- Encumbered MemoryThe Ukrainian Famine of 1932–33
Vasyl´ Ivanovich Marochko et al., eds., Natsional´na knyha pam˝iati zhertv holodomoru 1932–1933 rokiv v Ukraini: Misto Kyiv (National Book of Memory of Victims of the Holodomor of 1932–1933 in Ukraine: The City of Kyiv). 584 pp., illus. Kyiv: Feniks, 2008. ISBN-13 978-9666516186.
Heorhii Kas´ianov, Danse macabre: Holod 1932–1933 rokiv u politytsi, masovii svidomosti ta istoriohrafii (1980-ti–pochatok 2000-kh) (Danse Macabre: The Famine of 1932–1933 in Politics, Mass Consciousness, and Historiography [1980s–Early 2000s]). 272 pp. Kyiv: Nash chas, 2010. ISBN-13 978-9661530477.
Yurij Luhovy, dir., Genocide Revealed. 75 min. LLM Inc., 2011. $34.95.
Norman M. Naimark, Stalin’s Genocides. ix + 163 pp. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010. ISBN-13 978-0691147840, $26.95 (cloth); 978-0691152387, $16.95 (paper); 978-1400836062, $16.95 (e-Book).
The extreme violence characteristic of Europe in the first half of the 20th century has left us with many tricky problems to work through, including historiographic ones with political and ethical dimensions. Among these incidents of violence is the famine that took millions of lives in the Soviet Union in 1932–33, particularly in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Under review here are four different kinds of works about the famine [End Page 411] in Ukraine—a memorial volume, an engaged scholarly monograph, a documentary film, and an extended essay—coming from four different subject positions—the memory politics apparatus in Ukraine during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko (2005–10), critical academia in Ukraine, the Ukrainian diaspora in North America, and mainstream academia in North America. In evaluating the four works, this review seeks to identify some of the difficult and sometimes painful conceptual, political, and ethical issues that have arisen from the famine and from its contested place in social memory.
The review is organized as follows. I introduce the four works individually, followed by thematic sections that interweave material from all of them. The first of those addresses what the works tell us about the famine itself, empirically. This section is rather short, because the items inform us more about the social memory of the famine than about the actual historical event. This is followed by a discussion of the Ukrainian term “Holodomor” and of the famine in relation to the category “genocide.” I then examine the sacralization of the famine, seeking to explain why this happens and what its consequences are. Finally, I point to strong undercurrents of radical nationalism, xenophobia, and particularly antisemitism in the memory politics of the famine.
The first work under review is Natsional´na knyha pam˝iati zhertv holodomoru (hereafter Knyha pam˝iati), one of 19 volumes prepared by the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory and local administrations. Seventeen volumes are dedicated to individual oblasts in their current boundaries. At the time of the famine, there were far fewer oblasts—only seven. Though Kyiv was neither the capital of Ukraine during the famine (that was Kharkiv), nor an administrative unit with oblast status, it receives a volume in the series; there is also a separate volume for Kyiv oblast. It is the volume on the city that is being reviewed here. Another volume summarizes the entire memorial-book project. The books were compiled in connection with the 75th anniversary of the famine, as a major component of President Viktor Yushchenko’s multifaceted policy to promote awareness of the famine in Ukraine and worldwide. Indeed, each volume contains a graphic with an image of the first famine memorial in Kyiv as well as the Yushchenko-era slogans “Ukraine Remembers—the World Recognizes!” and “The Holodomor—the Genocide of the Ukrainian People.” The entire collection of these volumes is currently available online at the website of the National Museum Memorial in Commemoration of Famines (sic) Victims in Ukraine.1 In connection with compiling the volumes, researchers collected [End Page 412] 210,000 testimonies about the famine and made a list of 880,000 names of famine victims (Kas´ianov, 139). The project was directed by the most important scholars in the nongovernmental Association of Research into the Holodomors in Ukraine—Vasyl´ Marochko, Ol...