Dr. Durbak, Ambassador Sergeyev, ambassador Gass, colleagues, it is certainly an honor to be here. This morning, we’ve heard presentations about the importance of sustainability regarding many natural resources. The story that I’d like to share with you chronicles what happens when sustainability is denied to arguably any nation’s most important resource, its people, and when the sovereignty of the people is utterly and perniciously destroyed. That event is the Holodomor, which means to kill by starvation. If you have never heard of it, you are not alone. Four years ago, I knew nothing about it either. Why so few people know about and recognize this tragedy was part of the reason I wrote the book, Gareth Jones — Eyewitness to the Holodomor. Thanks to technology, it is very difficult to keep very important social and political events from reaching a worldwide audience. Protests like the 2004 Orange Revolution in Kiev, the 2007 Saffron Revolution in Yangoon, Burma, and the 2011 Arab Spring Uprising in Tahir Square were captured by courageous individuals using cell phones or hidden video cameras to transmit images of the quest to secure human rights. Now imagine a scenario in which millions of people are being systematically starved to death. Every last morsel of food has been forcibly removed from homes, armed guards patrol fields, and children are used to catch anyone attempting to steal grain. The borders have been sealed so that people cannot leave their villages, and anyone attempting to flee is forcibly returned to face starvation. People caught taking more than five stocks of grain are shot as saboteurs. Imagine people killing their own children simply because there is no food. And there are no cell phones to alert the world, to capture the depravation, the despair, the desperation of entire villages with absolutely nothing to eat.
Eighty years ago, these were the very conditions in the socialist republic of Ukraine, as well as the Kuban area of the North Caucasus, and in the Lower Volga. Into those conditions, one courageous young man entered in March 1933. His name was Gareth Jones, a twenty-seven- year-old journalist from Barry, Wales. He was in the U.S.S.R. because he knew that conditions there were terrible, and people had alerted him that a famine was about to engulf millions of people. So with his own money, he traveled to Moscow, arriving there on March 4th. Almost immediately, he began roaming the streets, seeing people who were begging for money so that they could buy bread that they hoped to take back to Ukraine with them. Unlike most western journalists stationed in Moscow, Jones was fluent in Russian as well as French and German. He had already traveled into the Soviet countryside in 1930 and 1931. On those trips, Jones documented what was happening to peasant farmers as a result of Stalin’s Five-Year Plan to increase industrialization and to socialize agriculture. Jones found individual farmers from some of the richest agricultural land in the world forced onto collectivized farms, and forced to give up their livestock. Jones was appalled at the conditions he found on those two trips, especially in 1931 when people began telling him that conditions were so bad, they were starving. Millions of prosperous farmers, known as Kulaks because they were successful, were either shot or exiled. Families were forced from their villages, loaded onto trains and sent north to cut wood in the forests of Siberia. Many died of starvation, disease, and exposure to brutally harsh conditions.
The bad harvest of 1931 was followed by another in 1932, due to a lack of seed and draft power, fields left idle, weeds and infestation.
In February 1933, the Soviets issued a decree, banning western journalists from travelling outside of the cities. Despite the travel ban, Jones, thanks to his position as foreign affairs advisor to David Lloyd George, the former prime minister of Great Britain, was afforded access to interview almost any official or commissar in Moscow. Jones was well-known within the highest level of governments. He had a diplomatic passport, and his visa had been furnished free of charge from the Soviet ambassador to Great Britain. On March 10th, 1933, Jones boarded a slow train bound for Kharkov. But he had no intention of taking the train all the way there. His intent was to get off the train and walk unescorted through villages and collective farms.
However, before he got off the train, he encountered one communist, who, seeing Jones was a foreigner, denied there was famine. The incident on the train appeared in articles written by two Pulitzer Prize winning American journalists, who were present at a press conference Jones gave in Berlin on March 29th upon his return from the U.S.S.R. H.R. Knickerbocker of the New York Evening Post, quotes Jones directly, “In the train, a communist denied to me that there was famine. I flung a crust of bread, which I had been eating for my own supply, into a spittoon. A peasant fellow passenger fished it out and ravenously ate it. I threw an orange peel into the spittoon, and the peasant again grabbed it and devoured it. The communist subsided.” Jones certainly knew that by dropping the piece of bread and placing it in the spittoon, somebody would eat it. His intentions were to provoke a reaction in response to the communist’s denial. He challenged the communist’s claim that there was no famine by throwing a crust of bread and an orange peel, providing evidence of what Jones saw as his moral imperative to confront oppression. It is one form of emotional commitment, the mode of denunciation, a perspective in which compassion is combined with indignation and anger, and turned into an accusation of the perpetrator.
“In February 1933 Soviets issued a decree, banning western journalists”
Jones got off the train at a small station shortly before crossing the border from Great Russia to Ukraine. He then began walking along the railroad tracks, where he encountered many people who were homeless and hungry. In one diary entry, Jones writes, “Everywhere I talk to peasants who walk past, they all had the same story. ‘There is no bread. We haven’t had bread for over two months. A lot are dying.’ The first village had no more potatoes left and the store of beetroot was running out. They all said, ‘The cattle are dying. We used to feed the world, and now we are hungry. How can we so, when we have so few horses left? How will we be able to work in the fields when we are weak from want of food?’” Jones then described an encounter he had with a bearded peasant, “His feet were covered with sacking. We started talking. He spoke in Ukrainian Russian. I gave him a lump of bread and cheese. ‘You couldn’t buy that anywhere for 20 rubles. There just is no food.’” In a Daily Express newspaper article, Jones quotes this bearded peasant. “In the old times,” he bewailed, “that field was one pure mass of gold. Now, it is all weeds.” The old Ukrainian went on moaning. “In the old days, we had horses and cows and pigs and chickens. Now we are dying of hunger. In the old days, we fed the world. Now, they have taken all we had away from us, and we have nothing. In the old days, I should have bathed you welcome, and given you my gifts, chickens and eggs, milk and fine white bread. Now we have no bread in the house, they are killing us.”
