International Commission

of Inquiry 

Into the 1932-33 Famine 

in Ukraine

    The 1990s have experienced greater changes than anybody would have dreamed of in the earlier post-war periods: the collapse of the Socialist Camp, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and the great leap eastwards of the Council of Europe, bringing a hundred million new Europeans under the European Convention on Human Rights. These great events created a period of euphoria in most of Europe. But suddenly euphoria was replaced by horror, stories beginning to emerge about what was taking place in the disintegrating state of Yugoslavia.

    The genocide taking place in former Yugoslavia was a grim reminder of how little had been achieved since the world, from the Nuremberg Trials, had learned the new term 'genocide' and the horrors that it meant. However, while the total defeat of Germany in the second world war had stimulated research on an unprecedented scale about the structure, decision-making and philosophy in Hitler's murderous State, not much attention had focused on the workings in its main adversary, the Soviet Union. The Yugoslav disaster suddenly brought into daylight that here was a state in disintegration in which structure, decision-making and philosophy was all a close copy of conditions in the Soviet Union. To those who had experienced the end of the second world war on the losing side, stories came to mind about what had happened at that time which much too much resembled the stories coming out of former Yugoslavia.

    The International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia Since 1991, sitting in The Hague, has yet to render its first judgment. There are few studies on how responsibility is distributed in a Party State of the Soviet type. In the end, however, the tribunal in The Hague will have to co .me to grips with those issues.

    This makes strangely relevant the inquiry that has been carried out by the International Commission of Inquiry Into the 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine. At the time when the Commission was set up, the overriding purpose was to establish the truth, before all eyewitnesses were dead, about this killer famine which had been denied by the Soviet authorities for so long. It meant putting history on trial. Recommendations as to responsibility was simply an add-on, because at that time 1988 - only one in the Soviet leadership of the time had survived, viz. Lazar Kaganovitch. He died at the age of 97 on July 26, 1991. Recommendations as to responsibility was a rather academic exercise.

    Nevertheless, the International Commission of Inquiry did make a thorough study of the organizational background behind this government-inflicted genocide, that killed not less than 7,5 million direct victims according to the Commission's best estimate, in order to arrive at a conclusion as to responsibility. The organization could be followed through a paper trail that included orders, decrees and indeed legislation, and it was also possible to look at the parallel Party organization behind this statutory facade. At the time (1990), this study seemed to be of little practical value. Today it may be one of the better instruments to penetrate the workings of a similar deadly organization and philosophy in former Yugoslavia.

    The recurrence of massacres and genocides, when other governments have succumbed to Communist takeovers in years past, may have something to do with features in the Marxist philosophy. The attitude to human life, that made the genocide in Ukraine possible, is something deeply ingrained in the Marxist philosophy. Man is reduced to an economic factor, like labour in the abstract, and that implies a similar attitude to human suffering. Compared with the realization of the Communist ideal, the life and death of the individual is a matter of indifference; why, therefore, trouble about his personal conditions, diseases and sufferings?

    These attitudes prevailed in the Soviet Union of the 1930s. It remains to be seen if they also can be discovered in former Yugoslavia. There can be no doubt however that the massive study performed by the International Commission of Inquiry Into the 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine here will have a lot to contribute when dissecting genocide in our present days. 

Jacob W.F. Sundberg
Stockholm Institute of Public and International Law
Uggleviksgatan 9
S-114 27 Stockholm
Tel. +46-8-21 62 44
Fax. +46-8-21 38 74

Box 6472
S-113 82 Stockholm
Tel. +46-8-690 96 11
Fax. +46-8-690 90 70