From as far back as 1917, we Soviet citizens had to hear and obediently swallow all sorts of shameless, not to say meaningless, lies. That the All-Russian Constituent Assembly was not an attempt at democracy but a counter-revolutionary scheme (and was therefore disbanded). Or that the October coup d'etat (this was Trotsky's brilliant manoeuvre) was not even an uprising, but self-defence from the aggressive Provisional Government (composed of the most intelligent cadets).
But people in Western countries never became aware of these monstrous distortions of historical events -- neither at the time nor later. So they had no chance to immunize themselves to the sheer impudence and scale of these lies.
The great famine of 1921 shook our country, from the Urals, across the Volga, and deep into European Russia. It cut down millions of our people. But the word Holodomor [meaning murder by hunger] was not used at that time. The Communist leadership deemed it sufficient to blame the famine on a natural drought, while failing to mention at all the grain requisitioning that cruelly robbed the peasantry.
And in 1932-33, when a similar great famine hit Ukraine and the Kuban region, the Communist Party bosses (including quite a few Ukrainians) treated it with the same silence and concealment. And it did not occur to anyone to suggest to the zealous activists of the Communist Party and Young Communist League that what was happening was the planned annihilation of precisely the Ukrainians. The provocative outcry about "genocide" only began to take shape decades later -- at first quietly, inside spiteful, anti-Russian, chauvinistic minds -- and now it has spun off into the government circles of modern-day Ukraine, who have thus outdone even the wild inventions of Bolshevik agitprop.
To the parliaments of the world: This vicious defamation is easy to insinuate into Western minds. They have never understood our history: You can sell them any old fairy tale, even one as mindless as this.
I. A bit of history:
The article was not written specifically for the Globe and Mail, nor is it of a recent date. One may thus wonder what was so valuable or news worthy that a paper that prides itself on being "Canada's National Newspaper" would see it worthy to reproduce it now, more than eight weeks after it appeared in Russian and was immediately translated into English.
Solzhenitsyn's short piece appeared for the first time on 02Apr2008, in the Russian newspaper Izvestia, under the title "Possorit' rodnye narody??" (To start a quarrel among brotherly peoples?). The title is hard to translate and was abandoned in the English versions, although it reflected much better Solzhenitsyn's preoccupation than the one in the G & M rendition. Solzhenitsyn has always looked at Ukraine from the perspective of a 19th century Russian nationalist who considered the three Eastern peoples as branches of one Russian nation (consisting of Great Russians, Little Russians and White Russians). The democratic dissident turned Russian chauvinist cannot forgive Yushchenko and his like of drawing the two "brotherly peoples" further apart by proffering to the world a Ukrainian-only genocide. (There are other passages where the text loses its meaning in the mistranslation -- I shall return to it below.)
The timing of Solzhenitsyn’s diatribe was not fortuitous. That same day (02Apr2008) the Russian Parliament was getting ready to discuss Ukraine’s claim of Holodomor-Genocide, and the coincidence was not lost on the Russian commentators. Luke Harding, writing in the Guardian a day later, believed it was an attack on Bush who two days earlier (01Apr2008), together with Yushchenko, laid a wreath at a monument to the victims of the famine in Kyiv. Harding also commented on the writer’s evolution: “His later statements have demonstrated an increasingly nationalist anti-western tone, and he appears to be a fan of President Vladimir Putin, who gave him a literary award last summer.”
In the next few days, the declaration was picked up by all major news outlets; newspapers around the world commented on the Nobel Prize winner’s text, quoted passages, or gave whole translations. The Guardian gave its translation (03Apr2008) a descriptive title: “Ukrainian politicians are misusing the term 'genocide' because they can rely on the west not to know any better”. The merit of this title was to sense the anti-western drift of article’s scent.
On 05Apr2008 the Boston Globe published Solzhenitsyn’s piece under the title “Ukrainian famine not a genocide”. The translation was very “liberal”, some parts were left out and others added (compared to the Izvestia version on the internet). Actually the last two paragraphs in the three newspapers (Guardian, Boston Globe, G&M) differ quite a bit, showing the almost incomprehensible style of Solzhenitsyn’s prose and the particular spin each translator/paper wished to give.
II. Content analysis:
Let us examine the five paragraphs making up the piece in the G&M.
The first paragraph lists some of the the lies that Soviet citizens had to swallow about the origins of the Communist regime.
The second paragraph states that people in the West did not become aware of these lies and did not become immunized against them.