What is most remarkable about this exchange is how Jones conveys the lifestyle changes forced upon the people by the mandates of the Five-Year Plan. Jones continued this thematic thread as the bearded peasant took him to his cottage, where he encountered the man’s daughter and three little children, two of whom were swollen. In the diary, he writes, “There was in the hut a spindle, and the daughter showed me how to make thread. The peasant showed me his shirt, which was homemade, and some fine sacking, which had also been homemade. But the Bolsheviks are crushing that. They won’t take it. They want the factory to make everything.”
Jones ends this encounter by noting that the hut had eight icons in it. “He was an orthodox, and said that most believe, but they had closed the church. In one village, the church had been turned into a grain store.” The suppression of religion was another one of the themes that Jones documented on his journey. In both the diaries and the newspaper articles, he contrasts the strong faith of the older generation with the atheism of the youth. In the next diary section, he notes, “Ask children outside hut, ‘God?’ ‘Of course not, there is no god,’ they reply.” He quotes another peasant, “They tried to take away my icons, but I said I am a believer, not a dog. When we all believed in God, we were happy and lived well. When they tried to do away with God, we became hungry.”
Jones was indeed fortunate not to have been arrested during this walk through villages and collective farms. Two weeks later, the Soviets discovered that he had reported to the world about the famine ravaging the countryside. They immediately began a campaign to smear his reputation and nullify his reporting. That villainy was perpetrated by Walter Duranty, the New York Times correspondent stationed in Moscow, who cabled a story that was published on March 31st, in which Duranty called Jones’ reporting, “a big scare story with thousands already dead, and millions menaced by death and starvation. Its author is Gareth Jones.” By denigrating Jones by name, Duranty, the highest paid and best-owned journalist at that time, not only effectively denied that a famine was raging in Ukraine, but he set in motion a tragedy that has persisted for eighty years. The Soviet foreign minister, Maxim Litvinov, cabled David Lloyd George, to protest. Of course, Jones instantly became a marked man, barred from the Soviet Union, and shunned by people like Lloyd George.
The tragedy of the Holodomor stems from the confluence of three tributaries: from denials by officials of the former USSR and by officials in today’s Russia that Stalin was not responsible for the needless deaths of more than four and one-half million people by starvation and nearly two million people exiled from their homes; from the failure of Western governments to acknowledge its part in denying the famine; and from the reluctance on the part of governments and institutions today to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide perpetrated by the Soviet Union.
Due in large part to the efforts of Raphael Lemkin, the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was unanimously adopted on December 9, 1948. The Convention established genocide as an international crime in times of both war and peace. The Convention’s definition of genocide is strictly limited by the perpetrator’s “intent to destroy in whole or in part”; the characterization of the victim group; and the acts committed.
“Lemkin articulated why the Holodomor was a genocide”
In 1953, Lemkin articulated why the Holodomor was a genocide when he addressed the rally of largely Ukrainian American protestors in New York City to mark the 20th anniversary of the famine. As reported in The Ukrainian Weekly, Lemkin reviewed the fate of millions of Ukrainians who died “victims to the Soviet Russian plan to exterminate as many of them as possible in order to break the heroic Ukrainian national resistance to Soviet Russian rule and occupation and to Communism.” In his analysis of Stalin’s genocidal intent against Ukrainians, Lemkin delineated a four-prong attack on Ukrainian sovereignty. One, destruction of the intelligencia; two, destruction of Ukrainian churches; three, destruction of the peasantry by starvation, through dekukalization, forced collectivization, murderous procurements, and the exporting of almost two million tons of grain; and four, destruction of the Ukrainian people through a process of dispersion, deportation, exile, and repopulation. These are the very actions Gareth Jones describes in his newspaper articles.
Following along these lines, Professor Alexander J Motyl has recently argued that the famine of 1932-33 must be seen as one of a number of Soviet mass killings perpetrated by a genocidal regime.
“Thanks to technology, it is very difficult to keep very important social and political events from reaching a worldwide audience”
To be sure, the Holodomor was the result of a brutal agricultural policy called forced collectivization. But, more important, the death of millions of Ukrainian peasants was the direct consequence of the Soviet regime’s unwillingness to alleviate the massive famine that collectivization had unleashed in Ukraine and of its adoption of closed-border policies that intensified the Holodomor’s impact and permitted it to run its deathly course.
Gareth Jones’ reporting of the famine was an example worth emulating. Jones not only challenged the might of Stalinist repression, disregarded personal safety, and sacrificed personal and professional advancement, but he paid the ultimate price for profession when he ventured into Mongolia in 1935, was captured, and held for ransom, and ultimately shot to death by Chinese bandits. Some believe shot at the behest of Soviet’s secret police. His death serves as a reminder of our own moral responsibility to never forget the victims of the Holodomor. Thank you.