October 8, 2018 Print

A monument to the victims of the Holodomor in Ukraine.

Totalitarian systems unleashed catastrophic proportions of death and destruction in the 20th century. Communism alone has killed an estimated 100 million people since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Fascist regimes also killed tens of millions. In memory of all these victims, the Václav Havel Institute at the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina, or CADAL) recently held its 6th annual Remembrance of the Victims of Totalitarianism conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This year’s conference included a panel that addressed the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor famine in Ukraine.

“One of CADAL's pillars is to promote international democratic solidarity, to share concern for those who live in closed societies where civic and political liberties are severely repressed,” said Hernan Alberro, the director of programs at CADAL. “Concern for the current victims of dictatorships serves as a means to defend the Argentine and Latin American democratic culture.”

Alberro says the Remembrance Day conference has become one of their most important events of the year, with more and more important figures and local authorities participating each year.

The conference addressed several subjects in a series of panel discussions. The first panel discussed the ongoing fight against anti-Semitism. The next two panels commemorated the Great Famine in Ukraine and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The final panel addressed “the democratic challenge of confronting 21st century autocracies in Latin America.”  

The second panel at the conference addressed the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor (“death by hunger”), a catastrophic man-made famine in Ukraine. Historians estimate that Holodomor killed between 3 and 7 million people. Some still debate whether Joseph Stalin intended to cause the famine or if it was merely an unintended consequence of his aggressive policies. In 1929, the Soviet Union began forced collectivization of private land into state-owned farms. Poor management, drought, and unrealistic agricultural quotas resulted in severe food shortages. Soviet soldiers seized crops and livestock from the people. Millions were left to starve.

Terrible events like the Holodomor teach crucial lessons. CADAL hopes these conferences will serve not only to honor the historical victims, but also to save future people from the dangers of totalitarianism.

“The first thing is to call attention to the most grave cases with the most significant backlashes to democracy,” Alberro continued. “Next, we must give moral support and visibility to the victims of current dictatorships. We must also promote policies of active commitment to the international defense of human rights. Finally, we must educate new generations on democratic culture and the universal ideal of human rights. We must remind them of the tragedies of the past and alert them to new threats to fundamental liberties and peaceful coexistence.”

The Autonomous City of Buenos Aires inaugurated the “Day in Remembrance of the Victims of Totalitarianism,” with the passage of Law 5608 in 2015.