Staunton, May 25 – Ukrainians have struggled for decades to gain national understanding and international recognition of the Holodomor, the terror famine Stalin inflicted upon them in the early 1930s, Stanislav Kulchitsky says. Kazakhs can learn much from the Ukrainian struggle as they seek to recover the truth about the same horrors the Soviet system inflicted upon them.
The senior scholar at the Institute for Ukraine of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences tells Central Asian Monitor’s Kenzhe Tatilya that Ukraine has pursued its efforts to secure international recognition of the Holodomor not to get compensation but to unite the Ukrainian nation (camonitor.kz/33066-golodomor-i-asharshylyk-chem-ukrainskiy-opyt-pouchitelen-dlya-kazahskih-issledovateley.html).
“This too is important especially in the context of the current Ukrainian-Russian hybrid war,” the Ukrainian scholar says.
Kulichitsky notes that “Russia considers itself to be the legal successor of the Soviet Union but isn’t prepared to accept guilt for the crimes of Stalin’s times, even though the Russian people too suffered as well.” But Ukraine and presumably Kazakhstan have an interest in getting international recognition of the terror famine as a genocide to undermine Russian propaganda.
For Ukrainians, this is especially important because “the ruling circles of present-day Russia have revived the pre-revolutionary policy which includes the non-recognition of the existence of the Ukrainian nation” as separate and distinct. But achieving international recognition won’t be easy or quick as there is serious resistance internationally.
Kazakhstan made enormous strides in the 1990s in the study of the Asharshylyk, as the analogue of the Ukrainian Holodomor is called. But then “at the demand of Russia,” almost everything stopped. In May 2013, for example, some at an Astana conference tried to raise the issue but the leadership cut them off.
Kazakh historians face other challenges as well, Kulchitsky says. When the terror famine occurred there, Kazakhstan was an autonomous republic within the RSFSR and so presumably many of the archives that need to be explored are in Moscow and may be beyond the reach of Kazakh researchers.
Ukrainian leaders have varied in their support for research on this question, the historian says. Viktor Yushchenko was committed to research on the Holodomor and even hoped to convince Israel to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide, “but Israel values the uniqueness of the Holocaust as a genocide and does not want to subject this term to any ‘inflation.’”
A commission of the US Congress, headed by the James Mace, recognized the Holodomor as a genocide already in 1988, but the Congress as a whole did so only in 2018, 30 years later when American relations with Russia had deteriorated. Much of what has been achieved in the US is the work of the Ukrainian diaspora.
Ukrainians in the US succeeded in getting historian Robert Conquest to do research on the question, attracting new attention to the cause, although he could not read Ukrainian and so was limited to materials supplied by others including Mace. A second breakthrough, Kulchitsky says, was the 2017 appearance of Anne Applebaum’s book on the Holodomor
“Kazakhstan has its own diaspora,” the Ukrainian historian says, “which could support Kazakh scholars in conducting research on the Asharshylyk, although not in Russia and China.” In doing so, they need to keep in mind that there are many similarities but also important differences in the two events.
That both acts were directed at the destruction of a human group, the peasantry, is fairly easy to show. That it was an act of genocide is more controversial. In the Ukrainian case, there is compelling evidence for that conclusion; in the Kazakh case, far more research is needed, Kulchitsky suggests.
“The main thing for Kazakh and Ukrainian scholars is to create a real picture of what occurred. After that, others or the scholars themselves can draw legal and political conclusions.” Those will be controversial and acceptance of any one of them may take decades. “But they are in the interests of our peoples who suffered so horribly in the hunger years.”