Let’s get the Oxford Union events out of the way first. Over on the EUReferendum blog we have written on a number of occasions that freedom of speech (not incitement of violence but the expression of political opinions, however unpleasant) is of the greatest importance. Let me link to this posting, this and this, just for starters.
Two points can be made immediately about the brouhaha, apart from the curious irony of people demanding a ban on people who have been invited to speak in a debate on freedom of speech. None of the arguments – giving a platform to fascists or just generally unpleasant people, these issues have already been settled, cannot allow the pollution of the Oxford Union – hold water even for one second.
The two points were to do with the University and with Thames Valley police. If the University of Oxford cannot produce people, either insiders or outsiders, who can tear Nick Griffin’s and David Irving’s arguments to pieces then there is a problem in that august institution that should be addressed.
Though the police seem reasonably pleased with themselves, they do not seem to have done what they are supposed to do, which is allow people go about their lawful business. Protestors broke into the Union building, other people did not manage to get in and the debate had to be conducted in two separate rooms. Were the police told not to be too hard on those well-meaning youngsters who screamed abuse at anyone who wanted to hear what the terrible BNP had to say?
In the end, of course, it is the BNP that emerged triumphant from this skirmish, as they have done from all previous ones. They can claim attempted victimization, lack of coherent argument against them and as Nick Griffin put it:
This is a mob which would kill. I have seen them beat old men and women and try to kill them. Had they grown up in Nazi Germany they would have made splendid Nazis.He is probably right about that last comment and even if he is not, this is possibly not what the demonstrators wanted to hear. Furthermore, I can imagine large numbers of youngsters being inspired by the heroic fight the BNP is putting up in the cause of right and freedom and joining that benighted organization.
In the meantime, out in the big bad world (where British political donor scandals are not considered to be terribly important or even interesting) there have been two anniversaries, both a little artificial, as I shall explain, but both of huge importance with a connection to the Oxford fracas.
The first took place in Russia where President Putin was among those who marked the 70th anniversary of the Great Terror in the Soviet Union. October 30 was designated Political Prisoners’ Day in 1974 in the Soviet Union (by the prisoners and their friends not the authorities). In 1991 it became officially Day of Victims of Political Repression.
There were many such days in the Soviet Union, especially under Lenin and Stalin but one day had to be designated and why not this one.
Why the 70th anniversary? That has something to do with the way Russians and, indeed, others from the former Soviet Union talk about that period. When Nikita Khrushchev first spoke about the repressions publicly, he concentrated on the attack levelled at the Communist Party, which was at its height in 1937, the year in which the purges began in real earnest.
So, although the arrests started almost immediately after the assassination of Sergei Kirov in December 1934 and although 1938 with the great trial of Right-Wing Deviationist Trotskyites a.k.a. Nikolai Bukharin and others saw far more arrests it is tridsat’ sed’moy god (1937) that serves as a short-hand for the Great Terror of the thirties.
It now makes sense that the victims of that and other Soviet terror were being commemorated on October 30, 2007 (by a strange coincidence the 70th anniversary of the night my grandfather was arrested in Moscow to disappear for ever).
Putin’s participation in the memorial service held near the Butovsky Poligon was full of piquant ironies. Nothing wrong with the place:
The site of the commemorations Tuesday, Butovsky Poligon, is on the grounds of a pre-revolutionary estate on the edge of Moscow. It was a secret prison run by the NKVD, the KGB's predecessor, and is the burial place of more than 20,000 people who were killed during the height of Stalin's purges in 1937 and 1938. In that period, hundreds were sometimes shot there in a single day. Poligon translates as "shooting range."Recently it has become a Russian Orthodox shrine after it was determined that about 1,000 of those people were killed for their (Orthodox) faith. Nothing wrong with that either.
But what are we to make of commemorations attended by a former and unrepentant KGB/FSB agent who has managed to introduce a miniscule version of Soviet oppression in Russia now? So far, completely miniscule, I am glad to say but the signs are not good.
There was another problem. The service was conducted by the Patriarch Aleksy II, whose links with the KGB/FSB are very well known throughout Russia.
There was another commemoration in Moscow and many others, I expect, in other places.
Survivors of the gulag, the Soviet system of prison camps, gathered Tuesday at Lubyanka Square, near the former KGB headquarters, in front of a monument called the Solovetsky Stone, which was brought from one of the first Soviet prison camps.The Solovetsky camps were set up under Lenin and very unpleasant they were, too.
Rights activists and opposition politicians later gathered to call attention to those they regard as modern Russian political prisoners, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed oil magnate who challenged the Kremlin, and Mikhail Trepashkin, a former KGB agent who was jailed for disclosing state secrets after working with liberal legislators who suspected the secret police of involvement in a series of apartment bombings in Moscow and southern Russia that set off the second Chechen war in 1999 and helped bring Putin to power.
The third event that went almost completely unnoticed in Britain is the 75th anniversary of what the Ukrainians call the Holodomor, the politically engineered famine as a punishment for the Ukrainian recalcitrance over Collectivization and in order to break the Ukrainian national spirit.
There is a theory that the Great Terror of the mid to late thirties was unleashed by Stalin to some extent in order to cover up the horrific genocide of the Collectivization. Numbers of its victims vary from 13 to 17 million. Well, let’s split the difference and say 15 million, which is possibly the most accurate figure (I am ready to be corrected on that by anyone who has seen more recent estimates).
