Friday, April 2, 2021

Russian Famine a Century Ago Didn’t Lead to Regime Change; Kremlin Fears Talking about It Now Could

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 31 – The famine which resulted in more than five million deaths in Soviet Russia in the early 1920s did not spark a revolution or lead to a change in the regime, but today, a century later, Russia’s rulers clearly fear that talking about that event could entail serious political consequences and are taking steps to block such discussions.

            Today, the Znak news agency publishes a pair of articles, one about the famine itself and its lack of political consequences at the time ( and a second about official reaction to discussions about it now (            There are three reasons why the famine of the 1920s is not something many in power today want discussed, historian Yuliya Khmelevskaya, who is involved with a research project on it for the Diletant journal. Frist of all, the massiveness and horrors of the famine are almost beyond anyone’s imagination: five million dead and large numbers of cases of cannibalism.

            Second, the famine was the result of Soviet policies, and the Soviet government did not do nearly as much to help it as it often claims. Instead, it continued to arm itself against the population confident that a starving people would simply not have the energy to present a political threat. In that, the Bolsheviks were cynical but correct.

            And third, most of the assistance for those suffering from starvation came not from Moscow but from abroad, from relief organizations set up in and even by countries the Soviets were declaring their enemies. The largest and most prominent of these was the American Relief Administration headed by Herbert Hoover.

            In some places, it was responsible for feeding as many as 75 percent of the victims of famine, a figure obviously greater than anything the Soviet government or all other international assistance bodies did. Talking about that undermines both confidence in Moscow and its presentation of the West as permanent enemies.

            But if starving people did not present a threat to the Soviet government in the 1920s, better fed people in Russia today who learn about what happened then may, at least in the view of some in the Russian capital. According to those involved with Diletant’s Famine Project, the Interior Ministry and the FSB have begun snooping around.

            The investigators have been denounced as foreign agents in the pay of the West; and if the MVD and FSB brings charges of that kind against them, Moscow may succeed in closing down their operation and blocking yet another opportunity to learn the truth about their past and about the very different roles their own government and other governments played. 

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