Berit Lindeman - The Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Berit NHC 300


From Berit Lindeman's speach at the webinar "Learning from the Past for the Future"  co-organized by the Embassy of Ukraine in Norway and the Norwegian NGO "Support to the People of Ukraine", took place on November 26, 2020:

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is engaged in the current day Ukraine:

Our main project there is documenting and systemizing grave crimes committed in the Donbas and on Crimea during the recent years of conflict We believe that documenting grave crimes, including war crimes, are really important, not only for historical purposes, but also in order to fight impunity by holding accountable those who are responsible for grave crimes, and to make reconciliation possible.

I think the very necessity of this seminar underlines this: Our understanding of history, the administration of justice, influences our lives and relationships between peoples even more than 75 years later.

As to the understanding of the sufferings of the Soviet Army soldiers, I have lived in Murmansk and passed the killing fields between Murmansk and the border to Norway so many times. In Finnmark the memories of the liberation and gratitude is of a much deeper nature than for the rest of Norwegians, where many even are ignorant of this part of the history.

As it happens, I have also lived e few years in Ukraine during the nineties.

In 1994 I moved to Kyiv together with my family when my husband was appointed 2nd secretary to the recently opened Norwegian Embassy.

This was just weeks before the big celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the liberation of Finnmark, to which the government of Norway had invited many veterans of the Soviet army to Norway. But no Ukrainians, to our consternation.  

First of all, the very engaged Ambassador Øyvind Nordsletten found this very offensive, and even embarrassing for Norway. I honestly think it was more lack of thinking and knowledge from the Government side, than actual choice, that had resulted in this unfortunate situation.

So, Ambassador Nordsletten and the Norwegian Embassy organised a big feast at the hotel where we had the residence at first, I think it was the hotel Ukraina. The Embassy invited war veterans, some 30-40, who had served in the liberation battles, but not least the heavy, protracted fighting that lasted for years under such terrible conditions outside Murmansk.

This event, where we met and could hear the stories of those elderly veterans, so humble, but proud, some with hard lives even after the war, remains one of my finest memories from my years in Ukraine. They were so grateful for this small token of reconnaissance.

It is sad, but few, if any, of those war veterans are still alive, so it makes me happy that, at least some of the veterans received some sort of thanks from Norway during this event.

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A few words on Holodomor.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is of course not in a position to recognise genocide, but I can still say a few words on what it takes.

The UN Genocide Convention, conceived by the lawyer Raphael Lemkin and adopted the day before the Universal Declaration on Human Rights on 9 December 1948, has a provision in the Article 2(c) which might cover what happened in Ukraine:

“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intentto destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such :

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harmtomembers of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculatedtobring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intendedtoprevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the grouptoanother group.”

A deliberate hunger disaster could clearly be covered by 2 (c). But you would need to prove that the purpose of the hunger disaster was to destroy completely of partially the Ukrainian people, or a subgroup thereof. Of course, from a legal perspective, this is where it might be difficult.

But here we may quote the eminent historian Anne Applebaum, when asked whether she believes Holodomor qualifies to be called genocide:

There has been much debate over whether the Holodomor should be considered an act of genocide. Where do you stand on that?

Applebaum:  I think it fits perfectly into (his) definition of genocide.

I know it is more difficult to do so in international law because of the way that international law was written and in particular because the UN Convention on Genocide was created with the help of the Soviet Union, which was very anxious not to include Ukrainian famine and other Soviet crimes. I know that legally it can be more difficult to do it, but, yes, of course, I believe in essence it was a genocide.

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