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The Econometrics of Holodomor.
Update: The European Parliament adopted a resolution on 15 February 2024 recognising the Holodomor as genocide: Link to the adopted resolution here
Spoiler: Using a large new data set based on Soviet sources, Markevich et.al. show that the Holodomor was a deliberate attack on Ukrainians by Stalin. (If you like me want to read the whole paper, you can buy it here for $5 plus taxes.)
Since Ukrainian mortality rates were not higher during the famine 1892 or before and after the famine years 1932-1933, there must be other factors at play. These factors were Stalin and his henchmen. Using econometric methods, Markevich et. al. show that higher famine mortality in ethnic Ukrainian areas was the result of Stalin targeting Ukrainians wherever they were living. Centrally planned policies targeted Ukrainians populated areas in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine specifically. In these countries, in provinces in these countries, in districts in provinces in these countries. Wherever there was a concentration of Ukrainians, larger grain procurements were implemented, harsher collectivisation measures were implemented, and tractors were denied.
Markevich et. al. reach this conclusion through econometric analyses. In the analyses, a large number of factors which potentially could explain the higher Ukrainian excess mortalities, are controlled for. This doesn’t affect the conclusion.
The only thing left is Stalin. Stalin’s hatred of Ukrainians explains the higher mortality rates in areas with a high Ukrainian share of the population.
Since Stalin ordered more and more grain to be confiscated, Ukrainians had less and less to eat. Finally, many had to do with grass, roots, rotten potatoes, bark, and twigs or whatever they could find. The daily intake of food during the Holodomor corresponded to the tiny rectangle of bread in my hands below, c.f. Figure 1.
Figure 1. A daily ration of food during Holodomor.
Note. This piece of Holodomor was presented at a Holodomor conference in Brussels at the House of European History, https://historia-europa.ep.eu/en/agenda/hosted-event-holodomor-1932-1933-ukraine-tragic-pages-european-history.
Stalin feared and hated Ukrainians
Stalin’s hatred of Ukrainians took many shapes. As Snyder points out, Stalin implemented seven polices particularly lethal policies which were limited to Ukraine. One of these orders was sealing Ukraine’s borders in order to prevent Ukrainians to escape the famine and inform about it. Around 200 000 Ukrainians were caught and forced back to their villages to starve to death. The other orders demanded unrealistic norms of grain to be collected and hard punishments for failure to deliver. And just to make sure that his orders were carried out, Ukrainian party officials that failed to confiscate the required amounts of grain, were made guilty of treason.
Stalin’s atrocities are documented by Applebaum, Conquest, Snyder, by the Polish Institute for National Remembrance here containing Soviet secret services' documents from the period, and many more. Stalin also wanted to kill the Ukrainian culture, identity and language and turned against Ukrainian intellectuals, cultural institutions and schools.
Quantifying the Holodomor
Stalin’s war against Ukrainians has been documented by many researchers. But until now, there has been no attempt, to my limited knowledge that is, to use quantitative methods to show the effects of his lethal policies against Ukrainians.
Markevich et. al. have closed that gap. By using econometric analyses they show that Ukrainian mortality rates were relatively higher, and natality rates lower, compared to other ethnical groups in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine 1932-1933. These results are robust when controlling for variations in weather conditions, demography, dekulakisation, grain production, urbanisation and other factors using different measures of ethnicity and mortality/natality. These results are also robust for omitting Ukraine, thus only analysing regions in Belarus and Russian with a high share of Ukrainians. The results are the same for countries (Belarus, Russia, Ukraine), provinces and districts.
This means that Ukrainian mortality rates were higher everywhere. In Belarus, in Russia, in Ukraine. In provinces in these countries. In districts in provinces in these countries.
More Ukrainians died. Less Ukrainians were born.
The Ukrainian population was hit harder than any other Soviet ethnic group. People dismissing the Holodomor sometimes claim that this happened because relatively large shares of Ukrainians lived in rural grain-producing areas during 1932-1933. However, that cannot explain why relatively more Ukrainians died in grain-producing regions. According to the 1926 and 1939 censuses, the Ukrainian share of the population in these regions decreased from 44% to 37%, Markevich et. al. (2021), Online Appendix, p. 13. The shares of the other ethnic groups, included in both censuses, remained constant or increased. The number of people in all the other ethnic groups increased in absolute numbers.
For all regions in the USSR, the Ukrainian share of the population decreased from 21.3% to 16.5% between 1926 and 1939. Also, the Kazakh share of the population decreased. The percentages and the absolute numbers of the other ethnic groups increased. The decreased share of the Ukrainian population was not only due to higher mortality rates that other ethnic groups. The genocidal policies made Ukrainian women less able and willing to give birth to children, c.f. Figure 2.
Figure 2. Higher Ukrainian mortality and natality rates during Holodomor.
Source: Markevich et.al. (2021), p. 43.
As mentioned above, neither the weather nor the poor pre-famine policies and other factors caused Ukrainian excess mortality rates to be higher and natality rates lower than in other ethnic groups.
