On Friday 27 November, The Hague Institute for Global Justice, the Foundation “Ukrainians in the Netherlands” and the Embassy of Ukraine convened a conference on the “Legacy of the Holodomor: From Post-Genocidal to Civil Society.” The conference, which was held to commemorate the Great Famine or Holodomor of 1932-33 in Ukraine, consisted of a keynote address by the First Lady of Ukraine, Mrs. Maryna Poroshenko, an expert panel discussion, as well as the screening of a documentary and violin recital.
After welcoming remarks by Amb. Nikola Dimitrov, Distinguished Fellow at The Hague Institute, and the moderator, Ms. Christina Santore,, there was a screening of a segment of the film “Holod 33” (Famine 33) by Ukrainian director Oles Yanchuk. The film illustrated the horrors of starvation and the violence that occurred during the Holodomor of 1933.
The First Lady of Ukraine, Mrs. Poroshenko, highlighted the importance of the conference, stating that even though the Holodomor tragedy becomes more distant with every year, this does not mean that the Ukrainian people are able to forget it. According to Mrs. Poroshenko, conferences such as these, are “a symbol of humanism and a warning to the world to do everything possible to prevent such crimes against humanity from ever happening again.”
During the panel discussion, Dr. Karel Berkhoff, Senior Researcher at NIOD Institute, and Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Amsterdam, spoke about the remembrance of the Holodomor. He illustrated how the famine of 1933 was remembered ten years later during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine. Of particular note was that while many Ukrainians had vivid recollections of the famine, many accounts were unclear as to its cause, with many believing that Stalin was unaware of the famine. Dr. Berkhoff’s contribution underlined the importance of pursuing the recollection of mass atrocities and asking pertinent questions relating to the cause and origin of these events, as well as addressing state-imposed silence about such atrocities.
Dr. Eamon Aloyo, Senior Researcher in the Conflict Prevention program at The Hague Institute, addressed the political dimensions of famine and the right to food. He noted that while worldwide production of food is sufficient to feed the entire global population, unequal distribution and consumption accounts for 800 million people lacking sufficient food. He proceeded to illustrate the role of politics in famines, by positing that the absence of an effective government, a totalitarian regime, and sieges of communities during armed conflict resulted in food insecurity in Somalia, North Korea, and Syria, respectively.
He concluded that while short-term international responses in the form of aid and relief operations are encouraging, international response should also include the promotion of good governance and securing the right to food through poverty alleviation.
Professor Yaroslav Hrystak, Doctor of Historical Sciences and visiting Professor at the Central European University, examined the Holodomor in a wider perspective. He illustrated the detrimental impact of the famine on average Ukrainian life expectancy in 1933, as well as listing other atrocities which occurred in the 15 years following the famine.
He concluded that today a vast majority of Ukrainians believe the Holodomor was an act of genocide, and noted that the Maidan protests of 2014 were a revolution of the youth and the current generation.
Dr. Boris Gudziak, President of the Ukrainian Catholic University and Eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Paris, commented on the impact of the Holodomor on Ukraine’s society. He noted how Ukrainian society has suffered a history marked by religious, political, and ethnic persecution, such as Lenin’s policy of terror against the church. He posited that the omnipresent danger of denunciation led the Ukrainian people to develop reflexes against systems. He proceeded to remark how in the past two years Ukrainians have been regaining trust in others, as evidenced by the gatherings at the Maidan protests. He concluded that while the Holodomor explains the past, the future depends on understanding the past and resolving to move forward.
The panel discussion was followed by a Q&A session, and the conference was concluded with a violin recital by Ms. Roxolana Mendryshora.