01.06.2008 | Halya Coynash

Recycling a bad taste


With newspapers fighting to be first in breaking a news story, the decision by Canada’s most authoritative paper the Globe and Mail, May 31 (
) to publish an article almost two months old must raise eyebrows – and some hard-hitting questions.  We’ll mention some of those questions – and who to put them to – later.  First a bit about the article deemed worthy of recycling.

On 2 April Alexander Solzhenitsyn published a short text in the near-to-the Kremlin Russian newspaper “Izvestiya”, with the title “Creating division between kindred peoples??”  The former dissident, who for many was once the voice of conscience in the Soviet Union, had already expressed somewhat chauvinist views about Ukraine and Belarus and their relationship – a la Solzhenitsyn – to Russia.  This latest outburst nonetheless came as a shock to many because of its tone, content and – yet again – timing. 

The author’s theme was Holodomor, though he avoids the very term and is scathing about the view that Holodomor was an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. In his words: “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.”

  This vitriolic attack, even repeated two months on, remains staggering.  Alexander Isaevich may disagree with the many scholars, Ukrainian and others, who consider the evidence to be compelling that Stalin closed the borders out of Ukraine and out of predominantly Ukrainian Kuban in order to crush Ukrainians. That is his prerogative. However he goes much further, and suggesting that Ukrainians are somehow outdoing the lies of Bolshevik propaganda. Given the decades of lies and concealment about the Famine of 1932-1933, it is profoundly offensive. 

After a couple of months it can be difficult to place texts within their historical, or more to the point, political context.  The State Duma was about to vote on an assessment of Holodomor and the US President had just laid a wreath at a monument to the victims of this terrible crime.  Solzhenitsyn’s angry words seemed to conveniently echo the views of the Kremlin in a way that was deeply disturbing.

There was outcry at the time, statements issued by former dissidents, mostly in Ukraine, although there were voices of reproach from Russians also.  Some of the criticism was very harsh. Alexander Isaevich is a Russian nationalist and while we may find his conclusions at the present time regarding who and what best serves his country’s interests baffling, his age and undoubted courage in the past made many loath to articulate their worst suspicions.

Why now?

  Perhaps Solzhenitsyn can answer that question.  These are the last lines of his text (in the translation published today): “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”

The Canadian parliament effectively recognized Holodomor as an act of genocide last week.  There is also a drive on at present in Canada to have Holodomor included in a high school course on genocide. 

In short, like two months ago, there were reasons which certain parties appear to find cogent for fighting against recognition of Holodomor as genocide.

All very well but …

It is a major “but”.  There is, or should be, a huge difference between an article albeit by Solzhenitsyn in the Russian Izvestiya, and a privately-owned and important Canadian newspaper. So why did the latter decide to publish so late in the day an article reviously published in a western newspaper (
)?  Now if it knew (and the translation is the same) about the Boston article, it must have known about the excellent response from Serhii Plokhii, Lecturer in Ukrainian History at Harvard University  (
  We can understand that recycling not only another newspaper’s article, but one of their reader’s responses might seem a little bit much, but surely it should have made them aware that such a contentious article could do with some balance, at very least one countering point of view?

Since we would not wish to answer these baffling questions for the Globe and Mail, we can only reiterate the call made by Ukrainians in Canada to approach the newspaper directly at [email protected] , asking:

why they chose to publish a two-month-old article now;

why, given the contentious nature of the views expressed, no effort was made to offer an alternative view.  In connection with this, you might like to ask why the Globe and Mail refused to publish a piece by Professor  Lubomyr Luciuk on Holodomor, which he submitted for publication during this week’s visit to Canada of President Yushchenko and to coincide with Canadian parliament’s unanimous vote on Holodomor. 

Nobody is suggesting that newspapers should not publish texts which annoy some of their readers.  However we surely have the right to balance and objectivity and where timing and choice of recycled material seem baffling, we could also do with some answers.

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