Monday, May 30, 2022

1920-21 Famine in Middle Volga had Human Costs and Ethnic Consequences Resembling Those of Holodomor in Ukraine and Asharshilyk in Kazakhstan, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – Because the famine in the Middle Volga took place at the end of the Russian Civil War rather than a decade later and had fewer victims, because it occurred in places not now independent countries, and because it had many precedents, that horrific event has not attracted the same attention even though it had similar human costs and ethnic consequences.

            But it deserves attention, Prague-based commentator Vadim Sidorov says, not only as a tragedy in its own right but as a model of Bolshevik behavior that Stalin followed with terrible fidelity later in Kazakhstan and Ukraine (

            Like its successors, the Middle Volga famine had natural courses which the Soviets made worse and exploited to achieve their policy goals of breaking the resistance of the peasantry and shifting the ethnic balance in all of these regions away from the non-Russians and to ethnic Russian dominance.

            That story is well-known in the case of Kazakhstan and Ukraine. But it is only beginning to be told as far as the Middle Volga is concerned. (For some contributions to that effort, see and

            The Soviet government came to appreciate how it could exploit a famine for political gain when it comes to changing the ethnic composition of the republic involved. In 1920, Bashkirs in autonomous districts outside of Bashkortostan staged what came to be called the Pitchfork Rebellion.

            The peasants involved demanded that they be treated the way Bashkir peasants were in Bashkortostan rather than as some second-class citizens. Moscow jumped on this, deploying massive force to suppress the rebellion and then accused Bashkortostan of organizing the rising and used such unfounded accusations to begin the destruction of Bashkir autonomy generally.

            The famine and Soviet exploitation of it cost the Bashkirs more than a million lives, reducing their numbers inside the USSR from approximately 1.7 million in 1917 to roughly 800,000 nine years later, setting the stage for the repressions Bashkirs have suffered more or less continuously since then.  

            Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his writings about the 1920s and 1930s chronicled this disaster and declared that “the tragedy of the Bashkir people from war, repression and hunger” represents “one of the greatest ethno-demographic catastrophes in world history.”

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