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Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 20 March 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Urgent Question, Topical Question Time, Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Decision Time, Holodomor Remembrance Day 2018


Holodomor Remembrance Day 2018

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

Before we begin the next item of business, I am sure that members will wish to join me in welcoming to the chamber Her Excellency Mrs Natalia Galibarenko, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Kingdom, and other visitors who are in the gallery.

Mrs Galibarenko has shown stamina, but not as much as Mr Chapman, who has participated in the entirety of the stage 3 proceedings and debate this afternoon and is about to speak in this debate.

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-08629, in the name of Peter Chapman, on Holodomor remembrance day 2018. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the day of commemoration and remembrance of the Ukrainian Holodomor, which will take place on 25 November 2017; considers that the Holodomor, literally meaning extermination by hunger, was a deliberate man-made famine designed by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime to crush Ukrainian nationalism and the Ukrainian peasantry, whom he viewed as a threat; understands that, due to the wall of secrecy imposed by the former Soviet Union, it is difficult to know how many perished during the Holodomor of 1932-33, although recognises that recent research suggests that between three and seven and a half million may have died as a direct result of the Soviet-imposed famine in Ukraine; notes that, during the height of the famine, international offers of aid and support were turned down by the regime, while vital food stores were allowed to rot in warehouses under armed guard; believes the Holodomor to be a deliberate act of genocide that must be fully understood and recognised by current and future generations, and notes the important role that the Holodomor Remembrance Day plays in achieving this aim.


Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I, too, wish to welcome the Ukrainian ambassador, Mrs Natalia Galibarenko, and the consul, Andrii Kuslii, who are sitting up in the gallery today. Many friends of Ukraine are sitting in the gallery behind me, too, and I welcome them. I apologise to our visitors for keeping them waiting so long for this debate. We have a habit of speaking too long in this chamber, but the debate is here now.

I thank the ambassador and Andrii Kuslii for bringing the topic of the debate to my attention. Before I first met Andrei here in Edinburgh, I had never heard of the Holodomor. I am sure that some members who will speak in the debate had not heard of the Holodomor before they signed my motion. That is why the debate is so important—it highlights that tragic event and lets the world know the cruelty and viciousness of Stalin and his regime.

Europe’s recent history over the past 100 years or so is littered with war, conflict and death. The first world war resulted in about 16 million deaths. During the second world war, some 60 million people were killed worldwide. However, those conflicts are well known. The Holodomor is almost unknown outside Ukraine, and it is time for that to change. The Holodomor is based on two Ukrainian words: holod, meaning hunger, starvation or famine; and moryty, meaning to induce suffering to kill. From 1932 to 1933, the Holodomor famine took the lives of between 7 million and 10 million innocent people, many of them children.

After the first world war and the fall of the Bolshevik regime, there was a downfall in the Russian empire, which resulted in the abolition of censorship and the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state, and allowed an astonishing renaissance of literary and cultural activity. Many new writers and poets expressed their views on politics, and soon the people of Ukraine were working towards the elimination of illiteracy. They were becoming a smart nation, which did not sit well with Joseph Stalin. In the summer of 1932, Stalin saw the resurgence of the Ukrainian people as a threat. In a letter to one of his main associates, he wrote:

“If we do not start rectifying the situation in Ukraine now, we may lose Ukraine”.

There is a clear record of Stalin’s Government’s deliberate aims to inflict suffering on the people of Ukraine. He systematically planned their starvation and death to hold on to their land. That began in summer of 1932, when Stalin wrote a law that is now commonly known as the law of five ears of grain.

Ukraine was the most important agricultural part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Despite making up only 2 per cent of the USSR’s total area, it harvested 23 million tonnes of grain, which was 28 per cent of the gross grain harvest of the whole USSR. It was the bread basket for Stalin’s regime, and he used that to his advantage and subjected the nation to grain quotas, confiscating supplies down to the very last seed. All farm land became the property of the Soviet Union. Food in farmers’ homes was taken, and if they were caught taking food from the land that they had owned, they would face fines, imprisonment and even execution. As they starved, it became harder to harvest what the Government requested and the punishments worsened. From the implementation of the first grain quota, they became Soviet prisoners and slaves.

