December 3 - Starvation as natural disaster? The role of environment in the Soviet post-war famine in European and global context

School of History, UCC

Dr Igor Casu, Faculty of History and Philosophy, State University, Chisinau, Moldova

Thursday 3 December 2020, 16.00-17.00 (4-5 PM)

The paper will be given through MS Teams. Please contact Dr Jérôme aan de Wiel, School of History UCC, to obtain a Teams link:

Historically, famines have multiples causes, one of them being natural factors such as droughts, floods, or plant diseases like late blight (water mold Phytophthora infestans) in case of the Great Irish famine. In modern age, broadly after the 1830s, due to progress in transport and agricultural techniques, famines had more political causes since states disposed of reserves and had possibilities to intervene in due time in a region with crop failure. Three famines were recorded in Soviet history during peacetime, 1921-1922, 1932-1933 and 1946-1947. The one of 1932-1933 is mostly known as the Ukrainian Holodomor in which natural factors played a lesser role than political and ideological ones.

As to the post-war famine of 1946-1947, it is the least researched one as the majority of post-Soviet and Western scholars assumed more or less tacitly that it had been caused by natural factors, especially drought in the main grain-growing regions of the Soviet Union. Focusing on Soviet Moldavia, I show that the drought was not caused by a severe drop in precipitation but rather by its unequal distribution across the agricultural season, which meant a crop failure of up to 80-90 % of the annual average. I maintain that ideological and geopolitical factors played a crucial role in excess mass mortality in the Soviet Union during 1946-1947. Nevertheless, one should start telling the story with the role played by objective factors such as drought and then move to the other causes.

This is because the post-war Soviet famine is not only about interaction between environment and politics, but more about a story of how even the environmental factor has been intertwined intimately with ideology understood as being a particular way of understanding and shaping reality.

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