Russian and Soviet Nationalism/Ultra Nationalism and Ukraine 8
Foreign Policy 9
Document Analysis 11
Part 1 Holodomor Background materials
The Holodomor and Alberta Education
The Holodomor, which means “to kill by hunger, to starve to death,” was a peacetime catastrophe that resulted in the deaths of between 3 and 10 million Ukrainians between 1932-33 in the “breadbasket of the Soviet Union.” Alberta Premier, Ed Stelmach, described it as "one of the most heinous atrocities of modern history", and yet remarkably, still few people are aware of this tragedy. The Alberta Social Studies Program of Studies requires that teachers address this issue in Social 20, but there are many other places in high school social studies where instruction around the Holodomor can meet specific outcomes in the curriculum.
The purpose of this document is to provide members of the Alberta educational community with background information about the events of the Holodomor and to examine these events through the lens of the Alberta social studies curriculum. This resource package includes written material that explain the events, lessons and activities that meet high school outcomes, and a Power Point presentation that can be used to help present this information.
Russia was a geographically enormous empire in 1914 at the start of World War I. It was also far behind all the other great European powers in terms of industrialization, democratic reform and social modernization. Most citizens were still peasants and, though they had been released from serfdom in 1861, were still oppressed and lacked rights that European peasants had long since won. Czar Nicholas II was a weak leader who was resistant to change and who committed Russia to a war for which she was not prepared. As the army faced repeated defeats, morale deteriorated as food shortages led to bread riots and the Czar was forced to abdicate in early 1917. The provisional government struggled through a series of crisis until they were overthrown themselves by the Russian Bolshevik Party who had taken control of the government by the end of 1917 with the promise of Peace! Land! Bread!
The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, withdrew from the war and spent the next several years fighting a civil war against a wide range of groups that opposed their rule. During this time, the Bolsheviks imposed a political and economic order known as War Communism, which attempted to transform the economy. War Communism denied citizens the right to own private property, and included provisions for nationalization of all industry, rationing of food, and enforcing a government monopoly on foreign trade. This policy, as well as severe drought and economic disturbance caused by the civil war, created a famine across the Bolshevik controlled areas in 1921 that resulted in 10 million deaths.
In 1922 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was established by the Bolsheviks, with Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Ukrainian SSR) being one of the founding members. Lenin, in an attempt to rejuvenate the economy, introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP), which allowed peasants more economic freedom as long as they met certain quotas. Many in the Ukrainian SSR embraced this policy as it gave farmers incentive to invest and work harder.
After Lenin’s death in 1924, a power struggle ensued resulting in Joseph Stalin emerging as the new leader of the Soviet Union. Stalin’s approach to governing, known as Stalinism, was characterized by terror and totalitarian rule. Stalin rejected the softening of communist principles under the NEP. In 1928, he began a series of Five-Year Plans that forced peasants to give up their property and join kolkhoz (collective farms). These Five-Year Plans set economic goals aimed at making the nation militarily and industrially self-sufficient. The idea was to sell wheat abroad and buy foreign machinery and technology with the money generated. These Five-Year Plans became the economic model the Soviet Union followed for the next sixty years.
Peasants were not happy to be forced to join collective farms. When they were given no choice, many burned their fields and livestock in protest rather than hand them over to the authorities. The most successful farmers who flourished under the NEP were labeled ‘Kulaks’ and a propaganda campaign was initiated against this class of people. In 1929, the Soviet government began methodically attacking peasant farmers who were resisting collectivization. Resistance from within Ukrainian SSR was labeled “bourgeois nationalism” and anyone who opposed collectivization was portrayed as an enemy of the people. Hundreds of thousands of peasants who resisted forced collectivization and all ‘Kulaks’ were arrested, sent to prisons, tortured and/or killed.
The worldwide depression, which began in 1929, resulted in a drop in wheat prices that seriously affected the government’s ability to meet the objectives of the plan. In response, the Soviet government increased quotas dramatically for wheat production in 1932. They enacted a series of laws, many only affecting Ukrainian SSR, which ultimately caused the Holodomor. Most of the policies came directly from Stalin and the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party based in Moscow. Food was decreed to be the property of the state in the Ukrainian SSR and anyone found hoarding, or looking for food was arrested or executed. Officials stripped collective farmers of food, livestock, seeds and tools. Starving peasants were forbidden to take food from the fields where they worked. When they tried to flee the region, the government erected military blockades to prevent them from leaving or travelling between districts. Thousands were shots trying to flee the famine or search for food.
