He is one of the first whistleblowers in history. “He must have known that what he was reporting was going to be refuted and that he was going to face accusations.says journalism historian Ray Gamache. And yet he had the courage to come back [d’URSS] and tell the world that what was happening there was worse than anything we had ever seen before.”
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The Holodomor in Ukraine: the taboo story of a famine that murdered on a massive scale
Coming from a small Welsh port town, Barry, Gareth Jones graduated from Cambridge University in 1929. His parents saw him in teaching, preferring the world of politics in the broad sense. The young graduate began as Foreign Affairs adviser to the former British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. Also worked for an American public relations company, he aspires in parallel to a career as a journalist.
Hitler’s exclusive interview
Thanks to his position, he had access to high political circles: he won an exclusive interview with Adolf Hitler, the new German chancellor, in February 1933, in his plane.
The following month, he goes to Moscow, where he has already been twice since 1930. Because in 1928, Stalin had launched the collectivization of the farms of the USSR. The wheat produced in the countryside is requisitioned to feed the workers of a flourishing industry. Very quickly, the peasants ran out of food. A famine broke out in 1931 and reached its worst level in 1933. It killed five million people in the USSR, including four in Ukraine, where this period is called the Holodomor.
Wheat stocks are however at their highest and its price at its lowest. Which makes the American historian say: “I tend not to use the term ‘starvation’, I tend to say ‘orchestrated food deprivation’ (mass starvation in English)”.
Gareth Jones, who speaks Russian, took a train in March 1933 to Kharkiv – then the Ukrainian capital – accompanied by a tutor, before leaving the official path and continuing on foot for three days.
“He walks about 40 kmtraces the author of the book Eyewitness to the Holodomor. It crosses the border of Ukraine. He visits some collective farms. He sees children with distended stomachs. And people tell him: ‘We’re starving, there’s no food’.”
Agnieszka Holland, director of The Shadow of Stalin: “People have forgotten the magnitude of the price to pay for communist ideology”
Even if he does not see it himself, this famine also drives the most desperate to cannibalism. Jones describes this scene, on a train: “I threw a crust of bread into a spittoon. A peasant, also a passenger, fished it out and ate it voraciously.”
If foreign journalists were not supposed to leave unaccompanied, Jones ignored this instruction and found himself barred from returning to the Soviet Union.
The journalist reveals his observations during a press conference on March 29, 1933, in Berlin, and in about twenty articles in the British and American press.
Denied by an American journalist
They are immediately denied by Walter Duranty, the correspondent of the New York Times in Moscow. “[Duranty] says people are dying of malnutrition and he uses euphemismsexplains Ray Gamache. Subsequently, Jones responds to this article via an op-ed. And he tells how the correspondents in Moscow have access only to the version of the Party [communiste].Pulitzer Prize winner Duranty writes:Any account of a famine in Russia to date is an exaggeration, or malicious propaganda”.
1918-1933: civil wars and great famines in Ukraine
The historian does not hesitate to draw a parallel between the creation of two alternative “truths” at the time and today. “It is particularly illuminating today because of this idea in the United States of the ‘Big Lie’, that Trump did not lose the election. It’s very similar in the sense that you have two competing narratives, used by two sides, against each other.”
The revelations alert public opinion, but no major political reaction is taken. Western countries, plunged into the Great Depression, see the Soviet Union as an indispensable industrial market. The United States will officially recognize the USSR in November 1933, eight months after Jones’ revelations. “One of the defining moments of the 20th century”, for the former professor of journalism.
Killed under mysterious conditions
Blacklisted by the British establishment, Jones writes in the columns of the Cardiff Western Mail, a local newspaper. In 1935, he left to investigate the Japanese occupation of Inner Mongolia, in northern China. He was kidnapped there and then murdered in mysterious conditions, on the eve of his 30th birthday. The renter of his car was an agent of the NKVD, the political police of the USSR. “What we can learn from all thissummarizes Ray Gamache, it’s that every time journalists reveal embezzlement by governments, there will be these refutations and untruths. We still need journalism and courageous journalists to tell the facts.”
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Gareth Jones, the journalist who revealed the famine in Ukraine