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Controversy Brewing Over 1932 Pulitzer Prize

A controversy is heating up over a prestigious journalism award given to a reporter whose allegedly biased coverage of the Soviet Union in the early 1930's largely ignored the famine that resulted in millions of Ukrainian deaths. More and more members of New York's Ukrainian community are calling for the Pulitzer Prize to be revoked.

Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for a set of stories he wrote in 1931 as The New York Times' Moscow correspondent, covering Joseph Stalin's Five-Year Plan to industrialize the U.S.S.R.. Mr. Duranty, who died in 1957, was a controversial figure, who often wrote stories that supported Stalin's regime. Critics say he was also a political insider, who enjoyed a lavish lifestyle during his 12 years in Moscow. He is the subject of a 1990 biography called "Stalin's Apologist." A growing number of Ukrainian-Americans are calling for the Pulitzer committee to revoke his award. Mr. Duranty denied the existence of the 1932 famine that is estimated to have killed between five million and 10 million Ukrainians.

Tamara Olexy, a representative of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, says her community wants the Pulitzer to be revoked now because this year marks the 70th anniversary of the famine. "They all support this issue, because the famine is not only a political issue, it's a humanitarian issue that affected one-fourth of the population of Ukraine in the 1930's," she says.

In response to growing numbers of calls and letters from the Ukrainian community, The New York Times' hired a professor of Russian history to review Mr. Duranty's work. That professor, Mark Von Hagen of Columbia University, says Mr. Duranty's reports were unbalanced and uncritical, and they often gave voice to Stalinist propaganda. Although Professor von Hagen did not make any recommendations to The New York Times' or the Pulitzer Board in his report, he supports the idea of removing Mr. Duranty from the Pulitzer roster. "I think that given everything that I've read and given that the Pulitzer Prize is supposed to be an award for outstanding journalistic writing, it seems to me that they made a mistake and it ought to be taken away," he says.

The Pulitzer Board has never revoked a Pulitzer Prize.

The 18-member board will come together Friday for its twice-yearly meeting, but the head of the Pulitzer Board, Sig Gissler, refused to speculate on what action, if any, the board will take on Mr. Duranty's Pulitzer.

In a statement issued last June, Mr. Gissler noted that Mr. Duranty won the award for a series of stories he published in 1931, one year before the famine. But Askold Lozynskj, head of the Ukrainian World Congress, says it does not matter if the reporting in question is not specifically about the famine, because the effects of Mr. Duranty's cover-up remains. "Walter Duranty's Pulitzer is for his reporting about the Soviet Union and about the Soviet Union and about Stalin's policies," says Mr. Lozynski. "Those policies resulted in 1932, 1933, in the great famine, which was an egregious event in terms of numbers and methodology."

The Pulitzer Board considered requests to revoke Duranty's Pulitzer in 1990, and decided unanimously against withdrawing the prize. But this time, pressure is greater, much of it due to recent documentation about the famine and about Mr. Duranty's close relationship with Soviet officials.