Let’s just get this one thing out in the open right away:
I hate the way both the Ukrainians and Russians have politicized Holodomor. On one hand, in Kiev, I walk past tacky posters proclaiming that “We are remembering/ The world is learning.” There’s even a little design on them – which looks suspiciously like fireworks (someone in some PR department has seriously messed up, in my opinion). It’s not that I think this horrendous, evil thing should not have its place in our collective memory – or that it shouldn’t be discussed and analyzed and performed (my cousin was in a really moving play about Holodomor last summer, for example) and written on – but I do believe that taking the cannibalized bodies of the millions of dead and cannibalizing them all over again in the name of political gain is something you will eventually answer for when you meet your Maker. Is this sort of cannibalization happening in Ukraine today? Yes, it is. I see it, I hear it, I am revolted by it.
On the other hand, we even have little old ladies, those who have been alive long enough to remember the brutality of the Stalin era, sagely opining on how “Ukrainians are being self-important and disrespectful” just because they wish to remember their dead, or how, honestly, Ukrainian lives don’t really matter in all this at all, considering that if the peasants had only laid down for daddy Stalin, they wouldn’t have “deserved” such punishment (I’m not kidding or exaggerating right now – the whitewashing of the Stalin era continues to this day).
I’m not going to say that the truth is in the middle. There is no truth. The only truth are millions of dead bodies, stacked on high from Ukraine, to Kuban, to Kazakhstan.
An authoritarian Russian government cannot simply look back at the Stalin period in particular and declare it to be terrible. That would go against the very nature of authoritarianism. This is why we have the present charade going on in regards to the Holodomor – it’s all “how DARE those uppity Ukrainians! What about the people starving along the Volga?” What about them, indeed? Those people were victims as well. Are Russians encouraged to remember them? Is the world?
Was the Holodomor a genocide? It was, if you expand the definition of what genocide means. Although Ukraine was targeted specifically due to Stalin’s desire to crush and destroy the merest thought of independence, it was a specific class – the peasants – who bore the brunt of the famine.
The peasants resisted unfair collectivization and paid for it dearly, with their lives and the lives of their children.
However, the ethnic element of Holodomor must also include tales of how many of the perpetrators – the ones who literally took the food out of the mouths of Ukrainian peasants – were ethnic Ukrainians sitting pretty in the lap of the regime. It seems perfectly logical. You don’t put a population as large as the Ukrainian population on its knees without many collaborators. So for all of the cries of “it was the Russians” (not stated officially but heard often nonetheless), I have to say that there was nothing so simple and clear-cut about the Stalin years. I mean, Stalin himself was Georgian. You don’t hear cries of “it was the Georgians” – not until it suddenly becomes politically expedient, anyway.
The Russian government, in its snide dismissals of the Holodomor legacy, cannot deny the very simple fact that it does not want to remember the Russians who died in the famines as well. Their bodies are only trotted out as a human flesh for the rhetorical cannons aimed against Ukraine.
Despite my dislike of Yuschenko – often so kindly described in the Western press as a “pro-Western” politician, when he is in fact a pro-Yuschenko politician – I have to admit that for all of his bluster, he has stopped short of the kinds of excesses that Russian public personae have committed when speaking about Ukraine. When Medvedev speaks of a “so-called Holodomor,” you can feel the hatred, that which journalist Dmitriy Gordon (himself a controversial figure) has described as “Russian superpower chauvinism,” rising up like bile.
I hate Russian superpower chauvinism, for social and personal reasons, not the least of which have to do with having a Russian mother and a father who declares himself Ukrainian (his own father’s Russian ethnicity having no importance to him in the matter).
The saddest thing in all of this – besides the millions of emaciated dead bodies, besides children being chased by raving cannibals – is the fact that Russia and Ukraine are still neighbours, they still have a shared history, they still have a future that’s going to see us closely entwined. And that future looks ugly, ugly enough so that children like me are being forced to choose sides, as if being forced to choose between two squabbling, divorced parents, whom they will never stop loving, no matter what.