The Day Weekly Digest, Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Walter Duranty, born in Liverpool (England) in 1884, was always something of a scoundrel and openly relished in being able to get away with it. In S. J. Taylor's excellent biography, "Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty: The New York Time's Man in Moscow" (Oxford University Press, 1990), he is seen lying even about his own family origins, claiming in his autobiography to have been an only child orphaned at ten, neither of which was true: his mother died in 1916 and his sister fourteen years later, a spinster; when his father died in 1933, he left an estate of only 430 rubals.
For Duranty, this system seems to have worked quite well. After the war, he was sent to the new independent Baltic states and in 1921 was among the first foreign reporters allowed into the Soviet Union. This latter achievement was a major one, for the Soviet Union was never shy about exercising control over who could come or leave. A Western reporter in the Soviet Union always knew that if one wrote something offensive enough to the Soviet authorities, he would be expelled and never allowed to return.
There was thus a strong professional incentive not to be that person. Duranty understood this better than anyone else, but just in case someone among the journalists forgot this simple truth, there was a Soviet press officer to remind him. During the First Five Year Plan, the head of the Soviet Press Office was Konstantin Umansky (or Oumansky: he liked it better the French way).
Eugene Lyons, who had known Umansky at a distance since he had been a TASS correspondent in the United States and the latter chief of its Foreign Bureau, probably knew this little man with black curly hair and gold teeth as well as any of the foreign correspondents. He described the system as more one of give- and-take with the foreign correspondents sometimes backing the censor down through a show of professional solidarity (it would have been, after all, too much of an embarrassment for the Soviets to expel all the foreign correspondents), often in a spirit of give- and-take and compromise. But the telegraph office would simply not send cables without Umansky's permission.
"The real medium of exchange in Moscow, buying that which neither rubles nor dollars can touch, was power. And power meant Comrade Stalin, Comrade Umansky, the virtuoso of kombinatsya, the fellow who's uncle's best friend has a cousin on the collegium of the G.P.U. To be invited to exclusive social functions, to play bridge with the big-bugs, to be patted on the back editorially by Pravda, to have the social ambitions of one's wife flattered: such inducements are more effective in bridling a correspondent's tongue than any threats... Whether in Moscow or Berlin, Tokyo or Rome, all the temptations for a practicing reporter are in the direction of conformity. It is more comfortable and in the long run more profitable to soft-pedal a dispatch for readers thousands of miles away than to face an irate censor and closed official doors."
Both Lyons and Duranty knew the rules of this game so well that both had been rewarded before the Holodomor by being granted an interview with Stalin himself, the Holy Grail of the Moscow foreign press corps. Umansky knew how to award and punish foreigners. Perhaps this is why he would later move on into the diplomatic "beau monde" of Washington, DC.
Lyons, who came to Russia as an American Communist sycophant, then becoming a disillusioned anti-Communist, paid the price. His lady translator, it seems, brought to his attention an item in "Molot," a newspaper from Rostov-on-the-Don, designed to cow the local inhabitants but not for foreign consumption, announcing the mass deportation of three Ukrainian Cossack "stanitsas" from the Kuban. Nine months after he broke the story, he was gone from the Soviet Union for good.
Into this world walked a young English socialist, Malcolm Muggeridge, who had married the niece of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, then icons in the Soviet Union for their work to turn the Soviet experiment into an icon for socialist intellectuals in the West. Coming from such a background, young Malcolm and his wife even sold their furniture, convinced that they would remain in the Soviet Union as he reported for the "Manchester Guardian." Yet, when he arrived, he quickly saw that the Five Year Plan was not quite all it was cracked up to be.
"It, of course, suited his material interests thus to write everything the Soviet authorities wanted him to - that the collectivisation of agriculture was working well, with no famine conditions anywhere; that the purges were justified, the confessions genuine, and the judicial procedure impeccable. Because of these acquiescent attitudes - so ludicrously false that they were a subject of derision among the other correspondents and even (Soviet censor - Author) Podolsky had been known to make jokes about them - Duranty never had any trouble getting a visa, or a house, or interviews with whomever he wanted."
