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Friday, November 26, 2010

How many million will be enough?

In the presidential “Slovo” to the people of Ukraine on occasion of Holodomor Remembrance Day, President Victor Yanukovych’s slovo-writers take a sarcastic swipe at those people who claim that “three to five to seven million and even more” died from the tragedy.

Is the president really using the occasion of the Holodomor as an opportunity to criticize his political opponents?

More likely, this debate over the number of victims is allowing Yanukovych to avoid the real issue: that the 1932-33 Holodomor was part of the sustained Soviet genocide in Ukraine.

A similar swipe at Ukrainian Canadians was recently taken by a Canadian journalist in his blog. I left a comment earlier this week, but it has not appeared there. I don’t know why (or if) it’s being censored, so I’ll make the point here, because I feel it’s an important one, especially in the run up to the sad Holodomor anniversary.

By way of background, in his blog entry “Hyperbole has no place in national tragedies,” Peter O’Neil scolds Canada’s Prime Minister and Ukrainian Canadians for claiming that ten million people died in the Holodomor. *

O’Neil decided to take issue with the “ten million” figure after an academic from Australia wrote him that it was wrong. O’Neil did not report that this same academic, Stephen Wheatcroft, has claimed that the “famine was an accidental consequence of ill-conceived policies” and “ecological factors.”

O’Neil’s research let him to discover that other academics felt that the estimate of ten million deaths in 1932-33 is excessive and decided to make a story of it called “Harper accused of exaggerating Ukrainian genocide's death toll .”  (He also chose to make Harper’s visit to Lonsky Street Prison Museum in Lviv one-sided, but that’s another story.)

In focusing on the ten million, what O’Neil failed to realize that rather than an attempt to maliciously exaggerate the number of dead of the part of the PM and/or Ukrainian Canadians, something may have simply been lost in translation: Was it ten million in 1932 and 1933, or ten million in multiple famines in 1921 to 23, 1932 and 33 and 1946 and 47 combined? O’Neil failed to mention that there was more than one artificial famine during Ukraine’s Soviet experience.

I wrote, copied and pasted my comment, but it appears to be trashed by the censors. Working from memory, I wrote something along the following lines:
The monument in Kyiv where Stephen Harper honoured the victims of artificial famines is in memory of those innocents who died in the holodomors – plural.
The Soviets engineered the deaths of Ukrainians by starvation in 1921-23 and 1946-47 as well. The 1932-33 famine was but one episode in the three decades Lenin, Stalin and their bolsehvik henchmen spent killing Ukrainians through civil war, famine, execution, collectivization, forced labour and other means as they tried to replace the Ukrainian “ethnic material” with a new kind of person called homo sovieticus.
If you tally the number of Ukrainians killed by the communists between the 1920s and 50s, then saying that they killed ten million – or the equivalent of the population of Canada – would not be a stretch. It would be understatement.
But be wary of those trying to make this a debate about millions! That’s taking away from the bigger issue raised by PM Stephen Harper during his visit to Ukraine – and covered by the Ukrainian media – an issue that’s obfuscated by the debate over millions, namely that the crime of communism, and the communists themselves, have not had their Nuremberg.
Would the Holocaust not be genocide if only four million Jews were killed? Or (something an O’Neil might appreciate) would the Potato Famine be less of a tragedy if the population of Ireland fell by only fifteen percent?

Harper’s statements on communism not having its Nuremberg and genocide of Ukrainians were, in my opinion, more newsworthy than a rehash of the tired and old millions debate kept alive by O’Neil’s sources.*

But that news took a back seat to a chance to criticize Harper, Ukrainian “nationalists” and do some moral grandstanding. It’s just too bad that the memories of X million have to be dragged through the mud for the purposes of satisfying egos and avoiding the genocide charge.

As for Yanukovych, who wants "truth above all" in matter concerning the Holodomor, perhaps the truth about all the crimes of communism will come to see the light during his presidency. Perhaps this willl be accomplished by the communist he appointed to head the Institute of National Memory. For comparison's sake, that's like appointing a neo-Nazi to head Yad Vashem.

* Peter O’Neil’s favourite source when it comes to matters of Ukrainian history has been self-dubbed "anti-historian" John Paul Himka of the University of Alberta who wrote “How Many Perished in the Famine and Why Does It Matter?” in 2008.

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