Denial of the Holodomor-Genocide by Pulitzer Prize Winners: Walter Duranty and Anne Applebaum

15 June 2018

Іn 1904 an American journalist of Hungarian origin, Joseph Pulitzer donated $2 million to Columbia University in New York in order to launch a School of Journalism and establish the Prize a Prize for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism. After his death in 1911, the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded only on June 4, 1917. The Pulitzer Prize is awarded for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature, and musical composition on every first Monday of May. The most prestigious nomination is the «Public service», the winner in this category of the journalism competition is awarded a gold medal and $10,000 dollars. Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Mitchell, The New York Times Magazine, well-known journalists, artists have received Prizes in consecutive years. For the applicants, the level of prestige of the laureate is important, and not the meager sum according to the standards of American society. In 2018, more than 2 thousand people wanted to receive the award, but this year the rapper has become a winner of Pulitzer Prize.

In 1926, 1933, when the New York Times correspondent  W. Duranty personally interviewed J. Stalin, such a variety of nominations («Public Service», «Local Reporting», «National Reporting», «International Reporting», «Feature Writing») was not yet. In 1931, when the Welsh journalist G. Jones was on the DniproHES, his American colleague W. Duranty wrote some praiseworthy reports about the industrialization and the victorious progress of socialism. In 1932 W. Duranty received a Pulitzer Prize for a series of reports about the Soviet Union. The venerable journalist with exquisite «skill» resorted to «serving» the Bolshevik Agitprop. In his articles in the New York Times, he denied the historical fact of artificial famine in Ukraine. He attacked G. Jones, a British journalist who had witnessed the starving in Ukraine. G.Johns returned from the hungry villages of Kharkiv region in March 1933 and told about his trip to W. Duranty. He betrayed G. Jones and sold journalistic conscience for generous payments by leaders of the Kremlin. W. Duranty headed a slanderous campaign against G. Jones. In August 1935, G.Jones died in mysterious circumstances in Manchuria. After a few days, W. Duranty wrote about the exacerbation of Soviet-Japanese relations in the Far East. In the early 2000s, the public called for the revocation of Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize, but the committee for its award rejected the petition.

W. Duranty and A. Applebaum are representatives of the Western journalism school, but they are significantly different in their ideological, educational and mental preferences. However, they are both journalists and Pulitzer Prize winners. A. Applebaum has been an editor at The Economist and The Spectator, and a member of the editorial board of The Washington Post. She also began doing historical research for her book «Gulag: A History», which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004. In 2006, her book was published in the Ukrainian language. According to the intellectual nomination «Attitude towards the Stalinist regime» they are antipodes: W. Duranty praised the red dictator, A. Applebaum condemns the crimes of Stalin. She recognizes the collectivization and the policy of dekulakization the cause of the «… terrible devastating famines in Ukraine and southern Russia, famines, in which from six to seven million people died» (p.62) in her book «Gulag: A History». Russian archivists, historians, and Western scholars were her advisers and scientific consultants.

Freedom of the individual and freedom of creativity give a chance to a person for changing own views. The consistency is a good sign of individuality. If the views are false? In any case, we take it for granted. The book by A. Applebaum «Red Famine. Stalin’s War on Ukraine» (2017), which caused ambiguous reflections among Ukrainian and Western Holodomor researchers, is her journalistic investigation. She is a sole author, although intellectual and institutional assistance was provided by Ukrainian historians and Western experts. A combination of journalistic search with elements of academic research raises the level of responsibility of its author: appraisal interpretations and conclusions acquire qualification judgments, rather than journalistic reporting about the tragic events of the distant past. In such circumstances, the freedom of expression and interpretation must be coherent with the author’s position and professional responsibility. It is unpleasantly, but tendency and subjectivity of the author’s interpretation of the concept of genocide by R. Lemkin (the intellectual father of the term of «genocide»), the basic provisions of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted on 9 December 1948, the actual denial of the Holodomor like genocide are obvious in this book. Therefore, I published a review on the English edition of «Red Famine» by A. Applebaum («Slovo Prosvity». – №. 49, December 7 – December 13, 2017). It seemed to me that her judgment was a polemical reflection and desire to understand the complex scientific collisions of the legal assessment of the Holodomor. The disappointment of the situation was that on November 25, 2017, the President of Ukraine P.Poroshenko, speaking at memorial events near the Holodomor Victims Memorial in Kyiv, twice mentioned the book by A. Applebaum. He added A. Applebaum to the list of outstanding scholars of the Holodomor with R. Conquest and J.Mace, and soon met with the author of the «Red Famine». The strange collision: we call on the world community to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide of the Ukrainian people, but at the same time we provide an advocacy platform for authors of books in which the genocidal component is questionable. I wonder what the reaction of Israel’s political leadership and representatives of Yad Vashem Institute would be if journalists and historians have doubts about the Holocaust. The Institute still does not recognize A. Sheptytsky as a Righteous Among the Nation, although he saved the Jews during the Nazi invasion.