The famine also affected urban workers inside Ukrainian SSR, though some labourers received food rations at times during the crisis. City workers were encouraged to see themselves as leaders of the revolution and to see peasants as counter-revolutionaries who were hoarding food. After food was decreed state property, in the summer of 1932, communist brigades fanned out across the countryside to ensure that peasants were not committing theft.
By 1933, peasants were starving to death at a rate of 25,000 per day. Diseases were spreading due to people’s inability to care for themselves and incidents of cannibalism began appearing in government reports. Despite this, almost no one outside Ukrainian SSR was aware of these events. There were no reports about the famine in the Soviet Union, and only a few foreign media ever published stories about it. The worldwide depression, as well as new governments in America and Germany, garnered much more international attention than what was happening inside the Soviet Union. It is clear that the Soviet Government was aware of the famine though, and at no point did they request international assistance. Their response to the peasants’ inability to meet the unrealistic quotas was to punish them. One cannot blame this tragedy on climate issues or a failure to produce wheat. Ukraine produced more than enough wheat throughout the crisis to feed herself. The clear cause of the Holodomor was the policies implemented by the Soviet authorities at the time.
For the next fifty years the Holodomor remained covered up, denied, and simply not talked about. This started to change with Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost in the late 80s and then, with the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the release of records from government archives led to a flood of information about the Holodomor. Researchers are still uncovering more information about this time of terror.
Citizenship and Identity
The relationship between citizenship and identity forms the basis for skills and learning outcomes in the Alberta Social Studies Curriculum. These two concepts are fundamentally linked, as our collective identities influence citizenship in our nation, and our roles as citizens help define our individual and collective identities. The development of these two concepts over the course of thirteen years help students develop an understanding of the world they live in and the roles they can play in it.
At the high school level, each course begins (Related Issue #1) with a focus on identity in relation to the curriculum’s main theme. In each of these courses, students examine numerous case studies to use as evidence to draw their own conclusions about citizenship and identity. In Social 10, students explore ways that collectives express their identities through tradition, language, religion and the arts. They also analyze the challenges presented by such globalizing forces as assimilation, marginalization, and integration. In Social 20, students explore understandings of, collective feelings about, and expressions of nationalism. Students also explore the issue of reconciling contending loyalties between national, ethnic, and ideological affiliations. In social 30, students explore identity through an examination of collective beliefs and values. For each of these, Ukrainians, or Ukrainians in the period leading up to the Holodomor, provide an excellent case study to uncover curriculum outcomes.
Ukrainian national identity arguably began with the first Eastern Slavic state, Kievan Rus’, which existed from the late ninth to the mid 13th centuries. The Cossacks, whose democratic and semi-military societies emerged in the 14th and 15th centuries, also help shape the Ukrainian identity. Perhaps the most important Cossack was Bohdan Khmelnytsky, who worked for the liberation of the “entire Ruthenian people.” Ukrainians consider Khmelnytsky a national hero for leading an uprising in the mid-1600s that resulted in the creation of a Cossack state. His legacy though, is tainted by the fact that he eventually made a deal with Russia that led to the loss of independence for Ukraine.
Another important figure in helping form a Ukrainian national consciousness was Taras Shevchenko. Shevchenko was a writer and artist who lived in the 1800s and inspired a revival of Ukrainian culture. He became involved with political groups calling for more autonomy for the regions of the Russian Empire and served time in jail for his beliefs. His work is important for its influence on the Ukrainian national consciousness. His influence was so strong that during Soviet times the government worked to shape perceptions of him as a champion of the poor classes rather than as a promoter of Ukrainian nationalism. Today he has become an almost iconic figure for the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian Diaspora.
