This is more of a political than a legal issue to gain international support for Ukraine’s denunciation of the crimes of the USSR, particularly Stalinism. There are unlikely to be any legal repercussions. President Viktor Yushchenko has in effect radicalised the issue of the 1933 artificial famine first raised by President Leonid Kuchma. The raising of the famine issue domestically and internationally and the denunciation of Stalinism have been important in consolidating Ukraine as a democracy, in the same manner as post-war Germany in its denunciation of Nazism. In contrast, Russia under Vladimir Putin has sought to rehabilitate Stalin.
The presidents campaign has not been thought through and discussed with Western experts. Two areas could have made it more acceptable to the West, and given Russia less ammunition to condemn Ukraine’s discussion of the famine.
Firstly, in the West many elites, particularly on the left of the spectrum, find it abhorrent and difficult to equalize Nazi and Communist crimes. The presidents campaign should have instead focused on equally condemning all forms of totalitarianism whether Communism or fascism-Nazism. Ukraine has every right to do this as as a country she suffered millions of crimes against humanity committed in the name of the USSR and Nazi Germany.
Secondly, it was inadvisable to radicalise the famine issue by over-focusing on it as a ‘genocide’ against Ukrainians. Another aspect to this is to inflate the number of victims. Ukrainian historians give a figure of 4 million (not 10 as Yushchenko claims) Ukrainian famine victims. Introducing ‘genocide’ into the picture merely harms Ukraine’s interests as it prevents the Party of Regions from supporting a more moderate condemnation of both Nazi and Communist crimes, it makes the West more unwilling to listen to Ukraine on this issue and it inflames relations with Russia which sees any talk of ‘genocide’ as directed against Russia.
Dr. Taras Kuzio is an Adjunct Research Professor, Institute of European and Russian Studies, Carleton University, where he is currently writing a Contemporary History of Ukraine. Taras has written on Ukraine and post-communist countries for two decades and is a long-time political and consultant on Ukraine. He is editor of the bi-monthly Ukraine Analyst.