With Anne Applebaum, author of Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine.

Presented by Sam Leith.

United States


00:00:04hello and welcome to the spectators puts put cost I'm suddenly literature the spectator and this week I'm joined by the Pulitzer Prize winning historian and journalist and apple bomb and new book is read famine Stalin's will on Ukraine and welcome the subject you book is the whole of
00:00:23the mobile if I'm pronouncing that right which I'm probably not no no that's fine that's fine can you see what that word means and how it how it's charged in the context of Ukrainian memory the word is just a it's a Ukrainian were there just means death famine
00:00:38for deadly famine and what it implies is an artificial famine or deliberate famine which was how the Ukrainians always remembered the famine of nineteen thirty two thirty three subsequently that that idea that it wasn't that it was deliberately designed famine was disputed by many people not least by
00:01:00Stalin who first tried to deny that the famine hit ever happened going so far as to manipulate the census of nineteen thirty seven to hide the fact that so many people had died many years later and for for many years afterwards they were sometimes people you can see
00:01:14okay lots of people have gone very hungry but it was an accident it was to do with the the chaos of collectivized nations some people say well there is very bad weather that year and so on my book seeks to go back to the story from the beginning
00:01:27of the story which actually begins in nineteen seventeen as I'm sure will discuss and explain why it was not an accidental salmon it was a design to Sam and it wasn't because of the weather or on okay I promised to Ukraine and and it was targeted at Ukraine
00:01:42it took place in the context of a wider famine there is general chaos and hunger in the Soviet Union in the in the early nineteen thirties but in essence Stalin made use of that chaos in order to get rid of a problem and for him the problem was
00:01:58the cranium peasantry which had rebelled against the Bolsheviks before during the civil war era in which he feared would rebel against them again and that and this in the nineteen thirty two thirty three famine was very specific it it begins in the autumn of nineteen thirty two and
00:02:15it climaxes in the spring of nineteen thirty three when a nearly four million people died you save the story goes back to nineteen seventeen to the kind of post revolution a civil war era to fit to start with about this things on the bound up with your story
00:02:30about the idea of Ukrainian soldier national identity of and you said quite a new book that part of the problem you guys had over the years it has no kind of natural borders and so is perpetually being invaded of history but then I everybody else gonna lose neighbors
00:02:46a sort of yet Ukraine has no natural words I mean it's from a British perspective it's important remember that lots of European countries have no natural borders and so the borders of Poland and the borders of Germany and the even the borders of friends have shifted over the
00:02:59years so it's all that unusual and European countries also not as unusual as we think for countries to have come to some kind of national sovereignty relatively late or even not at all I mean you think of actually even Ireland which makes an interesting comparison to Ukraine but
00:03:14or or Slovakia or countries which didn't have a national state until fairly recently crane isn't that unique but because it didn't have one in the nineteenth century didn't have one of the twenty century really until the end of the twentieth century it lacked a presence on the world
00:03:29stage and therefore it was easy to forget that it existed I mean crane Ukraine does have a separate history from Russia I mean it overlaps of course and so on it was part of a different earlier empires it has a different language it has is somewhat different cultures
00:03:46different little bit differently organized but it also has a sense of itself as being different and it has at least in part always had that I mean again like many European countries its multi cultural it's now very bilingual I I've been at public meetings in Kiev where people
00:04:02switch back and forth between Ukraine and Russia and everybody understands both do you have any as well no I was very very irritating for me because I do understand Russian and I have about ninety percent of Ukrainian which I know either from knowing rusher knowing Polish I can
00:04:16recognize what people are talking about that they almost a notice that I mean there is but they don't they everybody's bilingual so they can do both but nevertheless there is a sense of Ukraine being different from Russia and there has been there have been independence or sovereignty movements
00:04:33in Ukraine's is that I sentry in nineteen seventeen at the time of the Bolshevik revolution there was also a Ukrainian national revolution so there is a group of people came to power in Ukraine at that time when when sars and fell and declared the existence of the Ukrainian
00:04:50state that it didn't last very long and there was it was almost immediately engulfed in really the worst part of the whole civil war took place in southern Russia Ukraine and there were you know I mean literally armies marching back and forth across Ukraine you know Kiev changed