Ukraine suffered catastrophic losses and pains in the twentieth century. Therefore, society is in a state of post-traumatic syndrome. The social psyche of the nation is quite sensitive to distortions of real events, falsifying the circumstances of the most tragic pages of the past. We are witnessing Israel’s reaction to the amendments to the Law about the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland. In 2018, the book by A. Applebaum «Czerwony Głód» was published in the Polish language, but without the second part of the title «Stalin’s War on Ukraine». This part lost somewhere in editing… The triumphal procession of «Red Famine», which replaces national-patriotic feelings to anti-Russian rhetoric, has come to Ukraine.

On May 30, 2018, Mystetskyi Arsenal provided a platform for the presentation of the Ukrainian-language translation of the book by A. Applebaum («Chervonyy holod. Viyna Stalina proty Ukrayiny. – Kyiv: HREC Press, 2018. – 442 p.). The publication was sponsored by the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC), a branch of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS). Both organizations are funded by Canadian businessman James Temerty. The publication of the book by A. Applebaum is «an outstanding event» for adherents of the journalistic talent of the author. My colleague S.Kulchytsky, who participated in the presentation of her book, noted that «… A. Applebaum has already gained many enemies with its book». I wrote a critical review in 2017 and now, but I am not «an enemy», rather «an opponent». Other scientist and researcher of the Holodomor also wrote critical reviews of the book among them are Roman Serbyn from Canada, who arranged and published the article by R. Lemkin about the «Soviet genocide», international lawyer Volodymyr Vasylenko (author of the Draft Law of Ukraine «About Holodomor 1932-1933» dated November 282006), historian Volodymyr Serhiychuk.

Legitimate recognition of the Holodomor as a genocide in Ukraine was the difficult process. I personally took the direct part in preparing the evidence base. Therefore, I perceive conscious or casual revision of its provisions as a personal resentment. I felt it after reading English edition of Anne Applebaum’s book. The presentation of the «Red Famine» in the Ukrainian language dispelled any doubts. The laureate of the Pulitzer Prize denies the genocidal component of the Holodomor in Ukraine, doubts about legal qualifications in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, deliberately underestimates the total number of Holodomor victims. It is a pity to realize that the «Red Famine» by A. Applebaum is included in the symbolic «Red Book», which is guarded by the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance. Perhaps they were seduced by the anti-Russian rhetoric of the author, but it has become today a commonplace for European political structures and the media.

The academic review involves the application of a systematic theoretical arsenal of a related scientific narrative. It is difficult to adapt to the Red Famine because the work combines elements of memorial-archeographic (generous citation of published memoirs of eyewitnesses), demographic (random representation of Holodomor victims’ statistics), legal analysis (interpretation of the norms of international law). The main thing for the author is the definition of «the famine of 1932-1933», the neutral term «famine» that considers from the angle of the socio-biological phenomenon. The concepts of «All-Union hunger» and «Ukrainian hunger» are different but, probably under the influence of advisers, the author pins to the recognition of the fact of the «all-union hunger». It is a historiographical scheme, even an ideological concept used by Russian and individual Ukrainian historians to ignore the genocidal component and the national peculiarities of the causes, circumstances, and consequences of the Holodomor in Ukraine. Famine as a «common tragedy» is a very convenient scheme. If so, why did the Russian Federation not give a political and legal assessment of the Holodomor in its own territory? Why the Russian court forbade my books about the Holodomor in the Russian Federation in 2011 and 2015, recognized them as extremist literature? The representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation M. Zakharova dispelled the final doubts: the Holodomor is not a historical fact. Therefore, the phrase of A. Applebaum «neither the Ukrainian nor the all-union hunger» looks neutral and generalized.

Terminology is of particular importance in any scientific and journalistic investigation. Therefore, the concept of «hunger» as a biological phenomenon, «terror by hunger» (punitive and repressive action), «Holodomor» (massive and consistent extermination of people through systematic deprivation of food, the form of genocide) must be properly used. We can talk about the «stages of the famine in the spring of 1933», but only in the context of socio-biological and anthropological research. It seems that its author of the «Red Famine» deliberately avoids the definition of «Holodomor». She recalls it only with a reference to the source. She writes that «the world «Haladamor» appears in Czech publications of the Ukrainian diaspora in the 1930s» (s.ХХII). The term «Hladomor» appears for the first time in 1933 on the pages of the Prague newspaper «Većernika P.L.». A. Applebaum does not deny the organized nature of the famine, its artificial origin, because it rejects the action of the natural factor. However, her phrase «the history of the Holodomor is not limited to hunger» testifies to the sign of equality between concepts and phenomena, but they are significantly different. The Holodomor is a historical form of genocide against the civilian population in peacetime. It is not a passive combination of the words «holod» and «mor» in its etymological essence. It is the functional transformation of artificially organized famine. The notions and phenomena of the Holodomor and the Holocaust are verbal symbols of genocide in the twentieth century, which are similar to the legal features of the norms of international law.

