Why a Museum of Communist Terror?
In the first phase of starvation, the body consumes its reserves of glucose. In the second, it uses up its fat. The whole body becomes weak. This can last a few weeks. In the third phase, the body devours its own proteins, eating up its own tissues and muscles. Eventually, the skin becomes thin, shiny – even transparent. It can easily break. Nadia Malyshko, in the province of Dniepropetrovsk, remembered that her mother, who was only 37, “swelled up, became weak and looked old”. Her legs were shining and the skin burst.
This is from the chapter in Anne Applebaum’s newly published book, Red Famine, about the process and human experience of starvation in the Ukraine in 1932-33. Antony Beevor, the distinguished historian, said last week that it was worth buying the book for the chapter on starvation alone. This horrible famine, knowingly imposed on Ukraine by Stalin, is usually known as the Holodomor.
How many people have heard of it? According to a recent estimate, 3.9 million people died – most of them of starvation. Earlier this year, I asked a roomful of students in the sixth form of a leading public school how many had heard of the Holodomor. None of them put a hand up. The students are not to blame. It is not taught in our schools. It is not on the curriculum. (Incidentally, it is on the curriculum in some provinces of Canada.)
But Holodomor is just one small part of the horror that was perpetrated by Communist regimes in the 20th century. Young people are not being properly taught about of it. The terrible events are either ignored or “greywashed” – made to sound as though they were not quite so bad as all that, or they were due to some accidental mismanagement, or had some compensating benefit.
More deaths resulted from Communist rule in China than anywhere else. Estimates vary between 40 million and 70 million. Yet in a recent poll of young people, 70 per cent had not even heard of Chairman Mao Tse-tung, who presided over most of these deaths.
The fact that, through no fault of their own, young people know very little about the terror, torture, executions and famines that took place under Communism means that they have limited intellectual defence against the apparent idealism of extreme Left-wing ideas. Alarm bells should start ringing when John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, waves a copy of Mao’s Little Red Book in the House of Commons. But no bells ring out because young people have not even heard of Mao.
I believe we need a permanent way of informing the next generation and every succeeding generation of what happened under Communism – a Museum of Communist Terror. I am gathering supporters and donors to make it happen. We aim to start with social media campaigns and talks for schools and universities, then build up to a permanent museum in London.
If the world does not remember how and why the Communist experiment turned into a humanitarian catastrophe, it is in danger of repeating the mistake.
This article was published in The Telegraph on 16/09/2017.