I was chosen by your dead (James Mace, 2003)

I was chosen by your dead
Legacy of the Famine: Ukraine as a postgenocidal society

Courtesy of E-Poshta
February 18, 2003
By James Mace
The Day, Kyiv, Ukraine

On February 12 (2003) the Verkhovna Rada held special hearings commemorating the Manmade Famine of 1932-33, here called the Holodomor. This year, marking the seventieth anniversary of the tragedy, the Ukrainian public remembers millions of fellow citizens who fell prey to a premeditated genocidal policy by Stalin’s Kremlin and carried out by the Communist leadership of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The parliamentary hearings are intended to spur international bodies, primarily the United Nations, to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide. This time The Day presents an article written by one who stood by the cradle of modern studies of the Holodomor. In the late 1980s, Prof. James Mace was executive director of the US commission that collected evidence and eyewitness accounts from survivors, who survived the Golgotha of Soviet Ukraine in the 1930s.

In 1981, as I embarked on studies of the Great Famine in
Ukraine, there were still many unpublished Party documents.
After studying national communism within the context of the
Ukrainian history of the period, along with documents,
speeches, and editorials carried literally every day by the
official press of Soviet Ukraine, the main features of the Soviet
official policy toward Ukraine became completely clear to me.
At this point a digression is in order. Why should I, a born and
bred American, take up such a topic? What did I need it for? I
have been asked this question very often and I have often
been tempted to ask in turn: Why should millions of Russians,
Jews, Armenians, and Ukrainians travel across the ocean to
that faraway godforsaken country, my America? I did it
because Ukrainian Americans required such research, and
fate decreed that the victims chose me. Just as one cannot
study the Holocaust without becoming half Jewish in spirit, one
cannot study the Famine and not become at least half
Ukrainian. I have spent too many years for Ukraine not to have
become the greater part of my life. After all, Martin Luther said,
“Here I stand, I can do no other.”

The perpetrators’ motive was simple, and all the documents
and later research have not changed the overall portrait of the
events I first presented in 1982 International Conference on the
Holocaust and Genocide in Tel Aviv. I remain convinced that,
for Stalin to have complete centralized power in his hands, he
found it necessary to physically destroy the second largest
Soviet republic, meaning the annihilation of the Ukrainian
peasantry, Ukrainian intelligentsia, Ukrainian language, and
history as understood by the people; to do away with Ukraine
and things Ukrainian as such. The calculation was very simple,
very primitive: no people, therefore, no separate country, and
thus no problem. Such a policy is GENOCIDE in the classic
sense of the word.

Until the end of war communism in 1921, the Bolsheviks
cultivated an almost pathological hatred what they called
bourgeois nationalism. The essence of Lenin’s formula,
“rapprochement and merger of nations,” can itself be
interpreted as progenocidal, since imposing a single national
pattern was proclaimed “historically progressive.” During the
first Soviet occupation of Kyiv, Bolshevik forces shot anyone
they found in the streets speaking Ukrainian. The famine of
1921-23, killing millions in Ukraine, was obviously
exacerbated by Moscow’s economic policy with regard to
Ukraine. Food was pumped out of that country in an openly
discriminatory manner. In 1919 the head of the second Soviet
Ukrainian government, Khristian Rakovsky, in 1919 formally
branded Ukrainian a counterrevolutionary language. In 1921,
the Council of People’s Commissars of the Russian
Federative Soviet Socialist Republic (RFSSR) asked for help
only for the starving populace in Volga Basin and the New
Economic Policy (NEP) that ended the forced seizure of
foodstuffs delayed in Ukraine six months to prolong the
prodrazverstka campaign of requisitioning farm produce. It
was only with the start of NEP in 1921 that an attempt was
made to have Soviet power coexist with non-Russian
languages and cultures (resolution On the National Question of
the Tenth RKP{b} Congress). In the course of Ukrainization (or
“indigenization” proclaimed by the Twelfth Party Congress), in
1923-32, Communists in Ukraine attempted to gain control of
the Ukrainian national cultural process by directly participating
in it. Halting this policy during the Holodomor of 1932-33 had
all the hallmarks of genocide. To enforce his direct rule in
Ukraine, Stalin restored to terrible repression and, finally to
famine. In late October 1932, the All-Union Communist Party
(VKP{b}) took the grain procurements campaign under its
direct control through Vyacheslav Molotov, Chairman of the
USSR Council of People’s Commissars, who was appointed
chairman of the grain procurements commission in the
Ukrainian SSR. (Lazar Kaganovich headed an analogous
commission in what was then the South Caucasus Territory,
including the heavily Ukrainian Kuban.) On November 18 the
Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of
Ukraine (KP{b}U) , presided over by Molotov, instituted a
system of fines payable in kind. This was actually a directive
aimed at making collective farmers return to the state grain
received as advance payments on crops, and confiscating
other foodstuffs in the absence of grain. All this could only be
interpreted as a policy meant to cause a famine, the