00:05:06hands a dozen times there's a famous scene where the polls at one point occupied Kievan they allegedly road into the center of the city on tram cars because really there's nobody defending it so they'll just but it was it was real chaos and anarchy you know for for
00:05:23a long time and Stalin was very afraid of that inner kit you know even after the Bolsheviks imposed power it took a couple of years but in nineteen twenty nine to twenty one %HESITATION living the rest of it wasn't him he's had this whole thing you described above
00:05:36his head he sort of confused Ukrainian nationalists by sending in US was a call in the Ukrainian Bolshevik yes yes I mean there are a lot of echoes of the present actually in that you know there was a kind of fake Ukrainian force which was really a Russian
00:05:50Bolshevik forced it called itself a Ukrainian liberation movements over there all kinds of attempts to create phony parties and phony nationalism and to take Ukraine that way and actually in the nineteen twenties when they when they did retake Ukraine the Bolsheviks were very cautious of it and they
00:06:07had this idea that they would they would allow sort of within the communist system they would allow the Ukrainians to have some kind of national movement and they could have their own language and they could have their own culture and they could speak Ukrainian and and so on
00:06:20and they let that run all through the nineteen twenties until the end of the decade when Stalin decided he'd had enough of that in that it was too dangerous because it created a sense of difference in a sense of independence in Ukraine and the famine was in part
00:06:35a an attempt to end of that and it's important remember not explain this in the book that the famine took place at exactly the same time and of course carried out by the same people but the Soviet secret police the famine took place at the same time as
00:06:48a major crackdown on the Ukrainian culturally at the intellectuals the artist politicians even Ukrainian Communist Party so the idea was we're gonna let you know those two groups with the ones they fear the most one was the peasants who had rebelled in the past and might do it
00:07:03again and the other were the Ukrainian intellectuals notice are sort of continuity to exam because in the rear of the early twenties you had been in the slightest of war communism cool this is in the huge grain expropriations as well I mean well Stalin essentially continuing Lenin was
00:07:20doing or was this something very different going on the Bolsheviks always dreamed of collective eyes Asian men and then tried it actually early on a few times and they gave out because nobody liked it or wanted to do it and so so yes in the sense Stalin was
00:07:35picking up on some of London's earlier ideas and some ideas that had been present earlier in the in the revolution the difference being that he impose collective ideation by force so I think they pretended that it was voluntary and they would hailed voluntary cadres who are carrying out
00:07:51like physicians of course it was forced and not just in Ukraine but in Russia and Kazakhstan elsewhere and they forced peasants on the collective farms peasants resisted sometimes they resisted violently and there's a chapter in my book that explains in Ukraine it was particularly violent people actually you're
00:08:08dug up the weapons that they had in their barns hidden left over from the civil war and they got them out and started shooting at the red commissars were carrying out collective aviation so there was a violent serious heavy resistance of course that was the resistance that triggered
00:08:23Stalin's reaction and not just Stalin but the holes so be delayed %HESITATION %HESITATION no the cranium peasants are are at it again we better do something about it on the face of it window of see none of this seems to be exactly rational you think if you were
00:08:36trying to suppress a nationalist movement that essentially presenting itself as a sort of in perilous power he's stating all the peasants grain would have the exact opposite effect well in this in less you then use the subsequent famine to eliminate the presence which is what happened so it
00:08:52was essentially just as long as he carried it very far enough yeah I mean this was %HESITATION you know this was an incredibly violent period of time so that so yes of course you know they weren't trying to win the peasants over you know by being nice to
00:09:05them they were trying to destroy them and they were the first idea was to go could be a collective ideation was of course not only an economic move it was also a sociological you know they disrupted traditional ways of life and they destroyed the churches and they to
00:09:19down the door a lot of scenes where they take down the church bells and melt them and and they they destroy the traditional peasant ways of running themselves a village councils and so on all that is smashed and then up in the late nineteen twenties %HESITATION and that's
00:09:34a deliberate attempt to destroy peasant culture and then when there was resistance there was a deliberate attempt to destroy the peasantry that weather also sort of external pressures on this because you talk a little about Stalin's business setting grain to the west and gonna the expropriations were involved
00:09:50with us as well on the idea of trying to get I mean lecture on you talk about how they can both in these hard currency shops and a roasted actually think a lot of the peasants gold assist all of them and full six seldom yes to know so
