Study should be job of private sector

Robie M. Palmer, deputy assistant secretary,
Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs, U.S. State Department.

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to testify today on H.R. 4459, which proposes the creation of a commission on the Ukrainian famine. The Department of State welcomes Congressional interest in this terrible chapter in human history.

As I testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year, insufficient attention has been paid in the United States to the Great Famine of 1932-33, and to most Americans it remains a little-known event in the early history of the Soviet Union. The most horrible aspect of the Great Famine is that it was largely man-made and exploited by the leadership of the Soviet Union for its own political gain. It is now generally recognized that the seriousness of the famine was purposely aggravated by Stalin to subdue resistance by the peasants to collectivization and to establish firmly his unquestioned rule.

The leaders of the Soviet Union, although fully aware of the situation in the Ukraine and having complete control of food supplies within its borders, failed to take relief measures to check the famine or to alleviate the catastrophic conditions resulting from it. In complete disregard of international opinion, they ignored the appeals of international organizations and other nations to do otherwise. Despite a drop in food production in the Ukraine, harvests continued to be exported, food was confiscated from granaries and homes, food imports were banned, and the death penalty was imposed for hoarding food. Internal controls were imposed on travel to keep peasants from going to cities to search for food and to prevent them from leaving the Ukraine. Resisting peasants were deported to Siberia.

Some historians estimate that more than 7 million Ukrainians, and millions of others, died as a result of this callous and deliberate act. The devastation of these years continues to leave its mark on the Ukrainian people and has affected their economic, social and political development to an enormous extent.

The Department of State welcomes and supports efforts to expand our knowledge of the Soviet Union, including its dark history under Stalin. Under appropriate circumstances, we could support the establishment of a commission to examine that history, if there were no better alternative methods at hand. However, we believe there are a number of matters to be considered with regard to the present proposal to establish a commission on the Ukrainian famine.

The Senate amendments in the final version of S. 2456 move in the direction of State Department concerns by reducing the size of the commission and its cost. Nevertheless, our concerns remain essentially the same.

First, the mandate of this commission seems overly narrow. The legislative history of H.R. 4459 indicates that the primary purpose of the commission would be to focus on the plight of the Ukrainian people, rather than focusing on all who suffered and died during this Great Famine. While the Ukrainians unquestionably were the single ethnic group that was most devastated, it should be noted that the effects of the famine were felt keenly in areas outside the Ukraine, including the grain-growing areas of the Northern Caucasus and Volga regions. In addition to the Ukrainians who died, perhaps as many as 3 to 4 million others died as well. We would hope that any study undertaken would analyze the effects of the famine in all areas and on all peoples of the Soviet Union.

Second, the commission still seems to be somewhat top-heavy bureaucratically, despite the reductions reflected in the final version of S. 2456. It is not clear why the commission requires 15 members in addition to staff and researchers/scholars.

Third, we would note that the work envisaged for the commission is already being performed to a large extent in the private sector. Creation of a commission, therefore, appears to duplicate needlessly work already being performed at private expense.

Fourth, we believe it likely that the creation of one such commission would lead inevitably to suggestions that other commissions be created - at ever-growing expense to the taxpayer - to examine issues involving the Soviet Union not covered by the narrow mandate of the first commission. For example, the substantial Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian communities might seek the creation of a commission to study the sufferings of the Baltic peoples under Stalin. The American Jewish community might seek the formation of a commission to study the plight of Soviet Jews under Stalin and after. These subjects, and many others, are legitimate and necessary subjects for study if we are better to understand the Soviet Union. We believe, however, that all of these studies are more appropriately funded and undertaken by the private sector.

The State Department does not intend by its opposition to this commission to diminish the historical import of the Great Famine of 1932-33 or the grievous suffering of the Ukrainian people during this period. We encourage the efforts of the Ukrainian American community to bring those events to the attention of the American people and to their proper place in our history books. But, while the department fully understands the considerations which have impelled the introduction of H.R. 4459, we would recommend against favorable consideration of the bill at this time.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, October 14, 1984, No. 42, Vol. LII

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