Kenneth Gibson MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 25 November 2014 : Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

I am grateful to my colleague, Marco Biagi, who is sitting on my right, for securing time for this valuable debate, and I offer him my warmest congratulations on his recent promotion.

It is a solemn privilege to speak in this evening’s debate to mark international Holodomor memorial day, which is a subject that has fascinated and appalled me since I read Robert Conquest’s seminal work “The Harvest of Sorrow” back in 1986.

The term “Holodomor” literally means extermination by hunger. It refers to the deliberate actions of Joseph Stalin’s soviet regime to crush Ukrainian nationalism and the Ukrainian peasantry, which was perceived to be potentially hostile to Soviet power. The Holodomor ranks among the worst acts of genocide in human history. The death toll certainly exceeded the death toll of the Pol Pot-imposed genocide in 1970s Cambodia, and it potentially exceeded that of the Holocaust. Despite that, recognition, remembrance and understanding of what exactly happened are not as robust as they should be. It is for that reason that international Holodomor memorial day is so crucial in exposing one of the most callous and destructive acts of the 20th century.

The Holodomor was part of Stalin’s revolution from above. From 1932 to 1933, his regime inflicted a terror famine on the collectivised peasants of the Ukraine, the Kuban and other areas of high Ukrainian ethnicity. Grain quotas were set in rural Ukraine that the regime knew would be impossible to achieve. The land-owning peasants who were known as kulaks or fists were considered to be wealthy and exploitative but were often neither, although they were independent of mind, which meant that they were reluctant to collectivise and were targeted.

One of the aims of collectivisation in the Ukraine, as stated in Pravda was:

“The destruction of Ukrainian nationalism’s social base—the individual land holding.”

Cowing the peasants was a Stalinist objective. On 17 January 1933, Stalin said in Pravda:

“Today’s anti-Soviet elements are ... people who are ‘quiet’, ‘sweet’ and almost ‘holy’.”

He added that the kulak had been

“defeated but not completely exterminated”.

Despite the disastrous effects on productivity of the collectivisation that was introduced in 1929, Stalin raised Ukraine’s grain procurement quotas by 44 per cent, which meant that there was not enough food to feed the peasants, as the law required that no grain from a collective farm could be given to the members of the farm until the regime’s quota had been met. The quota often exceeded the total harvest, which meant that families were left with nothing to eat for the coming year.

Resistance resulted in execution or deportation to Siberia, and all available food was seized to sustain the well-fed squads of police and Communist party apparatchiks—many of whom had been sent from distant Russian cities—who oversaw and enforced such pitiless destruction of lives and communities.

The impact was catastrophic, as it was designed to be, and offers of food aid from overseas and other states within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were refused by the regime. Within a year, between a fifth and a quarter of Ukraine’s 25 million people lay dead or dying and the remainder were so debilitated that they were unable to work or even bury their loved ones.

While the backbone of the country—the nation’s peasants—were dying en masse, the Stalinist regime also targeted the cultural elite, the clergy and anyone else who was able to articulate or represent a sense of Ukraine as a distinct nation.

By the end of 1930, prior to the famine, 80 per cent of the country’s village churches had been closed and desecrated, with thousands of clergy shot or deported to gulags. Of Ukraine’s 240 authors, 200 disappeared. Of 84 leaders in linguistics, 62 were liquidated. The remainder of both groups were, understandably, cowed into silence and obedience. The Ukrainian theatre and Academy of Sciences also suffered and the local Communist party was purged of “nationalist deviation”. It is this evident and documented desire to wipe out Ukrainian national identity that so obviously points to an act of genocide and not simply an attack on the wider peasantry of the USSR.

Due to the wall of secrecy imposed by the former Soviet Union, it is difficult to know how many perished during the Holodomor, but recent research suggests that 3 million to 7.5 million may have died directly as a result of the Soviet-imposed famine in Ukraine. As Stalin himself is reported to have said, perhaps betraying his real view on mass murder,

“One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”

It is true that, when discussing a crime of this magnitude, it is possible to lose sight of individual tragedies, and I would like to take the opportunity to attempt to convey, in a small way, the intense suffering experienced in Ukraine during this time.

As well as physical effects, starvation produced psychological symptoms, and murders, suicides and denunciations against friends and families were widespread. For example, in the village of Bilka, one man, Denys lschenko, killed his sister, his brother-in-law and their 16-year-old daughter in order to obtain 30 pounds of flour. The same man also murdered his friend when he saw him carrying four loaves of bread that he had managed to obtain from the city.

Others recounted stories of those who had gone insane, killing their own children and eating them. One mother who was arrested for such an act was described by those who witnessed her arrest as having a human face but the wild and staring eyes of a wolf. She was shot by the regime.