The third paragraph talks about the famine of 1921. This paragraph is tendentious:
a) the author mentions only 1921, whereas the famine continued into 1923;
b) he mentions only European Russia, across the Volga and up to the Urals, neglecting to mention that it also ravaged southern Ukraine;
c) he is right to criticize the Communist for only blaming natural drought (which actually took place & was greatly responsible for the famine), and neglecting to admit to the forced requisition that was the other reason for the famine; however, he fails to mention about famine relief aid that was asked for and received from the west;
d) leaving Ukraine out of the picture, Solzhenitsyn fails to mention that Ukraine had enough food to feed its population but was forced to send it to Russia (Petrograd, Moscow & the Volga), even from the drought stricken regions of the south and for this reason there was a famine in Ukraine as well;
e) the term Holodomor was not used at that time, although the expression “moryty holodom” probably was; it has to be investigated. But most Ukrainian farmers were conscious of the fact that the famine was man-made and documents reflect this realization.
Such omissions for an author that is presented as a historian are not excusable.
The fourth paragraph is the only one that actually deals with the famine of 1932-33. The author once more gives a most biased presentation:
a) he mentions that there were Ukrainians among the communist bosses, but fails to mention that Kuban’ (part of RSFSR), which he cites, was two-thirds Ukrainian;
b) he claims that the Communist bosses treated this famine with the “same silence and concealment”; double error: in 1921 the bosses knew of the famine and asked for aid (first for Russia & eventually for Ukraine); in 1933 the bosses from Ukraine (Petrovsky, Chubar & others) informed Stalin, Molotov & Kaganovich and begged for aid but were refused; Published collections of documents (Stalin-Kaganovich correspondence; Sovietskaia derevnia glazami OGPU; Tragedia sovetskoi derevi) just to mention the ones published in Moscow & therefore easily available for Solzhenitsyn give a very precise picture of the difference of the famine in Ukraine and in Russia.
Only half of this paragraph deals with the famine; the second part is a diatribe against the “spiteful, anti-Russian, chauvinistic minds” in the Ukrainian government circles. Letting one’s imagination run wild may be good for literary inspiration but not when it leads to spewing hatred as in the closing words of that paragraph: “the government circles of modern-day Ukraine, who have thus outdone even the wild inventions of Bolshevik agitprop”.
The fifth paragraph begins with a seeming appeal to the World: “To the parliaments of the world:”. But if it were aimed at foreign parliaments, then the author would not address them in the third person: “They have never understood our history: You can sell them any old fairy tale”. The original Russian text has only four paragraphs and in fact the last two form a single whole. The sentence “To the parliaments of the world” are in quotation marks. What the author is saying is that the Ukrainian government circles are taking their “fairy tales” to the parliaments of the world.
When we analyze Solzhenitsyn’s op-ed, what do we find?
- First, there is no analysis, historical or otherwise, of the Holodomor controversy, the author gives no arguments why the Ukrainian famine should not be considered a genocide.
- Second, the text is no great piece of literature, and the fact that the translators had trouble understanding it was not due to the complexity of ideas but to poor style.
- Third, artistic license stops where social science begins; the question of famine and genocide demands serious discussion not bouts of delirium.
- Fourth, the piece is extremely insulting, first to the Ukrainian community, and then to the general Western public.
III. Why did the Globe and Mail publish this piece?
Taking into account our discussion of the history and the content of Solzhenitsyn’s commentary, one can only ask, why was this piece published by the Globe and why was it done now?
The article is bad as history, it is poor as literature, it is insulting to Ukraine, Ukrainians and the Western world in general; so why publish it?
On the other hand, it is an attempt to discredit the notion that the Ukrainian Holodomor was a Genocide. Was this the motive behind this publication?
The timing would suggest that it was. This is a warmed-over piece of Ukrainophobia, published eight weeks after its first appearance in other papers. Why now? Well, it comes several days after the Holodomor bill was unanimously passed by the two houses of our Parliament. It appeared several days after the triumphant visit to Canada of Ukraine’s President. And thirdly, it appeared two days before the hearing on the Genocide program in the Toronto school board, at which a Ukrainian delegation will argue to have the Holodomor included in the curriculum. The message is clear: the West was dupe to Communist lies, and just now it got duped again by Yushchenko into passing the Holodomor Bill. Toronto school board should not let itself get hoodwinked into accepting Holodomor into the school curriculum. As Luke Harding of the Guardian had placed the first printing of Solzhenitsyn’s article in its historical context, so should we realize that the present publication by the G&M was not a chance occurrence. Someone was interested in having this article appear for specific reasons.
IV. What is to be done?
Considering that the publication was an affront to Ukrainians, the Ukrainian community should demand a retraction and an apology from the Globe. The Globe should also carry a serious op-ed article on the Holodomor.
The community should start a phone & letter campaign to the Globe.
A cancellation campaign should be organized: give the Globe a week or two to apologize and publish an op-ed, and if not done, cancel subscriptions.
If the above does not work, stage a demonstration before the G&M building, but prepare good material for hand-outs to the media and the public.
Roman Serbyn, 2008.05.31 11:31 PM
(Its already late; had no time to go over, sorry for any misprints)