Mr. Speaker, today we are considering Bill C-459, which calls on the Parliament of Canada to recognize the victims of the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 by establishing a Ukrainian famine and genocide memorial day and, furthermore, to declare the famine an act of genocide.
As many Canadians are aware, this year marks the 75th anniversary of the holodomor, an artificial famine created by policies promoting the brutal forced collectivization of agriculture throughout the Soviet Union. The famine affected Kazakhstan, parts of Russia and the Volga German Republic, but was most markedly felt in the Ukraine.
We may never know how many people died from starvation during the great famine in Ukraine. The Commission on the Ukraine Famine, created by the United States Congress, published the results of its research in 1990. The commission's findings, along with research undertaken by Ukrainian scholars in the 1980s, suggest that the number of victims in Ukraine alone--80% of the total victims of the famine--was 4.5 million to 5 million, approximately 15% of Ukraine's population at the time. Some may consider these numbers to be conservative. Ultimately, as many as 10 million deaths in Ukraine during the 1930s may be attributable to the famine.
How is it that this horrific famine occurred in Ukraine, which at least until the breakout of World War I was known as the breadbasket of Europe?
In the decade following the Russian revolution of 1917, Soviet policies were systematically aimed at the elimination of the better off farmers, the vast majority of whom, by Canadian standards, had only modest holdings. Beginning in 1927, increasingly harsh measures were taken against them. By 1930, nearly 250,000 Ukrainians were forcibly deported to Central Asia, Serbia and the Soviet Far East. Unfortunately, many perished in the process.
In spite of the elimination of those thought most likely to oppose collectivization, the Soviet policy of forcibly creating large state-run farms, the majority of farmers in Soviet Ukraine continued to resist. Between 1929 and 1931, an estimated 10,000 party functionaries worked throughout rural areas in Soviet Ukraine expropriating property and livestock, coercing individuals into collective farms, and confiscating grain and eventually all other foodstuffs, including seed stocks.
Agricultural work understandably suffered greatly. Starting in 1931, harvests in the Soviet Ukraine became notably smaller. However, the central government's quota for deliveries did not decrease. By the spring of 1932, famine arrived in Ukrainian villages. By 1933, starvation became the norm in rural Soviet Ukraine.
Soviet officials not only denied the famine but continued to export grain abroad. Furthermore, unlike the famine of 1921-22, outside aid was not sought and indeed was turned away when offered. Some western governments and other observers and journalists, notably Walter Durante of The New York Times, also denied the existence of the famine. It is ironic that Durante was awarded a Pulitzer prize in 1932 for his reporting on the Soviet Union.
While the Soviet Union still existed, Ukrainians were not allowed to openly discuss the events of the 1930s. The Soviets even tried to paint western scholarship documenting the atrocities as propaganda. The suffering during the great famine, however, could not be erased from the collective memory of the Ukrainian nation. Allow me to quote from Robert Conquest, the noted scholar and chronicler of the great famine:
The Soviet assault on the peasantry and on the Ukrainian nation, in 1930-1933, was one of the largest and most devastating events in modern history. It was a tremendous human tragedy--with many more dead than in all countries together in World War I. It was a major economic disaster...[with] hideous consequences.
In Canada, the Ukrainian Canadian community of more than one million citizens was among the first to recognize the need to bring the great famine to the world's attention. Accordingly, Ukrainian Canadians have been at the forefront in ensuring that the famine is recognized for the terrible suffering it brought to Ukrainians. It brought devastation upon the countryside and Ukrainian agriculture, and ultimately it must not be forgotten by future generations.
In Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Windsor, the Ukrainian Canadian community has erected memorials to honour the victims. In November 2007, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress began a year of commemorative events to mark the 75th anniversary of the great famine, to bring the victims' suffering to the attention of all Canadians and to help prevent similar tragedies in the future.
As is well known, Canada has close bilateral relations with Ukraine. In recognition of this fact and to underscore our abhorrence of this calamity, Canada also co-sponsored a resolution, adopted at the 2007 UNESCO general conference in Paris, expressing sympathy to the victims of the famine and calling upon member states to consider promoting awareness of the great famine through educational and research programs.
Canada further co-sponsored a ministerial declaration on the 25th anniversary of the famine at the 2007 Ministerial Meeting of the OSCE in Madrid, which underlined the “importance of raising public awareness of the tragic events...of promoting tolerance and non-discrimination, of strengthening the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for prevention of [similar] human tragedies in the future”.
On November 28, 2007, the Prime Minister, at a commemoration ceremony on Parliament Hill, spoke of the famine as the result of Stalin's despotism and squarely laid the responsibility for the tragedy on his brutal policies. In his statement, the Prime Minister honoured those Ukrainians who suffered horribly during collectivization, noting that the result of the collectivization was:
--one of the worst famines the world has ever known, millions of men, women and children--mostly Ukrainian, but also some Kazakhs and Russians--died of starvation. Those who refused to yield were slaughtered.
The Prime Minister went on to say:
We in Canada are bonded to this dark chapter in human history by more than a million Canadians of Ukrainian descent, many of whom lost loved ones in the Holodomor. And so, all Canadians join us in commemorating this 75th anniversary of the terrible famine of 1932-33.
Our government supports the efforts to remember the victims of the great famine and the reasons behind their deaths as a way to prevent history from repeating itself. We believe that the famine of 1932-33 was a great tragedy which claimed millions of lives in the former Soviet Union, most notably in Ukraine. Canada believes that commemorating this event is one way to ensure that such tragedy does not occur again.
The bill before us seeks to recognize and honour the victims of the great famine. The government concurs wholeheartedly with the need for recognition of the victims and the commemoration of their suffering, to understand the reasons behind this tragedy. Not forgetting the horrors of the great famine is among the best memorials we can give its victims. Remembrance is a living memorial to the victims and their loss of life, human rights and dignity.
The member for Toronto Centre correctly observed the fact that there have indeed been a tremendous number of these events. Our government is working diligently with the Ukrainian community to bring this to a proper, correct conclusion.