Sunday, April 13, 2008

Re-post of Holodomor

I know much has been discussed on this topic already-in blogs, class, and in the films, but I wrote this earlier in the semester and still would like to post it; just for some more added detail, if anything.
I re-attached the comments other students made on it as well. Thanks!


Because Ukraine was a soviet republic, obviously it was under jurisdiction of the Stalin-led government and policies of the time. In the late 20’s, a soviet-wide agricultural policy, originally voluntary, known as ‘collectivization’ was implemented.

As a pre-cursor, farming in Ukraine (over 50% of the Soviet Union was fed on the enormous output of grains, fruits, and vegetables from Ukrainian lands) was faced with various droughts, seed shortages, and tilling problems beginning in 1927. Because of this, and a poor soviet food supply/delivery system, urban areas began to see food shortages. This led to a soviet food rationing program, intensively focused in Ukraine, and later in the rest of the USSR.

Collectivization was poorly implemented, and thus less than 6% of Ukrainian farms had taken part by 1930. After this, Stalin pressed for further progress, and eventually many Ukrainian livestock farms began taking part, slaughtering livestock at higher rates to meet government demand. Eventually, on January 5, 1930, Stalin set the deadline for the entire collectivization of the Ukrainian SSR by the spring of 1932. Through heavy local authoritative pressure, more than 70% of the Ukrainian population was quickly and forcibly made to join the collective and turn over all agricultural products. Many who could not meet initial quotas were striped of all property, lands, and houses. These peasant farmers were usually deported to other parts of the USSR.

Faced by heavy resistance from the general population, some pressure of the plan was alleviated for a short time. However, the government forced a switch of the Ukrainian region from primarily grain-producing to that of a diverse, multi-crop system. Through drought, a dilapidated supply chain, poor soviet managing and plan implementation, the produced crops could not be obtained or delivered. Much of it sat to rot, remained unharvested, or was uncollected. Only 79% of the total was reached. During this process, many peasants starved to death and suffered from malnutrition. In the ensuing aftermath, high government expectations, while continually decreased, still grew in disparity with actual agricultural production. By 1932, many oblasts of Ukraine were reporting record-low grain production and widespread death from famine.

Because of the overbearing, enforcing, and strong nature of the Soviet regime, extensive measures were undertaken to protect ‘government property’. Officials were given orders to prosecute anyone withholding or bargaining grain. This was done by state agents who actually raided farms to collect grain; Food was taken regardless of whether the peasants had enough grain to feed themselves, or whether they had enough seed left to plant the next harvest. One of the policy leaders, was noted as saying “Repression must be taken to the limit, so that they will not mock us for our impotence.” The attitude clearly became that of punishment rather than help or production.

From 1932 to 1933, authorities established barricades along the border of the USSR to prevent any peasants from leaving all hunger-stricken regions; As a result, all travel from Ukraine was prohibited. In a single month in 1933, over a quarter million people were captured attempting to flee the region, and escorted back or arrested and sentenced. The Holodomor was virtually unknown outside of the country and around the world because of the intense secrecy and cover-up of the soviet regime; Few journalists ever witnessed the famine as external observers during this period.

Soviet authorities rarely relented to the people’s pleas for help, only granting aid to those who were recovering and not suffering from starvation- in order for them to return to the fields as soon as possible. The famine arrived at a time when the Soviet Union was single-handedly and systematically destroying Ukrainian culture. Beginning in 1928 and ensuing for a decade, a major portion of the Ukrainian peasantry was exterminated, in addition to the closing of thousands of Ukrainian churches, schools, museums and made so that they never existed. Ukrainian music, writing, and art was completely censored, and religious organizations were shut down. Also, almost all influential Ukrainian scientists, politicians, cultural leaders, and blind-storytelling ‘Kobzars’ were called to a special conference and either killed or deported to camps in Siberia.

There have been countless estimates, given by a variety of sources over time to the number of deaths caused by Holodomor. Most commonly, between 4.5 and 5 million people in Ukraine were have believed to have died in ways relating to starvation and famine, although some claims are as high as 10, and even 20 million.

Similar to certain laws of the same type in Germany surrounding the Holocaust, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko recently stated his attempt to create a law criminalizing the denial of Holodomor. Although debate continues on what caused the Holodomor (natural events, bad policy, poor infrastructure, or intent neglect), scholars and politicians continue to attempt to define the Holodomor as a type of Genocide, in order to give the ‘engineered famine’ the world recognition and acknowledgement it deserves.

Because I was raised in a home heavily influenced by Ukrainian culture- by a large Ukrainian family- It is hard to write a history of the Holodomor in an unbiased way. I have read many books and heard countless stories on Holodomor, some passed from generation to generation, and some from those who have directly survived the early 30’s in Ukraine. However, the main theme throughout each one is a hatred the of Stalin and the soviet regime. The anger and incredible pain is quite simply, unforgettable when a survivor shares his or her stories. Many times, the famine made the people of Ukraine turn on themselves in a frightening fight for survival. As a student, it is important to objectively look at the facts of the events, but I cannot help but feel outrage by the relative neglect this event has seen in the history of eastern Europe. The conditions are set-up to label the Holodomor as an obvious genocide; however, the legacy of denial by Russia and Soviet supporters carries so much weight and power that it continues to hold the Ukrainian people down, 70 years after the blow was dealt.

Past Commentaries:

I just read this and I have to say that the newspaper clipping you found with pictures taken during the Holodomor really affected me. I can definitely see how it would be difficult to NOT have a bias concerning the issue, as you pointed out. What really baffled me about the situation is that there were collectivized crops sitting out to rot due to inefficiencies in planning while people and their animals starved. This reminded me of some of the situation I studied in a class dealing with Imperialism and Colonialization, where people in India and Africa suffered crippling poverty or terrible starvation while their own resources (the same ones that could have helped cure these problems!) were shipped off to Europe. It made me wonder if Stalin's treatment of Ukrainian peasants during this period can be fairly compared to the Imperialists' treatment of peasants in the undeveloped nations they conquered....

Steve Taylor-
Nice. I can see where people would tend to call this a genocide, especially with examples like "from 1932 to 1933, authorities established barricades along the border of the USSR to prevent any peasants from leaving all hunger-stricken regions." That seems pretty intentional to me.__The entire situation strikes me as a microcosm of how poorly executed and inhumane the Soviet system was. I will never be able to understand how a country with so little regard for human life and freedom and entrepreneurship managed to remain one of two world superpowers for nearly 50 years.

1 comment:

eurofreak05 said...

It is interesting how certain events receive less publicity. When studying about the attrocities that Stalin committed one usually first learns about Siberia and the gulags yet few textbooks mention this horrible planned famine that killed millions. I wonder why learning about the Holodomor is not widespread in history curriculums and why our knowledge of the event is so limited.