Friday, November 28, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kyiv’s Focus on Stalin-Era Famine Leads Russians and Kazakhs to Ask Why Their Governments Don’t

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 28 – Kyiv’s efforts to call attention to Stalin’s terror famine on the 75th anniversary of that tragedy and especially its moves to gain international recognition of it as a genocide against the Ukrainian people has generated much criticism by Russian officials from President Dmitry Medvedev on down as well as from numerous Moscow commentators.
But one of the most intriguing consequences of the Ukrainian discussion of the famine has so far passed largely unremarked: What Kyiv has been doing has prompted some in both the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan, whose peoples suffered greatly from the same Kremlin-organized famine, to ask why Moscow and Astana have not paid equal attention to this tragedy.
And that in turn has prompted some in the Russian Federation at least to suggest that the Russian government set aside a special day of memory of the victims of the mass hunger of the 1930s, proposals that in the current environment may spark more discussions among the Russian people about what Stalin did to them.
In an essay posted online this week, Moscow political analyst Andrey Okara says that he is both uncomfortable and ashamed that the memory of the millions of Russians who died in the 1933 famine in the RSFSR is not officially marked in the Russian Federation at the present time (
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he points out, Russians paid homage to the memory of those repressed by Stalin between 1934 and 1937, but “the victims of 1932-33 did not have such “advocates” even though the number who died in the famine, which most investigators say, was the product of Stalin’s policies, was far larger.
The reaction of Russian officials to Ukrainian efforts to remember that tragedy, Okara continues, has been extremely unfortunate: Moscow’s approach has infuriated many pro-Russian Ukrainians, been ineffective, and “not always moral because when one is speaking about millions” of deaths, political calculations are inappropriate.
And their fear that Kyiv will demand compensation from Moscow if anyone talks about the victims is misplaced. On the one hand, Ukraine is just as much a legal successor of the USSR as Russia is, and on the other, the organizers of the famine were “not Russia and the Russian people but the Stalinist political machine.
Such absurdities are listened to, Okara says, only because “now it is considered that Stalin was an effective manager.” And if one considers only the number of his victims 75 years ago in the famine that hit much of the Soviet peasantry, he was quite clearly “a super-effective” if not an especially admirable one.
Meanwhile, in Kazakhstan, Serik Maleyev, an Almaty commentator, pointedly asks “why the Kazakhs are silent” on the issue of the famine. After all, he says, from three to 4.5 million Kazakhs lost their lives as a result of Moscow’s policies between 1918 and 1932 and another million fled the republic (
The answer he provides to his own question does little credit to the moral sense of the Kazakhstan leadership. According to Maleyev, Kazakh officials are not talking about this tragedy because they see themselves being drawn into a political struggle on the side of Moscow which denies the famine was a genocide or of Kyiv which insists that it was.
In fact, on issues of this kind, he just like his Russian counterpart argues that political calculations have no place. And he insists that the voice of the Kazakhs Ought to be heard and heard loudly as this debate goes forward if for no other reason than the memory of those who died in Kazakhstan.
Some in Russia at least are beginning to speak out. At a meeting in Moscow earlier this month clearly assembled to denounce Ukrainian efforts to define the famine as a genocide against Ukrainians, speaker after speaker insisted that Russians had suffered as much or more than the latter.
And one of them, Duma deputy and political commentator Sergey Markov proposed organizing an annual day of memory of the victims of the terror famine. That idea has found support in the Russian Orthodox Church, which among other things, is extremely concerned about the consequences for itself of the stand-off between Moscow and Kyiv on this issue.
Father Georgy Ryabykh, the secretary for church ties to society in the Moscow Patriarchate’s powerful External Relations Department, has come out in support of declaring a national day of mourning every November 22 in order to recall the victims of the famine of the early 1930s (
“The establishment of such a memorial day,” he says, is a time for remembering “our compatriots who loved to work, loved their Fatherland, and were true to their faith.” In taking this step, he continues, there is no need for repentance or self-laceration. “We need only remember the dead and honor their memory.”

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