UK PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE ON HOLODOMOR

11.06.13


A parliamentary debate took place earlier today in the Grand Committee Room, Westminster Hall, about the Ukrainian Holodomor

Pauline Latham, MP for Derbyshire, called upon the UK Government to follow the example of other countries such as Australia, Canada, Brazil, Hungary and the United States, in officially recognising the Ukrainian famine as an act of genocide. 

Ms Latham argued in the broadest sense that the genocide began in 1929 with mass deportations of prospering farmers and the execution of Ukrainian religious, academic and cultural leaders. 

This culminated in a forced famine between 1932-1933 which killed millions of innocent men, women and children. 

She argued that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how many people were starved to death with estimates ranging from 3 million to 12 million. Due to a lack of comprehensive, accurate census data it is unlikely the true figure will ever be known. 

Nevertheless, Ms Latham maintained that Moscow perceived Ukrainian nationalism as a threat to Soviet rule and the famine was used as a means by which to ethnically cleanse Ukrainians from vast areas. 

In 1932, she continued, Stalin increased the basic grain procurement quota by 44% and unsurprisingly not a single village was able to achieve it. He knew that the inflated quotas would lead to famine and yet Soviet law denied the peasants of any grain until these targets were met. 

At the height of the famine, 25,000 people were dying a day while the Soviet government injected 1.7 million tons of grain into Western markets. 

Ms Latham aptly described Ukraine during these years as a ‘panorama of horror’. Due to the work of Western journalists like Gareth Jones and Malcolm Muggeridge, news of the famine reached Britain, Germany, Canada and the US but the Soviets continually issued formal denials of any famine. 

Even now, it is illegal in Russia to commemorate the Holodomor. 

However, with the declassification of KGB files under President Yushchenko it became clear that the famine was a deliberate act of genocide. 

Now, Ms Latham believes, it is time for the UK to set the history records straight once and for all; the Government owes it to the Ukrainian community in Britain to recognise and acknowledge the extermination of millions of their ancestors. This is, she said, an issue of basic human morality and respect for life. 

David Lidington MP, the Minister of State for Europe, answered the debate by stating that ‘to say that the famine that culminated in 1932 and 1933 was a terrible tragedy is to underestimate the sheer brutality and inhumanity of what took place’. 

For decades in the West, the famine was overlooked, if not denied and yet countless people both inside and outside of Ukraine have fought to keep alive the memory of those who died in the Holodomor. 

The Minister raised two key issues in debate on whether the famine as genocide. 

The first was that there is no question in the British government’s view that the famine was caused as a result of Stalin’s policies. Whether or not these policies were deliberately aimed specifically at Ukrainians from the outset is a separate, albeit related matter. He rightly pointed out that other regions within the Soviet Union also starved to death, such as Kazakhstan and rural Russia, and yet Stalin knew that a policy which targeted the agricultural regions of the Soviet Union would have had a disproportionate effect on Ukraine. 

Mr Lidington stated that ‘the fact that during famine Stalin closed the eastern border of Ukraine to stop starving peasants entering Russia in search of food is perhaps one of the strongest indications that his policies were at least in part motivated by hostility to Ukraine as a nation with an identity, tradition and culture of its own.’ 

The second key issue which emerged from Mr Lidington’s speech was the status of the Holodomor within international law. 

Since the UN Genocide Convention was enacted in 1948, the Holodomor could not be legally defined as genocide retrospectively. It is therefore necessary for judges, rather than governments to make such a designation of genocide since courts are better placed to make decisions on essentially criminal matters. 

For now, the debate remains unresolved, but the final message to be taken from the debate in Westminster Hall was clear. It is important that governments and people throughout Europe continue to learn the lessons of what happened in Ukraine and throughout the rest of Eastern Europe under Stalinist rule to ensure that no one is ever again tempted to enact such policies which had such a detrimental effect on millions of innocent Ukrainian citizens. This is something that the world cannot and should not forget. 


Commentary: 

In a subject as controversial and widely discussed as the Holodomor it is sometimes difficult to raise new points or shed light on new issues.  However, the debate in Westminster Hall was both accurate and thought-provoking. 

David Lidington’s assertions on the links between recognition of the famine and international law show that the Holodomor is not simply a historical event, whose details have been lost among the pages of a book in some forgotten archive.  It is very much a contemporary topic, which recurs time and time again, in Ukrainian politics, Western historiography and now, in British politics. 

To date the UK has only formally recognised 3 genocides: the Holocaust, the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre. 

These genocides were judged by judicial bodies in line with the principles of international law. 

Perhaps if the Holodomor is to be formally classified as genocide in the UK, it is necessary to continue the existing debate in a legal arena. 

Both the British Government and the Foreign Office were fully aware of the famine at the time, thanks to correspondence from diplomats stationed in the Soviet Union.

 In 1934, the matter of famine conditions was raised in the House of Commons during which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs conceded that ‘we have a certain amount of information about famine conditions similar to what has appeared in the press…we do not want to make it public because the Soviet Government would resent it and our relations with them would be prejudiced.’ 

He concluded by saying that this explanation could not be released to the public. This was perhaps due to fears of a public backlash as the British Government continued to import grain from the Soviet Union while the famine was progressing. 

Between 1930-1931, the total Soviet wheat exports were 65.7 million bushels of which 51.4 million bushels went to Britain; a serious campaign to alleviate the famine by providing aid would have upset the international banking system in which London had such a great stake. 

Seventy nine years later, the issue has once again returned to Parliament, but this time, as both Mr Lidington and Ms Latham have shown, the matter of the Ukrainian Holodomor has not been overlooked. 

Yvanna Kurlak

 

 

 



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