Tuesday, March 02, 2010

the holodomor

Holodomor is a Ukrainian word. It means "murder by starvation."

After the recent Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, I read some blogs where people expressed a longing for a return of the old Soviet Union, the nation that produced powerhouse athletes that truly challenged those from the USA and Canada and Germany, especially during the Winter Games.

I've even seen a song on TV where some American country-folk-roots singer is also pining away for the old Soviet Union. "Mister Gorbachev," he croons, "please put back that wall," meaning the Berlin Wall. Give us back the good old USSR, he goes on.

People that blog like that or write songs like that obviously never had family in Latvia or Lithuania or the Czech Republic or Slovakia or Georgia or Estonia. Or, like myself, the former East Germany and Ukraine.

It was the "good old USSR," under the leadership of a person considered a hero now in the new Russia - Joseph Stalin - that murdered millions of my people on my father's side in the early 1930s. The Communist government in Moscow wiped out whole villages and towns and left the bodies to rot in the streets and fields. A New York Times reporter saw the slaughter and yet wrote back glowing reports of life in the Stalinist Soviet Union in direct contradiction to what he was experiencing first-hand. He even won a Pulitzer Prize for the Times with his dispatches. Bizarrely enough, the paper still touts this Pulitzer as one of their prizes, when the reporter long ago admitted his reports were a lie. The Times owners, management and staff should be in sackcloth and ashes and hanging their collective heads in shame.

The Times wasn't the only paper to sing the praises of the USSR, nor was their reporter the only one to say it was heaven on earth. George Bernard Shaw did a tour of the Soviet Union and proclaimed it was something of a paradise and any rumours to the contrary were false. (It was a rigidly controlled tour that you'd think a smart man like he was would have seen through, even with his rose-coloured Socialist glasses on. Obviously he saw what he wanted to see.)

One of the few papers that told the truth was The Manchester Guardian and one of the few journalists who tried to get the world to cry out in anger was Malcolm Muggeridge. He was ridiculed and ignored. Oh, that love for the good old murderous USSR, it clings to so many from generation to generation.

Stalin took all the crops and he took all the seed to plant new crops. He terrorized farms and towns to get both the harvest and the seed that would guarantee another harvest the coming year. He starved six to ten million to death. But then, he hated the Ukrainians anyway, and their pride and independence and unwillingness to bow the knee to the new czars of Soviet dictatorship, so this was a convenience to his Soviet-winter-cold-heart. He killed more people in two years, just by taking away their food, than Hitler did in ten with his gas chambers and ovens and SS. Nor did Stalin mind murdering millions of Russian farmers using the same methods that worked so well in Ukraine.

Ah, but for Shaw and The New York Times of the 1930s and 40s, and that American singer, the Soviet Union is something wonderful to behold.

The cover-up has been so long-lasting that when a woman I knew sat down and read my novel ZO, she came away saying it was a good story but that the part about the mass starvation in Ukraine was over the top and hard to believe. Once I explained to her that I had not thought it up, that it was true, she demanded to know why she hadn't heard of it (whereas everyone knows about the Jews and The Holocaust).

Why? It's that old twisted romanticism for the USSR that many on the left, and some on the right, cling to like a sweet dream that, in actuality, is no more than the result of an opiate, a drug-induced hallucination, a stupor that blinds the eyes to the human hell the Soviet Union produced from 1917 to 1989. There are some who still want the USSR to look like utopia, who believe it was utopia, and who deny The Holodomor ever took place, just as there are still those, from generation to generation, who deny the Jewish Holocaust ever occurred.

On Thursday night, March 4th, at the Palais Royale in Toronto, I'm privileged to be one of several finalists for The Kobzar Literary Award, an award that celebrates the people of Ukraine and the people blessed with Ukrainian ancestry who write and are written about in Canadian literature.

I stand there with the others to say thank you to the people of Ukraine who immigrated to this country and put their blood in me.

I stand there to celebrate their strength, their love for freedom, their passion for the land on both sides of the Atlantic.

I stand to say The Holodomor did happen, thank God Ukraine is free from the grip of the old USSR, and may the Soviet Union never return and the ghost of Stalin never haunt the fields and hearts of Ukrainians in any place, especially the homeland, ever again.