Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Otto posts an abstract for an article in the Journal of Genocide Research:
This article seeks to examine the mass violence unleashed by Joseph Stalin and his regime against the USSR's ethnic Germans.

This article examines a topic worthy of investigation and study. The journal itself covers a topic, genocide, which is certainly worthy of further study. The thing that worries me though, and I must admit I've never even heard of the journal until just now and consequently have never read a single article, is whether the existence of a journal devoted to the study of genocide won't, in some fashion, dilute the power of the word.

For instance, was Stalin's goal to wipe out all the ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union? If not, then I have trouble calling it genocide. Now, I realize the definition many use is similar to the first sentence of the Wikipedia article:
Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.

But that's too loosey-goosey for me and I'm not sure that systematic oppression should be called genocide. I'm not questioning that the injustice of what may have occurred. I just don't know enough about it, but it's certainly reasonable to me that Stalin would have done some seriously bad shit to ethnic Germans. The question though is whether what is described is genocide. From the abstract, I'd say no. Then the question for me becomes whether publishing this in a journal with genocide in the title doesn't somehow undermine the word genocide?

It's a small, pedantic, esoteric linguistic-political point, but that's how I roll. All told, I'd must rather prefer people studying these crimes than worry about what the journal they publish in is called.


J. Otto Pohl said...


The JGR has been around for 11 years now. I had an article published there in 2000 and guest edited a special topic issue on Soviet deportations that came out in 2002. So the journal is by no means new. It deals with the issue of genocide and things related to genocide such as ethnic cleansing and mass violence. It is considerably broader in scope than Holocaust and Genocide Studies which really only deals with the Holocaust. But, Holocaust and Genocide Studies has been around a lot longer than the JGR.

Regarding genocide in the USSR there are two issues here. First, what the JGR cover. The special topic issue that just came out in fact is not specifically on genocide. It is rather on Mass Violence in the USSR and that is what our article concentrates on regarding the Russian-Germans. Some of the other articles such as the ones by Statiev and Mertelsmann and Rahi-Tamm aparently from the abstracts argue that the term genocide is not applicable to Soviet actions. So not everything in the journal is arguing that certain acts constitute genocide.

The second issue is if the Soviet national deportations do indeed constitute genocide. I would argue that both in the sense of Raphael Lemkin's original definition and Article IIC of the 1948 UN Genocide Treaty that they do. With regards to the UN Treaty definition the contention is over what is meant by the word "intent".

If intent is meant as it is in Anglo-American law then the deaths were intentional. That is mass death was a foreseeable and in this case very probable if not inevitable result of the deportations, yet the Stalin regime undertook them anyways. If intent means the sole goal of a particular action then no the Soviet government did not "intend" to kill the hundreds of thousands of Russian-Germans and other deportees that died in exile. But, that is a definition which lets all kinds of regimes off the hook for genocide and not just the Soviets. The mechanism and type of intent involved in the Soviet deportations is almost exactly the same as the earlier Armenian genocide.

I wrote a piece on this issue last night which I will post on my blog later today. But, treating the mass deaths resulting from deportations and forced labor as some sort of natural disaster with no criminal component strikes me as morally retarded. The current official opinon in Russia regarding the deportations is that there were victims, but no crimes because there was never any "intent" to kill anybody. Honestly, some of the arguments defending Stalin against the charge of genocide give sophistry a really bad name.

FLG said...


Thank you for the very thoughtful response. Your explanation makes sense to me, especially the part that if mass death is foreseeable, even if it is not the only or primary intent, constitutes genocide.

And the defenses for Stalin's actions almost always surprise me. The man was a maniac.

J. Otto Pohl said...


You are welcome. The rehabilitation of Stalin in Russia and especially by Russians on the internet is just about complete. They routinely defend the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the deportation of the Crimean Tatars and other nationalities, and every other action of the regime. The issue of "intent" is one of their chief defenses against the charge of genocide.

yaro said...

" The question though is whether what is described is genocide. From the abstract, I'd say no."

The Germans emmigrated to areas largely in Ukraine and other places that were not being utilized by the Russians - in fact, this was the express purpose of Catherine the Great.

Years later these non Russian people were targeted by the communists for genocide as they resisted the communist koolaid.

The issue of genocide is really beyond dispute. Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term, made it clear that the murders in Ukraine were a "classic" case of genocide.

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