Kyiv Post |06Aug2015 | Oksana Bashuk Hepburn

Memorial to victims of communism needs to go up in Canada

About one fifth of Canadians trace their roots to global displacement from communist states; most from former Soviet Union and its satellites. Yet their memorial, Canada a Land of Refuge, is finding opposition.

Critics of its design and the Ottawa location have launched legal action. The reason may lie elsewhere: the other name for the monument is the Memorial to the Victims of Communism.

The opponents' objections pale when measured against the loss of life of more than 100 million people in the 20th century alone by communist regimes: That’s the murder of all Canadians three times over.

Therefore it troubles that a project dedicated to Canadian values -- right to life, liberty, refuge; rights in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights penned by a Canadian following the Communist and Nazi holocausts of World War II should be dismissed as being Euro-centric. It’s hard to imagine anyone being “hugely” against Canada’s War Museum as not being “homegrown” enough as many exhibits deal with wars outside of Canada. Yet such objections are becoming common.

In Canada and, alas, in most of the “free” world it is more common to expose Nazi crimes against humanity than to deal with those of Communism; especially by the Kremlin.

In Canada, for instance, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has devoted a disproportionate space to memorializing the Holocaust. In comparison, Holodomor, the starvation of some 10 million by the Soviet Union’s communist regime, is seriously underrepresented.

Part of the reason is that communist regimes worldwide cover up their atrocities by making exposure of such crimes punishable; often by death. This is still a practice. A few weeks ago mere criticism of Russia carries a sentence of up to 10 years.

No exposure, and hence no international punishment, encourages despots’ criminality.

Here, Russia is a global leader.

Vladimir Putin's regime undermines peace and security world wide -- especially in Ukraine -- while mourning the collapse of its predecessor the Soviet Union, and proceeding to reestablish it. This is why the memorial is important: It reminds that Communist states are dictatorial by nature; their crimes are horrific; and unlike Nazi Germany, Communist mad leaders -- Venezuela, North Korea, Russia -- are still with us. This is dangerous.

The Ottawa Heritage Group, which launched the legal action to stop the erection of the memorial, is prolonging the game of see, hear and speak no evil of communism. The stated reason is the “undermining the consultative process” in determining the aesthetics and locale of the memorial. However, in an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- published in the Ottawa Citizen daily last fall -- architect Barry Podolsky, a group founder and vocal critic, says more.

He dismisses the danger of Communist dictatorships as “former (and some surviving).” This, despite the fact that Russia invaded Georgia and is waging war in Ukraine where the death toll -- according to the UN -- is approaching 7,000, the wounded 30,000: the refugee count stands over 2 million. Russia, committed to its communist past, threatens the world with nuclear destruction, assists Iran in developing its own capability, and supports the criminal regime in Syria.

Podolsky says that the memorial’s location is “one of the most significant sites in Canada” a “focal point for national celebrations and expressions of democracy”; the very reason not to erect the Canada a Place of Refuge Memorial.

Rather, he wants the site reserved for “our shared, home-grown vision” offering that the memorial’s vision of liberty, democracy, equality, inclusiveness isn’t “shared” or “home grown enough.” This is insulting to one out of five Canadians and as discriminatory as racial and ethnic slurs of the past.

Shirley Blumberg, architect and memorial design jury member, has made her views public. She has a “massive” and “huge problem” with the memorial -- according to the Citizen -- making one wonder why she was chosen as its juror in the first place or agreed to be one.

The memorial, she continues, overshadows “Canada’s true history.” With these words she dismisses some 8 million Canadians whose antecedents fled communism. She considers that memorializing their roots “completely misrepresents and skews what Canada is all about.” Incredulously, she discounts these Canadians as not having a “true” Canadian history and negating Canada’s magnificent role of welcoming those who need refuge most.

Such biased and one-sided views of whose experience is more Canadian is highly discriminatory. History shows over and over again that such “we and they” attitudes are dangerous. Equally dangerous, it appears to be an attempt to cover up Communist crimes. This is unacceptable.The motives for the legal action are suspect.

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, a survivor of both communist and Nazi atrocities, considers the lack of exposure and punishment of communist crimes -- like that of the Nazi -- a key reason for today’s global strife.

[W.Z. The many articles by Oksana Bashuk Hepburn that have appeared in Kyiv Post are archived at  ]