their nation-building project (Yushchenko sponsored this week's Rada bill reaffirming the genocide line and condemning any public denial of the famine as illegal and sacrilegious). Opinion polls show that Yushchenko's view is not universally shared in Ukraine. According to a poll compiled earlier this month, 27.5% of people thought that the famine was an attempt to annihilate the Ukrainian people, whereas 45.5% blamed the Soviet authorities, but ascribed different motivations to Stalin and other leaders. It is interesting to note that Prime Minister Yanukovych, for example, referred to the famine earlier this week as a 'national tragedy'.


4. There are two main areas of disagreement among historians of the famine. The first of these is mortality. It is beyond doubt that the death toll was horrendous, but estimates vary. The consensus is in the region of 3-6 million, lower than the figure of 7-10 million given by Yushchenko at the holodomor commemoration on 25 November [2006?]. Conquest arrived at a figure of 7 million deaths from famine throughout the Soviet Union in 1932-3, including 5 million in Ukraine itself, plus another 1 million Ukrainians elsewhere in the USSR. RW Davies and Stephen Wheatcroft believe that the death toll was lower: 5.5-6.5 million for the USSR as a whole and 3-3.5 million for Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian historian Stanislav Kulchytsky, outright deaths in Ukraine numbered 3-3.5 million, with 'aggregate losses' (ie deaths, plus an estimate for unborn children) of 5 million. While less than the figure quoted by Yushchenko, 5 million deaths would still represent more than 15% of the population of Ukraine at the time, a loss of life with few recent parallels in peacetime.

[W.Z. On the contrary, Robert Conquest speculated that total deaths could have reached 11-14 million for the whole USSR. The infamous Walter Duranty, while publicly denying the Holodomor and deriding the eyewitness testimony of Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones, privately told British diplomats that the death toll could have reached 10 million. Josef Stalin himself told Winston Churchill that collectivization cost 10 million lives and was worse than WWII.]


5. By far the most controversial issue is causality. There are two key issues in this connection. First of all, was the famine the result of a deliberate policy of starvation implemented by the Stalinist leadership? The answer seems to be: yes, in part. There is now a powerful body of evidence which suggests that three factors brought about the famine. The main one, according to Davies and Wheatcroft, was the over-riding importance attached by the Kremlin to the policy of industrialisation at break-neck speed by ruthlessly squeezing the agricultural sector. This was to be achieved by stripping the countryside of food through forcible grain requisitions. The food would then be used to feed the USSR's rapidly-expanding urban work-force. A mixture of haste, ignorance, crude ideological fixations, incompetence, administrative chaos and mind-boggling cruelty caused the authorities to take way too much, thereby inflicting massive disruption on the rural sector, badly damaging crop rotations and the quality of cultivation, and forcing the peasantry to rely for food on their livestock, which in turn declined spectacularly. A second factor was unusually bad weather during the 1932 growing season. One historian, Mark Tauger, attaches primary importance to this, which in his opinion led to much lower output of critical foodstuffs and significantly higher levels of waste. (Most analysts do not agree, however. Even those who conclude that inclement weather did play a part, like Davies and Wheatcroft, do not see it as the most significant factor.) Finally, there is evidence which indicates that at least some famine deaths were caused by a deliberate policy of starvation. When confronted by opposition (and in some areas outright rebellion) by the peasantry to his policy of forced requisitions, Stalin's reaction was driven in part by a determination to punish their resistance and to subjugate them by consciously denying them access to food. Even if allowance is made for the weather, responsibility for the famine lay unequivocally with the Soviet leadership.

[W.Z. Virtually all survivors from that era discount the "bad weather" argument. The industrialization argument is just a sophisticated-deceptive way of justifying genocide. The overriding cause of the Holodomor in Ukraine was the impossibly high grain delivery quotas imposed by the Kremlin, followed by the forced requisition campaign removing all vestiges of food from the countryside. When the specially selected requisition teams -- speaking Russian -- took away, not only any grain they may have found, but also the last vestiges of food from the already starving families, they knew they were condemning the whole family to death by starvation. And the Ukrainian-speaking mother knew that she and her children were being singled out for death. Finally, Stalin and his Bolshevik henchmen knew -- and approved -- of this result.]

