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Stalin Famine Apologist: Drive to Revoke Controversial Pulitzer Posthumously

Simon, Chris. "Stalin Famine Apologist: Drive to Revoke Controversial Pulitzer Posthumously." What’s On, 16 May 2003, 23.


Forced famine: Even as the dead littered Ukrainiana city streets, Duranty defended Stalin's cruelty, infamously explaining that `broken eggs' were needed to make an omlet.
Laying quietly and almost forgotten, underneath the euphoria of Labour Day and Victory Celebrations is the fact that 70 years ago, May 1933, was the `high-water' mark in the infamous man-made famine that killed millions of Ukrainian men, women and children.

This controversial famine was allegedly part of a war waged by the state against peasant farmers, who were loathed by Josef Stalin because they were hostile towards communism. Stalin also regarded the Ukrainian peasantry as the cradle for nationalist tendencies aimed at breaking Ukraine away from the Soviet Union.

In 1932 and 1933, Stalin was reported to have imposed crippling demands on peasants for grain and other foodstuffs, which were extracted by brute force and executions. By the spring of 1933, people in the Ukraine were reduced to eating grass, tree bark, earthworms and anything else they could find. There were hundreds of cases of cannibalism in a country with some of the world's most fertile farmland, and at its climax an estimated 25,000 people were starving to death each day.

To mark this ominous event wherein as many as 10 million were killed and underscore it's rightful place in history along side the holocaust and political purges of the time, a Ukrainian-American group has begun a highly visible and vocal postcard campaign aimed at taking back the 1932 Pulitzer Prize awarded to controversial New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty. Duranty, among the first recipients of the coveted prize, received the famous award for his overall coverage of the Soviet Five-Year Plan, has been labeled an `apologist', by his numerous critics, for knowingly downplaying the forced starvation. The Prize committee, which had been handing out the awards since 1917, said that Duranty's work was "marked by scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgment and exceptional clarity."

"While others saw the mass starvation in Russia during the great Ukrainian famine of the 1930s...Duranty filed dispatch after dispatch dismissing these negative reports."

The only problem with that judgment according to Tamara Gallo of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America was that Duranty's stories were all fiction. "While others saw the mass starvation in Russia during the great Ukrainian famine of the 1930s - which Stalin created to crush millions of poor peasants who resisted collectivization - Duranty filed dispatch after dispatch dismissing these negative reports" she says. She is not alone in her condemnation of Duranty and the call for the posthumous removal of his award which is still proudly displayed on the New York Times website.

Malcolm Muggeridge, then the Manchester Guardian's Moscow correspondent said, "Duranty was the greatest liar of any journalist I have ever met". Muggeridge was well known by colleagues to have traveled secretly and at great personal risk throughout Ukraine reporting on the scenes of mass starvation and heaps of dead bodies that he witnessed and he described them in his reports.

British Historian Robert Conquest has even joined the call saying that the press should learn from Duranty's story. "Duranty played an important role in covering up the famine and he should be exposed again and again and again," he said.

Ukraine politicians and academics and Ukrainian communities in Britain, Canada, the US and Australia have joined the UCCA call and have started to bombard the Pulitzer offices with postcards demanding that the award be revoked.

Duranty's supporters say the accusations are unfair and that `jealously' over Duranty's access to top Soviet officials led to charges of being an official `apologist' for the Stalin's brutal regime. In fact it was Duranty's access that led him to grab the first ever interview with Stalin for an American publication. In response to the just started postcard campaign, Sig Gissler of the Pulitzer Board continued to defend the award saying that it was awarded for a story unconnected with the famine, which is doing very little to satisfy the complaints of the Ukrainian community abroad.

Even Duranty himself admitted, albeit quietly, that his reports did not disclose the whole truth. British Foreign Office documents show that Duranty confided to a diplomat at the British Embassy in Moscow that he believed around 10 million people had perished in the famine, while at the same time telling his New York Times' readers a different story. When stories about the famine began to surface in Moscow, Duranty dismissed them as "exaggerated or malignant propaganda". When the Great Purge trials took place, Duranty was accused by colleagues of `towing the Soviet line and taking the trials at face value'. In fact an expression often used today in casual conversation was made famous by Duranty. While reporting on the now well-known `sham' trials of the accused traitors to the revolution, he wrote in defense of Stalin's crimes "you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs." Some say between the purges and the famine, tens of millions of eggs were broken and as recent history has proven with the collapse of the Soviet Union the omelet was never made.

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