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Red Famine by Anne Applebaum — enemies of the people

Red Famine balances erudite analysis of political processes at the top with fluent storytelling about their impact on ordinary people. But the most interesting section comes towards the end of the book, when Applebaum deals with the question of whether the term “genocide” applies to the famine. She draws a distinction between Lemkin’s original definition — a process aimed at the destruction of national groups — and its subsequent rendition in international law after the second world war, when it became more narrowly defined as the elimination of ethnic groups. At the drafting stage of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Applebaum shows how the USSR lobbied to ensure the definition was associated with the race theories of Nazi-fascism, rather than its own attempts to liquidate national political groups in Ukraine and elsewhere. Applebaum accepts that the Holodomor does not meet the UN criteria for genocide. But she is right to say that it fits perfectly within Lemkin’s original definition. Readers of this compelling book will surely agree with her.