6. But was the famine a genocidal[3] act directed against the Ukrainian nation? There is a widely-held belief, in Ukraine and elsewhere, that it was. Advocates of this interpretation point to the profound hostility of the Soviet regime from the October Revolution onwards toward any manifestations of Ukrainian nationalism and autonomy, which were seen as mortal challenges to tight central rule from Moscow. They underline the extent to which Ukraine bore the brunt of the famine, as well as the ethnic Ukrainians who perished in neighbouring regions of Russia which were affected (in particular, the Kuban area of the northern Caucasus). Stalin, they argue, knew that the targets for grain collection which were imposed on Ukraine were draconian and that widespread starvation would be inevitable, especially as the USSR continued to export major quantities of grain throughout the crisis. Finally, they point out that the Soviet authorities closed Ukraine's eastern border in an attempt to prevent large numbers of starving peasants from entering Russia in search of food.

7. There are two major problems with the genocide interpretation, however. One is the undisputed fact that the famine hit several parts of the USSR, notably Kazakhstan, where the death toll as a proportion of the local population was even higher than in Ukraine, and certain agricultural areas of Russia, notably the lower Volga region and the northern Caucasus. Nor is there any evidence that non-Ukrainian peasants in Ukraine were singled out for better treatment. It therefore seems judicious to conclude, as one UK historian did several years ago, that Stalin 'starved to death those whom he believed to be recalcitrant peasants, many of whom were Ukrainians, rather than Ukrainians, many of whom were peasants.'[4]

[W.Z. This argumentation is absurd! Future despots, planning and executing genocide against a targeted group, will simply have to broaden their target area to avoid the accusation of genocide.

The Ukrainian peasant, as well as the intelligentsia and clergy, were the backbone of the Ukrainian ethos and its striving for independence. It is incontrovertible that the spectre of "losing Ukraine" was a major reason for Stalin to deliberately impose the famine on Ukraine (and possibly Kuban).

There may be similar or other reasons for the genocidal famines in Kazakhstan, the lower Volga (with its German Mennonite population) and the northern Caucasus. It is the task of historians to examine each individual case. Perhaps they could explain why the famine did not affect the Moscow and Leningrad areas.]

8. The other major problem with the genocide argument is its tendency to portray the famine implicitly, and sometimes even explicitly, as a crime inflicted on Ukraine by Russia. Such a claim is deeply misleading. It suggests that the USSR was simply the continuation of the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire and that the non-Russian inhabitants of the Soviet Union were no more than victims of Russian imperialism. [W.Z. For most Russian chauvinists the Bolshevik Russian Empire was just a continuation of the Tsarist Russian Empire. As they openly stated: the Communist ideology will disappear but the Soviet boundaries will remain.] Yet one of the foundations of the Soviet system was a supra-national ethos, which aimed to foster a sense of 'Soviet internationalism' among its peoples and the eventual creation of a 'Soviet man'. This of course involved colossal hypocrisy and humbug, not least because of periodic bouts of russification of political and cultural life in the non-Russian republics, yet millions of Soviet citizens still genuinely saw themselves as more than their national and ethnic identities (although any sense of 'Soviet' identity would have been less well developed in the 1930s). Successive Soviet leaderships also hailed from a variety of backgrounds, not just Russian, although Russians, as the largest national group, tended to predominate. [W.Z. Not true. Before WWII, the Jewish ethnic group tended to predominate.] Many of those who did abominable things in Ukraine in 1932-3 were not ethnic Ukrainians, but many of them were. The point is that all identified with the USSR and acted in its name, not that of Russia. [W.Z. That is pure speculation. Official declarations and identifications may defer markedly from real motivations and intentions.]