The author and her advisers make numerous factual and journalistic mistakes in Chapter 15 and the «Epilogue» of the monograph «Red Famine». Perhaps, in the following passages of the text, the author used the advice of the scientific editor L. Hrynevych and consultants. She began to arbitrarily interpret the provisions of the Genocide Convention (1948). In her conviction, «Stalin did not seek to kill all Ukrainians, nor did all Ukrainians resist», but sought to «physically eliminate the most active and engaged Ukrainians» (s.338). Consequently, according to A. Applebaum’s view, the «red dictator» did not intend to kill «all Ukrainians». It is not about the selectivity of Stalin, but about the author’s selective interpretation of the basic provisions of the Genocide Convention. According to Lemkin’s definition, the Holodomor was a genocide, but the author of the book does not agree with this thesis, because Stalin did not seek to kill «all Ukrainians». A. Applebaum  quotes the basic provision of the Genocide Convention, which state «genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such». The solution of author’s formula appears in the phrase: «In practice, «genocide», as defined by the UN documents, came to mean the physical elimination of an entire ethnic group, in a manner similar to the Holocaust». In the years of the Holocaust, about 6 million people died, but this was part of the Jewish people who were in the territories occupied by the Nazis. What does the phrase «entire ethnic group» means? Is the destruction of a part of Ukrainians (more than 7 million victims of the Holodomor) can not be considered as a genocide? 

The Genocide Convention (1948), as a general rule of international law, did not provide for the presence of a specific national or ethnic group (Ukrainians, Jews, Armenians, and Roma). It has recorded a list of actions with intent, which can be qualified as an act of genocide. The selective interpretation of a document of international law is inadmissible. A. Applebaum is convinced that the Holocaust had signs of physical extermination of the «entire ethnic group», and during the Holodomor, there was no such intention. Therefore, its historical conclusion is categorical: «The Holodomor does not meet that criterion. The Ukrainian famine was not an attempt to eliminate every single living Ukrainian; It was also halted, in the summer of 1933, well before it could devastate the entire nation» (s.343). This is a cynical interpretation of the careful suspension of the Holodomor in the summer of 1933. Terror famine in Kyiv and Vinnytsia regions continued until the spring of 1935. This is a strange argument for denying the genocidal component. It seems like a break between the shooting at Babyn Yar was a «stop». A group of researchers who worked on «Red Famine» should be ashamed of such a selective interpretation of the Holodomor.

The phrase about the «difficulty of classifying the Holodomor as a genocide in international law» is unclear, although it «has not stopped a series of Ukrainian governments from trying to do so». The international recognition of the Holodomor-genocide will be really difficult if the books are published where the authors deny genocide in a similar way. In Israel, a similar interpretation of the genocide of Jews by a Ukrainian historian or journalist would immediately have a political and legal assessment. In Ukraine, which is the most democratic country in the world, everything is allowed: foreign politicians in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine can blame Ukrainians for involvement in the Holocaust, and any Western and especially north-eastern journalist can deny the Holodomor.

The political and legal assessment of the Holodomor, which was succeeded by the President of Ukraine V.Yushchenko, is for some reason called «politicization» in «Red Famine», although in quotation marks. However, HREC in Ukraine, the intellectual and financial sponsor of the publication, allows itself to blame the Holodomor Victims Memorial for politicization. How to avoid politicization of legal assessment of Holodomor If the mass murder of Ukrainians is a criminal policy?

The use of the statistics for Holodomor victims by A. Applebaum is understandable to me. She «completely» borrowed it from Ukrainian demographers, and therefore writes that «… the Ukrainian scholarly community is now coalescing, with some exceptions, around a number just below 4 million deaths» (s. 343). I belong to the «exception», because, based on the hypothetical forecasts of the demographers of the 1930’s and the materials of the census of 1937, I defend the figure of more than 7 million people who died during the Holodomor. The author points out two figures: «agreement is now coalescing around two numbers: 3,9 million excess deaths, or direct losses, and 0,6  millions lost births, or indirect losses» (s.276 – 277). She «well-coordinated» the figure of 3.9 million people, but did not agree on the correct citation of demographic statistics by S.Sosnovyy from 1942: 1.5 million dead in 1932, 3.3 million in 1933. The archival fund of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (Operational Headquarters of Reichsleiter Alfred Rosenberg) retains the analytical work by S.Sosnovyy, who tells about 7.4 million people «… died in Ukraine during the famine organized by the Bolsheviks in 1932-1933». The demographic statistics of Holodomor victims are definitely not the journalistic business.

 At the end of the «Epilogue» by the author of «Red Famine» notes: «The history of famine is a tragedy with no happy ending. But the history of Ukraine is not a tragedy. Millions of people were murdered, but the nation remains on the map». The history of the Ukrainian people is too tragic. I hope that the denial of the Holodomor-genocide, no matter how anti-Russian rhetoric it has been accompanied, will remain in the Ukrainian intellectual and memorial environment «without a happy end».


Marochko V., Doctor of History, Professor