Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ukraine / Russia / Stalinism

Springtime for Stalin
By Timothy Snyder
New York Review of Books, May 26, 2010
Photo: "People attending the unveiling of a new Joseph Stalin monument, Zaporizhia, Ukraine, May 5, 2010" (Sergei Supinsky/Getty).
"Three and a half months after a Ukrainian court convicted Stalin of genocide against the Ukrainian nation during the famine of 1932–1933, a new monument in honor of the Soviet dictator has been erected in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia. Separating the two events was this year's Ukrainian presidential election, in which Viktor Yushchenko, who had pursued a radically anti-Stalinist memory policy, was defeated and replaced by Viktor Yanukovych, who promised to avoid extremes and unite the nation. Though Yanukovych would prefer to steer clear of such ostentatious nostalgia for Stalin, he is responsible for a remarkable change in mood. ... Yanokovych told the Council of Europe in late April that the deliberate starvation of the three million inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine by the Stalinist regime was not genocide, but rather a 'common tragedy for all people who lived in the former Soviet Union.' His bland formulation blurs important truths.
While it is true that Stalin’s policy of collectivization -- the state seizure of farmland and the coercive employment of peasants -- brought enormous suffering throughout the USSR in the early 1930s, it is also true that Stalin made deliberate decisions about grain requisitions and livestock seizures that brought death to three million people in Ukraine who did not have to die. Some of the very worst of the killing took place in southeastern Ukraine, where Stalin is now being celebrated and where Yanukovych has his political base. The famine destroyed that region's rural society by killing many, cowing more, and permitting the immigration of people from beyond Ukraine -- chiefly Russians, some of whom inherited the homes of the starved. The cult of Stalin is thus no empty symbol in Ukraine; it is a mark of active identification with a person who owed his mastery of Ukraine to a campaign of death. ... Communism is remembered for its killing, but communists ruled and repressed by subtler methods most of the time. In Yanukovych's Ukraine, other signs of the Stalinist past, less prominent but perhaps more frightening, are beginning to resurface. [...]"

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