Vienna, February 26 – In order to counter Kyiv’s insistence that Stalin carried out a genocide in Ukraine in the 1930s, an insistence that is at the core of the definition of the Ukrainian nation, Moscow has released new documents suggesting that the Soviet dictator engaged in a criminal campaign of mass murder across the entire Soviet Union.
Yesterday, Vladimir Kozlov, the head of Russia’s Federal Archives Agency, told a Moscow press conference that the famine in Ukraine and elsewhere in the USSR was “the result of [Stalin’s] criminal policy” but that “of course, no one planned any famine” or singled out any ethnic group as its victim (rian.ru/society/20090225/163170651.html).
Instead, he said, “the famine was the result of the errors and miscalculations of the political course of the leadership of the country in the course of the realization of collectivization.” And he insisted that he and his researchers had not found “a single document” showing that Stalin planned “a terror famine” in Ukraine.
Instead, Kozlov said, “absolutely all documents testify that the chief enemy of Soviet power at that time was an enemy defined not on the basis of ethnicity but on the basis of class,” in this case the peasantry which Stalin wanted to force to join collective farms throughout whatever means he could.
Kozlov’s comments came as he presented a new collective of documents, entitled “The Famine in the USSR,” and a DVD which contained a selection of those documents and others, which he said will total some 6,000 items, to be published in three volumes that are to be published this year.
The Russian archivist and others in Moscow said they were convinced of two things, first, that these documents undercut all Ukrainian claims to the contrary and, second, that the evidence these documents provide about the much broader but class rather than ethnic based crimes of the Soviet regime are not a problem for the contemporary regime.
But despite t his self-confidence, it is almost certainly the case that they are wrong. On the one hand, the extent of regime violence that these documents show is likely to energize rather than demobilize Ukrainian views about the way in which Stalin attacked the core of their nation nearly 80 years ago.
And on the other, the evidence the Moscow archivists provide is likely to lead others, including Kazakhs, Belarusians and many ethnic Russians to see that their communities too were the victims of mass murder, an act of violence that at least some of these groups are certain to view as directed against their nationhood and thus to see as genocidal whatever Moscow says.
Because that seems so likely, the arguments advanced yesterday by Valery Tishkov, an academician who heads the Institute of Ethnology and serves in the Russian Social Chamber, that the Ukrainian arguments will collapse, almost certainly will prove to be without any sustainable foundation.
And the reason for that conclusion is that Russians, Ukrainians and indeed the rest of the world are almost certain to be struck by one of the fundamental weaknesses of the position that Kozlov and Tishkov advance: Somehow they appear to believe that everyone will accept their notion that mass murder is somehow not as serious a problem as genocide.
That such an argument may convince some is beyond question, given the political use to which deaths in the past are often put, but that it will convince all is highly improbable. Indeed, when a regime kills as many people as Stalin’s did, most people of good will, including many Russians, will question Moscow’s latest effort to politicize history in this way.
Indeed, it is virtually certain not only that this latest compilation by Russian authors will not dissuade Ukrainians from their view that their nation was a victim of the Soviet system but also will lead many others, including ethnic Russians, to dismiss Moscow’s current efforts to restore the image of Stalin as a wise and effective manager.
Consequently, this latest Russian effort to downplay the human tragedy of collectivization will have at least three effects, none of which Moscow will want. First, it will lead many to see that Ukrainians, as one Russian put it, “deserve respect” for focusing on this tragedy (www.vedomosti.ru/newspaper/article.shtml?2009/02/16/181822)..
Second, it will call attention to the ways in which Moscow is manipulating history for its own purposes even more than the Ukrainians are. After all, despite the enormous number of documents put forward, there will inevitably remain questions about what documents were NOT published.
And third, this Russian effort will call attention to something that many would prefer not to confront: Mass murder is wrong whether conducted in the name of ethnic cleansing, the class struggle or anything else. The dead and their memory call out for a human response very different than the political one Moscow offered yesterday.