The Ukrainian Holodomor: A Trauma Beyond Trauma (Part IV and Conclusion)

The Stakes of Personal Engagement

My personal engagement with this material betrays a cultural complex which continues to grip not only myself, but Ukrainians dispersed throughout the world.  An extension of Jung’s complex theory, Thomas Singer and Samuel L. Kimbles (2004) explain that

cultural complexes can be thought of arising out of the cultural unconscious as it interacts with both archetypal and personal realms of the psyche and the broader outer worlds of schools, communities, media, and all the other forms of cultural and group life. As such, cultural complexes can be thought of as forming the essential components of an inner sociology. But this inner sociology does not claim to be objective or scientific in its description of different groups and classes of people. Rather, it is a description of groups and classes of people as filtered through the psyches of generations of ancestors (pp. 4-5)

Centuries of imperial Russian subjugation of the Ukrainian people, the suppression of language, culture, religiosity, and political self-determination have given rise to the projection of hate upon the Russian people as well as a paralysis during moments when these oppressive histories come into public awareness. The period of traumatic history covered in this study is only four years in a long history which began under Peter the Great and the enserfdom of peasants by Catherine the Great in 1783, and culminated with the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 (Subtelny, 2000).

A thorough and well designed analysis of the cultural complex at work in Ukraine is a task which demands a separate study. However, a parallel can be drawn from Denise G. Ramos’ (2004) study of corruption as a symptom of a cultural complex in Brazil. Her study analyzes corruption within a wider context of collective feelings of inferiority, the continued negative influence of the colonial subjugation of the indigenous people of Brazil, and a pervasive distrust in authority figures and the government. Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that the same symptoms are present in current day Ukraine. Characterized as a friendly, hospitable, and hard-working society, Ukrainians are so used to corruption and bribes that it is exceedingly difficult to change this mindset. Endless stories are told of paying bribes for children to be admitted to schools, to pass examinations and get diplomas, to get jobs, and to even get medical care and a room in the hospital. A government which is influenced and dominated by oligarchs maintains the mechanisms of bribery and corruption for its own gain. It is not surprising that there exists a general mistrust of authority. This is compounded with very high levels of alcoholism, spousal abuse, and the recent spike in HIV infection and AIDS. In order to fully grasp the precipitants of these symptoms of a Ukrainian cultural complex, a separate research project is warranted. However, one wonders if the symptoms are not the results of generations of serfdom under the Tsar, social degradation by the Soviets, and the repressed and buried memories of collective trauma, such as the Great Famine.

It is only within the last 30 years, that written histories about the famine have begun to circulate beyond the diaspora community, and that serious attempts have been made to recognize it as genocide. The United States is one of a few world countries which have done so. But, what remains exceedingly difficult to accomplish is to bring this matter to the attention of the leadership and the citizens of the Russian Federation.  The recent publications of Naimark’s (2010) book on Stalin as genocidaire, and Snyder’s (2010) book Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin will undoubtedly continue to fuel the historical debate on more than just the famine in Ukraine, but on the heroic narrative which the Kremlin wishes to maintain. This will also energize Russia’s own cultural complex.

Conclusion

On November 22, 2008 a Monument and Memorial Complex dedicated to the victims of the Holodomor was dedicated by then President of Ukraine, Viktor Yuschenko.  In his address to the assembled crowds he only acknowledged the millions of victims of the famine, but also stated “with brotherly respect and sympathy we bow our heads before all those who suffered from Stalin’s regime as we did: Russians, Belarusians, Kazakhs, Crimean Tatars, Moldovans, Jews and tens of other nations” (Bandera, 2008).

By framing the national trauma of the famine of his ancestors within the greater context of the crime against humanity orchestrated by Stalin himself, Yuschenko broadened the appeal for other groups to stop denying the traumas which they suffered. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before the frightening popularity of Stalin will give way to the truth and the appropriation of the more accurate title of Torturer.