Holodomor and Ukrainian identity construct. Lesson for Moldova. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



The lesson of the Holodomor for the Moldovan Romanians from the Republic of Moldova resides in the necessity of realizing the truth about the history that takes revenge on those who ignore  the truth about the past. It is a form of political hypocrisy for officially commemorating the Holodomor tragedy among the Ukrainians by ignoring the Moldovan Holodomor of the years immediately after the war through the absence of an official political assessment of this crime of the Soviet regime against the own people...


Anatol Țăranu

Starting with 2006, Ukraine has annually commemorated the Holodomor on the fourth Saturday of November. This year, on November 26, it was celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Great Famine caused by the regime of Stalin in the 1930s and described by the Ukrainians as genocide. In 2006, the Supreme Rada of Ukraine officially recognized, by law, the Holodomor of 1932-1933 as genocide against the people of Ukraine. This law bans the public denial of the Holodomor, but does not envision relevant penalties. Not at all surprisingly, Russia denied this tagging, starting a real historiographical and propaganda war to combat this thesis, with the main argument being that the Great Famine caused victims not only among the Ukrainians, but also among the Russians, Kazaks and other populations of the former Soviet Union.

Ukrainians do not want to be anyone’s younger brothers

Throughout the Soviet period, the truth about the multiple episodes of famine in the history of the first in the world Socialist state was cautiously hidden from the general public. But the fall of the USSR led to the opening of the Soviet governmental archives, including the archives of the intelligence services. This enabled the researchers to prove, based on multiple documents, that the Soviet authorities, amid forced collectivization, took specific measures in Ukraine, perfectly realizing that the result will be the death of millions of Ukrainians as a result of starvation. Most of the Ukrainian historians, who studied the phenomenon of the Soviet famine in the 1930s, reached the conclusion that the famine was deliberate and derived from a broader policy to subjugate the people of Ukraine pursued by the regime of Stalin. As a logical consequence, in the post-Soviet period the narrative about the Holodomor became one of the pillars of the historical myth about the independent Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian nation, which is actively promoted at the level of state educational and population culturalization policies.

The building of the new independent states on the ruins of the USSR showed how important the interpretations of history and historiography are for strengthening a problematic statehood and for building a national identity different from the Soviet identity construct. In accordance with the perceptions of the Soviet historical school that inherited without big differences by the contemporary Russian historiography and was assumed at the level of collective mentality by the Russian elites and even by most of the Russians, Ukraine and also Belarus are not perceived and treated as separate foreign states, while the Ukrainians, in particular, are regarded as the “younger brothers” of Russia that is elevated to the rank of primordial nation. The Soviet historical school accepts a particular distinction of the Ukrainian national entity that, after the collapse of Kievan Rus, supposedly constantly aspired to the reunion with Russia, which was postulated in the Pereyaslav Agreement in 1654. Moscow’s current view on history interprets the state independence of Ukraine as something unnatural, against the nature, while the Ukrainians are defined as a Russian regional group. Ultimately, the current official Russian historical school actually continues the imperialist Soviet tradition about the history of Slavs as an organic whole, representing a conceptual mixture of pan-Slavism and communist internationalism projected onto contemporaneity.

Ukrainians take revenge on the Russians by inversion

The Ukrainian cultural and political elite are yet dominated by the views of the Ukrainian historical school, which claims the inheritance of Kiev Russia that is different from Moscow’s tradition and forms part of a broader identity effort to overcome the complex of inferiority fueled by the tsarist and Soviet policies. In accordance with these Ukrainian views about history, the people of Russia have their roots in the Ukrainian geographical territory, in Kiev, Chernihiv or Pereiaslav and they later migrated to the north towards Moscow. Based on such a historical perspective, it is the Ukrainians who already take revenge on the Russians by inversion, becoming now the elder brothers of the Russians. Anyway, this historiographical confrontation shows how the myths and ideologization of the historical material create the basis for the unification of a nation from political and cultural viewpoints. From such a historical perspective, Ukraine is rediscovered and rebuilt through Kievan Rus, which is different from the kingdom of Moscow and has been presented as a fundamental benchmark in all the Ukrainian textbooks starting with 1991. Under such identity construct, the Holodomor tragedy engineered by the Moscow political administration occupies a central place in the contemporary history of Ukraine, enabling this to build its geopolitical existence independently from Russia. The same goal is pursued by the aspirations to join NATO and the EU.

