Ukraine Adopts Famine-As-Genocide Bill

KIEV, Ukraine -- Parliament adopted a bill Tuesday recognizing the Soviet-era forced famine as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people in a vote seen as a victory for pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko.

Kiev monument to 1932-1933 Ukrainian genocide

The bill passed in a vote of 233-1, a small majority in the 450-seat legislature. Many lawmakers chose not to participate in the vote, choosing silence on a highly divisive issue.

The 1932-33 famine, known here as "Holodomor" or "Death by Hunger," was orchestrated by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and killed 10 million Ukrainians, almost one-third of its population at the time.

"It is a belated move, but it is our obligation to remember," said lawmaker Borys Bespaliy, a Yushchenko ally. "Those who do not remember do not have a future."

The recognition opens the door to potential legal consequences including compensation for famine victims and recognition of the famine by the United Nations as genocide against Ukrainian people. Ten countries, including the United States, have recognized the famine as genocide. U.N. recognition would imply an international acceptance.

Moscow strongly opposed calling the famine genocide, contending that the famine did not specifically target Ukrainians and warning Ukraine not to "politicize" the issue.

Kremlin-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's party proposed using the word "tragedy" instead of genocide, in what was seen as an effort to avoid spoiling ties with Russia. Only two lawmakers from the party's 186-member faction supported the bill.

A total of 200 lawmakers registered in the hall did not cast a ballot in what analysts described as an effort to avoid Russia's ire, while not disappointing their constituents. An independent poll released last week showed that around 70 percent of Ukrainians support recognizing the famine as genocide.

Yanukovych, the pro-Russian politician who ran against Yushchenko in the fraud-plagued 2004 election sparking the Orange Revolution, told a small group of foreign journalists that Ukrainians were not alone in their suffering.

"It happened on the territory of many countries (former Soviet republics), maybe in Ukraine it had a greater effect as Ukraine is a more agricultural country," Yanukovych said.

Due to the resistance in parliament, the bill proposed by Yushchenko underwent several changes, including referring to genocide against the Ukrainian people instead of the Ukrainian nation. Lawmakers also dropped an initiative that would have made it a legal violation to deny that the famine occurred.

During the height of the famine, 25,000 people died each day, devastating entire villages. Cases of cannibalism were widespread as desperation deepened. Those who resisted were shot or shipped off to Siberia.

The mass starvation remained a closely guarded state secret during the Soviet era, but information trickled out over the years. Ukraine marked the 73rd anniversary of the famine on Saturday by lighting candles across the country in memory of the victims, and holding a solemn, fog-shrouded procession through the capital.

Genocide is defined as the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group. It is a crime under international law.

Source: AP