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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 22-Nov-2009
UK honors the journalist who documented Stalin's man-made 1932-33 famine in Ukraine

Web Log - November, 2009

UK honors the journalist who documented Stalin's man-made 1932-33 famine in Ukraine

Known as the "Holodomor," millions of Ukrainians starved to death.

On November 13, the White House issued a press release:

"Seventy six years ago, millions of innocent Ukrainians – men, women, and children – starved to death as a result of the deliberate policies of the regime of Joseph Stalin. Tomorrow, we join together, Ukrainian-Americans and all Americans, to commemorate these tragic events and to honor the many victims.

From 1932 to 1933, the Ukrainian people suffered horribly during what has become known as the Holodomor – “death by hunger” – due to the Stalin regime’s seizure of crops and farms across Ukraine. Ukraine had once been a breadbasket of Europe. Ukrainians could have fed themselves and saved millions of lives, had they been allowed to do so. As we remember this calamity, we pay respect to millions of victims who showed tremendous strength and courage. The Ukrainian people overcame the horror of the great famine and have gone on to build a free and democratic country."

Much of what we know today about the Holodomor comes from a journalist, Gareth Jones, who went to Ukraine and documented the horrors. Jones walked across Ukraine, from village to village, talking to people, and writing down everything he saw and heard in his diaries. There is a major new display of his diaries at Oxford University. His diaries are available online at

Jones walked alone along a railway line, documenting the starvation and cannibalism that killed 4-5 million Ukrainians.

On March 29, 1933, Jones' article appeared on the front page of the New York Evening post: "Famine Grips Russia — Millions Dying. Famine on a colossal scale, impending death of millions from hunger, murderous terror ... this is the summary of Mr. Jones's firsthand observations."

However, these and other stories, based on Jones' reporting, were not believed (just as people today can't believe that we're headed for a major financial crisis and world war). When the news is too bad, and contradicts conventional wisdom, it's simply rejected. Leading the criticism of Jones was the New York Times, which was a supporter of Josef Stalin, and was just as ideological in its news "reporting" then as it is today. New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty wrote, "There is no famine or actual starvation, nor is there likely to be." He dismissed Jones' eyewitness accounts as a "big scare story".

Attacks by Duranty and others completely discredited Jones. Jones worked on other assignments as a journalist, and within a couple of years, Jones was killed under mysterious circumstances -- presumably by Soviet agents.

The Black Sea, Caucasus, Caspian Sea region
The Black Sea, Caucasus, Caspian Sea region

Ukraine vs Russia today on the Holodomor

Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union until the latter broke up in 1991, making Ukraine an independent country. Since then, relations between Ukraine and Russia have been very bitter. Even relations within Ukraine are bitter, since the population of eastern Ukraine are mostly ethnic Russians, while western Ukraine is populated mostly by ethnic Ukrainians.

It's worthwhile to take a moment to recall some recent events in this relationship:

Viktor Yushchenko - August 2004 versus October 2004 <font size=-2>(Source: AFP)</font>
Viktor Yushchenko - August 2004 versus October 2004 (Source: AFP)

Relations between Russia and Ukraine remain very bitter. There's no Russian ambassador in Ukraine, and Russian president Medvedev has promised that there won't be one as long as Yushchenko is in power. The dispute over the Holodomor has to be seen in that context.

The Ukraine famine -- the Holodomor

"Holodomor" is the word that Ukrainians use to refer to the 1932-33 famine. The web site has been set up as part of a campaign to get the UK government to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide.

Here is a very dramatic video

Orthodox Church in Kiev and Moscow

Kiev is the capital city of Ukraine, and it's also the cradle of the Russian Orthodox Christian church.

The story of how that happened would be simply cute or amusing, if it weren't for the fact that it changed the world.

In 980, a pagan named Vladimir became ruling prince of the Slavs, headquartered in Kiev. And Vladimir went religion shopping.

According to legend, he rejected Islam, because it forbade alcoholic drink. He sent commissions to visit the Christian Churches. The Bulgarians, they reported, smelt. The Germans had nothing to offer. But Constantinople had won their hearts. There, they said in words often to be quoted, "we knew not whether we were in heaven or earth, for on earth there is no such vision nor beauty, and we do not know how to describe it; we know only that there God dwells among men." Around 988, Vladimir accepted Orthodox Christianity for himself and his people.