Prior to World War I, the area that is now Ukrainian Republic was divided between the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Treaties ending the war created many new nations in Eastern Europe and several attempts to establish an independent Ukrainian state were made during this time. Civil war within Russia as well as the Polish-Ukrainian war over control of Eastern Galicia resulted in Bolsheviks seizing power in Ukraine. By 1922, the Soviet Union emerged with Ukrainian SSR as one of its republics. The Polish–Ukrainian War of 1918 and 1919 played a role in the development of Ukrainian nationalism. Although Ukraine was defeated, this war deepened feelings of patriotism among many in Ukraine. Twenty years later Eastern Galicia became part of Ukrainian SSR and remains a part of the Ukrainian Republic today.
Despite engulfing Ukraine into its borders, the new Soviet government actually encouraged some nationalist expressions during the twenties and early thirties. Ukrainian nationalism was being tolerated and even encouraged through the policy of korenization (indigenization) which allowed some expressions of nationalism amongst the population. In the Ukrainian SSR, this policy flourished and even spread to mixed populations that became part of the Ukrainian SSR. During this time, the Ukrainian National Orthodox Church was created despite the Soviet Union’s anti religious stance. The communists tolerated the church, in part, to undermine the power of the Russian Orthodox Church, which they hated. Throughout the history of the Soviet Union, Ukraine SSR remained linguistically, ethnically and culturally distinct.
By the time Stalin had gained power, he began to express concerns about the effect that korenization policies were having on the unity of the Soviet people. He argued that nationalist movements and ethnic nationalist expressions were obstacles to the unity of the working class. The state began to reverse these practices and soon the central government was identifying “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism” as a major problem in Ukrainian SSR. A campaign began in the late 20s to exterminate leading intellectuals and the political and cultural elite as a way to suppress nationalist forces. Some view the Holodomor as simply a continuation of this campaign against Ukrainian nationalism. The Soviet Union finally disbanded in 1991 just after the Ukrainian Republic declared itself an independent country. The political system has evolved since independence into a unitary semi-presidential system of government. With independence have come many challenges as the Ukrainian people work to create a new nation-state and find their place in the world. The relationship with Russia continues to be one of the fundamental questions in Ukrainian politics. Today, despite its challenges, the Ukrainian Republic is becoming a modern European country. The two biggest religions in the country, Orthodox Christianity and Eastern Catholicism, have a significant impact on the culture. Special occasions provide Ukrainians with the opportunity to celebrate national traditions and heritage. Ukrainian food preparation, embroidery, weaving, songs, stories, lace making, and pysanky (decorative Easter eggs) all represent traditional cultural practices that continue today. Ukrainian performing arts groups also travel the world, and many artists from outside Ukraine continue to promote Ukrainian culture worldwide. When Ukrainians gather, a popular statement is "Razom nas bahato, nas ne podolaty" which means, "Together we are many! We cannot be defeated!"
Russian and Soviet Nationalism/Ultra Nationalism and Ukraine
The study of Soviet nationalism, and in particular the relationship between ultra-nationalism in the Soviet Union and the Holodomor, is a required part of the Social 20 curriculum. In this course, students explore the origins, causes and complexities of nationalism, as well as the relationship between nationalism and ultra-nationalism.
Ultra-nationalism is an extreme form of nationalism that is often associated with authoritarian governments. Many ultra-nationalists are anti-immigrant and use force, scapegoating, indoctrination and propaganda as methods to promote their ideologies. Both the Soviet Union and Russian Empire before it had many ultra-nationalistic characteristics.
The Russian Empire gained much of its identity from the Orthodox Church and the Romanov dynasty that had ruled since 1613. Russification, which is essentially laws, decrees and other actions taken to promote Russian culture throughout the empire, had long existed in Russian history and often aimed at suppressing Ukrainian nationalism. The goal of many Czars was to absorb Ukrainians and other nationalist groups into a single Russian national culture. Russification led to Russian nationals being assigned to important administrative positions and to the use of the Russian language for all official business, as well as the suppression of national and cultural expressions.