9. The current Russian leadership is deeply critical of the Ukrainian claim that the famine was genocide. Foreign Minister Lavrov recently identified it as one of the most serious points of friction in the bilateral relationship. But Russian views are complex. Many in Russia genuinely take deep offence at any suggestion that their country practised genocide against Ukraine, and with good reason. [W.Z. Since Ukraine lost its independence as a result of the Periaslav Treaty in 1654, Moscow (and St. Petersburg-Leningrad) has consistently imposed genocidal and ethnocidal policies against Ukrainians.] The Stalinist system slaughtered millions of their compatriots too, and the vast majority of Russians continue to think of Ukrainians as a people who are closely related, even identical, to themselves. [W.Z. Exactly! And they continue to promote ethnocide, if not genocide, to promote their view.] Yet there is also a widespread reluctance in Russia to concede that the Soviet era as a whole was not a progressive experience, or at least that its achievements came at a catastrophically high cost, and that some of the Soviet-era values which many Russians still applaud led directly to appalling suffering and waste. Such resistance can reveal itself in stubborn reluctance to acknowledge the sins of the Soviet Kremlin. Equally, some Russians resent what they see as a double-standard: calls for them to confront an often dark past, yet a continuing refusal by many Ukrainians to face up to awkward chapters in their own history (eg the extent of collaboration in parts of Ukraine during the Nazi occupation, and the crimes of Ukrainian nationalist partisans during the Second World War).
[W.Z. Are the authors of this article promulgating the disinformation disseminated by the NKVD-KGB over the years? Any collaboration by the OUN leadership with the Germans was directed to establishing an independent Ukrainian state. Their declaration of independence on 30 June 1941 was met with arrests and executions. The UPA was deliberately organized in October 1942 to fight against the German occupation. After WWII, they continued fighting against NKVD-SMERSH forces until the mid-1950s. Ethnic cleansing of the border areas between Poland and Ukraine in attempts to enlarge or preserve territorial possession was perpetrated by both Poles and Ukrainians during and after WWII.]
Finally, there is no doubt concern in Moscow that, as the successor State to the USSR, Russia might one day find itself liable for reparations.


10. HMG's current line on the famine was drawn up as a response to Ukraine's draft resolution at the UNGA in 2003. It refers to the famine as 'one of Stalin's most terrible crimes', but does not describe it as genocide. Nor is the UN 'the right forum in which to resolve complex historical issues, even though terrible crimes are involved.'[5] (Dr MacShane made the same points in a letter to Lord Howe the previous month, but went a little further by adding that 'it is arguable whether the policy of enforced collectivisation which led to the famine (sic) was aimed at the elimination of all ethnic Ukrainians'.[6]) EU Partners took the same view. The EU also proposed that Russian and Ukrainian historians co-operate to investigate the famine and its causes. In the light of paras 4-8, the substance of the UK's position remains sound. As ��� suggested in his note of 27 November [2006?] (not to all), however, it probably needs reviewing, given events since the Orange Revolution and the imminence of the 75th anniversary commemorations (expected in either 2007 or 2008).

[W.Z. It is sickening to see how "Her Majesty's Government's" bureaucrats glibly rationalize their decision not to recognize the Holodomor as genocide. In 1933, these same HMG's bureaucrats were complicit in suppressing knowledge of and denying the existence of the famine in Ukraine. Holodomor deniers then, Holodomor deniers now. One wonders if the ghosts of Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and their ilk have managed to survive within the halls of 10 Downing Street. It is ironic that so many Russian oligarchs -- criminals and murderers, who looted the economies of the former Soviet Union to the detriment of the ordinary people and salted their ill-gotten gains in foreign bank accounts -- can find safe haven in Britain. HMG's bureaucrats will not criticize them, but they can find time to cast aspersions against UPA and other patriotic Ukrainians, who fought and continue to fight for the independence of Ukraine.]

12. The UK's position on the Armenian massacres during World War One, another controversial case of alleged 'genocide', may offer ideas for an up-dated form of words:

The Government understands the strength of feeling about this terrible episode in history. The massacres of 1915-16 were appalling and tragic, and condemned as such by the British Government of the day. We fully endorse that view. However, neither this Government nor the previous British Government have judged that the evidence is sufficiently unequivocal to persuade us that these events should be categorised as genocide as defined by the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide. The question remains a matter of debate amongst historians.

We extend our deepest sympathies to the descendants of the victims and give our assurances that the massacres will not be forgotten. We encourage the Governments of Armenia and Turkey to look to the future and build a better relationship between their countries. In the meantime, we will continue to work for peace, security and mutual understanding in the region.

13. In terms of handling official commemorations of the Armenian massacres, we tend to draw on the Defence Attache for the South Caucasus, who lays a wreath at the Armenian Genocide day ceremony in Yerevan on 24 April. On Holocaust Day, now marked in the UK on 27 January, we have invited the Head of the Orthodox Armenian Church as an 'observer' at the event, in spite of requests from the Armenian authorities to play a more active role.