00:10:00yes there was an economic aspect to it as there were with all I mean for example the man good luck had an economic aspect to it they also believe that that was going to help modernize quickly BSA Stalin began capstone rumor this Tom believed his propaganda he believed
00:10:15his ideology and they believe that collective lies ation would create more grain and that was the that was the theory is that was meant to produce more and they began to assume they would get more grain of the peasants and they began doing deals with western companies in
00:10:30particular to export grain is using get hard currency so they could buy the machines they needed for modernization and when that didn't happen you know they always needed explanations of why doesn't why doesn't our theory worker theories scientific Marxism is a science wasn't working well when you say
00:10:45you know there must be a reason and the reason must be that the recalcitrant reactionary peasants are stopping us or else the the you know the secret spies of the capital's countries are undermining US or something there was always an explanation acts of the collection they there was
00:11:00always a reason why the theory wasn't working but yes you're right they they tried to they they had decided they could use click imitation they could then use hard currency shops which they put around Ukraine at that time to get presents to sell their gold in exchange for
00:11:13food and they could use that to get whatever I don't know czarist era metals or jewelry people had in their cupboards and get that out to sell it to because they were trying to put money into their into the ball was at that time is a very fast
00:11:27growth of factories and industry yeah when you subscribe Stalin kind of subscribing to his his own ideology the UCC he seems to quite a kind of ideologically Boba needs to send both of you know when Trotsky was still around and was a threat to him he sort of
00:11:41tax to the right and then when Trotsky's Phoenician in exile heading for excel he sort of seven eight tracks left in order to yes Sir known those that's attack that's political tactics not ideology I mean so so yes he was incredibly he was quickly opportunistic and he did
00:11:58what he could you know his ultimate aim was gaining power but I when I say idealism he believed Marxist economics you believe that he believed in the international world revolution that would eventually happen it was just you know the question of how you got there was you know
00:12:12was was up in the air ex in the Soviet way of thinking which I think we often find hard to understand is broad beans in some ways you see echoes in modern Russia that is the goal okay so the goal is world revolution or the or the goal
00:12:25is clicking reservation and then how we get there it depends on what opportunities are given to us and if we have to stop for a few years will stop and they keep the ultimate aims in their heads how much was do you think the source of Stalin's doubling
00:12:40down and in the early thirties on the unit that was the famine underway and instead of leaving and he kind of made it worse was that a sort of opportunistic move that yes so it is a perfect example of what I mean of opportunism so they they see
00:12:55that there's a famine they see that things are not going well and then there's a there's a precise moment I mean you can see it and this is what my book documents there's a there's a documentary trail it you can find the archives there's a precise moment in
00:13:08the autumn of nineteen thirty two when they begin to change rules specially for Ukraine and they increase the grain requisitions for Ukraine and they they create a border cordon around Ukraine so that people can't leave Ukraine and they make it difficult for presents to go to the cities
00:13:26and that it exactly at that moment they begin sending activist brigades into Ukrainian villages who are not not only collecting grain but actually collecting everything and I think this is the piece of the story that people don't know that people when the brigades would go into people's houses
00:13:41and take not just their grain but they're you know they're beats their peas their core in their potatoes whatever vegetables whatever food they had in the house the truly everything and come from the back and close from their backs in on the on the argument that they were
00:13:56did okay if you can't give us great and then give us your clothes instead and literally would take everything out of houses and in whole villages and then cut them off and make it impossible for them to escape make impossible to go to the cities are go to
00:14:08go to Russia and then they died minutes so it was a it wasn't just grain requisition it was a lot more than that %HESITATION in in particular in a few in several targeted places they had they had villages which were deliberately blacklisted and identified as you know villages
00:14:24to be cut off and they're the blacklist laws were written also in this at exactly the same the same time in the autumn of nineteen thirty two and this is when you get the spike in deaths of you know two or three months later why and how did
00:14:36it as a way to come to an end essentially ended because they use they decided to stop grain requisition there was a Harvard just in the summer of nineteen thirty three and then you know as the harvest comes in people slowly stop dying they make they stop the