With the creation of the USSR, Lenin proclaimed that internationalism was its official ideology. Expressions of Russian nationalism were initially discouraged as they represented attachments to the imperialist government. This new country was going to be different because the primary unifying characteristic was ideology rather than ethnicity. Bolsheviks believed that communism would inevitably spread around the world changing the whole nation-state system. Propaganda was created to help instill in workers a collective feeling of being part of a worker’s revolution. However, the government went further, demanding complete obedience from the people and condemning anyone who did not comply with their policies. Ultimately, this revolutionary fervor was the basis for Soviet ultra-nationalism.
Shortly after Stalin took power, he reversed the korenization policy and began Sovietization. This led to many Russians coming to Ukrainian SSR to take up important positions and to bring institutions in-line with those in Moscow. Sovietization also led to the “elimination” of anyone the Bolsheviks felt were a threat to the central government. The Soviets decided that nationalist expressions were dangerous to the unity of the working people.
Ultimately, the cause of the Holodomor can be interpreted as the problem in the relationship between Ukrainian Soviet Republic and the USSR. The republics had no real power in the Soviet system and decision-making was centralized and bureaucratized. Stalin and the Politburo made all the important political and administrative decisions in Moscow at the Kremlin. Local party and government officials who tried to defend the Ukrainian people were “purged” from the party and replaced, often by officials from Russia. Her agricultural potential motivated the Soviet leaders to do everything they could to keep control of Ukraine and to deny her people the right to have any say over the matter.
All three high school programs call for students to explore how foreign policy reflects the values of a country and can help governments to achieve their objectives. The foreign policy of a government is the actions that it takes in relation to other nation-states or international organizations. Whether countries should pursue a more nationalistic or international paths, and whether nations should strive for economic independence or embrace globalization, are ongoing debates around the world.
One of the ways we can engage our students in the study of the Holodomor is by asking them what the appropriate foreign policy response should have been to this catastrophe. What policies should Canada and/or the International Community have changed? What actions could have prevented or lessened the effects of the Holodomor? What principles should we follow in creating our foreign policies? When does humanitarianism trump national sovereignty in the international system? Who should make these decisions? By encouraging students to project themselves into the role of policy makers, we can help them appreciate the challenges faced by sovereign countries in our international system. By having students develop foreign policy responses to the Holodomor and similar events, they begin to develop their own perspective on these issues.
The Social 10 curriculum focuses on the issue of globalization and asks students to consider; to what extent should we embrace globalization? Students explore the impact of globalization on lands, cultures, economies, human rights and quality of life. The origins of globalization are with industrialization and imperialism and are usually associated with early capitalist empires. Despite the lack of capitalism, it is easy to view the actions of the Soviet Union as imperialistic.
The ultimate goal of the Bolsheviks was international communism. The curriculum defines globalization as the process by which the world’s citizens are becoming increasingly connected and interdependent. The policies implemented by the Bolsheviks sought to increase connectedness and economic interdependence amongst the Soviet people (and eventually the whole world). Through this lens, we can compare the actions and policies of Soviet government to both traditional Imperial Powers like Great Britain in the late 19th century, and to corporations and governments in the modern era of globalization.
In the Social 30 curriculum students study the principles of classical and modern liberalism. They have the opportunity to assess the viability, principles and role of liberalism in our society. Students also investigate responses to liberalism and systems that rejected liberalism in the 20th century including the Bolshevik model of government established in Russia after the 1917 revolution.
In the 19th century, much of Europe was embracing classical liberal principles. With the advent of industrialization came private property, self-interest, more individual rights and greater economic freedom. These changes had a powerful effect on society and led to urbanization, rapid innovation and the development of a middle class. Thus, classical liberal ideology became the foundation for societies based on capitalism.
Russia did not begin to industrialize until the 1860s when they finally abolished serfdom. The move to industrialization brought some changes, but Russia’s absolute monarchy kept the people powerless and a small aristocracy controlled most of the means of production. Changes brought about because of the 1905 uprising were not substantial enough to satisfy the demands of many citizens for a liberal democracy. The transitional government after the Czar abdicated did try to create a democratic state based on liberal principles but faced opposition from both sides of the political spectrum. As a result, Russians were never exposed to liberal principles long enough for these ideas to permeate the culture. Even today, the government of Russia is less inclined to protect individual rights, freedom of the press, and other liberal ideals compared with most European nations.
