Ukrainians want pro-Stalin writer stripped of Pulitzer

Drug addict, sexual predator on both sexes and apologist for Stalin, British reporter Walter Duranty still managed to win America's most coveted award for journalism, the Pulitzer prize, for his coverage of Soviet life in the Thirties.

Now a campaign has been launched to strip him posthumously of the award by Ukrainians, who insist that Duranty, who was born in Britain and worked for the New York Times, helped Stalin to cover up an extermination campaign that claimed millions of lives, mostly in Ukraine.

Ukrainian politicians and academics and Ukrainian communities in Britain, Canada, the US and Australia have started to bombard the Pulitzer offices with postcards demanding that the award be revoked. The campaign was timed to begin this month because it is the seventieth anniversary of the high point of an artificial famine engineered by Stalin's regime which, by some accounts, cost more than 10 million lives.

The famine was part of a war against peasant farmers, loathed by Stalin because they were hostile to communism. Stalin also regarded the Ukrainian peasantry as the cradle for nationalist tendencies aimed at breaking Ukraine away from the Soviet Union.

In 1932 and 1933 Stalin imposed crippling demands on peasants for grain and other foodstuffs, which were extracted by brute force and executions. By the spring of 1933, people in Ukraine were reduced to eating grass, tree bark, earthworms and anything else they could find. There were hundreds of cases of cannibalism in a country with some of the world's most fertile farmland, and at its climax an estimated 25,000 people were starving to death each day.

Duranty was a correspondent in Moscow while the famine raged and he knew it was happening. He not only turned a blind eye, but vilified the few Western journalists who did report on it, branding their dispatches as anti-Soviet lies.

Born in Britain in 1884 into a well-to-do family, he studied languages at Cambridge. In the Twenties he lived in Paris, where he developed an opium habit and took part in drunken orgies with both men and women.

During his time in Paris he married and began writing reports for the New York Times. His clever and well-crafted articles won him a job as the newspaper's Moscow correspondent. There is no evidence that Duranty particularly sympathised with communism, but he wrote glowing reports about the Soviet Union because he wanted to gain access to top officials.

He succeeded in doing that spectacularly by securing the first interview for an American newspaper with Stalin himself, who Duranty described as 'the greatest living statesman'. He became the Soviet regime's favourite correspondent, always presenting the Soviet Union in a positive light, and in 1932 he won the Pulitzer prize for a series of articles about the Soviet economy.

When stories about the famine began to surface in Moscow, Duranty dismissed them as 'exaggerated or malignant propaganda', and in one report employed the phrase 'you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs'. However, British Foreign Office documents show that Duranty confided to a diplomat at the British Embassy in Moscow that he believed around 10 million people had perished.

Malcolm Muggeridge, then the Manchester Guardian 's Moscow correspondent, travelled secretly and at great risk to Ukraine. He was appalled at the scenes of mass starvation and heaps of dead bodies that he witnessed and described them in his reports. Duranty attacked Muggeridge and debunked his reports. Duranty was 'the greatest liar of any journalist I have ever met', retorted Muggeridge.

Historian Robert Conquest told The Observer that Duranty played an important role in covering up the famine and 'he should be exposed again and again and again'. Conquest believes the Soviet secret police may have been blackmailing Duranty over his sexual behaviour.

Sig Gissler of the Pulitzer Board said that the prize was given for a story unconnected with the famine. The Pulitzer board has only once before revoked a prize, when in 1981 Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke's story about an eight-year-old ghetto boy she claimed was already a heroin addict turned out to be a fabrication.

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Ukrainians want pro-Stalin writer stripped of Pulitzer

This article was first published on at 01.59 BST on Sunday 4 May 2003. It was last updated at 01.59 BST on Sunday 4 May 2003.

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