Orest Deychakiwsky, former Policy Advisor to the U.S. Helsinki Commission
U.S. Senate resolution on Holodomor documents Russia's crimes committed in 1930s
09.10.2018 17:20 423

A resolution adopted by the U.S. Senate last week, which recognizes the Ukrainian Famine (Holodomor) of 1932-1933 as genocide against the Ukrainian people, is not a single act that classified this tragedy in such a categorical way. After all, in the early 1980s, the Ukrainian community in the United States had achieved a formal investigation into these events, the conclusions of which were direct recognition that Joseph Stalin committed genocide against Ukrainians. The word "genocide" has been met with political resistance in the U.S. Congress and the U.S. administration since then, but now it was officially confirmed in the Senate resolution. Orest Deychakiwsky, who has 35 years of experience in the U.S. Helsinki Commission, spoke in an exclusive interview with Ukrinform about what efforts were being made in the struggle for the truth.

Question: On October 4, the U.S. Senate unanimously adopted a resolution that actually recognizes the Holodomor in Ukraine in 1932-1933 as genocide against the Ukrainian people. What was the road to this decision? What did it all begin with?

Answer: This resolution is a very important step, but much has been done before. It all began long before Ukraine became independent, and it is very important to emphasize it.

When the 50th anniversary of the Holodomor was marked in 1983, nearly 17,000 representatives of the Ukrainian community from all over the United States gathered in Washington to commemorate the victims of this tragedy. Then a demonstration was held in front of the Soviet embassy. This was a very remarkable event.

Since then the Congress has considered and adopted resolutions and other legislative acts that referred to the Holodomor in Ukraine. I will name a few such examples.

Thanks to the efforts of the Ukrainian community in America, the so-called U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine was created in 1985 to discuss the issue of the Holodomor. The Congress provided funding from the budget and supported the work of this commission. It existed for four years, had a full-time staff, and was headed by James Mace – let him rest in peace. During the work of the Commission, the Congress hosted hearings on the Holodomor in Ukraine, and in 1988 a huge report was presented for the U.S. Congress. It was emphasized in the main conclusions that Joseph Stalin and his entourage committed genocide against the Ukrainian people in 1932-1933. This was also a very important step, and the present resolution is based on the conclusions of this Commission.

After 1988, every few years the Congress considered and sometimes approved resolutions on the Holodomor. In addition, almost every year, in November, senators and congressmen emphasized this in the Congressional Records Statement. That is, the Holodomor issue has always been discussed.

Q: Is it true that during such discussions in the Congress the main disputes concerned the definition "genocide," which essentially confirms a serious historical crime on the part of Russia?

A: As for discussions about the definition "genocide" in documents, I had personal experience. It was in 2003, in the Senate. We, together with our colleague in the Helsinki Commission, made a draft resolution for the then chairman of the Commission, Senator Campbell, which openly stated that the events of 1932-1933 were genocide. This document was very controversial in Congress, although it was supported by 25 senators who were co-sponsors, which is a very large number. But the resolution was not passed then due to the word "genocide" in the text. I even remember when they called me from the Committee on International Relations and suggested removing this word, having promised that in that case the resolution would be passed immediately.

Then the U.S. presidential administration was against the use of this term, and the main reason for this was not even the position of Russians, but the position of Turks. This was due to Armenia's attempts to recognize Turkey's repression against Armenian people as genocide. The U.S. Congress, despite its own commitment to the Armenian position at the time, did not approve such a decision, because Turkey reacted very acutely to this. In the case of the Ukrainian question, the wording for the Turks was very similar. Then Bush's administration did not want to offend the Turkish side, because the war began in Iraq in 2003, and the United States needed support in the region, including from Turkey.

Although the resolution on the Holodomor as genocide in Ukraine was not passed, it was important that the theme of the Holodomor was acutely discussed in the Congress, perhaps because of such an acute reaction to it.

