HOLODOMOR en UKRAINE par Pr Mark von HAGEN ( Columbia )

Tuesday 3 July 2007.
 
The Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933 in Ukraine, Kazakstan and parts of Russia was a particularly stark demonstration of the brutality of the Soviet regime and how far it had betrayed its Social-Democratic commitment to creating better lives for the peasants and workers of the Soviet Union. The goal of collectivization, in whose name the Famine was tolerated and exacerbated by consciously murderous measures, was acknowledged even by Soviet sources, at least after Stalin’s death, to have been a colossal economic and political failure. Not only did the wasteful and ill-prepared collectivization drives set back agricultural productivity and turn the peasantry into bitter enemies of the Soviet regime; another important casualty of the collectivization and famine was the Soviet citizenry’s right to a truthful and open discussion about all important social or political issues, a trend that had been emerging, it is true, from the first days after the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917. The NKVD rose to a position of immense power during the collectivization campaigns and insisted on ever higher levels of classification, secrecy and censorship in all public documents and speeches, culminating in an important sense in the 55-year denial of the man-made Famine in Ukraine and elsewhere in the Soviet Union. Compounding this conspiracy of silence ruthlessly enforced by the Soviet government was the complicity of many governments of "civilized" peoples and the reporters of the foreign press in Moscow, most notoriously Walter Duranty of The New York Times. But, sadly, professional historians reinforced this silence with their own denials until recently, despite the overwhelming evidence of oral history testimonies recorded from survivors and eyewitnesses in the Ukrainian diaspora populations of North America. Much has changed in the past dozen years. Ukrainian state independence and the parallel declarations of independence by Ukrainian historians from Moscow narratives and silences, the opening of previously classified party, state and police archives - have made possible publications that document the Famine and break the decades of officially imposed silence in the country for which this tragic event has the most political, moral and social significance. Restoring the truth about the Famine-Genocide is one of the central tasks in reshaping Ukrainian historical and civic consciousness and in its de-Sovietization. Accordingly, Ukrainian parliamentary deputies organized hearings earlier this year which resulted in resolutions demanding that the Ukrainian government work with the international community to gain recognition for this tragedy as a criminal violation of human rights and lives. A new generation of North American and European historians has been responsive to the changes in archival access and to the revision of the historical record by our Ukrainian colleagues and has dramatically recast the terms of debate on the Famine. Our conference today is the first full-fledged exploration of the political, historical and socio-cultural aspects of the Famine-Genocide at Columbia University, but ours is not unique. Similar conferences have been held or are being planned at our sister institutions across North America - Harvard, Stanford, the Kennan Institute, the University of Toronto, and others. All these institutions have committed significant resources to Ukrainian studies and all acknowledge the centrality of the history of the Famine-Genocide to an understanding of Ukraine’s fate in the 20th century. These conferences demonstrate that, for all the new documents, indeed thanks to the flood of new information, there is still room for scholars, political and civic leaders, and concerned citizens to debate important aspects of the Famine-Genocide: its relationship to assaults on the Ukrainian cultural and political elites, its ties to parallel famines in Russian regions and Kazakstan, even the proper name for this catastrophe, whether Famine-Genocide, man-made or artificial Famine, or some other variant. This fact nonetheless testifies to a new phase in our understanding of the history of this tragic episode and comes just as the original generation of survivors and eyewitnesses to the Famine-Genocide are themselves becoming silenced through death and illness. The Ukrainian hromada abroad has been an important, indeed very important, part of the story of today’s conference. The persistence patience, and courage of a generation of survivors - and now their children and grandchildren - has preserved the precious collective memory of these events and published research based on the available archives of foreign governments and international organizations. That generation belatedly joined by those survivors inside Ukraine itself who could speak the truth publicly only after independence, are the human voices that have kept this tragic history from complete oblivion over the decades. These, in short, are the concerns and issues that we have tried to bring together in our conference today and which also reflect the generous contributions of our many partners in this unique collaboration - from the hromada civic and scholarly organizations, the Shevchenko Scientific Society, the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in America, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, and the Ukrainian Studies Fund; the Ukrainian government and its Permanent Mission to the United Nations; leading archivists from Ukraine’s State Committee on Archives; and the private and non-profit sector, in the persons of Primary Source Microfilms/Gale Group and the foundation of Yaroslav Chelak