Genocide was born out of the whims of political leaders whose powers met no restraints in the form of any formal convention. Political leaders gain motivation to commit genocide from their sheer dislike towards differences, often defined through nationality, religion and race, among others. Genocidal events have imbued a lasting negative impression throughout generations that have succeeded, especially on groups of people whose ancestors have gone through the plight of mass killings. With that kind of awareness in mind, contemporary politics has become more sensitive in limiting the powers of political leaders. Notions on human rights and leadership restraints defined by law have taken place to strengthen condemnation against genocide. Those mechanisms have served as effective drivers of peace within societies, although imperfections continue to exist and meet rectifications. Internationally, genocide has gained reception with a general accord against its occurrence. International institutions have organized sets of laws and guidelines that would prevent the incidence of genocidal events. Unity between states thus helps discourage rogue states to engage in activities leading to genocide, without interfering in each matter pertaining to its domestic affairs.
Nonetheless, the risk of genocide incidence remains alive, as legal provisions that are seeking to prevent such atrocious act does not necessarily come in the way of self-interests of states. As long as states continue to pursue their interests, the threat of genocide remains strong because of the inherent inadequacies of the international system. Thus, genocide is a problem that cannot find easy resolutions under international law. Such has found compelling evidence through the historical tragedies of Holodomor and the Holocaust – two cases of genocide that wrought havoc in Europe during the 20th century. A close perusal of the two events would reveal that the international system has inherent lapses in preventing the aforementioned genocides to happen.
Holodomor: Famine in Ukraine
Soviet-era Ukraine was the setting of the Holodomor, a manmade famine that killed millions of people in the area between 1932 and 1936. Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, has sought to consolidate food resources through a collectivization scheme. Collectivization involved farms subjected to state ownership. The state thus became the sole provider of food in the area. The move was also justified by the strategic move to suppress the Volga Germans and the Kuban Cossacks, whose nationalist sentiments have since become a focal point of criticisms against the incumbent regime. In return, collectivization has resulted to greater harm than good. Food shortages resulted from mismanagement of collectivized harvests, resulting to the deaths of millions of people in the area. Data gathered from the period shows that food distribution in 1932 was highly satisfactory compared to 1936 – the year the famine ended. Although some historians have objected that the Holodomor was a manmade famine, it nevertheless triggered a massive death toll resulting from the collectivization program forcefully implemented in the area by the Soviet authorities (Tauger, 1991; Bilinsky, 1999).
Objections against the qualification of Holodomor as a manmade famine have contributed to the historically controversial nature of the event. Despite of that, international organizations have duly recognized the tragedy as an example of genocide. The UN Genocide Convention has discussed the Holodomor as a seminal example, defining genocide as any act that jeopardizes the safety of a particular group or population. Furthermore, the known hatred of Stalin against Ukrainians is a compelling factor that strengthens the argument that the Soviets carried out the genocide through deliberate and systematic means. The negligence exhibited by Soviet authorities in saving the lives of famine-stricken Ukrainians qualifies the Holodomor as a manmade genocide (Tauger, 1991; Bilinsky, 1999).
Holocaust: Hatred against the Jews
Many would believe that anti-Semitism stands as the sole reason for Nazi Germany to conduct the Holocaust. While the hatred of leader Adolf Hitler and the Nazis against the Jews proved necessary for the event to take place, it was nevertheless not the only trigger to the tragic event. Millions of Jews died under torture by the Nazis, with their deaths organized through the establishment of concentration camps that gathered unfortunate victims to lead them to unfortunate circumstances. Nazi ideology, however, was not entirely original in its approach against the Jews. Rather, the Nazis derived their hatred from the Christians, whose hostile history with the Jews has encouraged Hitler and his followers to sow more hatred against them. The Christians saw the Jews as religious opponents, although Hitler turned the focus of hatred to political ends. “The Eternal Jew”, as Hitler termed it, deemed the Jews as eternally Jewish until their death. Hitler used that concept to justify his hatred towards the Jews, to the extent that he labeled them as a people with distinct physical characteristics and unique manifestations. Hitler constantly thought of Jews as fraudulent in financial matters due to their business acumen. To fulfill the goal of exterminating the Jews, Hitler took cues from social Darwinism in order to introduce himself and his party as saviors against the threat set by Jews through the introduction of the concept of the Aryan race. Such concept is crucial for the plans of Hitler, as such has helped him gain popular support in subjecting the Jews to several forms of oppression (Idinopulos, 2008).
