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By Susie Heron-Halliday
On the 7th November 2017, the Henry Jackson Society hosted Anne Applebaum in an event titled, ‘Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine’ – which is also the title of her new book. Anne Applebaum is a columnist for the Washington Post and a prize-winning historian with an expertise on the history of communist and post-communist Europe. She is also a Professor of Practice at the LSE, where she runs ARENA, a research project on disinformation and 21st century propaganda. Anne is the author of several books, including Gulag: A History, which won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction and Iron Curtain, which won the 2013 Cundill Prize for Historical Literature. Anne is a former member of the Washington Post editorial board, a former deputy editor of the Spectator magazine, and a former Warsaw correspondent of the Economist. She has lectured at numerous well-renown universities, including Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Oxford, Cambridge, Zurich, Humboldt and Heidelberg.
To start off the event, Anne began by talking about Stalin’s collectivisation policy and how this enabled his rise to power. She also argued that this policy was a disaster. So much so that, many people have claimed Stalin’s wife killed herself because of this disastrous collectivisation policy. Anne spoke at length about Stalin’s specific policies that targeted Ukraine, how he denied frantic requests for aid from the Ukrainian people. Between 1931 until 1944, the number of natural deaths in Ukraine is estimated at around four million. During this period, Anne claimed that there were even rumours and stories about people succumbing to cannibalism out of sheer desperation.
Anne spoke at length about the 1917 Ukrainian revolution, although it was brief, Stalin had feared that this would eventually become too powerful to contain. Thus, something drastic needed to be done. Stalin demanded more grain, confiscated food, and blockaded troublesome Ukrainian villages until people starved. The Red famine was the result of a deliberate policy by Stalin in an attempt to subdue the Ukrainian people, and assert his power over the region. He had become obsessed with Ukraine, and went to extraordinary lengths to cover up the famine, and the devastating effects it was having on people. Anne argued that the cover up of the famine is one of the earliest examples of ‘fake news’.
To conclude, Anne spoke about the subtle similarities between and Stalin’s treatment of Ukraine and Putin’s treatment of Ukraine. She argued that Putin saw the nature of the Ukrainian government as a direct threat to himself, and more importantly, to his idea of Russia. Anne was quick to add that Putin’s idea of Russia is not necessarily shared by the Russian people. Her talk opened up discussion to some difficult, but interesting questions, from the audience. One question in particular sparked an insightful speech on whether or not, the famine could be classified as genocide under international law. Although, Anne claimed that it is difficult to classify the famine, under international law, due definition problems and legal complexities. She believes that it is absolutely right to classify it as a genocide.
Anne Applebaum provided a wonderful insight into the Red Famine, and just how hard times were for the Ukrainian people. The Henry Jackson Society would like to thank Anne Applebaum for her insightful, and at times shocking, talk on the ‘Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine’.