Vladimir might have chosen Catholicism, and then the Orthodox Christian religion might have disappeared completely. Instead, as the Slav culture moved east to Moscow and formed the Russian Empire in the centuries that followed, the Orthodox Christian religion followed it.

Even more important, Moscow inherited the mantle of leading the worldwide Orthodox Church after the Muslims conquered Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey) in 1453, destroying the Byzantine Empire, the last vestige of the Roman Empire.

In 1472, Russia's Grand Prince Ivan III ("Ivan the Great") took the title of Tsar, and thus became the first Tsar of the new Tsarist Russia. ("Tsar," or "Czar," was derived from the name of the Roman Emperor Caesar, as is the German word "Kaiser.") Thus, Ivan would be not only the head of Russia, he would also be head of the "Orthodox" (or "true") Christian Church.

Russia's Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 replaced Tsarist Russia with an atheistic Communist government that destroyed much of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church was revived during World War II when Stalin needed it to support the fight against the Nazis. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Russia Orthodox Church regained a special position in the Russia and the Russian Government, but has not fully regained its place as the world leader of the Orthodox churches.

In the 1990s, the Orthodox Church also revived in Kiev and Constantinople, along with the existing center in Athens. Under Putin in the 2000s decade, the Russians have been trying to regain supremacy, but are facing resistance from Kiev.

Church vs Politics and the Holodomor

The Holodomor was not the only famine in human history. Russians experienced a horrible famine in World War II in the Nazi siege of the city of Leningrad. So you would think that, at the very least, the Russians would express some sensitivity to the sufferings of the Ukrainians in the 1932-33 famine.

But Ukrainians were infuriated last week when Putin appeared to be mocking Yushchenko's commemoration of the Holodomor.

The Russians are infuriated by what they see as Ukrainians' rewriting of history, not only of the famine, but also of Ukraine's entire role in World War II. They blame Yushchenko for expelling some Russian diplomats, and look forward to Ukraine's elections next year, hoping that Yushchenko will be defeated.

This political cauldron has affected the relations between the Kiev and Moscow branches of the Orthodox Christian Church. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is under the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church, but a schism has developed. Last year, Ukrainian officials asked officials in the Constantinople church to recognize a second church in Kiev, one that is entirely separate from the Moscow church.

Thus, while the Russian government is expressing open hostility to the Ukrainian government, the Russian Church has been attempting to reconcile with the Ukrainian Church.

When Russian president Medvedev refused an invitation from Yushchenko last year to visit a monument to the Holodomor, the invitation WAS accepted by Archbishop Kirill of the Russian church. This year, Kirill became the leader of the entire Russian church, and he's pursued the theme of reconciliation, by saying,

"This [Holodomor] was a common misfortune for all the people who lived in the same country at the time. ... The famine, dreadful famine, which was entirely the result of a specific policy and became even worse due to natural disasters, claimed an enormous number of lives in Ukraine, Volga region, North Caucasus, Southern Urals, Western Siberia and Kazakhstan."

After Yushchenko

Moscow hopes that Yushchenko will lose next year's elections, and that relations between Ukraine and Russia will become cordial again.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, this outcome is almost completely impossible.

Yushchenko may or may not lose next year's election, but either way, the hatred is between the Ukrainian and Russian people, and that will not change. Ukraine itself is divided by this hatred, with Ukrainians populating the west, and Russians populating the east.

The centuries old historical divide between the Ukrainians and Russians runs very deep, and there's still extreme bitterness over conflicts between Ukrainian and Russian soldiers in World War II.

The entire Caucasus and Black Sea region is smoldering with ethnic and religious hatreds. What we learned last year as an outcome of the Georgian war is that there isn't much visceral hatred between Georgians and Russians but that there is plenty of genocidal fury between Georgians and Ossetians.

In the past, I've frequently referred to the Caucasus region as the most dangerous region in the world (though, at other times, first place was taken by Pakistan or the Mideast). The Caucasus and Black Sea regions were the theatres for extremely bloody wars throughout the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. From that perspective, the Holodomor was only a small part, but an overwhelmingly important part for the Ukrainians. Generational Dynamics predicts that all of these wars will be re-fought as part of the Clash of Civilizations world war.

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the Caucasus and Black Sea region thread of the Generational Dynamics forum.) (22-Nov-2009) Permanent Link
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