Collectivization of agricultural land is the cornerstone of Communist power and was carried out everywhere the Communists, those lovable well-meaning characters came to power. The Great Leap Forward in China claimed at least 30 million victims.
There were commensurate numbers of dead in Vietnam, Cambodia and Ethiopia under Colonel Mengistu. In none of these countries, not even the former Soviet ones, where these events happened a long time ago, has agriculture recovered. It is so easy to destroy; so difficult to rebuild.
The process of Collectivization in the Soviet Union, both in its early stages when “kulaks”, that is peasants who had been successful through hard work, were exterminated and through the subsequent confiscation of all, and I mean all grain in a deliberate policy of murdering as many people as possible through famine, spread across all the republics.
It was particularly vicious in the Ukraine for two reasons. The peasantry made up a larger proportion of the population and the land being very fertile they had become better producers; and Stalin with his henchmen was determined to destroy Ukrainian national identity. For that reason the subsequent purge was also extremely ferocious.
President Yushschenko had an article in the Wall Street Journal Europe last Monday when the commemorations were being held. Sadly, the piece is available only to subscribers on the net but I shall quote one or two paragraphs from it.
What the Ukrainians would like is to designate the Holodomor as genocide, a tiresome idea in my opinion. What they also want with some justification is an acknowledgement of what they had suffered, a story that has not been told all that often though Robert Conquest wrote a very good and extremely harrowing book about Collectivization, “The Harvest of Sorrow”.
Yushschenko emphasizes that acknowledgement of the Holodomor does not mean he wants some nationalist apportioning of blame.
We are not doing so out of a desire for revenge or to make a partisan political point. We know that the Russian people were among Stalin’s foremost victims. Apportioning blame to their living descendants is the last thing on our minds. Our only wish is for this crime to be understood for what it truly was.So what was it?
There is now a wealth of historical material detailing the specific features of Stalin’s forced collectivization and terror famine policies against Ukraine. Other parts of the Soviet Union suffered terribly as well. But in the minds of the Soviet leadership there was a dual purpose in persecuting and starving the Ukrainian peasantry. It was part of a campaign to cursh Ukraine’s national identity and its desire for self-determination.Not many people got through and those that did like Walter Duranty wrote Soviet propaganda, furiously persecuting any writer or journalist who told otherwise, using those famous words: “I was there. I know.” To this day Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize stays attached to his name.
As Stalin put it a few years earlier: “There is no powerful national movement without the peasant army …. in essence, the national question is a peasant question”. In seeking to reverse the policy of “Ukrainization” that promoted limited cultural and political autonomy during the 1920s, Stalin decided to target the peasantry, representing as it did 80% of the population. His solution to the national question in Ukraine was mass murder through starvation.
Stalin’s cruel methods included the allocation of astronomic grain requisition quotas
that were impossible to meet and which left nothing for the local population to
eat. When the quotas were missed, armed units were sent in. Toward the end of
1932, entire villages and regions were turned into a system of isolated starvation ghettos called “black boards”.
Throughout this period, the Soviet Union continued to export grain to the West and even used grain to produce alcohol. By early 1933, the Soviet leadership decided to radically reinforce the blockade of Ukrainian villages. Eventually, the whole territory of Ukraine was surrounded by armed forces, turning the entire country into a vast death camp.
One man who did write the truth was Malcolm Muggeridge who tried to get some stories out into the Manchester Guardian, who refused to publish anything so bad about the Soviet Union. He collected them in his “Winter in Moscow”.
Yushschenko writes about subsequent purges aimed at a destruction of Ukrainian cultural life as its economic life had been destroyed. To be fair, much of this was going on in the rest of the Soviet Union as well.
Waves of purges engulfed academic institutions, literary journals, publishing houses and theatres. Victims included the Ukrainian Academy of Science, the editorial board of the Soviet Ukrainian Encyclopaedia, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and ultimately the Ukrainian Communist Party.One can substitute the words Russian or Georgian for Ukrainian and it would be true, none of which diminishes the historic trauma of the Ukrainian people.
So what have these two stories to do with that idiotic performance in Oxford apart from the fact that so much space was taken up by journalistic accounts of undergraduate silliness that the two anniversaries were barely mentioned in Britain? In fact, I have not been able to find a single reference to Holodomor in any British media outlet.
There is more to it all, though. The tales of which I told a very small part above, have been denied, diminished and ignored by most of the Western and, specifically, British academia and writing community.
Have the students ever demonstrated when deniers of Communist holocausts or genocides were invited to speak at the Union? No, of course not. After all, Communists are well-meaning people even though these horrific crimes followed the establishment of any Communist government as surely as night follows day.
Has anyone ever suggested that Professor Eric Hobsbawm, the man who still finds it difficult to tell the truth about Collectivization, should not be given a platform? Not that I know of. Does anyone suggest that Richard Gott who admitted being a paid agent of influence as recently as twenty years ago should be prevented from writing tosh in various publications? Hmmm, not recently.
I have once suggested that we should make Famine Denial a criminal offence and put some of those who have either denied Holodomor or trivialized it on trial. Of course, I do not really mean that any more than President Yushchenko does (I think). But could we possibly have a little logic in our hysterical outbursts?
How can we expect full lustration in former Communist countries when we refuse to face up to our barefaced lies and denials?