Robert Con­quest, ex­cep­tional his­to­rian of Holodomor, Stalin’s terror, dies at 98

Kyiv Post - - News - BY ALYONA ZHUK [email protected] Kyiv Post staff writer Alyona Zhuk can be reached at [email protected]

It’s hard to over­es­ti­mate the role of An­glo-Amer­i­can Stan­ford Univer­sity his­to­rian Robert Con­quest in re­veal­ing the truth about the Holodomor famine in Ukraine, his fel­low his­to­ri­ans say.

Con­quest died on Aug. 3 at the age of 98.

He was the first Western his­to­rian to re­veal to the world the full hor­ror of the 1932-1933 famine, en­gi­neered by Soviet dic­ta­tor Josef Stalin and Com­mu­nist Party lead­ers in Ukraine. At least 4 mil­lion peo­ple were starved to death in a Soviet bid to crush Ukrainian in­de­pen­dence and re­sis­tance to forced col­lec­tiviza­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Lyud­myla Hrynevych, head of the Ukrainian Holodomor Re­search Cen­ter, Con­quest’s book “Harvest of Sor­row: Soviet Col­lec­tiviza­tion and the Terror Famine,” pub­lished in 1986, is also a great con­tri­bu­tion “to our un­der­stand­ing of the phe­nom­e­non of to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism and com­mu­nism.”

“Re­mem­ber that in those times they didn’t have the kind of ac­cess to the ar­chives as we have now. He was only work­ing with open sources, but his work is a model of how com­pe­tent and truth­ful an an­a­lyst’s eval­u­a­tion can be,” Hrynevych told the Kyiv Post. “Even from the stand­point of mod­ern his­to­ri­ans, it was a ground­break­ing work.”

She said that at the time of the famine those Ukraini­ans who sur­vived it and man­aged to leave the coun­try were the only ones try­ing to tell the story of the mil­lions of peo­ple who had starved to death. But for years no one lis­tened to them.

Yaroslav Hryt­sak, a Ukrainian his­to­rian who has taught at Columbia Univer­sity and Har­vard Univer­sity, and who was a for­mer dean of history at the Ukrainian Catholic Univer­sity, said that the sto­ries about the Holodomor cir­cu­lat­ing among the Ukrainian di­as­pora, while of­ten re­peated, had sim­ply not been taken se­ri­ously.

But in the early 1980s, the Har­vard Ukrainian Re­search In­sti­tute de­cided to col­lect the oral his­to­ries of the Ukrainian famine sur­vivors and pub­lish them in a book. The ques­tion then arose, Hryt­sak said, of whether to pub­lish not just a col­lec­tion of mem­oirs, but a full his­tor­i­cal work as well.

“So they con­tacted Con­quest and sug­gested that he write another book. And he agreed,” Hryt­sak said.

Ac­cord­ing to Hryt­sak, Con­quest was the only Western his­to­rian not to be blinded by the “glory” of the Soviet Union’s vic­tory in World War II — mainly be­cause he had fought in it him­self.

“He was in Bulgaria, he saw what the Soviet regime was like, so he had no il­lu­sions,” Hryt­sak says.

He said Con­quest’s main de­sire was to re­veal the truth about Stalin’s regime. His at­ti­tude was il­lus­trated by a fa­mous lim­er­ick by Con­quest, who was not only a his­to­rian, but a poet too:

There was a great Marx­ist named Lenin Who did two or three mil­lion men in. That’s a lot to have done in, But where he did one in That grand Marx­ist Stalin did ten in. The lim­er­ick is from Con­quest’s first book – “The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purges of the Thir­ties,” pub­lished in 1968.

Ac­cord­ing to Hrynevych, while the im­por­tance of Con­quest’s ear­lier book on Stalin can­not be di­min­ished, the his­to­rian won a place in the hearts Harvest of Sor­row chron­i­cles the Stalin-or­dered famine that killed up to 10 mil­lion Ukraini­ans in 1932-33. of Ukraini­ans pri­mar­ily for his 1986 work.

“The phe­nom­e­non of Stalin’s terror was al­ready un­der­stood by so­ci­ety by the time Con­quest was writ­ing his book about the famine, and there were other works by other his­to­ri­ans. Also, at the 20th Congress of the Com­mu­nist Party in 1956 the per­son­al­ity cult of Stalin was con­demned, and ev­ery­one agreed there had been terror,” Hrynevych said. “But the fight to get the world to ad­mit there had been a famine in Ukraine con­tin­ued. The ques­tion of geno­cide hadn’t even been raised; no one even ad­mit­ted that peo­ple had been starv­ing.”

“( Con­quest’s) book “Harvest of Sor­row” had a huge ef­fect. We ap­pre­ci­ate him pri­mar­ily be­cause he made the Western com­mu­nity ac­knowl­edge the hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe that struck Ukraine.”

Then-U.S. Pres­i­dent George W. Bush presents the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom, the na­tion’s high­est civil award, to his­to­rian Robert Con­quest in the East Room of the White House on Nov. 9, 2005 in Washington, D.C. The medal is pre­sented to those who...

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