The propaganda machine of Hitler and the Nazis running Germany before and during the war has resulted to the deaths of several million Jews. While Hitler himself never underwent any trial, as the circumstances surrounding his own death remain unclear, the Holocaust has generated widespread furor among groups strongly condemning the tragedy. Yet, at the same time, the intensity of the killings of Jews has inspired anti-Semitics to embrace their beliefs tighter, making their minds closer in the process. The basis for the current international system grew resulting from the event and leaders within started to fight actively for stronger mechanisms preventing the occurrence of s similar tragedy in the future. Prosecuting genocide at the time of the Nazis proved virtually impossible. Now, the international community comes in with a great challenge to fulfill – to bring perpetrators to justice while preventing any potential circumstance leading to genocide (Idinopulos, 2008).
Comparing the Holodomor and the Holocaust
In terms of the manner of execution, the Holodomor and the Holocaust were fundamentally different. Yet, both involved the mass killings of a large number of people associated with a particular group – a factor that qualifies both as genocides. For the Holodomor, the killings took place at a time when the Soviets were struggling to gain control over their territories. Their incorporation of neighboring states and its persistence for a centralized form of government provided the framework of oppression that led to the tragedy. Nationalist sentiments within the areas that they occupied proved threatening to the Soviet authorities – in the case of Ukraine, the Volga and Cossack groups have sent nationalist calls against the central government. Thus, the Soviet authorities resorted to an economic mode of control through food collectivization that proved to be a ground for great compromise. Yet, the Ukrainians – the target of collectivization, proved helpless in launching a full-fledged resistance against the Soviet authorities, as they grew weaker with the scarcity of food. Eventually, many people perished due to starvation and the inequality in food distribution started to constitute an artificial famine equivalent to that of genocide. The political will of the Soviet authorities made the deaths of millions of Ukrainians possible, with not a single resolution released during the period aiming to rescue those who were dying from lack of food. Many were left to die in sordid conditions as the famine continued on for a good four years (Tauger, 1991; Bilinsky, 1999).
For the Holocaust, the treatment of Jewish people as “subhumans” during the time of the Nazis led to deliberate means of collective manslaughter. The establishment of concentration camps provides the impression that the Nazis plotted the whole scheme. Hatred against the Jews stem from a historical basis, as the Christians saw the Jews as enemies in their goals for expansion. Hitler saw that particular reason as an important one in justifying his own cause for anger, although he augmented his reasons towards unreasonable ideas to cater to his political purpose. Hence, a more deliberate form of genocide took place during the time of Nazi Germany, backed up with the hatred against the Jews and the outright destruction of lives through systematic measures. The Nazis built physical facilities meant for torture and murder, and the way they removed the Jews out of their communities constituted an absolute disregard of their right to live. Furthermore, the realities of war happening that time reflect the brutal nature of the Nazi regime. The Nazis engaged in war as part of their aspirations to reach global dominance. Part of their goals to gain domination of the world is the killing of all Jews – a people they deemed as their main obstruction to their goals. The prominence of Jews in commerce and finance have accounted for the ire of the Nazis, although they used religion as a reasoning factor for their political ends (Idinopulos, 2008).
The International Community and Genocide
Peace among communities worldwide provides for the strongest incentive of the international community in condemning genocide. Such would entail greater respect between differences involving classifications such as religion, ethnicity, nationality and race. Domestic governments may prove incapable of dealing with genocide, as people within a nation whose government have genocidal tendencies tend to be weak and inadequate in resisting the powerful forces above them. Thus, the international system provides for the strongest arena in which issues on genocide can find resolutions. After all, intervention may be the only solution against an instance where a nation is under a government plotting to kill its own citizens (Schabas, 2000).
Among the concepts for resolutions provided by the international community so far is shared sovereignty. Under this concept, a nation with two or three kinds of population groups has a higher tendency to harbor genocide, since people from those groups would fight for political dominance. Shared sovereignty would seek to prevent potential conflict between those groups of people, as there is a complete understanding that any conflict that may arise between them could result to genocide. Cooperation between those groups is a key element of shared sovereignty. If groups fail to cooperate accordingly, they may opt for peaceful isolation within the areas they belong. They do not have to move to another location, as long as the laws affecting them do not impose discrimination. Laws, therefore, have to promote stability between groups (Oberschall, 2000).
