Germany’s parliament has overwhelmingly approved a resolution labelling the Holodomor, the man-made famine that killed more than 3mn Ukrainians during the Stalin era, as “genocide”.
The symbolic and non-binding resolution, proposed by the three parties in chancellor Olaf Scholz’s governing coalition as well as the main opposition bloc, described the famine as a “targeted and mass killing of people through hunger” and a “crime against humanity”.
The vote reflects growing awareness among German politicians of Ukraine’s tragic history and troubled relations with Moscow, a sentiment that has grown since the start of the war in February.
Robin Wagener, an MP for the Greens, said the deaths of millions of Ukrainians in 1932-3 was not the result of a natural catastrophe or a crop failure.
“The cause of this horror lay in the Kremlin: there the dictator made a cruel decision to push through collectivisation by force and cause a famine,” he said.
Australia, Canada, Ireland, Poland and many other countries have already recognised the famine in Ukraine, then a Soviet republic, as genocide. In an address in St Peter’s Square in Rome last week, Pope Francis drew a parallel between the “terrible genocide” perpetrated in Ukraine in the 1930s and Russia’s targeted destruction of the country’s civilian infrastructure in the current war.
Starting in 1928, Soviet officials confiscated grain from millions of Ukrainian peasants, diverting it to cities and factories and exporting it for hard currency. Thousands of prosperous farmers, known as “kulaks”, were persecuted and deported.
The requisitions were carried out in parallel with Joseph Stalin’s policy of forced collectivisation. Peasants who resisted attempts to seize their grain were “brutally oppressed”, the Bundestag resolution said.
As early as the winter of 1931-2, hundreds of thousands of peasants were already dying of malnutrition but the requisitions continued and even increased in intensity. Whole regions were sealed off to prevent desperate villagers fleeing to the cities in search of food. In the winter of 1932-3, 3-3.5mn people starved to death.
Stalin blamed Ukrainians themselves for starving and his propaganda called anyone who mentioned the famine a Nazi.
Ulrich Lechte, an MP for the liberal Free Democrats, said the Holodomor was an “inhuman crime that was politically intended, artificially provoked and systematically executed by Stalin and his henchmen”. “From a historical and political perspective the Holodomor was genocide,” he added.
The Bundestag resolution said the famine intended to suppress “Ukraine’s national consciousness”. “All things Ukrainian were deeply suspect to Stalin, were seen by him as recalcitrant and were to be subordinated at all costs,” it read. It added that the Soviet Union persistently denied the Holodomor and turned all discussion of it into a taboo.
“The parallels to today are obvious,” said Wagener. “Once again a dictator in the Kremlin is seeking to subjugate Ukraine and to destroy it.”
Lechte also drew comparisons between the Holodomor and the present war. “Once again hunger is being deployed as a weapon,” he said, noting that Russian forces had stolen grain from Ukrainian farms in the early phase of the invasion. “And now Putin is increasingly using cold and darkness as a means of war,” he added.