By Abay Asankeldi
German historian Robert Kindler is one of the few foreign experts studying the topic of famine in Kazakhstan. 6 years ago in Germany he published a book « Stalins Nomaden. Herrschaft und Hunger in Kasachstan (“Stalin’s Nomads: Governance and Famine in Kazakhstan”). This work describes in detail the situation of the 1930s. Recently I had a chance to talk to Robert Kindler.
– Mr. Kindler, thank you for agreeing to give an interview. Let’s start our conversation from beginning. What influenced you to write a book about the famine in Kazakhstan?
– In 2006, I worked on a project on the settlement policy in Kazakhstan in the last period of tsarist Russia and the first period of the Soviet Union. At that time, I realized that the famine of 1932-1933 was a major problem. Later I wrote my dissertation and a book on this topic. This work was published in English and Russian (Stalin’s Nomads).
– It is clear. How did the famine in Kazakhstan differ from the famine in the rest of the Soviet Union?
– In fact, the main reason for the famine in Kazakhstan is the same as in the whole Union. Residents had to sell large quantities of grain and meat to the state. However, the population did not have that much food. Moreover, the collective farms did not work properly at first. Persecution of the rich men, confiscation of their property, forced collectivization disrupted the existing social structure. The state lost the trust of the peasants and increased taxes on them. As a result, the Soviet Union experienced food shortages and famine in some areas.
Due to the social and economic peculiarities of Kazakhstan, the policy of the Bolsheviks caused serious damage to the region. There are two reasons why the food crisis has worsened. Nomadic Kazakhs and semi-settled Kazakhs were forced to sell meat to the state, and they lost everything. In addition, the policy of forced resettlement has not stopped.
Therefore, the situation of the Kazakhs worsened, and they suffered more from famine than other ethnic groups. For example, livestock breeders have become refugees. Because the authorities confiscated all their livestock. The Soviet government was in no hurry to support the starving population and classified them as dangerous. However, minor government assistance was delayed. As a result, many people have fallen victim to oppression.
– In this regard, I would like to ask this question. In various circles, there is talk of treating famine in Kazakhstan as genocide. What do you think about it?
– Legally speaking, famine is not genocide. Moreover, there is no document on the specific plan of Stalin and the Soviet leaders to exterminate the Kazakhs as an ethnic group. However, they have sacrificed the lives of millions in order to achieve their goals. They believed that the lives of individuals were insignificant. This is an immoral act that leads to darkness. In view of this, the consequences of the Soviet government’s policy towards Kazakhstan can be considered genocide. However, it seems to me that the use of this term has a political undertone. However, legally, famine in Kazakhstan does not correspond to the concept of genocide.
– Sarah Cameron, another scientist studying the topic of famine, considers the tragedy in Kazakhstan as genocide in general, although it does not correspond to the UN-approved term genocide. What do you say about that?
– I agree with Sarah and support her. However, I do not think that the discussion of whether it should be assessed as genocide or not is useful in the study of the scale of the famine and the damage it did to Kazakh society at that time.
– As you can see, the famine in Ukraine is often discussed in the West and is widely recognized around the world. Why is the famine in Kazakhstan so unexplored and overlooked by the international community?
– The main reason is the geographical location. It is difficult to keep the events in Ukraine as secret as the famine in remote Kazakhstan. Moreover, European countries and the United States were aware of the famine in Ukraine as early as the 1930s.
In addition, after the Second World War, the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States often raised the issue of the Holodomor. After the collapse of the USSR, the memory of the Holodomor became a priority in the formation of Ukrainian identity.
In the case of Kazakhstan, none of this happened. The Western world has long been unaware of the problem of famine in Kazakhstan. Of course, the situation in Kazakhstan is different. Research and scientific work on this topic began in the 1980s. However, the Kazakh authorities have long been reluctant to raise the issue. He feared that there would be misunderstandings in the country’s multi-ethnic society or with Russia. In recent years, the situation has clearly changed. The topic of famine began to be discussed in public. Moreover, more and more people are paying attention to this issue abroad.
– There are no exact data on the number of people who died of starvation. Everyone gives different information. For example, one study estimates that about 35 to 40 percent of Kazakhs die of starvation. What information did you come across in your research? Which version do you think is true?
– It is very difficult to answer this question, to say the exact number of victims. Because when the Soviet government was first formed, there is no data on the actual population. However, the censuses of 1926 and 1937 clearly show the effects of the famine. Today, many researchers estimate that one-third of Kazakhs, or 1.5 million people, died as a result of the ignoramus. In other words, it is clear that the Kazakhs suffered the most among the peoples of the Soviet Union.
– Thank you for your conversation.