Six weeks ago, as Russia prepared to invade Ukraine, this column described how Stalin killed 3.9 million Ukrainians by starvation in the early 1930s. He inflicted famine upon that country in order to collectivise agriculture, but also to destroy Ukrainian national consciousness.
All this was chronicled first by Robert Conquest in The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror Famine, published in 1986. Many years later, in 2017, Anne Applebaum published another account of what happened in Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine.
Ms Applebaum’s book included a chapter entitled “The Cover-Up”. This recorded how The New York Times (NYT) had downplayed the famine: “There is no actual starvation but there is widespread mortality due to malnutrition”. Walter Duranty, the paper’s Moscow correspondent from 1922 to 1936, won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting.
Not many more years later, that same newspaper chose to downplay Adolf Hitler’s policy of exterminating Jews. This was the subject of a book by Laurel Leff entitled Buried by the Times – The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper, published in 2005 and discussed in this column on 29th March last year.
Ms Applebaum wrote that “many European foreign ministries had superb information about the famine as it was happening”. Italian, German, Polish, British, and Canadian diplomats not only had the information about its effects, but also understood that it was being inflicted as a matter of policy.
The Italian consul in Kharkiv said it was “organised to teach a lesson to the peasants” while also leading to the “colonisation of Ukraine by Russians”. Polish diplomats said that the famine and persecutions were part of the “long-term policy of the Moscow leaders, who are more and more becoming imperialists”.