Feb 26, 2018

Holodomor Famine in Ukraine Speech – 26 Feb 2018

In the spirit of bipartisanship, I second the motion. In rising to support this very worthy motion moved by the member for Dunkley, I’m reminded of discussions about history and the lessons you learn from history that I had with my parents around the kitchen table when I was a young man. I think many on the other side and I know the member for Canberra did as well, in different ways.

My father, who recently passed away, spoke about the great dictators in human history, the impact that totalitarian regimes could have and the people who oversaw those totalitarian regimes, and mentioned three things that should not be forgotten; the first one was the Holocaust; the second one was, in my father’s words, the mass murder perpetrated by Joseph Stalin; and the third was the cultural revolution led by Mao Zedong, which killed many millions of people.

The reason my father raised these issues—and the reason I’m very happy to speak to these particular issues—was that we must always learn from history. Item 7 in the member for Dunkley’s motion says:

… recognises the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not allowed to be repeated…

That is one of the key reasons we are here—to remember. In remembering and discussing these terrible events that occurred, for the many young people who did not live through those experiences, we drive home the importance of why we do need to learn from history: if you don’t learn from history, you can repeat history. The question is: do we want these very dark chapters of our history, particularly from the 20th century, to be repeated?

Having spoken about this informally, I wish to pay my respects to the Australian Ukrainians who had family members who lived through that particular tragedy. As the previous member said, an estimated seven million Ukrainians starved to death as a consequence of Stalin’s policies between 1932 and 1933. The term ‘tragedy’ is used, but I think it was deliberate. It began in the chaos of a particular theory of collectivisation, when millions of peasants were forced off their land and made to join state farms. It was then exacerbated in the autumn of 1932 when the Soviet politburo, the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party, took a series of decisions that deepened the famine in the Ukrainian countryside. According to Anne Applebaum in her article in The Atlantic:

At the height of the crisis, organized teams of policemen and local Party activists, motivated by hunger, fear, and a decade of hateful propaganda, entered peasant households and took everything edible: potatoes, beets, squash, beans, peas, and farm animals. At the same time, a cordon was drawn around the Ukrainian republic to prevent escape. The result was a catastrophe: At least 5 million people perished of hunger all across the Soviet Union. Among them were nearly 4 million Ukrainians who died not because of neglect or crop failure, but because they had been deliberately deprived of food. Neither the Ukrainian famine nor the broader Soviet famine were ever officially recognized by the USSR. Inside the country the famine was never mentioned. All discussion was actively repressed; statistics were altered to hide it.

It’s gratifying, though, that you can try to cover over these mass crimes against humanity but eventually they see the light of day. To those listening in this parliament it is gratifying in particular that, on the 70th anniversary of this very dark chapter in human history, a joint statement on the great famine of 1932-33 in the Ukraine, the ‘Holodomor’, was issued on 10 November 2003 at the United Nations in New York. The statement noted that in the former Soviet Union millions of men, women and children fell victim to the cruel actions and policies of the totalitarian regime. The great famine took between seven and 10 million innocent lives and became a national tragedy of the Ukrainian people. The reason why we are talking about this here and why I commend the member is that we must remind people who have not lived through this period that human nature does have a very dark side to it. Totalitarian regimes in their quest to control populations will embark upon the most inhumane measures we can possibly think of. It reminds people that when you have a totalitarian regime these things can happen. We must never forget this and we never will.


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