Equating Holodomor With Genocide

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This spring marks an anniversary that Russia will not commemorate. In fact, Moscow will make a point of ignoring it, as if the event had never happened. I am speaking of Holodomor, in which millions died of starvation in Ukraine, the Northern Caucasus and the Volga region in the spring of 1933. The famine began earlier, but reached its peak during those months. This year is the 75th anniversary of Holodomor, and Kiev will honor its victims as it has done in prior years.

This is far from being just a historical disagreement between Russia and Ukraine. It has spilled into the political arena as well. For example, the delegations from both sides have presented opposing resolutions to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Kiev suggests that Holodomor should be considered an act of genocide against Ukrainians, whereas Moscow proposes honoring all of those who died from starvation in 1932 and 1933 -- not only Ukrainians.

The Kremlin argues that genocide is the killing of a population based on their ethnicity, whereas Stalin's regime annihilated all kinds of people indiscriminately, regardless of their ethnicity.

But if the Kremlin really believed in this argument, it would officially acknowledge that Stalin's actions constituted mass genocide against all the people of the Soviet Union. But this is highly unlikely. In fact, Russia's political elite avoid using the word "genocide" at all -- even though it is clear the Soviet authorities specifically targeted certain ethnic groups for repression, such as Crimean Tartars, Ingush, Chechens, ethnic Germans of the Volga region.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko first proposed classifying Holodomor as genocide a few months ago, and Moscow immediately objected. Perhaps the Kremlin views it as Ukraine's underhanded attempt to whip up anti-Russian sentiment at a time when Kiev is attempting gain admittance to NATO and the European Union.

Stalin's regime deliberately used hunger as a means of forcing peasants, regardless of their ethnicity, onto collective farms. But because Ukraine was the Soviet Union's breadbasket, the Ukrainian people suffered the most from Stalin's collectivization policy. From 2 million to 8 million people starved to death from 1932 to 1933. Nobody knows the exact figure because officials simply stopped recording the deaths in many regions.

It began with what was a naturally poor harvest in 1932. But in 1932 and 1933, Stalin's commissars were sent out to the villages. When residents resisted the forced relocation to collective farms, party officials seized every bit of food they could find -- including seeds. They also destroyed livestock, even cats and dogs, and trampled all edible plants growing near the villages. The authorities who were charged with enforcing Stalin's forced collectivization at the local level purposely deprived the villagers of food and even seized their farming tools to prevent them from growing more. The Kremlin claimed that these were necessary "educational" measures.

During the entire Soviet era, there was never any serious attempt to investigate the brutal and inhumane methods used in the forced collectivization project. It was actually U.S. historian Robert Conquest who, in 1986, wrote the most authoritative work on the subject, "The Harvest of Sorrow."

Even 16 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has still been no serious Russian investigation into Stalin's forced collectivization or Holodomor. On the contrary, the Kremlin, through its various media outlets, has tended to cast Stalin in a positive light during the past few years.

In my opinion, this explains Moscow's opposition to Yushchenko's effort to bring up the Holodomor issue. The problem is not so much that Ukraine is trying to create a standoff with Russia, but that the Kremlin has not completely severed itself from Stalin's legacy.

Georgy Bovt is a political analyst and hosts a radio program on City-FM.