The importance of words

Publish date 19-09-2022

by Renato Bonomo

We Italians call it Leopoli because in Latin it was Leopolis, "the city of the lion". For Ukrainians it is Львів (transliterated: L'viv), for Poles Lwów, for Russians Львов (transliterated: L'vov); in German and Yiddish it is Lemberg (גרעבמעל). Different names for the same city, a significant example of the stratifications of history.

Lviv from 1340 was part of the Polish kingdom; in 1772, with the first partition of Poland, it began to gravitate within the Habsburg Empire. At the end of the First World War, Western Ukraine experienced a brief period of independence that ended with its annexation to the Polish Republic in 1923. In 1939, following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Soviet troops entered Lviv. The Nazis conquered it in 1941 and hit the Jewish population hard. At the end of the war, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine was formed. Much of the population of the city of Polish origin was forced to emigrate, replaced by Ukrainian and Russian immigration. Independence arrived in 1991 and a new war in 2022. Even today Lviv seems to live in the balance between East and West, in search of a definitive location.

As in Lviv, this is true for all of Ukraine. Its current borders are quite recent and unite territories that for centuries have had distinct histories: Lviv itself and Kiev belonged to different empires for centuries. The issue of the geopolitical location of Ukraine continues to be problematic, so much so that it is one of the most important causes of the current invasion. It is not possible on one page to list all the reasons for the conflict between the Russians and the Ukrainians. Among these, one in particular interests us: the juxtaposition of memory. In particular, Russians and Ukrainians propose different interpretations around the Holodomor and this diversity is essential for understanding current developments.

Holodomor literally means "starvation murder" and refers to an unprecedented famine that occurred mainly in Ukrainian and Kazakh territory between 1932 and 1933 and caused over 7 million deaths. The causes were not only climatic or natural: Stalin intentionally wanted to strike the Ukrainian peasants guilty of being - in his opinion - counter-revolutionary. In previous years, Stalin had implemented dekulakization: a real purge of an entire peasant class of smallholders in the name of the collectivization of the land. Many kulaks refused to give up their land, hid food and killed livestock in order not to give it to the state. Many of those who rebelled were Ukrainians. The Stalinist reaction was ferocious: the peasants were forced to work for the state, without keeping anything of what was produced, even at the cost of starving, because the entire production had to be requisitioned by the Bolsheviks. Ukrainian wheat was of excellent quality and was sold abroad to obtain the necessary currency to finance the great industrialization policy that Stalin had in mind. Only with the fall of the Berlin wall first and the Soviet Union later was it possible to better define the contours of this massacre and to better understand the responsibilities of Stalin and the Bolshevik ruling class. It is precisely from Stalin's letters that the desire to strike the peasants and punish them through famine is evident: only hunger would have made them understand that any form of rebellion against the socialist state would have been useless.

In 2003 the United Nations, including Russia and Ukraine, defined the Holodomor as a "tragedy" not only for Ukraine but also for the Kazakh and Russian peoples. Between 2003 and 2008, the Ukrainian parliament began to define the great famine of 1932-1933 as "genocide" and criminalized its denial and Holocaust denial. Russia has reacted with annoyance and has repeatedly urged Ukraine not to use the term "genocide", which it claims is used only in an anti-Russian function.

The European Union finally chose a third way, in 2008 the European Parliament adopted a resolution in which it recognized the Holodomor as a "crime against humanity". However, many parliaments of European states, including the Italian one, have not followed up on this resolution. According to the individual states, therefore, the Holodomor is a "tragedy" or a "genocide" or a "crime against humanity". In the light of what the news today shows us, we can understand that they are not just simple words: behind every definition, there are different responsibilities on which not only the court of history will have to express itself.

Renato Bonomo

NP Maggio 2022

This website uses cookies. By using our website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Cookie Policy. Click here for more info