Harper, Holodomor and memory

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper pays tribute to the millions of victims of Holodomor perpatrated by Moscow and the Soviet Union

The following is from the Wednesday Nov. 17, 2010, edition of EMBASSY magazine, page 8, by the UCCLA’s Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk

Harper stands tall on Ukraine’s Holodomor
Lubomyr Luciuk

I witnessed an odd event recently. A foreign statesman stood mourning genocide victims in the country where the crime occurred while its president ignored the ceremony, insisting there was no genocide.

On Oct. 25, Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, showed respect for Ukraine’s dead. Viktor Yanukovych,  Ukraine’s president, did not. Reportedly, he has never entered the Kyiv museum to the Holodomor, the great famine of 1932-1933 in Soviet Ukraine.

Yet Mr. Yanukovych’s behaviour was all but ignored while Mr. Harper’s words became the story. When he said “almost” 10 million people starved, roughly Canada’s population in 1933, his critics accused him of poppycock. Scything several million off the death toll, they insisted only a few million perished, a lesser booboo.

Scholarly estimates of Holodomor-related deaths do vary. A credible study by Jacques Vallin, one of France’s leading demographers, concluded that 2.6 million died of hunger. To this he added a crisis birth deficit of 1.1 million and about a million more transported to the Gulag: 4.6 million lives lost to Soviet Ukraine over a year.

Even this conservative figure places the Holodomor alongside the Shoah as one of history’s greatest crimes against humanity. From a Canadian perspective, think of everyone in Toronto starving between today and next Thanksgiving. Or use Professor Robert Conquest’s calculation of 17 people dying every minute, 25,000 per day at the famine’s height, and reflect on how 17 men, women and children died of hunger between the time you began this article and got to this line. At that rate of mortality, my hometown of Kingston would be emptied of souls in a week.

Every serious student of the Soviet Union accepts that a famine occurred in 1932-1933, a consequence of Communist policies, not a bad harvest, and that millions could have been saved but were instead left to die.

But was it genocide? Given the blockade of Soviet Ukraine’s borders to prevent aid coming in, or anyone leaving, the significant grain exports that continued despite official knowledge of catastrophic famine conditions, the wholesale confiscation of all foodstuffs from Ukrainian lands, and how the Soviets and their shills orchestrated a campaign of Holodomor-denial for decades, the answer is certainly yes.

In Stalin’s Genocides, Stanford professor Norman Naimark writes: “The bottom line is that Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich and their ilk were convinced that the Ukrainian peasants as a group were ‘enemies of the people’ who deserved to die. That was enough for the Soviet leadership; that should be enough to conclude that the Ukrainian famine was genocide.”

Raphael Lemkin, the father of the UN Genocide Convention, thought so too. In 1953 he spoke of this famine as part of a genocidal Soviet campaign targeting the Ukrainian nation.
Given Yanukovych’s servile catering to the Kremlin’s Holodomor-denying yarn, I might have quit Ukraine in despair but for an encounter at a popular Ukrainian-cuisine restaurant.

A young mother and daughter, visiting from France, were taking lunch with an eight-year-old lad, their Kyiv cousin. We shared a table. The boy was practicing French but, overhearing us, tried his English.

I asked what he wanted to do: “Study at Cambridge!” What subjects? “History and mathematics.” Had he been abroad? “Yes, to Paris.“ Which city did he prefer? “Both are nice but I’ll take Kyiv. I’m Ukrainian, after all.”

I’d bet he gets to Cambridge. There’s hope. No matter what Moscow’s men still attempt, millions of Ukrainians are now living, working and studying abroad. More leave daily. Some will learn Ukraine’s history better in the diaspora than they are today permitted to in their own homeland. Many will return and won’t be fooled again.

So Mr. Yanukovych is slated for the dustbin of history while Mr. Harper can stand proud. He placed Canada in the ranks of the righteous few among nations who recognize the Holodomor as genocide and thus confound those who won’t — the perpetrators and their issue, who remain unclean, perhaps forevermore.

Lubomyr Luciuk is a professor at the  Royal Military College of Canada and co-editor of Holodomor: Reflections on the Great  Famine of 1932-1933 in Soviet Ukraine.
editor@embassymag.ca

The above article is a follow up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s two-day visit to Ukraine in late October, and the range of articles which followed. Here’s a short roundup:

PM Harper statement at Lviv University – Oct. 26, 2010

Harper presses Ukraine over deteriorating human rights – Oct. 25, 2010, Postmedia News
Harper continues tough-message visit to Ukraine – Oct. 26, 2010, Postmedia news
Harper accused of exaggerating Ukrainian genocide death toll – Oct. 30, 2010, Postmedia News
Harper tours infamous prison – Nov. 6, 2010, Postmedia news
Ex-director defends Lviv museum visited by PM – Nov. 11, 2010, Postmedia News

The message to Mr. Yanukovych – editorial, Winnipeg Free Press, Oct. 27, 2010
Sending Harper to Ukraine sends message of concern – Opinion, Dr. David Marples, University of Alberta, Oct. 27, 2010 

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