Shot dead for “Five Ears of Grain”

Today, there is evidence that Stalin resorted to the starvation policy as the most efficient form for fighting the resistance against collectivization, actually of almost the entire population of Ukraine, and the mass famine was created artificially by the Communist regime in Moscow by imposing too heavy quotas. The confiscation of agricultural products from peasant farmsteads occurred with inconceivable cruelty. It is enough to mention the “Five Ears of Grain” law of August 1932, which provided that anyone, even a child, who was caught taking any product from a collective field could be shot dead or jailed for theft from “Socialist property”. At the beginning of 1933, almost 60,000 persons were tried and convicted based on this law and 2,000 of them were executed.

As famine worsened, over one third of the villages in Ukraine were put on “black lists” for not managing to meet the grain quotas. The villages that were on the black list were surrounded by troops and the inhabitants were banned from leaving or from receiving any supplies, which was actually condemnation to collective death. To escape death by famine, the villages used as food everything they found edible, such as grass, acorn and even cats and dogs. The declassified archives contain depictions of the sufferings and huge despair of the Ukrainian peasants, including actions of anarchy, theft, lynching and multiple cases of cannibalism. By the most recent estimates of historians, the Holodomor claimed the lives of over 4 million Ukrainians, becoming one of the most odious crimes against humanity in the history of mankind.

Why are Moldovans nostalgic for USSR, while Ukrainians are not  

The presentation and propagation of the truth about the Holodomor caused a resonating psychological shock in the collective mentality of the Ukrainians, confirming the truth about the great tragedies in the history of a nation that, being acknowledged, becomes a powerful bond that strengthens national identity. During many years, the Ukrainian officials, alongside the internal educative-cultural and propaganda effort, took active diplomatic measures for the international community to recognize the Holodomor as genocide against the Ukrainians. Owing to this effort, the Holodomor today is recognized as genocide of the people of Ukraine by tens of countries, including the U.S. and Canada, and also as a crime against humanity, by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. Russia’s war against Ukraine hastened the taking of decisions about the recognition of the Holodomor as genocide by a number of states. Last week, the German Parliament also joined in and decided to name the Ukraine famine of 1932-1933 “genocide”. Even if the historians still consider if the policies that led to the Holodomor fall or do not fall under the provisions of the Genocide Convention, the number of states that recognize the Holodomor in Ukraine as genocide has increased swiftly, with Romania and the Republic of Moldova joining in recently.

The Holodomor became a major marker of the national conscience of the Ukrainians, generating a powerful feeling of cohesion and solidity of the nation. Learning appropriately the lessons of the own history, the people of Ukraine also learned what love for freedom and the Homeland, which they now defend heroically from the Russian aggressor, is. This is an illustrative example for the people and political class of the Republic of Moldova, which in its history has the own disastrous famine of 1946-1947, with tragic consequences for 200,000 people from Soviet Moldova, who were killed by the same Stalinist regime in Moscow by starvation policies. However, unlike the impressive Kiev Memorial to the Holodomor Victims, in Chisinau there is not even a stele inaugurated in memory of the tragedy of the Soviet famine in Moldova eastward the Prut. In this atmosphere of historical amnesia in Moldovan society, the data of sociological polls according to which almost each second citizen of the Republic of Moldova longs for the late USSR and also they, in the same number, would refuse to defend the Moldovan state with arms in their hands in case of a military danger do not seem at all accidental.

Ignoring of own Holodomor and its consequences

The lesson of the Holodomor for the Moldovan Romanians from the Republic of Moldova resides in the necessity of realizing the truth about the history that takes revenge on those who ignore  the truth about the past. It is a form of political hypocrisy for officially commemorating the Holodomor tragedy among the Ukrainians by ignoring the Moldovan Holodomor of the years immediately after the war through the absence of an official political assessment of this crime of the Soviet regime against the own people. The perpetuation of Soviet nostalgia in Moldovan society, which keeps the Republic of Moldova hostage in the zone of underdevelopment and civilizational uncertainty, is the result of direct ignoring by the governments in Chisinau of the lessons of national history, of the absence of a coherent state policy in the propagation of historical truth in society. The fact that the main institution for the study of national history in the Republic of Moldova – the Institute of History – lacks institutional budget funding, eloquently shows that the policies of the Moldovan state fail in the competition for the minds of the own citizens. The citizens of combative Ukraine perfectly learned the lesson of the history of the Holodomor and heroically resist the invasion of the Russian aggressor, while the Moldovan citizens, who are not familiar with the truth of national history, risk falling prey to the foreign invader. This is one more finding about the failed character of the Moldovan state in the form of a bizarre close of the former Soviet republic that wonders through the twisted passageways of history on the thorny road back home.

Anatol Țăranu
doctor of history, political commentator

IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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