Vasyl Stefanyk, a Ukrainian novelist, described impoverished Ukrainian immigrants across the ocean in the early 20th century. Canada has since become a center of Ukrainians abroad, home to the third largest Ukrainian ethnic community (after Ukraine and Russia). Built by immigrants (among them Ukrainians), Canada has always been an overseas friend of Ukraine. Ottawa was the second capital, after Warsaw, to recognize the independent Ukrainian state and support Ukraine on the road to the WTO, EU, and NATO membership. Below is an interview with the Ukrainian-Canadian MP, Borys WRZESNEWSKYJ, who comments on Canada’s attitude to the condemnation of crimes perpetrated by the totalitarian regimes, the ethnic Ukrainian community’s attitude to the new [Ukrainian] government, and on his own views on human nature and corrupt politicians.
Mr. Wrzesnewskyj, the Canadian parliament and those of separate provinces recognized the Holodomor of 1932-33 as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. In your opinion, how important and effective are these resolutions in having this genocide recognized the world over?
B.W.: “On May 27, 2008, all four parties in the Canadian Parliament unanimously voted for a bill that recognizes the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people, but its worldwide recognition is a different story.
“You know, several years ago I took part in an OSCE summit, with the Holodomor and its recognition as genocide against the Ukrainian people on the agenda. The Canadian delegation was prepared to deal with it in the course of debates, but there was a great deal of pressure from the Russian delegation. We couldn’t figure out what made the Russians work so hard to prevent the debates from happening. Regrettably, they found a way to influence delegations from European countries and it was finally decided to postpone the debates. I mean I actually witnessed the Russians’ backstage activities. No one in Germany would’ve had the nerve to conceal the truth about the Holocaust. Why this is being done in the Kremlin remains an open question. Also, what makes European countries go along with Moscow? Of course, one ought to remember the gas supply-factor. Russia is very influential in this sense.
“Let me give you an example of how such sensitive issues are dealt with in Canada.”
“Working on the bill recognizing the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people, there were debates that lasted for a year, with all facts being carefully checked. The more the parliamentarians learned the fewer doubts they had.”
Don’t you think that it is necessary to condemn the crimes of communism on an international level?
B.W.: “Absolutely. By the way, a bill was unanimously passed whereby the Black Ribbon Day will be annually observed as a national Canadian day of remembrance for the victims of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This year will mark the first Black Ribbon Day in Canada. Our Parliament has condemned the Nazi and communist totalitarian regimes. Not so long ago, we also held a separate hearing of Putin’s attempts to rehabilitate Stalin. We are concerned about people lacking historical knowledge, for this may have very bad consequences for the future.”
What is official Ottawa’s attitude to the new Ukrainian government?
B.W.: “Here in Canada we’re concerned about what’s been happening in Ukraine during the 100 days of Yanukovych’s presidency. The Ukrainian people have been looking forward to having independence for hundreds of years, now you can live in an independent country. Naturally, every member of the Ukrainian Diaspora would want to see the land of his/her forefathers living in freedom, just as we would hate to see Ukraine going through a situation similar to that in Russia, considering that the Russian Federation turns out to have the largest number of journalists killed last year. Ukrainians must defend their freedom of assembly.
“Canadians were outraged to learn about SBU men visiting university rectors with equivocal requirements. One ought to remember that the young generation will build a new Ukraine; that you are most idealistic as a [college/university] student. Students shouldn’t be bullied but encouraged to uphold confidence in themselves.
“A big rally of the Ukrainian
Diaspora took place in Toronto recently to protest the new Ukrainian government’s activities. Those who took the floor said the Kyiv government should re-read history textbooks so as not to repeat their predecessors’ mistakes. Let’s just hope these mistakes have been made during the first 100 days. The new government must be aware of the great honor and historical privilege of being at the head of independent Ukraine and representing it on the international arena.”
A number of experts are discussing the erosion of democratic values in Europe, particularly the new phenomenon known as Berlusconism or Schroederism. Do you see a deadly threat to the democratic ideals worldwide?
B.W.: “There is no ideal democracy, there is a continuous evolution of systems. Human nature allows one to reach the ethical and moral summits. There are also strong temptations, especially in the political realm. Too bad Italian and German politicians have close contacts with private corporations like [Russia’s] Gazprom. I don’t think it will serve anyone’s benefit if you step down from your own stand to add to your bank account. We should remember that people are living well in Western Europe owing to the great sacrifices made by preceding generations. Leveling out the ideals cherished by our great grandparents would be sad and dangerous.”
Is there a real threat to democratic values in Ukraine?
B.W.: “The Ukrainian political system needs finishing touches. Mistakes have been made, as when electing MPs on a roster basis. When the candidates are elected by a district, then the winners have personal rather than party or general commitments. MP immunity was an even worse mistake. In Canada, there is no immunity when it comes to criminal prosecution. Here the law is the same for one and all. Ukraine lacks [an adequate] judicial system. This will take time. Also, political culture remains to be developed. In fact, the entire system was corrupted by Soviet ideology.
“I regard the Canadian electoral system (with all its shortcomings) as a good enough example of democracy. Here a candidate can spend only $85,000 on his/her campaign. This sum is enough to publish and disseminate leaflets two or three times. The rest is volunteer work, including debates and meetings. We knock on doors and the corporations can’t help us, either. An individual can contribute only a thousand dollars to election campaign. This secures equal participation in the election, so you can’t pay to fix a campaign.
“Ukraine, being a young democracy, can watch other countries and learn from the best experiences. By the way, the international studies of democracy in the former Soviet republics have singled out Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Ukraine as democracies. Russia has regrettably embarked on a nondemocratic pathway. Also, there is an unstable situation in Moldova and the Caucasus not far from Ukraine. Watching Ukraine, the world sees remarkable progress made there, with Ukrainian statehood having achieved a great deal.”