Stalin had the motive to kill Ukrainians
Stalin feared and hated the Ukrainians for several reasons. Ukrainians’ resistance of the Bolshevik regime was stronger than in other parts of the Soviet Union. Ukrainians had a strong national identity. Stalin knew that most Ukrainians had never supported the Bolsheviks. Most Ukrainians voted for other parties than the Bolsheviks in the 1917 elections to the Russian Constituent Assembly. Stalin also knew that the Ukrainian village population supported the same Ukrainian national parties that had declared the Ukrainian National Republic. These people were still alive, and, despite heavy losses during the Bolshevik occupation, they had not been broken. And, importantly, the share of Ukrainians in areas with a high production of grain per capita, was high. Stalin was desperate in need of the grain. He wanted to export the grain so that he could afford to build factories to produce arms and ammunition which he could use to stay in power. The fact that many Ukrainians lived in areas with a high grain population was however not the main reason for targeting them. The main reason was as mentioned above, their strong national identity and the Ukrainian people’s resistance to the Bolshevik regime.
The Ukrainians also resisted the collectivization more strongly by other ethnic groups. Protests against those policies had been particularly strong in Ukrainian regions compared to most other regions, as shown by Anne Applebaum, Robert Conquest, Timothy Snyder. Mass uprisings against the collectivisation occurred all over Ukraine in the 1930s, c.f. Figure 3.
Figure 3. Mass uprisings against collectivisation in Ukraine during the 1930s
The uprisings together with the strong Ukrainian identity and resistance against the Bolsheviks during the Russian civil war, agitated Stalin.
Using econometric analyses, Markevich et. al. show resistance to collectivisation in the pre-famine years was stronger in Ukrainian-populated areas, Markevich et. al. p 35. Three types of actions of resistance were used in the analyses; i) the number of “anti-Soviet” violent acts per 1 000 people (murders, arsons, and destruction of collective farm properties) ii) the number of mass demonstrations, and iii) the number of anti-Soviet leaflets collected by the secret police. This information is collected from declassified secret police reports which show that peasant resistance was stronger in Ukrainian-populated areas during the year before the famine
The econometric analyses show that resistance to the collectivisation was positively associated with the Ukrainian population share. The results are robust when controlling for other factors.
Stalin had the means and the opportunity to kill Ukrainians.
The Ukrainian resistance triggered Stalin to enforce much harsher collectivisation policies and higher grain procurement ratios than for other ethnic groups. Ukrainians were denied tractors. Belarusians and Russians were not.
Markevich et. al. show that centrally planned policies were more forcefully enforced in regions with high Ukrainian population shares. Markevich et. al. estimate the effects of policies on mortality rates by examining the agricultural policies, collectivisation, grain procurement and tractor allocation. Central planners withheld tractors from Ukrainian-populated areas, Markevich et. al. p. 40-41. The analyses show that these polices led to excess mortality in areas with a high Ukrainian share of the population. In Belarus, in Russia, in Ukraine. In provinces in these countries. In districts in provinces in these countries.
“Together, these findings support the interpretation that ethnic Ukrainians were systematically repressed during the famine. The nuanced patterns of repression are consistent with the view that the regime’s desire to control grain production together with its fear of Ukrainian nationalist resistance resulted in the famine being especially harsh in ethnic Ukrainian areas” (© Markevich et. al. (2021), “The political-economic causes of the Soviet great famine 1932-1933. NBER Working Paper 29089. https://www.nber.org/papers/w29089)
The policies only increased excess mortality in areas where the Ukrainian shares of the total population were high. In Belarus, in Russia, in Ukraine. In provinces in these countries. In districts in provinces in these countries.
Applebaum, Conquest, Snyders and many more have documented how Stalin used the Communist Party and the states capacity of violence to attack Ukrainians. Using data on party membership and delegates to the party congress in 1930, Markevich et. al. show that the higher the party membership, the higher were the Ukrainian excess mortality rates.
We also know that Ukrainian party members reacted more strongly to the effects of the famine and opposed Stalin’s harsh policies strongly. Other party members did not or dared not oppose Stalin. Since Stalin did not trust the Ukrainian party members, he also purged the Ukrainian communist party and killed many of its members. Markevich et. al. show the effects of that in their regression analyses.
The higher the share of non-Ukrainian delegates from Ukrainian areas to the congress, the higher were the Ukrainian excess mortality rates, Markevich et. al. p. 40.
And Stalin achieved what he wanted. The higher Ukrainian population shares, the higher the mortality. Across regions, within regions and districts in all three Soviet republics.
Stalin’s policies targeted Ukrainians within and outside the administrative borders of Ukraine. Being Ukrainian, explain 92% of the excess mortalities in Ukrainian regions and 77% of the excess mortalities in Belarusian and Russian regions. Within regions, district-level excess mortality rates were higher for Ukrainians than other ethnic groups in Belarus, in Russia, and in Ukraine. In provinces in these countries. In districts in provinces in these countries.