I think there was a very important event in 2006 when the Congress approved and the president signed the decision to erect the Memorial to the Victims of the Holodomor in Ukraine in the center of Washington. This document has the status of a law, and it specifically refers to commemorating the victims of the Holodomor-genocide in Ukraine. It was an indirect recognition of this tragedy as genocide against the Ukrainian people. It is important that this document has undergone all approval procedures and has entered into force.

Some people disagree with America's recognition of the Holodomor as genocide. But many other people, including me, hold the opposite opinion. In addition, tell me whose parliament (not including Ukraine) has done more about the Holodomor in Ukraine - I'm not talking about other things - than the United States?

If we talk about the current resolution, it is just as important. And I hope the House of Representatives will adopt a similar document in the near future, which will recognize the conclusions of the U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine of 1988 that Stalin and those around him committed genocide against Ukrainians.

Q: We know that Congressional resolutions are not binding, unlike laws. However, the current approval by the upper house of the document on the Holodomor was seen as a great victory...

A: It is important to all Ukrainians since the Senate (and I hope the House of Representatives will join it) gives the Holodomor exactly this definition. In addition, I think that it is important for Ukraine now, when it deters Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, to once again feel political support from the United States on such a fundamental issue as genocide by Russia.

At the same time, this once again confirms that Russia has previously committed acts of aggression against Ukrainians and other peoples and is trying to destabilize the situation now.

Q: Does the world take into account the resolutions of the U.S. Congress? Could it push other states to the recognition of the Holodomor as genocide?

A: I think this will at least not damage the recognition process, and some countries have already done so. Obviously, the world is paying attention to what decisions are made by the U.S. Congress, and now, I hope, this will push international society.

I immediately recalled one example not related to the Holodomor, but it concerns solidarity from other states. It was the Magnitsky Act - the initiative by Senators Ben Cardin and John McCain. The adoption of this law was not easy and time-consuming. But then several countries took it as an example and adopted similar laws. These are, in particular, Canada, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In addition, some other countries are considering such an opportunity.

Q: Even in the Soviet times, the Kremlin's lobby in the United States was quite powerful. Let's just recall how difficult it was to build a monument to Taras Shevchenko in Washington in the 1960s because of the Kremlin's attempts to block it. How does Moscow manage to influence American politics now?

A: I would say that Russians spend a lot of effort and money on it, but they do not achieve significant results, especially now, when it comes to sanctions against Russia.

If we talk about the erection of a monument to Shevchenko, Moscow lost then as well - the monument to Kobzar appeared in the center of Washington, so the Ukrainian lobby proved to be stronger. The Ukrainian community influenced its congressmen and senators in different states, and the positive decision was taken.

This is an isolated case when Moscow lost. Take, for example, the resolution "Captive Nations" (about the enslaved peoples, dated 1959). The Soviet Union then offered a frenzied, very fierce resistance. Khrushchev personally criticized this document. It was like a bone in Moscow's throat. But they did not succeed in exerting any influence.

There were a lot of such cases – both with regard to resolutions on the members of the Helsinki Group, including the Ukrainian group, the prohibition of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and political prisoners. Obviously, the Soviet leadership did not really like it, but they could not do anything.

Q: You talked about the Ukrainian lobby in America. Who represents it?

A: First of all, it is the Ukrainian community in America. Such organizations as UNIS [the Ukrainian National Information Service], the Bureau of the Ukrainian National Association, which had many affairs with the Congress, as well as other institutions, were created ahead of Independence Day. Now some of them remained, some do not exist anymore, but new ones appear. I must say that earlier Ukraine was like a "terra incognita" in Washington. But the Ukrainian community in the United States and those who supported it had close ties in the Congress, including the Helsinki Commission.

Much has changed after independence. The Ukrainian community continues to play an important role, but the positive thing is that it has very many adherents and friends who support the Ukrainian position. Among them are influential Americans who do not even have Ukrainian roots. Many expert and non-governmental organizations in the United States have their own representative offices in Ukraine. The former U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine and other former government officials are working in this direction. Many of them now have a very large impact. They help strengthen American positions towards Ukraine.

Yaroslav Dovgopol, Washington

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