00:14:51requisitions and they decide to stop the famine they never there is no humanitarian aid there was no food brought a little bit sorry I should I should never speak it there was a little bit of humanitarian aid there a little bit of help for hospitals and orphanages and
00:15:05so on but it said there was a big push to feed people but after he was almost as if after a certain number of people die had died after there was this period of terrible famine they simply decided to end it and they there was no great fanfare
00:15:19and actually people kept dying of starvation really until the end of nineteen thirty three to nineteen thirty four there were still a lot of food shortages the day's stops the brigades stopped taking food in that summer that fall and they seem to have decided they had achieved what
00:15:33they wanted to achieve and I do need to do anymore the what was it that made you I mean it's a book that in in the worst possible way has become kind of more current in the prices of what made you sit down and think this is this
00:15:45is the next book I need so it's important to know that I started it I think the first conversation I had about it wasn't something like two thousand and twelve that was before the Maidan and before you crane was it great important piece of current events in fact
00:15:57there was some skepticism on the part of my aging and publishers of that was really a topical subject but I decided for several reasons one is because I was convinced that the archival record was now such that you could show that it was an artificially designed famine which
00:16:16in the past people sort of hinted or assumed it Bob Congress for great book in the nineteen eighties before that their archives is you know sort of more or less arguing that this was true but without really being able to nail it I thought well you can nail
00:16:27it now let's do it you know let's let's do it in English and do it do it clearly also it's part of the long term attempt to understand why people do terrible things I mean I wanted to be on better understand all of your books very cheerful no
00:16:43no old yeah I mean understanding why it happened I mean there's always the argument if you can understand why it happened then you can at least try to prevent it when you see it coming again but and bitterness so why were who were in these active in these
00:16:56brigades and why did people do it and how are they convinced to carry it out and because one of things the book shows is the terrible power of ideology and negative propaganda I mean the people who went into the peasants houses and took all their food who why
00:17:09are they doing that you know you can go back and interview them but you can try to understand from what was written and said at the time what people's motives were and they were yeah they were convinced that the peasants were standing in the way of some of
00:17:21the well some of them I should say were convinced that there was a real threat to some people were afraid some people were hungry you know they're all kinds of reasons why people along with it and so is partly in an attempt to understand that as well and
00:17:33there's a chapter that talks about that in the book you see sort of archives now of sort of more less available on the Ukrainian archives are among the most open in Europe you can walk in and use them what things cuter as he I mean when in office
00:17:49and could you get this sort of very pro Moscow as young Kovic run you crane for a bit into get stuffed up but you said that he didn't really restrict access to the %HESITATION because it he noted to Janice I know it's important it's important you crazy is
00:18:04different from Russia and when you had a co which came to power rumor yeah the coverage was elected and then he did it you know he carried out when what's a kind of a liberal you know he tried he took a sort of assaulted the state the state
00:18:15from the position of being a democratic leader we now see that lots of people trying to do that in various countries and he changed the rhetoric a little bit about the whole anymore and he you know seemingly in agreement with Russia but no he didn't shut the archives
00:18:30and he didn't really sack people he you know he let the archival research continue I mean this it he never instituted a to tele tarian dictatorship even at the very end of you say he was turfed out actually ran away remember it's very important point and it seems
00:18:46like the the motive for him running away was as as the guards on the at that demonstration in the Maidan into this room was when they started shooting at people looks like he ran away because he was afraid of the consequences of that you know he agreed to
00:19:00let them start shooting and then once they started shooting he panicked door became afraid or thought he would be blamed for something he and run away you know so they're the kind of cultural violence isn't there or just you know he didn't have the nerve to do what
00:19:16other dictators would have done in that position and that's one of the reasons why Ukraine is different a sentence but quite emphatically the outside he said this is not a books intended to kind of make a point about the modem no it is not in in environments I'm
00:19:31very specific by that and I do it's not I'm not taking sides produce clean internal arguments in Ukraine are aligning myself with any particular political parties or anything like that but it is very much a political hot potato any do within an epilogue this question which I'd like
