Feature Article By Askold Krushelnycky
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Headlines
Prague, Czech Republic, Friday, October 31, 2003
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the massive man-made famine that
killed millions of people in the Soviet Union, primarily Ukraine. This year,
Ukrainians from all over the world have joined forces in a campaign to
revoke a prestigious award from an American reporter who deliberately
glossed over the famine in order to curry favor with its orchestrator --
former Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
(Click on image to enlarge it)
Prague, 31 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Pulitzer Prize for journalism
is among the most coveted and prestigious awards for journalists. In 1932,
the prize went to Walter Duranty, Moscow correspondent for "The New York
Times," for a series of articles on the economic advances of the Soviet
Union under Josef Stalin.
That same year, millions of peasants in Ukraine and some regions of Russia
were starving as the result of one of Stalin's so-called "advances" -- the
forced collectivization of agriculture. The man-made famine was directed at
wiping out the region's peasant farmers and small land-owners -- derisively
known as "kulaks" -- who for the Soviet leadership represented not only
class enemies but bastions of Ukrainian separatism.
In 1933, as the famine peaked, claiming millions of lives, Duranty continued
to write articles glorifying Stalin and the Soviet system. In return, he was
granted unparalleled access to the Soviet leadership, including Stalin
himself. Duranty's articles never acknowledged the true breadth of the
famine, although the journalist himself was aware of its scope. He privately told a diplomat he estimated as many as 10 million people may have died, and
is reputed to have coined the now-famous phrase, "You can't make an omelet
without breaking eggs."
Duranty died in 1957. Although his award-winning articles were eventually
discredited, posthumous efforts to revoke his Pulitzer Prize have proved
difficult. But this year -- which marks the 70th anniversary of the
famine -- a campaign spearheaded by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties
Association says it is close to achieving success.
The group organized a petition campaign, with tens of thousands of people
writing to the Pulitzer board and "The New York Times" demanding Duranty be
stripped of his award. In response, the newspaper hired Mark von Hagen, a
historian with Columbia University -- whose trustees award the Pulitzers on
recommendation from the advisory board -- to investigate the Duranty case.
Von Hagen's report, issued last week, said Duranty's work showed a "serious
lack of balance," was "distorted," and was a "disservice to American readers
of 'The New York Times' and the peoples of the Russian and Soviet empires."
Von Hagen concluded that Duranty's award "should be rescinded for the
integrity of the Pulitzer Prize itself and for anybody who gets it in the
future and for 'The New York Times,' too."
Catherine Mathis heads the "Times'" corporate affairs division. She says
senior staff at the newspaper, including Executive Editor Bill Keller,
studied the Columbia professor's report and forwarded it to the Pulitzer
board asking it to decide what should be done. "What we said was that we
would respect the Pulitzer committee's decision on whether to rescind the
award," Mathis said.
Mathis adds that the paper has long acknowledged the controversy behind
Duranty's articles, saying his framed Pulitzer citation at the "Times"
offices hangs next to a notice informing visitors that other reporters at
the "Times" elsewhere have discredited his coverage.
But she says the newspaper does have misgivings about whether the prize
should be revoked after such a long period of time. "We asked that the
[Pulitzer committee] consider two things: first, that such an action might
evoke the Stalinist practice of airbrushing, purging figures out of official
records and histories; and secondly, that it could be setting a precedent
for revisiting its judgments over many decades."
Lubomyr Luciuk, the head of research at the Ukrainian Canadian Civil
Liberties Association, welcomed the new report on Duranty and said the
campaigners sensed victory was close at hand. "We won't have achieved our
objective until the Pulitzer Prize Walter Duranty won is either revoked or
returned. Revoked by the Pulitzer Prize committee, [or the citation]
returned by 'The New York Times' -- either course of action is welcome.
Until that's done, of course, we won't have fully achieved our objectives."
"But the fact that 'The New York Times' would have been informed by an
independent historian that Walter Duranty was a liar before, during and
after the genocidal great famine of 1932 to 1933 -- and that that fact has
been communicated to the international media -- is of course a welcome and
positive and [a] supportive development for our campaign."
Luciuk dismissed the suggestion that posthumously stripping Duranty of his
prize was akin to the Soviet practice of removing all traces of officials
who had fallen from grace. "No one wants to airbrush Walter Duranty from
history -- we are not Soviets. We want Walter Duranty to be remembered
precisely for what he was -- Stalin's apologist, a shill for the Soviets, a
man who knowingly covered up the mass murder of many millions of Ukrainians
during one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century, namely the
great famine of 1932 to 1933 in Soviet Ukraine."
Pulitzer Board spokesman Sig Gissler would not confirm whether the Duranty
issue will be on the committee's agenda when it holds its next biannual
meeting in November. But he says the question of revoking Duranty's prize
had in previous years been discussed and dismissed because the prize
represents not an assessment of the writer's entire body of work or
character, but a specific set of articles. "The articles which won the
Pulitzer Prize were written in 1931 for the prize in 1932 -- 13 specific
articles -- and this was before the famine occurred in Ukraine."
Gissler says he does not know when the Pulitzer committee will issue a final
verdict on the Duranty case, saying the committee will first look at "all
aspects and ramifications" of the issue.
Luciuk, who spearheaded the move to revoke Duranty's award, says regardless
of the Pulitzer committee's final decision, the campaign has already scored
a victory in bringing information about the famine, or "holodomor" in
Ukrainian, to a far wider audience than ever before. "We have attempted with
this campaign to [commemorate] the memory of the many millions of victims of
this great catastrophe, this man-made 'holodomor.' And we have been able to
achieve that with this Duranty campaign, which is a very positive
development. Often people have ignored or have forgotten about this
genocide. I think we've brought it back to international attention."
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives (lower house of the U.S.
Congress) adopted a resolution "commemorating and honoring the memory of
victims of an abominable act perpetrated against the people of Ukraine in
1932-33." The resolution goes on to say that "millions of men, women and
children were murdered by starvation so that one man, Soviet dictator Josef
Stalin, could consolidate control over Ukraine." It also calls the Western
denial of the famine a shameful chapter in history, and condemns Walter
Duranty for deliberately covering up the tragedy.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Headlines, October 31, 2003
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