The government of the USSR rejected liberal ideas on a number of levels. Totalitarianism, practiced by the Bolsheviks, denied citizens individual freedoms and demanded that people accept the dominant ideology. Communism took away people’s economic freedom and prevented them from acting as independent agents in the economy. Some believe that totalitarianism, communism or both systems were the underlying cause of the Holodomor.
Alberta Social Studies places an emphasis on embedding specific skills and processes into teaching strategies. These include critical thinking and historical thinking skills such as the ability to assemble, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate ideas and information from a wide variety of sources and perspectives. Teachers challenge students to develop positions informed by historical and contemporary evidence.
The rich collection of primary source material surrounding the Holodomor that has recently become available provides students the opportunity to develop these skills while gaining a deeper understanding of the Holodomor. Government correspondence, propaganda posters, directives, and other material from this period allow students to utilize essential skills and processes while expanding their knowledge of the Holodomor.
One example is the study of propaganda and/or propaganda posters. The Soviet Union regime used many political posters to indoctrinate people into their ideology including ones created to promote collective farming and the Five-Year Plans and to attack the Kulaks. All of these records are of particular interest in the study of the Holodomor. The analysis of these types of sources provides students with a deeper understanding of the forces at work that brought about the Holodomor.
Should the Holodomor be considered an ethnic genocide?
Was the Soviet government intent on destroying Ukrainian nationalism?
Should the victims of the Holodomor be seen as primarily Ukrainians or as peasants?
How many people actually died in Ukraine during the Holodomor?
How many people died in other Soviet Republics during this time due to collectivization?
What motivated the decisions of the central government / Stalin?
These are some of the questions Holodomor scholars have been studying for the last twenty years. While there are still debates about some aspects of the Holodomor, near consensus has developed amongst scholars that a famine occurred in Ukraine between 1932-33, that the primary cause was forced collectivization and that most of the millions of victims were ethnic Ukrainian. The issue of genocide holds particular significance for many involved in researching the Holodomor. The question is complicated by various definitions of genocide and how different scholars apply them. The legal definition most often used comes from the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This was based on the work of Raphael Lemkin who wrote extensively about genocide. Lemkin also studied the events surrounding the Holodomor and considered it an example of genocide.
Those who argue that the Holodomor should not be considered an ethnic genocide say that millions of non-Ukrainian Soviet citizens also died during the famine. They argue that Soviet actions represent more of a disregard for the lives of the people in the pursuit of economic goals than a true ethnic genocide. Some say that the first thirty years of the Soviet Union saw such tremendous loss of life, due to the totalitarian nature of the government, that the Holodomor is best seen as part of this chaos and destruction. Stalin’s policies in particular, are responsible for at least 20 million Soviet citizens.
Now that so much primary source material has become available, many scholars are finding more evidence to defend the position that the Holodomor was clearly an act of genocide. Some of the strongest arguments for this position include:
The government’s destruction of the Ukrainian churches that were so important to the people’s identity.
The policies aimed specifically at Ukraine that removed foodstuffs from starving peasants who made up the heart of the Ukrainian nation.
The dispersion of Ukrainians to other parts of the Soviet Union and the huge influx of Russians during this time dramatically changed Ukrainian SSR demographics. The percentage of Ukrainians in Ukrainian SSR went from 80% in 1920 to only 63% in 1939.
The government’s policy of elimination of the Kulaks as a social class and the categorization of so many Ukrainians as Kulaks.
Since the events surrounding the Holodomor were covered up for so many years, there was little official recognition before 1990. As the evidence continues to emerge, many governments around the world have begun to recognize the actions of Soviet government during this era as an act of genocide. In 2006, the Ukrainian parliament passed a law that made public denial illegal and recognized the Holodomor as a deliberate act of genocide. In 2008, the European parliament adopted a resolution recognizing the Holodomor as a crime against humanity. Other countries, including Canada, have recognized the Holodomor as genocide.
The Alberta educational system has already committed to promoting awareness of the Holodomor through its inclusion in the Program of Studies and in many of the basic student resources. By giving our students the opportunity to apply critical and historical thinking skills to the study of the Holodomor we are able to meet many outcomes from the program of studies while allowing students to explore the complexities of this event. In years to come we can be certain of an increased knowledge and understanding of the significance of this important event.