In his unpublished memoirs, the esteemed Russian poet and novelist Boris Pasternak, of “Dr Zhivago” fame, wrote about his experiences of travelling to Ukrainian collective farms in the early 1930s:

“What I saw could not be expressed in words. There was such inhuman, unimaginable misery, such a terrible disaster, that it began to seem almost abstract, it would not fit within the bounds of consciousness. I fell ill. For an entire year I could not write.”

The Holodomor was a man-made tragedy. It was a deliberate crime against humanity and it was entirely preventable. Not only were offers of international aid refused and impossibly high grain quotas imposed, but vital food supplies were allowed to rot in warehouses under armed guard for lack of transport to take them to the cities. The consequences for Ukrainian society, which bore much of the fighting and suffered horrific destruction following the Nazi invasion of 1941 and its aftermath, can only be imagined.

Although denial of the Holodomor by the Soviet regime, while it existed, was to be expected, there is no excuse for that now. To most minds, the documented evidence of Stalin’s loathing of Ukrainian nationalism, his views on the potential threat that it posed to his regime and his murderous attacks on Ukrainian culture and identity prove that the Holodomor was an act of genocide. I am disappointed that more nations and international organisations are not willing to recognise that fact, and I welcome the continued efforts by the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain and others to ensure that this crime is fully recognised and remembered.

A growing number of states—currently 25, including Canada, Australia, the United States of America and Poland—officially recognise the Holodomor as a deliberate act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. The European Parliament and the General Assembly of the United Nations have recognised the Ukrainian famine as a crime against humanity and a man-made tragedy, but both have stopped short of recognising it as an act of genocide. Despite a members’ debate in the House of Commons, the United Kingdom Government has also declined to do so.

As Robert Burns wrote in “Man was Made to Mourn”,

“Man’s inhumanity to Man
Makes countless thousands mourn!”

Few nations have suffered over the past century in the way that Ukraine has. I hope that, in this Parliament, we recognise that fact and the Holodomor in remembrance of so many innocent men, women and children who died.

17:09  

Finance Committee 19 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The Convener

Thank you for that.

As agreed at the start, the committee will hold the next two agenda items in private session.

13:10 Meeting continued in private until 13:15.  

Finance Committee 19 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The Convener

That concludes the committee’s questions. It has been a very lively evidence session. Thank you both for your contributions. Would either of you like to make any final points?



Finance Committee 19 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The Convener

Jamie, the ball is still at your feet.



Finance Committee 19 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The Convener

I am happy to accept any clarification and double checking of any of those figures.



Finance Committee 19 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The Convener

We would be happy to receive that information in writing.



Finance Committee 19 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The Convener

Thank you. We move to the open session.



Finance Committee 19 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The Convener

Do you want to comment further on that aspect, Professor Trench?



Finance Committee 19 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The Convener

Yes.



Finance Committee 19 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The Convener

One of Alan Trench’s professorial colleagues spoke about Treasury gaming in his submission and in oral evidence to the committee.

Colleagues are keen to come in, but I will ask Ben Thomson one further question. Alan Trench states at paragraph 11 of his submission:

“Since HM Revenue & Customs appears to proceed on the basis that the full marginal costs of devolved tax collection should be borne by devolved administrations, it is hard to see how there is any argument that it should not be fully open to scrutiny by the Parliament or bodies the Parliament designates for those charges.”

I take it that you fully agree with that statement.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

Selection of the Parliament's Nominee for First Minister
Not VotedCarried

Selection of the Parliament's Nominee for First Minister
YesCarried

Selection of the Parliament's Nominee for First Minister
Not VotedCarried

S4M-11567.2 Margaret Mitchell: Lowering the Drink Drive Limit—As an amendment to motion S4M-11567 in
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-11507.1 Cameron Buchanan: Progressive Workplace Policies to Boost Productivity, Growth and Jobs—
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11507 Angela Constance: Progressive Workplace Policies to Boost Productivity, Growth and Jobs—Th
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-11494.3 Jackie Baillie: Welfare Benefits for People Living with Disabilities—As an amendment to
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11494.2 Alex Johnstone: Welfare Benefits for People Living with Disabilities—As an amendment to
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11494 Margaret Burgess: Welfare Benefits for People Living with Disabilities—That the Parliament
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-11484.1 Jackson Carlaw: Human Rights—As an amendment to motion S4M-11484 in the name of Roseanna
>> Show more
NoDefeated

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Motion S4M-11629: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 20/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11628: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 20/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11396: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 03/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11394: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 03/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11353: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11259: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 21/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11219: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 15/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11217: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 15/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11180: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 10/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11155: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 09/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Kenneth Gibson
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4F-02379: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 10/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03647: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 27/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22920: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 22/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03471: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 04/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03429: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 28/07/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02217: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 23/06/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03396: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 16/06/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03317: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 22/05/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03236: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 12/05/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02090: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 12/05/2014 Show Full Question >>