Friday, 28 May 2010

Springtime For Stalin

Three and a half months after a Ukrainian court convicted Stalin of genocide against the Ukrainian nation during the famine of 1932-1933, a new monument in honor of the Soviet dictator has been erected in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia.
Separating the two events was this year’s Ukrainian presidential election, in which Viktor Yushchenko, who had pursued a radically anti-Stalinist memory policy, was defeated and replaced by Viktor Yanukovych, who promised to avoid extremes and unite the nation.

Though Yanukovych would prefer to steer clear of such ostentatious nostalgia for Stalin, he is responsible for a remarkable change in mood.

In his final months in office, Yuschchenko favored an ill-considered “trial” against Stalin and other long-dead defendants as a way to define the history of Ukraine’s past within the Soviet Union; Yanukovych, by contrast, has overseen the formation of a new coalition government that includes the Communist Party of Ukraine.

Rather than simply letting his predecessor’s strident anti-communism fade into the past, the new president has pronounced on Ukrainian history in a contrary spirit.

Thus, Yanokovych told the Council of Europe in late April that the deliberate starvation of the three million inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine by the Stalinist regime was not genocide, but rather a “common tragedy for all people who lived in the former Soviet Union.”

His bland formulation blurs important truths.

While it is true that Stalin’s policy of collectivization—the state seizure of farmland and the coercive employment of peasants—brought enormous suffering throughout the USSR in the early 1930s, it is also true that Stalin made deliberate decisions about grain requisitions and livestock seizures that brought death to three million people in Ukraine who did not have to die.

Some of the very worst of the killing took place in southeastern Ukraine, where Stalin is now being celebrated and where Yanukovych has his political base.

The famine destroyed that region’s rural society by killing many, cowing more, and permitting the immigration of people from beyond Ukraine—chiefly Russians, some of whom inherited the homes of the starved.

The cult of Stalin is thus no empty symbol in Ukraine; it is a mark of active identification with a person who owed his mastery of Ukraine to a campaign of death.

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