That suffering and starvation of the Ukrainian people was controlled through enforced isolation put in place to prevent starving peasants from going in search of food. A resolution passed by Stalin and the Soviet regime in January 1933 stated:

“A massive exodus of peasants ‘in search of bread’ has started ... without a doubt organised by the enemies of the Soviet Government. [Therefore, regional executive party bodies in Soviet Ukraine are ordered] ... to prevent a massive exodus of peasants ... [peasants from Soviet Ukraine who have crossed the borders to the north] shall be arrested... and deported back to their places of residence.”

It is recorded that the Soviet regime forcibly sent more than 186,000 people back to their homes to face certain starvation. We know that the regime systematically sent people back to their villages knowing that there was no food and that those people would die a horrible lingering death.

As a result of the Holodomor, 20 to 25 per cent of the population of Ukraine were exterminated.

That enforced starvation reached its peak in the winter of 1932 and the spring of 1933, when 25,000 people died every day. Maria Kachur, a survivor of the Holodomor, said:

“My mother buried the children herself. When my brother was dying in February 1933, he pleaded for food; my other brother died in March and my sister died in May 1933.”

That harrowing account shows what many families had to endure: the horror of parents burying their own children. The Holodomor had an extremely high mortality rate for children. In September 1933, approximately two thirds of Ukrainian pupils were missing from schools. Many desperate parents would risk being caught by the Soviet secret police and would take their children through the Ukrainian borders, abandoning them in urban areas in the hope that they would find more food there. However, many died on the streets.

One of the difficulties with the Holodomor is that the death toll has never been known for sure, with many families having buried their own and there being mass graves in many villages. The head of the secret police of Ukraine wrote a letter in June 1933, stating that

“the mortality rate has been so high that numerous village councils have stopped recording deaths”.

After all those deaths, Stalin used the depleted and barren land to resettle thousands of families from Russia. By the end of 1933, more than 117,000 people were resettled in the Ukraine.

Alain Besanc¸on, a well-known French historian, has stated:

“It was the well-organized executions that made the terror by starvation in Ukraine a genocide.”

That sums up that the orchestrated and systematic killing of the Ukrainian people by the Stalin-led Soviet regime was genocide, and we must recognise those whose lives were destroyed by the Holodomor. As with other massacres down through the years, we must not forget; we must remember them.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I, too, welcome the consul, whom I omitted from my opening remarks. I also ask members of the public who are sitting in the gallery to desist from clapping. I know why they want to do so, but it is not permitted.


Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

As I have previously intimated to you, Presiding Officer, I apologise that I will have to leave shortly after making my contribution. I also apologise to members who are in the chamber.

I, too, offer my thanks to the Ukrainian ambassador and consul for highlighting this issue, and for their presence here today.

“Everyone just thought of death.”

Those are the words of Nina Karpenko, one of the survivors of the Holodomor, during an interview with the BBC a few years ago to mark the 80th anniversary of that genocide against the Ukrainian people. Although the Holodomor is etched into the collective memory of the Ukrainian people, it is largely unknown in the west. I thank Peter Chapman for helping to highlight it. Let us use today as an opportunity to ensure that more people understand what happened in Ukraine.

The Holodomor was a man-made famine—the product of an evil and twisted Soviet regime that placed ideology and its grip on power above the welfare of its own people. As Oleksandra Radchenko, a teacher and eyewitness, put it:

“It would not be so offensive if it were due to a bad harvest, but they have taken away the grain and created an artificial famine.”

Estimates vary—a situation that is not helped by decades of denial and secrecy—but somewhere in the region of 4 million to 10 million innocent people perished in appalling suffering. The sad irony of the Holodomor is that Ukraine had been a bread basket, with its farmers having produced more than a quarter of the grain harvest for the entire Soviet Union. How, then, could so many of its people die of starvation?

In the late 1920s, Stalin began the process of collectivisation, forcing farmers to hand over their land to Soviet authorities. Those who resisted were branded class enemies, and armed troops and secret police were used to enforce Stalin’s will. Collectivisation was not just a case of mass theft by the Soviets; it was an assault on Ukrainian culture, because it attacked the concept of the rural village, which was a key part of Ukraine’s traditional culture.

The grain harvests were well below normal in 1932 and 1933, and the Soviets’ response was to increase the grain quotas. When the farmers could not meet the quotas, Communist party agents tore through Ukraine and took any food that they could find. The result, of course, was famine. Pleas for help fell on deaf ears, with Stalin writing:

“Ukraine has been given more than its due”.