Time lines for the Ukrainian Genocide:
Ukrainian lands and people are divided between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires prior to World War 1. The majority of Ukrainians lived under the Russian Empire.
The Russian Revolution and the breakup of the Russian Empire. Ukraine sets up a Temporary Government, separate from Russia, the Central Rada.
1917 Nov. 7
The Bolshevik Takeover in Petrograd, Russia.
1918 Jan. 22
Ukraine declares Independence as the Ukrainian National Republic.
Ukraine attempts to establish and remain an independent state (The Hetmanate and the Ukrainian National Republic), while fighting the Red Army (Bolsheviks/Communists), the White Army (Russian Monarchists) the Poles and the Rumanians on Ukrainian soil.
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, a separate treaty on the Eastern Front to end the war. Signed by the Central Rada of Ukraine as a separate country and Leon Trotsky for the Bolshevik Government of Russia, acknowledging Ukrainian territorial integrity as a separate country.
Ukraine is left out at the hearings on self-determination of nations at the Treaty of
Versailles. Ukraine is not accepted as a separate country.
Civil War rages throughout the former Russian Empire, including Ukraine.
The Bolsheviks gain control of Ukraine with the aid of the Red Army. Ukrainian politicians go into exile.
Famine rages in Ukraine as 1,500,000 Ukrainians starve to death. Food is confiscated and taken out of Ukraine to feed Russian cities.
The New Economic Policy (NEP) is brought in by the Bolsheviks to rebuild the economy. It allowed for small farm holdings, permitting Ukrainian farmers to continue farming their private land plots and running small businesses in Soviet controlled Ukraine.
Ukraine is formally incorporated into the Soviet Union as a republic with Kharkiv, in Eastern Ukraine, as the new capital.
Lenin dies resulting in a power struggle between Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin.
Korenization is made a policy of the USSR. This was done to appease the nationalistic Ukrainian population and encourage Ukrainians to join the Communist Party. A cultural renaissance arises, as Ukrainian artists, writers, film directors embrace the call and continue developing an indigenous Ukrainian culture. The Ukrainian language is encouraged and flourishes in schools and government offices. As a result, some Ukrainian intellectuals join the Communist Party of Ukraine.
Stalin takes complete control of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party, introduces the First Five Year Plan (1928-1933) with Collectivisation and Industrialization as the goals.
The Soviets launch an attack on Ukrainian national elites - potential leaders of resistance: Arrest of 700 members and show trial of a fictitious SVU (Union for the Liberation of Ukraine Organization) accused of wanting an independent Ukraine with links to the farmers and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
The Ukrainian Autocephalous (autonomous from the Moscow Patriarch) Orthodox Church is liquidated and leaders are imprisoned or executed.
De-kulakization: 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 farmers are sent to Siberia, are executed, or sent to concentration camps with their families. Property of "rich farmers" is confiscated and transferred to collective farms. Uprisings against the government. One third of them in Ukraine.
Government sets unrealistic grain procurements policy for Ukraine. Little is left for the farmers. Farmers live off their depleted reserves and small plots and farm animals. Ukrainian farmers flee to cities, to Russia and Belarus in search of food
The Communist Party liquidates all non-governmental literary organizations in Ukraine.
Government passes law making all food state property. Death penalty for stealing grain in the field. Unproductive villages in Ukraine (1/3) and the Kuban are deprived of manufactured goods and food stuffs -they are blacklisted. Villages are cordoned off by troops and left to starve.
Widespread starvation in Ukraine, the Kuban and the Caucasus. Dec. 14, 1932 Secret decree blames Ukrainization, national tendencies, for grain problems. In Ukraine, the Ukrainian leadership is purged, gradually replaced by non-Ukrainians and Russification is brought in. In January 1933, Soviets close the borders of Ukraine and Kuban from the rest of the USSR, to prevent starving farmers from searching for food. In 6 weeks, 220,000 are arrested, many shot or sent to the gulag, 85% were sent home to starve. The Red Cross and Cardinal Innitzer demand permission to send famine relief; Moscow denies famine and rejects relief.