Such subservience to a regime that was one of two truly evil systems of the twentieth century, for which the term "totalitarianism" is most often applied, was marked by a veneer of objective analysis and certainly not without insight - he was the first to have "put his money on Stalin," as he put it, and is even credited with having first coined the word "Stalinism" to describe the evolving System - and he was always fascinating to read, even more to talk to.
Simultaneously, there was a strange sort of honesty to his privately admitting that he was indeed an apologist. In the 1980s during the course of my own research on the Ukrainian Holodomor I came across a most interesting document in the US National Archives, a memorandum from one A. W. Kliefoth of the US Embassy in Berlin dated June 4, 1931.
Into the world of Moscow journalism, a world where everybody had to make his own decision on the moral dilemma Lyons' framed as "to tell or not to tell," came one Gareth Jones, a brilliant young man who had studied Russian and graduated with honors from Cambridge and became an adviser on foreign policy to former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George.
By the early spring of 1933, the fact that famine was raging in Ukraine and the Kuban, two-thirds of the population of which happened to be Ukrainian, was common knowledge in Moscow among foreign diplomats, foreign correspondents, and even the man in the street. In response to Lyon's "revelations" from the regional official Soviet press, a ban had imposed in foreign journalists traveling to the areas in question.
He spent a couple of weeks, walked about forty miles, talked to people, slept in their huts, and was appalled at what he saw. Rushing back to Moscow and out of the Soviet Union, Jones stopped off first in Berlin, where he gave a press conference and fired off a score of articles about the tragedy he had seen firsthand. "I walked alone through villages and twelve collective farms. Everywhere was the cry, 'There is no bread; we are dying.' ..." ("Manchester Guardian," March 30, 1933).
Young Muggeridge, who would live to a ripe old age and become one of the most revered journalists of the twentieth century, had done much the same, sent his dispatches out through the British diplomatic pouch, and published much the same earlier but under the anonymous byline of "An Observer's Notes," created barely a ripple because his story was the unconfirmed report of some unknown observer.
A couple of weeks earlier, the GPU had arrested six British citizens and several Russians on charges of industrial espionage. Announcement was made that public trial was in preparation. This was news. Putting their own people in the dock was one thing, but accusing white men, Englishmen, of skullduggery was something else.
Umansky read the situation perfectly, and Lyon's summed up what happened in a way that needs no retelling:
"On emerging from Russia, Jones made a statement which, startling though it sounded, was little more than a summary of what the correspondents and foreign diplomats had told him. To protect us, and perhaps with some idea of heightening the authenticity of his reports, he emphasized his Ukrainian foray rather than our conversation as the chief source of his information...
"Throwing down Jones was as unpleasant a chore as fell to any of us in the years of juggling facts in order to please dictatorial regimes-but throw him down we did, unanimously and in almost identical formulas of equivocation. Poor Gareth Jones must have been the most surprised human being alive when the facts he so painstakingly garnered from our mouths were snowed under by our denials.
"The scene in which the American press corps combined to repudiate Jones is fresh in my mind. It was in the evening and Constantine Umansky, the soul of graciousness consented to meet us in the hotel room of a correspondent. He knew that he had a strategic advantage over us because of the Metro-Vickers story. He could afford to be gracious. Forced by competitive journalism to jockey for the inside track with officials, it would have been professional suicide to make an issue of the famine at that time. There was much bargaining in the spirit of gentlemanly give-and-take, under the effluence of Umansky's gilded smile, before a formula of denial was worked out.
"We admitted enough to sooth our consciences, but in round- about phrases that damned Jones as a liar. The filthy business having been disposed of, someone ordered vodka and zakuski, Umansky joined the celebration, and the party did not break up until the early morning hours. The head censor was in a mellower mood than I had ever seen before or since. He had done a big bit for Bolshevik firmness that night."
Duranty took the point position in the campaign against Jones. On March 31, 1933, "The New York Times" carried on page 13 an article that might well be studied in schools of journalism as an example of how to walk the tightrope between truth and lie so masterfully that the two seem to exchange places under the acrobat's feet.