Harsh laws made it difficult for people to help themselves. They could be shot for stealing a sack of wheat.

The famine intensified, and by 1933 tens of thousands of people were dying every day. The accounts are harrowing, with people eating anything they could find to survive, people dropping dead in the streets and villages decimated. The Soviet response to the great loss of life among its own people was to export a million tonnes of grain to the west.

Some did survive, though, such as Nina Karpenko, and it is through their accounts that we can—and we must—recognise the Holodomor for the genocide that it was. We must ensure that it is never forgotten and never repeated.


Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

I want to let Mr Chapman know that I knew about the Holodomor before I read his motion, and the reason why I knew about it is that I have a Ukrainian friend. To my knowledge, he is my only Ukrainian friend, and he is in the gallery today. He is a former MSP and a councillor in the City of Edinburgh Council, Stefan Tymkewycz, and was the first person to tell me about the history of the Ukrainian people and the Holodomor. Having met Her Excellency the ambassador and the consul general this afternoon, I am sure that that friendship group will now grow.

I also want to thank the diaspora of the Ukrainian people, many of whom are here today, for bringing the Holodomor exhibition to the Parliament to help inform MSPs about what happened and about their country and their families’ history. It was very important to me to see that here. That was a few years ago now, so perhaps it is time for a refresh and a revisit.

As I said, I had heard about the Holodomor and I knew a little bit about it, although not much. Last year, when I visited Canada and the United States on a parliamentary visit with the Presiding Officer, I was lucky enough to visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It is the first museum in the world that is solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights, and it is a profound experience to be there. It is an amazing place to visit; I will never forget it because of the impact that it had on me in so many ways.

The museum’s breaking the silence gallery has exhibitions commemorating, remembering and informing people about the genocides of the world, and to my surprise the Holodomor was included, along with Rwanda, Srebrenica, the Holocaust and others. I was surprised because I was unaware that Canada had recognised the Holodomor as a genocide—something that I think this country should do as well.

The breaking the silence gallery includes a 10-minute film showing footage from Ukraine at the time, including some of the posters and propaganda that the Soviets put out, denying that there was any problem in Ukraine. The major part of the famine took place in 1932 and 1933, but the Soviet Union’s policies had damaged Ukraine in 1925, 1928 and 1929. It was a catastrophic famine that swept across the Soviet Union, and it began in the chaos of collectivism, as my colleagues have mentioned.

However, the Soviet Union was in denial and prevented the information about the famine reaching the west. We must thank journalists such as Malcolm Muggeridge, who worked for the Manchester Guardian. At great risk to himself, he defied the Soviets and went into Ukraine. The Soviets sanitised the reports of reporters—words such as “famine” and “starvation” were banned. However, journalists such as Malcolm Muggeridge smuggled to the west the real testimony of what was happening in Ukraine.

Unfortunately, that testimony did not suit the political system here. At the time, the Soviets were moving towards being considered our allies in what was to happen in world war two. Many people denied what was happening. Muggeridge said:

“what made it so diabolical, is that it was the deliberate creation of a bureaucratic mind ... without any consideration whatever of the consequences in human suffering”.

My experience in Canada—seeing all those genocides together—taught me that there is no limit to man’s inhumanity to man. We must not forget. We must remember, as we have done in debates about Srebrenica and the Holocaust. However, it is really important that we put right the unjust level of denial that still exists about the Holodomor. I hope that one day the United Kingdom will recognise it as genocide.


Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I thank Peter Chapman for bringing forward today’s debate and I, too, welcome the Ukrainian ambassador to Parliament. Dobryy vechir—I hope that the pronunciation was not too bad. I apologise for not being able to meet the ambassador earlier, as I had to attend an urgent constituency meeting, but I hope that we have another opportunity to meet in the future.

I have to admit that, until the debate was scheduled—I am afraid that I missed the debate in Parliament in the previous session—I knew very little of the Ukrainian famine. I am sure that that is sadly true for many members, and unfortunately for much of Scotland.

Rightly, we have extensive knowledge of the Holocaust, and we pay our respects to the victims each and every year. The Parliament has also had many debates and visits that have centred around the genocide in Srebrenica, as we remember those shocking deaths, which took place in Europe all too recently. Yet the genocide of the Holodomor has had, as far as a quick check of the Official Report indicates, only one very short debate. I hope that today is the beginning of Parliament’s attempts to address that.

