A survey in Russia, for naming the greatest person of its history (BDN, July 16, 2008), has three individuals in a tight race: Czar Nicholas II, Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin. This fact is as fascinating as it is revealing.
Would you expect a similar tight race in Germany for the greatest historic person to be among Frederick William II, Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler? Not in your dreams! But then Germany was defeated during World War II while Russia-Soviet Union won the war. Thus political and religious persecutions by the Soviet-Russian government and their gulags of Siberia are of no consequence to the average Russian.
There is nothing to be contrite about. A strong government has a soothing effect on the soul of the average Russian, even when it is at the expense of his personal freedom. Vladimir Putin disavowed his government from the Soviet gulags but nothing else. However that statement was only for the benefit of the western world. The true feeling of the average Russian and his government has to be measured by the respect for former leaders.
During the czars’ times, ethnic Ukrainians were not given access to education. In fact, printing of Ukrainian books, even prayer books, was forbidden. Thus a challenging opportunity presented itself to Stalin in that the Ukrainian nation consisted essentially of farmers and could be wiped out.
In order to destroy the rise of nationalism and as well the opposition of farmers to collectivization, Stalin had engineered a famine during the 1932-33 harvest season. Arable land and peasant households were confiscated while rich farmers were deported to the Urals. All harvested grain and animals were centralized to be rationed as needed, while some were even exported.
Armed military units were going from village to village removing all “excess” food. Lack of forage for animals and rotting of grain in elevators resulted in food shortage. While cities and towns received some food, the farmers were left on their own. It is estimated that the number of death from starvation ranged anywhere between 6 million and 10 million individuals.
But the problem is that history repeats itself, and in the case of the Russian government, it is intentionally duplicating history. Right now there is a verbal attack on Ukraine in an attempt to destabilize the nation and then annex it. At the Bucharest conference, when Ukraine was being considered for potential entry into NATO, Putin reportedly said to President Bush that Ukraine is not a nation (an ethnic group of about 50 million?)
On several occasions the mayor of Moscow said that Russia will never give up Sevastopol, now in Ukrainian territory. Russia’ s Duma representative stated that Russia will do everything possible to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, yet there is no objections from Russia for Serbia to join NATO (once Radovan Karadzic has been turned over to the European Tribunal for war crimes). As a matter of fact, Mr. Putin commented that if Ukraine joins NATO, Russia will target Ukraine with nuclear weapons (probably the ones that Ukraine turned over to them). Last winter,Russia cut the gas supply to Ukraine twice by 50 percent (probably to remind Ukrainians of the 1932-33 Holodomor).
Thus under Russia’ s oversight, Ukraine experienced mass famine in 1932-33 and nuclear catastrophe in 1986 (Chernobyl) and as an independent nation it is threatened with being frozen to death. We should be extra cautious when dealing with countries with this sort of record.
Bohdan Slabyj of Brewer is a native of Ukraine. He taught food science at the University of Maine.