The man who knew too much

Diaries of the man who reported on Stalin's "terror famine" made public

They call it the "Holodomor" in Ukraine -- the "terror famine" administered by Stalin that caused the deaths of millions of people in 1932 and 1933. Very little news of the horror made it out of the Soviet Union. But one western journalist who did manage to get the story to the outside world was a young Welsh reporter named Gareth Jones. Jones visited Ukraine twice in 1932 and 1933 and wrote a number of articles describing the disaster unfolding in the Caucasus.

Little notice was taken of Jones's reports by other western journalists; indeed, he was publicly attacked by Walter Duranty, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter from the New York Times. He made one further, ill-starred visit to the Soviet Union in 1934, but died in murky circumstances in Inner Mongolia the following year. Soviet involvement in his death was suspected, but never proved. But after Jones died, his former employer Lloyd George wrote: "That part of the world is a cauldron of conflicting intrigue. One or other interests concerned probably knew that Mr Gareth Jones knew too much of what was going on."

Happily, Jones's diaries from his visits to the USSR were saved, and have been put on public display at his alma mater, Trinity College, Cambridge. Besides the diaries on show at the Wren Library at Trinity is a press release that he wrote on 29 March 1933:

Everywhere is the cry: "There is no bread. We are dying." This cry came from every part of Russia . . . I tramped through the black earth region because that was once the richest farmland in Russia and because the correspondents have been forbidden to go there to see for themselves what is happening. In the train a Communist denied to me that there was a famine. I flung a crust of bread which I had been eating from my own supply into a spittoon. A peasant fellow-passenger fished it out and ravenously ate it. I threw an orange peel into the spittoon and the peasant again grabbed it and devoured it. The Communist subsided.

Jones never wrote for the New Statesman, though he did write to his parents in 1932 that he'd had lunch with Kingsley Martin, then editor of the magazine:

Yesterday I lunched with Kingsley Martin, the editor of the New Statesman, with Dr Thomas Jones [ex-parliamentary private aecretary to the prime minister, David Lloyd George], Walter Eliot, the Minister of Agriculture and others. I was able to be of great help to Kingsley Martin by translating after lunch, some passages from Russian newspapers. He went to Russia with Low of the Evening Standard. He spent a month in Russia this year.

We don't know if Jones tried to persuade Martin to take a piece on the famine in Ukraine, but the intellectual climate at the time, inside and outside the magazine, was such that his chances of success would in any case have been slim. In October 1934, the New Statesman published the verbatim transcript of a conversation, held in Moscow, between Stalin and H G Wells:

WELLS: I only arrived yesterday, [but] I have already seen the happy faces of healthy men and women, and I know something very considerable is being done here. The contrast with 1920 is astounding.

STALIN: Much more could have been done had we Bolsheviks been cleverer.

 

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Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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The radio station where the loyal listeners are chickens

Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, knows what gets them clucking.

“The music is for the chickens, because of course on the night the music is very loud, and so it needs to be a part of their environment from the very start.” Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, is standing in the sawdusty ring under a big top in a field outside Stroud as several rare-breed chickens wander freely around boxes and down ramps. They are the comic stars of the summer 2017 show, and Emma is coaxing them to walk insouciantly around the ring while she plays the early-morning show on Radio 1.

It’s the chickens’ favourite station. There seems to be something about its longueurs, combined with the playlist, that gets them going – if that’s the word. They really do respond to the voices and songs. “It’s a bit painful, training,” Emma observes, as she moves a little tray of worms into position as a lure. “It’s a bit like watching paint dry sometimes. It’s all about repetition.”

Beyond the big top, a valley folds into limestone hills covered in wild parsley and the beginnings of elderblossom. Over the radio, Adele Roberts (weekdays, from 4am) hails her listeners countrywide. “Hello to Denzel, the happy trucker going north on the M6. And van driver Niki on the way from Norwich to Coventry, delivering all the things.” Pecking and quivering, the chickens are rather elegant, each with its fluffy, caramel-coloured legs and explosive feather bouffant, like a hat Elizabeth Taylor might have worn on her way to Gstaad in the 1970s.

Despite a spell of ennui during the new Harry Styles single, enthusiasm resumes as Adele bids “hello to Simon from Bournemouth on the M3 – he’s on his way to Stevenage delivering meat”. I don’t imagine Radio 1 could hope for a better review: to these pretty creatures, its spiel is as thrilling as opening night at the circus. Greasepaint, swags of velvet, acrobats limbering up with their proud, ironic grace. Gasps from beholders rippling wonder across the stalls.

Emma muses that her pupils learn fast. Like camels, a chicken never forgets.

“I’ve actually given up eating them,” she admits. “Last year I had only two weeks to train and it was like, ‘If they pull this off I won’t eat chicken ever again.’ And they did. So I didn’t.” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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