As this is the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor, we are at a stage at which we are losing, more and more, the valuable and tragic, but at times very powerful, memories and insights of those who experienced it. It is therefore up to us as politicians, along with historians, academics and Ukrainians, to ensure that those accounts and the tragedy do not die with them.

My researcher, Jamie, recently became a dad. His son, Sam, is a quarter Ukrainian. Sam’s great-grandparents on his mum Amy’s side are survivors of the Holodomor and of the second world war in that region, before they were able to seek refuge in England. Their daughter, Olga, then met and fell in love with a Scot, and they made their home in Prestwick. Sam is six months old, and his Ukrainian great-grandparents, Walter and Mary, passed away before he was born. Yet for baby Sam and other Ukrainian Scots, the Holodomor is as much a part of their history as the Highland clearances—Taras Shevchenko is as much a part of their culture as Robert Burns.

Calling the famine the Holodomor—to kill by starvation—recognises that it was man made. Starvation is often a consequence of war and conflict, but it can also be a deliberate act of aggression or control. If it is recognised that it was man made and caused 3.3 million deaths, which is a conservative estimate, it should be recognised as genocide. Not only was the Holodomor man-made but, when help was offered, it appeared to be turned away. Outside aid was rejected, population movement was severely restricted, household foodstuffs were confiscated and a state propaganda campaign tried to turn urban against rural.

Following the declassification of more than 5,000 pages of Holodomor archives by Ukraine’s security service, it is suggested that Ukraine was not given the same aid and help that was given to other areas of the Soviet Union. The famine took place against a backdrop that was described by genocide scholar, Adam Jones, as one of

“persecution, mass execution, and incarceration clearly aimed at undermining Ukrainians as a national group.”

A growing number of people are calling for the United Kingdom Government to recognise the Holodomor as genocide and to show its support for Ukraine, the thousands of Ukrainians who fled the Soviet Union, the thousands who have set up their homes across the UK and the hundreds of thousands who are their descendants. As Clare Adamson mentioned, Canada has recognised that, as has Australia, I think, as well as Ukraine itself.

Today’s debate is an opportunity to state our support for Ukrainian people, and to recognise the calls for the Holodomor to be recognised as genocide. That terrible period in history must not be hushed up or down played. Genocide must be recognised as such in order to enable us to acknowledge the suffering, remember the dead and endeavour to ensure that history does not repeat itself.


Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

I thank Peter Chapman for bringing this important debate to Parliament, and join him in welcoming the Ukrainian ambassador and members of the Scottish Ukrainian community. I express my solidarity with the people of Ukraine and the Ukrainian state.

The debate is important for several reasons. First, it is important to remember that, as the Korean war was the forgotten war of the 20th century, the Holodomor was the forgotten genocide. I want to acknowledged members who have used the word “genocide”. It is encouraging to hear recognition from across the chamber that the Holodomor was a genocide. Mr Chapman very eloquently explained that, citing historical sources that highlighted how the Ukrainian people and their culture were deliberately targeted. We have a duty to make sure that more people are aware of that catastrophe.

I will certainly undertake to make sure that I engage with schools in my constituency of Renfrewshire South to increase their awareness, because several important lessons emerge from that catastrophe, 85 years on. One is the way in which ideology, taken to its extreme, can dehumanise people. It is, to use Burke’s term, “geometric politics”, in which individuals are subsumed into a collective—people are instrumentalised and used as a vehicle for some political end, and individual liberty is lost. That was best captured in its most sinister form by the words that are often attributed to Stalin:

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

Even if that statement is apocryphal, it sums up the fundamentals of communist ideology—the ideology that led to a thing such as the Holodomor taking place.

There is also an important lesson to be learned about how the Holodomor was reported and forgotten, and how we learned about it again. As members have highlighted in their remarks, there has been a profound lack of awareness of the Holodomor. However, that was not so when it occurred.

It was reported by an enterprising, bold and brave young Welsh journalist by the name of Gareth Jones, who has been honoured in Ukraine. Gareth Jones did not live to see his 30th birthday, but he was a brilliant young man who was fluent in French, German and Russian, and had been an aide to the former Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. He travelled to Ukraine and witnessed first hand some of the scenes that other members have described.