14. A final consideration worth noting is that the Ukrainian famine, like the Armenian 'genocide' before it, pre-dated the first definition of genocide as a crime under international law. HMG has tended not to favour the retrospective application of international law. [W.Z. Do not HMG's bureaucrats want the world to examine the various genocides perpetrated during the expansion and maintenance of the British Empire of yesteryear?]

Research Analysts
Foreign & Commonwealth Office


[1] Derived from a Ukrainian expression which means 'to inflict death by hunger'.

[2] The first official public acknowledgement of the famine came from Volodymyr Shcherbitsky, the hard-line First Secretary of the Ukrainian (Soviet) Communist Party, in a speech in December 1987.

[3] Defined in Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Prevention & Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as 'any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, such as: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.' For the full text, see http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html

[W.Z. When Raphael Lemkin originally proposed his definition of genocide it included "social group". However, on the insistence of the perpetrators of the Holodomor -- Stalin and his Bolshevik henchmen -- it was deleted from the version adopted by the United Nations.]

[4] Alec Nove, The Stalin Phenomenon, London, 1993, p.38.

[5] Hansard Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 18 December 2003: Column 1742.

[6] Dr MacShane to Lord Howe, 4 November 2003.


(Note: the literature on the famine is enormous. The following references merely scratch the surface of a rich vein of scholarship and research.)

Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow. Soviet Collectivisation & the Terror-Famine, New York, 1986

RW Davies & SG Wheatcroft, The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia. Volume 5. The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933, Basingstoke, 2004

Michael Ellman, 'The Role of Leadership Perception & of Intent in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1934', Europe-Asia Studies, 2005, 6, pp.823-41

Alec Nove, The Stalin Phenomenon, London, 1993

Frank Sysyn, 'The Famine of 1932-33 in the Discussion of Russian-Ukrainian Relations', Harriman Review, 2005, 2-3, pp.77-82

Mark B. Tauger, 'The 1932 Harvest & the Soviet Famine of 1932-1933', Slavic Review, 1991, 1, pp.70-89

-- Natural Disasters & Human Actions in the Soviet Famines of 1931-1933, Carl Beck Papers in Russian & East European Studies, June 2001


Email between FCO Officials � dated 01 Dec 2006

Thank you for showing me this.

You might want to pass the following on -- only thoughts from the top of my head.

I think that this is a very well researched, sound note which draws together all the key strands of the debate.

I recall that on my brief visit in February 2004 seeing photographs of the famine and events commemorating it on noticeboards on Kiev's (or Kyiv's?) main thoroughfare.

I tend to agree with the late Professor Alec Nove's view (quoted in paragraph 7 of the note) that it was not an attempt to simply annihilate all Ukranians but there was an attempt to eliminate elements of the Ukrainian population, in line with similar policies being pursued across the Soviet Union. The 'Kulaks', the clergy and the bourgeiosie certainly suffered. The combination of forced collectivisation and fast-pace industrialisation involving rigid agricultural deliveries was always going to have a disproportionate impact on Ukraine as one of the breadbaskets of the Soviet Union.

[W.Z. The glib sophistry of this author and of Alec Nove is astounding! Stalin may not have wanted to annihilate all Ukrainians. But he certainly did want to annihilate those who aspired to the independence of Ukraine, those who refused to abandon their religious beliefs and those who refused to accept a return to serfdom as cogs in the kolhosps. That just happened to be the majority of the Ukrainian population.]

There is no doubt the Soviet leadership could have done more to tackle the suffering -- they could hardly have done less. However, I don't think that Stalin sought to exterminate all the inhabitants of the Ukrainian SSR (30-40 million in the early 1930s?) - it would have been too big a job and would have scuppered his economic objectives. Stalin wanted and needed to exploit Ukraine's rich mineral resources. [On the current domestic Ukrainian policy front is there an east and west Ukraine angle here -- did the famine have a lesser impact in the more industrial and more Russian east of Ukraine?]

I am drawn to my own research on eastern Germany in 1945. Stalin did not set out to systemically annihilate the remaining Germans in K�nigsberg (Kaliningrad) but it is reckoned that between 1945 and 1947 the German population dropped from 100,000 to 25,000 through starvation, neglect, epidemics, ill-treatment and deportations. Human life was cheap in the Soviet Union and Party cadres accepted this fact -- the Civil War (the brutality of 'War Communism' and the famine immediately thereafter) and the Great Patriotic War were examples of this. Huge losses of life were a by-product of radical Soviet policy initiatives.