The CC VKP(b) Politburo resolution of December 14, 1932,
signed by Stalin and Molotov, accusing the Ukrainian SSR
government and leadership of the North Caucasus Territory of
Ukrainian nationalism, this being allegedly the main reason for
the unwillingness or inability of the local Communists to comply
with the procurements quotas for mythical grain, along with a
January 24, 1933 VKP(b) reprimand of the entire KP(b)U,
were graphic evidence that the leadership in Moscow sought
to end any independent activity by the KP(b)U and Soviet
Ukrainian government. The mass terror unleashed against
Ukrainian culture in 1933 was additional evidence that
Moscow wanted to destroy Ukrainian national identity as the
basis of such independent activity. In 1988, the US
Commission on the Ukraine Famine, relying on such evidence,
determined that the Holodomor was an act of genocide. In
1990, an international commission to study the 1932-33
Holodomor in Ukraine, set up by the World Congress of Free
Ukrainians, failed to arrive at an unequivocal conclusion
because certain members erroneously considered genocide a
matter of legislation (droit) rather than unchanging law (loi),
contrary to the basic international instruments. The
commission explained its decision, saying the Manmade
Famine in Ukraine was organized 15 years before the said
documents were adopted, and that an act of genocide could
be claimed only by the then Soviet government; that none of
the actual organizers of the Holodomor were among the living,
except Lazar Kaganovich. The nature and scope of the
Holodomor in Ukraine remain subject to dispute by foreign

We investigated the issue as best be could. It seems to me
that the documents we collected, including eyewitness
accounts and our Report to Congress, have played their role.
The further work with this material we leave to posterity. We
simply could not endure the pain and horror. Stalin’s
sociological scorched earth policy maimed Ukraine to such an
extent that it created a discontinuity in the normal development
of the Ukrainian people, producing a unique situation. While in
countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, etc.,
the collapse of communism could and did result in the
restoration of independence lost by the previous states, in
Ukraine, except for its western territories, the Ukrainian nation
– as a community possessing a broad consensus regarding its
identity, history, and cultural values – has remained in a sense
a national minority in its own country. In other words, the
people as such was so deformed that when Ukraine finally
became independent there was no broad consensus
concerning its future. All that remained was the surviving
structures of Soviet Ukraine. In 1991, all of us made a
fundamental albeit unconscious error in assuming that the
newly independent states were new independent states. Now
it is clear that in fact hitherto extant but dependent states
merely became independent with the same people remaining
in basically the same positions, doing basically the same
things, and the course of events evolved from there.
Postcommunist Ukraine already no longer just an independent
Ukrainian SSR, but it is also not a Ukrainian Ukraine, in the
subjective sense – with people sharing the same national
values and understanding of their identity – in the sense in
which Poland is Polish and the Czech Republic is Czech.

All broad historical narratives are to some extent artificial, yet
this is a natural process of self-understanding for any given
people. In the case of the Soviet Union, there was the artificial
incorporation of Ukrainian history and those of other peoples,
imposing a different national identity, as seen fit by those in
power at the time. In 1950, the late Anna Pankratova made a
discovery in the nineteenth edition of her History of the USSR,
writing that the Cossack revolution, which began in 1649, was
the “Ukrainian war of national liberation war led by Bohdan
Khmelnytsky.” The apparent subtext was that for Ukrainians
“national liberation” meant “reunification” with the big brother,
Russia; they were to distinguish between the “Great Patriotic
War” from World War II, meaning that they won that war as a
“little brother” under the big one’s able guidance and not as a
full-fledged member of the United Nations taking part in a
world struggle against Nazism. Works in Russian by, say,
Mikhail Bulgakov were generally available, but a whole
generation of Ukrainian literati known as the rozstriliane
vidrodzhennia, the renaissance that was executed, was
“erased,” although its representatives were as talented as all
those representing Russia’s coterminous silver age (Mykola
Khvyliovy, Yury Yanovsky, young Sosiura and Tychyna, along
with Mykola Zerov’s neoclassicist poetry and translations from
ancient literature). The Soviet regime did its best to “root out
and destroy nationalism” (Bilshovyk Ukrayiny, 1933, No. 7) in
the language itself, purging the very vocabulary of the language
as the intellectual building blocks of the cultural development in
any human community. What was left remained too little to
make Ukraine an equal member of the world community of
nations. […]

Only the Ukrainians themselves can decide how they should
speak and write. Yet how can they decide this, not knowing the
words once banned (again, see Bilshovyk Ukrayiny, 1933, No
7!)? I wish that someday someone would sit, as I have done,
over the suppressed works from the 1920s of the Academy of
Sciences Institutes of Scientific Language and Living
Language. When will the results of their work will be published,
so that one all can examine what was done by that lost
generation and then be able to make the most basic building
blocks of the nation’s thought?

The main thing is that Ukrainians will never become a
full-fledged people and an equal member of European
civilization until power flows from the state to a self-organized
people able to force those in power to do what the people
want. This is precisely what makes us often fail to understand
the actual meaning of the concept, civil society. It is not an
ideal system, not always completely democratic, but no one
has discovered anything better thus far. No state will ever
make Ukraine Ukrainian. Only self-organized Ukrainians can
do this, and I am deeply convinced that they will.


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