When he came back, he gave compelling testimony. What happened? The Kremlin denied it, and people in the west who had Soviet sympathies poured scorn on Mr Jones’s testimony and discredited him. There is a lesson in that about actions that emanate from Moscow being followed by attempts by Moscow to discredit ideas about its involvement, and of people in the west being sympathetic to the Kremlin line. That is a lesson from 85 years ago that it is still valid.

Gareth Jones regained his reputation and went to Japanese-occupied Mongolia to report on events there. He died in mysterious circumstances, but two of the last people he met were Stalin’s NKVD agents. There is a lesson to be learned there, as well.

This year represents the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor, but it is also the 10th anniversary of the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, from which we have the European day of remembrance for victims of Stalinism and Nazism. We all have a duty in Parliament and in our work in our constituencies to ensure that prominence is given to the victims of the Holodomor, and that future generations will never forget. Fundamental to that are the words of George Santayana, who said:

“Those who do not know the past are condemned to repeat it.”


The Minister for International Development and Europe (Dr Alasdair Allan)

I thank all the members who have contributed to the debate, which marks the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor. That horrific tragedy was debated in the Scottish Parliament in 2014. I am in no doubt that debating it again will have raised awareness of that terrible event in Ukraine’s history.

I thank Mr Chapman for lodging the motion and, as other members have done, I welcome the Ukrainian ambassador and her party to the gallery. We are honoured that she is able to be with us.

The message in the debate has been very clear: the Holodomor was a completely avoidable tragedy that serves as a reminder of the depths of inhumanity that can exist in this world. By continuing to debate and, above all, to commemorate the tragedy, we show our solidarity with the people of Ukraine and come together across the parties to remember those who were lost in that deplorable famine, which could so easily have been prevented.

The people of Scotland and Ukraine have intertwined histories, and Ukrainians continue to influence Scottish society positively. That is reflected by the shared celebration of our two national poets—Robert Burns and Taras Shevchenko—which is hosted by the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain every year.

One of the most visible gifts to Scotland from the people of Ukraine came from Ukrainian prisoners of war who made Scotland their home in the first half of the 20th century—the Hallmuir Ukrainian chapel near Lockerbie. The Scottish Government places a very high value on the on-going contribution of the Ukrainian community to Scotland as a whole, and we are very grateful for the chance to unite in commemoration today.

I want to say a little, as other members have, about the sequence of events that we are commemorating. In 1924, Joseph Stalin ascended to power in the USSR. In 1928, he introduced an agricultural programme of Government-owned farms and factories. As Clare Adamson mentioned, a bureaucracy was set up to develop the ideology around that and to oppose very violently any social groups that Stalin decided were in the way of that plan.

In 1929 and 1930, groups that Moscow considered to be dangerous and members of society who did not have the same way of thinking as Moscow were rounded up and sent to Siberian work camps. In 1932 and 1933, production quotas for Ukraine increased by some 44 per cent. That caused widespread hunger and starvation, and amounted to an attack on the whole people and culture of Ukraine.

Given that sequence of events, I whole-heartedly understand the basis for the calls across the chamber to designate the Holodomor as a genocide. Those are essentially criminal matters, on which the appropriate courts, such as the International Criminal Court, are best placed to make a judgment, taking into account the great deal of evidence that exists. It remains our position, which is shared by the United Kingdom Government, that recognition of genocide is a matter for judicial decision rather than Government policy. The fact that we, along with the UK Government and the European Parliament, take that view in no way lessens our horror at the severity and the inhumanity of the Holodomor and the enormity of suffering and loss of life that was deliberately caused; nor does it lessen our recognition that the policies and political decisions that were taken at the time by the then Soviet leadership were responsible for the famine resulting in the deaths of millions of Ukrainians.

The scale of the tragedy is, by any measure, truly staggering. By 1933, as we have heard, the death rate had reached 25,000 people a day, most of whom were children. By the end, millions of lives had been lost. It is no exaggeration to say that the Holodomor is one of history’s starkest warnings and marks a devastating chapter in world affairs that must never be forgotten.

It has been 85 years since the beginning of the Holodomor, and in every one of those years people across the world have worked to honour those who died. It is important that we also take the opportunity today to pay tribute to the people who continue to work to keep alive the memory of all those who perished in the Holodomor.

I know that I speak for everyone in the chamber and Scotland when I say that we will continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine to share in their mourning of the terrible events that they commemorate.

Meeting closed at 19:20.