war crimes in Ukraine

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Will Holodomor receive the same status as the Holocaust?

15.11.2007    source:
Josef Zisels, Halyna Kharaz
Now, when a number of countries, including European states, have recognized Holodomor as genocide, it would be senseless to become bogged down in a dispute over terminology. We are talking after all of a symbolic act, once again strengthening our bipolar world.

The Ukrainian Embassy, together with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have been actively discussing the programme for President Yushchenko’s visit to Israel. And this is despite the fact that within the President’s circle t there is no unequivocal agreement as to whether the visit is advisable at the present time. The events around the “rehabilitation” of the UPA [Ukrainian Resistance Army] and the posthumous honouring of Roman Shukhevych could be seen as an unfavourable background for a meeting with the Israeli leadership. Some of the President’s people, seeing Russian activity over these issues are perhaps concerned of possible provocation during the visit.

One can’t say that the Israeli media is buzzing with discussion over the forthcoming visit, however some interest can be observed. On the whole, the Israeli public seems indifferent to the visit and to Ukraine’s complex history, with the exception perhaps of some representatives of its Russian-speaking part.

We don’t know whether the call to Israel to declare Holodomor an act of genocide is one of the purposes of the visit since the trip has been postponed for various reasons over the last two years and during that time a number of unresolved issues have accumulated.

Why is the issue of Holodomor so important for Ukraine?  At present the country is undergoing a process of national and historic self-identification. It is trying to understand afresh the events of the distant and recent past, especially those which were momentous and tragic pivotal points in its history. Holodomor and World War II were just such points, and they are difficult and painful subjects. For this reason the issue around declaring Holodomor to have been an act of genocide is a burning one for Ukraine.

When we use the word “genocide”, we mean first and foremost the Holocaust. Yet there are other tragic examples also: Armenia, Cambodia, Ruanda. We should also remember the mass deportation of whole ethnic groups – the Crimean Tatars, the Chechens, Ingush people and others carried out by Stalin’s regime and which led to the deaths of virtually half of those deported.

The formal reason why Holodomor has still not been recognized as genocide from the point of view of international law is a question of terminology. According to the definition in the UN Convention, “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. 

There is no doubt that Holodomor was organized artificially, for political and ideological reasons, that it resulted in the deaths, according to various estimates, of from 5 to 7 million people, the absolute majority of whom were Ukrainian peasants, as well as rural people in Kuban (also mainly of Ukrainian descent, Povolzhya (Volga region) and Kazakhstan.

For Ukraine this crime perpetrated by the communist regime was a national tragedy, a terrible attack on the gene pool of the nation. Yet there are still now plenty of people ready to argue about whether the destruction of the Ukrainian peasants was the direct purpose of Holodomor, or whether their deaths were only the result of the communist regime’s policy against the individual peasant farmers as a class.

Such discussions strike us as being at very least unethical. What Stalin and his people planned we will one day find out from archival documents. However what it led to is absolutely clear and we must judge the terrible events of those years specifically on the results. These were such that they fall under the definition of genocide. Now, when a number of countries, including European states, have recognized Holodomor as genocide, it would be senseless to become bogged down in a dispute over terminology. We are talking after all of a symbolic act, once again strengthening our bipolar world.

Unfortunately Russia’s position in this seems highly ambiguous with it on principle refusing to accept Holodomor as genocide, saying that not only people from Ukraine, but in other places suffered as a result of it. In actual fact, Russia is worried that it, as successor to the USSR, could face claims and even demands for compensation. These fears are only warranted if Russia indeed considers itself to be not only the successor, but to also be continuing the Soviet state. Then it will indeed have to not only make use of Soviet achievements, but also take upon itself responsibility for the crimes of the Soviet regime.

As for other countries, in the first instance democratic and civilized states, we hope that they will recognize Holodomor as genocide, in awareness of the historic justice of this step. This recognition would be enormously important for Ukraine in its aspiration to become a part of the democratic world. It is possible that Russia will also realize that Ukraine’s tragedy is its own tragedy. After all we are not talking about one people’s grievances against another, but of the crime of a totalitarian regime and the implementation of plans by those from different ethnic groups blinded by hatred and hiding behind a particular ideology.

In the case of Israel, we can see three reasons at least why it cannot at the present time recognize Holodomor as genocide.

  1. Stereotypical thinking in relation to Ukraine weighed down by memories of dark pages in Ukrainian-Jewish relations in the past;
  2. The fixed idea that the Holocaust was unique and lack of willingness to officially recognize that in the history of other people there were tragic events no less painful for them, than the Holocaust is for Jews. We would note that such an attitude meets with no understanding from many peoples not only having experienced their tragedies, but having successfully escaped them.
  3. “Tactical” considerations – reluctance to have any conflict with Russia.

One would like to believe that sooner or later other reasons will dominate with both Israel’s official position and Israeli public awareness, namely;

1  Empathy from one people who experienced tragedy for others who have experienced theirs;

2  Solidarity from the democratic world against the remnants of imperialist, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes;

3  The good prospects for relations between Ukraine and Israel, unlike, in our view, the lack of such prospects for relations between Israel and Russia.

We believe that Israel will sooner or later recognize the Armenian tragedy and Holodomor to have been acts of genocide, as well as Stalin’s deportations. And for the moment we hope that Israel will receive the calls from Ukraine to recognize Holodomor as genocide with understanding, and will put the question forward for consideration and discussion.

If it had not been for those very “tactical” considerations which have often made it impossible to stop the criminal actions of totalitarian empires in time, the world would today look quite different. If after the genocide of the Armenians the world community had understood the danger of such crimes for all humanity and had found an antidote, then perhaps there would not have been Holodomor or the Holocaust or other crimes on a mass scale.

There can be no other but moral criteria. The pain of each people must become the pain of all mankind – there is no other way to a tolerant world.

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