Monday, March 9, 2015
Russian Cynicism: Condemning Genocide
The speech wasn’t regarded as a major news story. It didn’t even warrant inclusion in the catchall “In the World” column in any newspaper. But a Russian official bemoaning the international community’s failure to eliminate genocide certainly caught my attention.
Vitaly Churkin, permanent representative of Russia to the United Nations, known as the permanent apologist for Russian crimes of aggression and a bald-faced liar in the UN Security Council, recently devoted 1,280 words to condemning past and present genocides of old and new terror-states without the slightest sense of remorse for Russia’s genocide against Ukrainians and other crimes against humanity.
Churkin was invited to speak at an ECOSOC conference titled “Why have we failed in preventing genocides and how to change that?” on January 21 of this year. While Russian cynicism is customary and even expected, ECOSOC’s naiveté in inviting a genocide perpetrator to speak at such a forum is appalling and does not speak well for that UN organ.
The conference dealt with the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and Nazi Germany’s crimes against Jews and other nationalities. Churkin spoke eloquently about the Nazis and their reign of terror.
“Tragically, the shock and horror of that war did not prove enough to prevent another global calamity. A terrible force devoid of humanity, real machine of death emerged in the middle of the 20th century in the heart of Europe and struck with unimaginable ferocity. The continent that centuries earlier had passed through the fires of Inquisition to Enlightenment, rolled back to the theories of racial and ethnic superiority, the ideas of ‘liberation of living space’ at the expense of the territories of the so-called ‘inferior races.’ Millions of innocent people of various ethnicities fell victim of heinous war crimes and crimes against humanity which were committed by the Nazis. What is especially striking – that regime came to power through what looked like democratic elections,” he said.
Ironically, what he assigned to the Nazis, as true as it was, can also be assigned to Russia.
“According to the Encyclopedia of Genocide published in 1999 ‘a gross estimate of the results of Nazi genocide against the Slavs comes to somewhere between 15.5 and 19.5 million in the USSR, between 19.7 and 23.9 million when the Poles, Slovenes, Serbs and others are added in,’” he said.
“Around 100 thousand Poles were massacred in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia in Nazi occupied Poland. Polish historians calculated that 135 sadistic methods were used to kill innocent people. Terrible mass execution happened in Khatyn, where entire population of that Byelorussian village was massacred thus becoming a symbol of all the towns and villages in Belarus burned down by the Nazis. Belarus lost a quarter of its population.”
Indeed, very true. But that encyclopedia and other verified sources also list Russian acts of genocide and crimes against humanity overlooked by Churkin and by association ECOSOC.
“Political and legal framework established after the Second World War, especially with the creation of the United Nations and the conclusions of the Nuremberg Tribunal, raised hopes that mankind has finally learned its lessons,” Churkin continued. “Nazi crimes including persecution on racial and religious grounds, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts committed against civilian population were condemned by the Nuremberg Tribunal… Following Nuremberg further vital instruments were developed, notably the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948.”
He concluded with a warning to genocide perpetrators: “And just like in case with the Nazis, there cannot be good or bad terrorists. Double standards are deadly dangerous to our civilization. It is vital for the decision-makers all over the world to remember that attempts to achieve geopolitical goals by whatever means may lead to tragic consequences. No nation can be immune or afford to be indifferent.”
Hopefully, one day Russia, a terrorist state, will be hauled in front of an international tribunal for all of its acts of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the Russo-Ukraine war of 2014-15.
In the meantime, it is historically and morally appropriate to juxtapose Churkin’s comments with those of Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer who immigrated to the United States in 1941 and coined the internationally recognized concept of genocide that has served as the foundation of the United Nations’ resolutions condemning this heinous crime. Lemkin also accused Russia of committing genocide against Ukrainians.
“The mass murder of peoples and of nations that has characterized the advance of the Soviet Union into Europe is not a new feature of their policy of expansionism, it is not an innovation devised simply to bring uniformity out of the diversity of Poles, Hungarians, Balts, Romanians — presently disappearing into the fringes of their empire. Instead, it has been a long-term characteristic even of the internal policy of the Kremlin — one which the present masters had ample precedent for in the operations of Tsarist Russia,” Lemkin wrote in a 1953 article “Soviet Genocide in Ukraine.”
Then the Polish lawyer resoundingly declared: “What I want to speak about is perhaps the classic example of Soviet genocide, its longest and broadest experiment in Russification — the destruction of the Ukrainian nation.”
Lemkin noted that Russia not only set its sights on liquidating the Ukrainian nation, but also all non-Russian peoples in its prison of nations: “Each is a case in the long-term policy of liquidation of non-Russian peoples by the removal of select parts.”