Democratization is another factor contributing to the prevention of genocide. A nation should undergo the process of democratization in order to quell the dominance of one party or person in government. There is an understanding that authoritarian regimes have greater tendency to commit genocide, thus it is important for liberal democratic principles to permeate within nations. Yet, democratization should impose a stable democratic system, for failure to do so may foster the incidence of civil war and state failure – factors that may welcome genocide (Krain, 2000).
However, the international community produced manifestations explaining for its relative inaction on both the Holodomor and the Holocaust. The Convention did not provide for rigid measures in defining genocide in the case of the Holodomor. Manmade famine is not among the scenarios explicitly stated as the reason for genocide. That factor has led to vagueness over the classification of the tragedy as one that constitutes genocide. Yet, the loose definition of genocide as an act that places an entire group in danger duly qualifies the tragedy as one. The fact that the collectivization program of the Soviets resulted to famine met with inaction makes the tragedy a compelling case of genocide (Tauger, 1991; Bilinsky, 1999).
In the case of the Holocaust, the lack of action from ideological leftists in issuing reproaches against the acts of Nazi Germany during and after the tragedy is apparent. Yet, what transpired from the leftists instead is an analysis of genocide and anti-Semitism as two concurrent entities. The analysis produced results based on the premise that the international community lacks deliberate measures of stopping genocides based on hardline ideology. Anti-Semitic thoughts prevailed even after the tragedy, which was supposed to be an event that makes Jews deserving of justice in the first place. Islamist groups, for instance, have accused Israel of involvement in genocide, even citing the tragedy perpetrated by the Nazis as their alleged framework for the attacks. Thus, the international problem severely lacked involvement in strengthening the cause against genocide. Accusations have become rife due to the lack of rigid and specific frameworks in both international laws and jurisprudence (Spencer, 2010).
Notwithstanding the aforementioned controversies, the Convention remains the primary international law that binds decisions on genocide cases. Employing the loose method of qualifying genocide attacks, defining an event as genocide should take precedence from the spirit of the Convention. However, the looseness of interpreting genocide through such method has paved way for numerous obscurities. The sheer magnitude of the issue should encourage the international community to introduce clear-cut definitions of genocide through specific parameters. Any form of ambiguity in matters pertaining to genocide is dangerous, for anomalies could result to inaccuracies and injustice on rendering decisions in cases involving genocide (Hannum, 1989).
The cases of Holodomor and Holocaust provide for two of the most ruthless cases of genocide in 20th century Europe. Hatred against different kinds of people has instigated both tragedies, although both found different methods of execution. The Holodomor involved a manmade famine due to the Soviet collectivization program seeking to crush nationalist movements, while the Holocaust featured Nazi Germany and their drive against the Jewish people within their territories. The international community, however, has inherent problem to fix with itself in determining its bounds on genocide. Constructive amendments to the Convention may provide for a more stable basis for deciding whether certain cases constitute genocide. Such provides a great challenge for the international community, as it has to iron out diverging ideas on genocide provided certain ambiguities and reconciling historical allegations and facts at the same time. The international community has to exercise a great degree of care in working on this problem. Otherwise, injustice might ensue over a grave problem that has cost the lives of several people.
Bilinsky, Y. (1999). Was the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933 genocide? Journal of Genocide Research, 1(2), pp. 147-156.
Hannum, H. (1989). International law and Cambodian genocide: The sounds of silence. Human Rights Quarterly, 11(1), pp. 82-138.
Idinopulos, T. (2008). Betrayal of spirit: Jew-hatred, the Holocaust, and Christianity. Aurora, CO: The Davies Group.
Krain, M. (2000). Democracy, internal war, and state-sponsored mass murder. Human Rights Review, 1(3), pp. 40-48.
Oberschall, A. (2000). Preventing genocide. Contemporary Sociology, 29(1), pp. 1-13.
Schabas, W. (2000). Genocide in international law. Port Chester, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Spencer, P. (2010). The left, radical anti-Semitism, and the problem of genocide. Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism, 2(1), pp. 133-151.
Tauger, M. (1991). The 1932 harvest and the famine of 1933. Slavic Review, 50(1), pp. 70-89.