Not too long ago, Will Baird observed
that the Russian Federation is unwilling to recognize the Holodomor
, the Stalinist famines of collectivization that killed perhaps ten million Ukrainians in the decade before the Second World War, as a genocide or even as an anti-Ukrainian action.
Ukraine asked the conference to prepare a proposal for the upcoming CIS summit to express its attitude to the 1930-33 famine and genocide in Ukraine (the Holodomor). However, the Russian side orchestrated a procedural move that eliminated the proposal from the agenda. Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan voted with Russia against the proposal. Armenia, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan abstained. Moldova, Georgia, and Azerbaijan voted with Ukraine.
According to Lavrov at the concluding briefing, discussion of the Holodomor would have "politicized" a historical issue. Lavrov argued -- as Russian Ambassador Viktor Chernomyrdin also did in Kyiv -- that Russians and other Soviet citizens suffered equally in Soviet times and it would therefore be inappropriate to single out any people in this regard.
This argument is heard regularly from Moscow about the Baltic states as well: "It was a common pain in the Soviet Union." Such an argument constitutes the ultimate expression of a social culture of collectivism. It also overlooks, first, the fact that Moscow organized the famine and deportations in Ukraine, the Baltic states and elsewhere; and, second, that the Kremlin today is actively discouraging the attempts to come to terms with Soviet Russia's own totalitarian recent history. While refusing to assess the actions of the Soviet regime, Russia at the same time claims prerogatives as the legal successor of the USSR.
As INED noted last May in its report "France-Ukraine: Demographic Twins Separated by History"
(PDF format), the Holodomor was the first of two massive demographic shocks that devastated the Ukrainian population. Once, there were as many Ukrainians in Ukraine as there were French in French, and the ratio of Ukrainians to French was improving in the Ukrainians' favour. Stalin's intentional incompetence--whether in state economic planning or in foreign policy--changed this, alas.
Why is the Russian Federation reluctant to recognize the Holodomor? Consider that Ukraine, as it now exists, is relatively strongly Russified, with half of the population speaking Russian and with a national identity still closely linked to that of the Russians. Ukraine is a more unified nation
than some give it credit, to be sure, but even so. Imagine that, for whatever reason, the Holodomor didn't happen, that Ukraine was an independent state in the 1930s that was gobbled up by Stalin's Soviet Union under the terms of a somewhat different Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, say, or that the collectivization wasn't quite so horrifically bungled. This would have left another ten million Ukrainians alive. While it's quite possible that this healthier Ukraine would have changed things somewhat, let's say that this somewhat happier Ukraine evolved roughly. Most of the Holodomor dead were ethnically Ukrainian and Ukrainian-speaking; presumably, when they urbanized they would do so in Ukraine, boosting the fragile Ukrainian and Ukrainian-speaking majorities in the Russified cities of central and eastern Ukraine. Assuming further that this somewhat strong and more Ukrainian-identifying Ukraine didn't throw Soviet history out of all proportion, then we would have had a Ukraine with a much stronger non-Russian identity than the one that we see. In our history, the Baltic States' nationalism broke up the Soviet Union; in this pleasanter conjectural history, it might well have been the Ukrainians. Instead of a relatively poor and Russified Ukraine of 48 million still oscillating on the margins of the Russian sphere, in other words, we might well have had a mostly Ukrainian-speaking Ukraine of 58 million with a considerably stronger and more popular brand of Ukrainian nationalism.
Genocide denial is convenient, you see. If you deny that anything improper happened to the dissident minority in question, you see, you get to claim that the empire wasn't nearly as bad as some claim. If yours is a fragile nation-state that still wants to lay claim to the problematic legacy of empire, the benefits of denial are wonderfully obvious.