By Paul Goble
It is a hallmark of the post–World War II era: those peoples who have been subject to mass murder, expulsion from their homelands, or other crimes intended to destroy them as an ethnic community have wanted the world to identify what happened to them as a “genocide.” Meanwhile, those who have inflicted such violence have generally done everything they could to deny the charge. This type of denial is often relatively easy because, with a few horrific exceptions, no leader declares in advance that he is planning to commit “genocide.”
Consequently, there is usually a fight between the one side and the other. But definitive evidence is routinely scarce that the actions of one state against an ethnic group or nation rise to the level of “genocide” as first defined by Raphael Lemkin to describe the Holocaust and as codified in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948.
Even Robert Conquest, in his magisterial study of the Soviet-orchestrated famine in Ukraine, The Harvest of Sorrow (1986), could provide only circumstantial and indirect evidence that what Joseph Stalin did to the Ukrainians was “genocide.” And even though nearly three out of four Ukrainians and most people of good will have been convinced on the basis of his research and that of others that the killing of 4.5 million Ukrainians by organized hunger in 1932–1933 was, indeed, an act of “genocide,” many scholars and governments dispute that. They no longer question, as some did earlier, that there was mass murder, but they argue that it was conducted against a class, the peasantry, and thus does not fall under the definition of “genocide.”
That makes the appearance of documents proving that what the Soviet government did was in fact directed at an ethnic community and therefore genocide especially important. A collection of the originals of such documents is now on public view at the Kyiv Memorial to the Victims of the Holodomor. And both singly and collectively, they show that Moscow systematically carried out a policy of replacing Ukrainians who had died with ethnic Russians and Belarusians, thus transforming the ethnic composition of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and, consequently, its successor, the Republic of Ukraine. Such actions, intended to destroy or at least undermine the existence of the Ukrainian nation fall within the UN definition (Censor.net.ua, May 15, 2015).
The curators of the Kyiv museum are convinced that the documents they have put on view about Moscow’s policies of replacing Ukrainians with Russians and Belarusians not only mean that the Soviet state stands guilty of “genocide,” but also shows that what the Bolsheviks did in that regard almost 90 years ago, “in part explains the separatism in the East of contemporary Ukraine.”