Among the acts of genocide and crimes against humanity committed by Russia Lemkin listed:
1. Tsarist crimes as the drowning of 10,000 Crimean Tatars by order of Catherine the Great, the mass murders of Ivan the Terrible’s ‘SS troops’ — the Oprichnina;
2. The extermination of National Polish leaders and Ukrainian Catholics by Nicholas I;
3. The series of Jewish pogroms that have stained Russian history periodically. And it has had its matches within the Soviet Union in the annihilation of the Ingerian nation, the Don and Kuban Cossacks, the Crimean Tatar Republics, the Baltic Nations of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
Lemkin pointed out that Russia’s acts of genocide are not 20th century Communist or Soviet crimes but they began during reign of Russian tsars.
But throughout, he noted: “The Ukrainian is not and has never been, a Russian.”
“The nation is too populous to be exterminated completely with any efficiency. However, its leadership, religious, intellectual, political, its select and determining parts, are quite small and therefore easily eliminated, and so it is upon these groups particularly that the full force of the Soviet axe has fallen, with its familiar tools of mass murder, deportation and forced labor, exile and starvation,” he wrote.
Lemkin elaborated that Russia’s assault against the Ukrainian nation was targeted at four national segments.
The first blow was aimed at the intelligentsia, the “national brain” in order to paralyze the remainder of the national body. Then there was an attack on against the churches, priests and hierarchy, the ‘soul’ of Ukraine. The third area of the Soviet Russian plan was aimed at the farmers, the large mass of independent peasants who are the repository of the tradition, folklore and music, the national language and literature, the national spirit, of Ukraine. The final, fourth step in the process consisted in the fragmenting the Ukrainian people by adding to the Ukraine of foreign peoples and by the dispersion of the Ukrainians throughout Eastern Europe.
“In 1920, 1926 and again in 1930–1933, teachers, writers, artists, thinkers, political leaders, were liquidated, imprisoned or deported. According to the /Ukrainian Quarterly/ of Autumn 1948, 51,713 intellectuals were sent to Siberia in 1931 alone. At least 114 major poets, writers and artists, the most prominent cultural leaders of the nation, have met the same fate. It is conservatively estimated that at least 75% of the Ukrainian intellectuals and professional men in Western Ukraine, Carpatho–Ukraine and Bukovina have been brutally exterminated by the Russians.”
“Between 1926 and 1932, the Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church, its Metropolitan Lypkivsky and 10,000 clergy were liquidated. In 1945, when the Soviets established themselves in Western Ukraine, a similar fate was meted out to the Ukrainian Catholic Church.”
“Only two weeks before the San Francisco conference (that established the United Nations), on 11 April 1945, a detachment of NKVD troops surrounded the St. George Cathedral in Lviv and arrested Metropolitan Slipyj, two bishops, two prelates and several priests. All the students in the city’s theological seminary were driven from the school, while their professors were told that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had ceased to exist, that its Metropolitan was arrested and his place was to be taken by a Soviet-appointed bishop. These acts were repeated all over Western Ukraine and across the Curzon Line in Poland.”
“The third prong of the Soviet plan was aimed at the farmers, the large mass of independent peasants who are the repository of the tradition, folklore and music, the national language and literature, the national spirit, of Ukraine. The weapon used against this body is perhaps the most terrible of all — starvation. Between 1932 and 1933, 5,000,000 Ukrainians starved to death, an inhumanity which the 73rd Congress decried on 28 May 1934… As a Soviet politician Kosior declared in Izvestiia on 2 December 1933, ‘Ukrainian nationalism is our chief danger’, and it was to eliminate that nationalism, to establish the horrifying uniformity of the Soviet state that the Ukrainian peasantry was sacrificed. The method used in this part of the plan was not at all restricted to any particular group. All suffered — men, women and children.”
Lemkin also detailed that thousands have been executed, untold thousands have disappeared into the certain death of Siberian labor camps. He called the city of Vinnitsa the Ukrainian Dachau. In 91 graves there were buried the bodies of 9,432 victims of Soviet tyranny, shot by the NKVD in about 1937 or 1938. “Among the gravestones of real cemeteries, in woods, with awful irony, under a dance floor, the bodies lay from 1937 until their discovery by the Germans in 1943,” he noted.
“This is not simply a case of mass murder. It is a case of genocide, of destruction, not of individuals only, but of a culture and a nation. If it were possible to do this even without suffering we would still be driven to condemn it, for the family of minds, the unity of ideas, of language and of customs that form what we call a nation that constitutes one of the most important of all our means of civilization and progress,” Lemkin wrote. “What then, apart from the very important question of human suffering and human rights that we find wrong with Soviet plans is the criminal waste of civilization and of culture. For the Soviet national unity is being created, not by any union of ideas and of cultures, but by the complete destruction of all cultures and of all ideas save one — the Soviet.”
Russia is the last country on earth that can address genocide and what should be done to eliminate it. It committed crimes against humanity in the past and continues to do us with its undeclared war against Ukraine. Putin, Lavrov and Churkin, as its leaders and spokesmen, must be brought to justice for their complicity in killing innocent civilians in Russia’s latest war.