00:19:46you to talk a little about it was it a genocide rough Allen can you know invented the term genocide thought it was a genocide no no I know I agree it was a genocide it were in the sense that it was a deliberate attempt to eliminate people for
00:20:00you know for political ethnic cultural reasons and that was Lincoln's original definition of what genocide meant I mean late since then as I explain the term genocide became politicized and it was written into the U. N. convention on genocide partly with Soviet assistance just almost deliberately designed in
00:20:20a way that would eliminate the Ukrainian famine because he he wanted to leave the word political out and so on and then the the drive to proclaim it a genocide became very central to a number of Ukrainian government foreign policies in the nineteen in the two thousands really
00:20:37and then it became central to Russian foreign policy to prevent the Ukrainians from you know and it became a very politicized term if you quit to beach **** is the new prime minister of Russia saying that same to it it's it's another the neighboring post Soviet states you
00:20:50could forget about getting this bit of territory back yeah you know and that's it that's the person who reported that was %HESITATION prince Andrew would be delighted to know he was the one who heard that conversation father doesn't use like he's the one who heard mediative say that
00:21:07so yes they are we we we we should save a bit of those listing that he said said this unless they supported the idea that the ana wasn't to the genocides yes he said unless you unless you you know you don't sign up to this U. N. campaign
00:21:21or we will you know you can kiss goodbye to Nagorno Karabakh some it was something along those lines the yes so the Russians then interpreted this as a as an assault on them and which is of course interesting because there is no reason why it Russia had to
00:21:35consider itself the legacy power the country which is the you know maintains the Soviet legacy mean Russia was absolutely in a position to say no of course we condemn Stalin to the famine was a terrible thing %HESITATION so you should coach is quite long enough to say you
00:21:50know it's not the Russians is yeah no no the end and as I said there been a number of soap or Ukrainian leaders who have made that point you know why the Russians want this burden why did they want this historical legacy all that you know they can
00:22:02separate themselves from the Soviet Union and denounce it what do you think they do I think it's because it's largely because of the nature of their current elite which descends directly from the KGB Putin himself as a former KGB officer and they they see their current role in
00:22:18the world as one of reviving in restoring some aspects of Soviet power and they would like to restore the memory of of Stalin Stalinism I think it's important in this context to see that they also I mean it's almost as if it's in the KGB DNA some of
00:22:33their feelings about Ukraine are I do want to say there genocidal in the same way but are you can see parallels to the Stalin era in that Putin very much looks on Ukraine as a problem you know a disruptive element in the way that Stalin sell it and
00:22:50in a sense he's right in that when young Ukrainians were waving you flags on the Maidan and saying we want rule of law which is what that two thousand fourteen demonstration was about that was a that's an ideological challenge to the kind of power we have in Russia
00:23:05Russian oligarchic dictatorship doesn't believe in rule of law and it seeks very much to undermine the use so it sees Ukraine as a as an ideological competitor was well it's just as well as the national you know geographical competitor into eliminating Ukraine also means eliminating that site set
00:23:22of ideas and making sure that young Russians don't want the same thing this is a phrase you I think that last phrase that chrisley chase tional the the idea of archers in China Richard out in those years that's extraordinary measures yes excellent image this idea that there's a
00:23:38point at which would have always completely suspended yes trees in China juries the taste enough I'm glad you have torture sites yes no it's it's a term that is originally Leninist and then someone brings it made it one of the the reason I brought up in the book
00:23:53is that Stalin brings it back at the time of collective ideation they say we need to suspend rule of law so yes there's a long tradition of that sub somewhat being revived in the peace in our yes I mean they don't have total suspension of all rule of
00:24:04law no but date skepticism about rule of law and the idea that law is something that the person in power determines this is a Russian idea at the moment and this is this is at least what the what the my don in Ukraine was against you know I
00:24:18do know that Dave entirely succeeded in bringing rule of law do you crate but that's what people want and of course that's what liberal Russians want to and that's what Putin would like to push down so he sees the you know he would he would like to undermine
00:24:32is a Ukraine which is somehow our European Ukraine that says well we'll have to see how that works out for both thank you thanks

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