Of course, this put everything in its proper place, at least enough for the United States to extend diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union in November of that year. So much so that when a dinner was given in honor of Soviet Foreign Minister Maksim Litvinov in New York's posh Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, when it came time to pay tribute to Duranty, the cheers were so thunderous that American critic and bon-vivant Alexander Woolcott wrote, "Indeed, one quite got the impression that America, in a spasm of discernment, was recognizing both Russia and Walter Duranty."
At the same time that Duranty was so actively denying the existence of the famine in public, he was quite open in admitting it in private. On September 26, 1933 in a private conversation with William Strang of the British Embassy in Moscow, he stated, "it is quite possible that as many as ten million people may have died directly or indirectly from lack of food in the Soviet Union during the past year."
Gareth Jones was himself nonplussed. In a letter to a friend who intended to visit the Soviet Union, Gareth wrote: "Alas! You will be very amused to hear that the inoffensive little 'Joneski' has achieved the dignity of being a marked man on the black list of the O.G.P.U. and is barred from entering the Soviet Union. I hear that there is a long list of crimes which I have committed under my name in the secret police file in Moscow and funnily enough espionage is said to be among them. As a matter of fact Litvinoff [Soviet Foreign Minister] sent a special cable from Moscow to the Soviet Embassy in London to tell them to make the strongest of complaints to Mr. Lloyd George about me."
Jones and those who sided with him were snowed under a blanket of denials. When one by one the American journalists left the Soviet Union, they wrote books about what they had seen. Muggeridge wrote a thinly disguised novel, "Winter in Moscow" (1934), in which the names were changed, but it was clear who everybody was. Only Jones, it seems, was really concealed in the fact that the character of such integrity, given the name of Pye by the author, was older, a smoker, a drinker, none of which the real Jones was.
There is perhaps something of a parallel to the story of Gareth Jones. There was also in 1981 another young man, then twenty- nine years old and a newly minted Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, hired by the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute to study the Holodomor. After nearly a decade, when the Commission on the Ukraine Famine was wrapping up, he was informed that the fellowship he had been offered for an academic year had been cut back to a semester.
It is unknown who exactly played the role of Umansky in this particular tale or whether vodka was served afterward, but the carrot and stick are fairly obvious: access to scholarly resources in Moscow vs. the veto of any research projects. In a world where a number of scholars slanted their journal articles and monographs as adroitly as Duranty did his press coverage, I am tempted to someday venture my own counterpart to Winter in Moscow, based on the published works that make the players all too easy to discern. For I was that once young man. But in contrast to Jones, I have found a place to live, married the woman I love, teach, and have and a forum from which I can from time to time be heard.
Despite Duranty's prophesies, the Ukrainians did not forget what had happened to them in 1933, and seventy years later the Ukrainian- Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Ukrainian World Congress, with support from a number of other leading Ukrainian diaspora organizations, have organized a campaign to reopen the issue of Walter Duranty's 1932 Pulitzer Prize with a view to stripping him of it. They have sent thousands of postcards and letters to the Pulitzer Prizes Committee at Columbia University, 709 Journalism Building, 2950 Broadway, New York, NY, USA 10027.
We invite our readers who might have any thoughts on the matter to join them in so doing, in English, of course. Meanwhile, as a professional courtesy, the editors have already sent an e-mail of this article to all the members of the Pulitzer Prizes Committee in the hope that it might help them in their deliberations on this issue.
The whole story of denying the crimes of a regime that cost millions of lives is one of the saddest in the history of the American free press, just as the Holodomor is certainly the saddest page in the history of a nation, whose appearance on the world state was so unexpected that there is, in fact, a quite successful book in English, "The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation."
Still, it would be only appropriate if that nation, which was for so long so safe to ignore and then appeared so unexpectedly, expressed itself on the fate of a man who also was victimized so unexpectedly, simply for trying honestly to find out and then tell the truth. Ukrainians abroad want justice done by stripping that young man's chief victimizer of a Pulitzer Prize that makes a mockery of any conceivable ideals of journalism.