Globe and Mail | 21Apr2011 | James Adams

Ukrainian association tells foreign scholars to stay out of museum debate

The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association wants foreign scholars to stay out of the escalating debate over the contents of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and keep their “anti-democratic stammering” to themselves.

In a media release Thursday, [actually Tuesday, 19Apr2011] the UCCLA, a Toronto-based advocacy group formed in 1984, said “how we spend our tax dollars, how a Canadian national museum is governed and what should be in it are matters for Canadians to decide -- our business, not theirs.”

The association was responding to an open letter published last week, signed by more than 80 scholars from the U.S., Europe, England and Israel, criticizing the UCCLA and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress for “distorting historical accounts of the Holodomor [the death, by starvation, of millions in Soviet-occupied Ukraine in 1932-32] “ in their debate with the CMHR “while at the same time refusing to acknowledge” the role Ukrainian nationalist movements played in the Holocaust. As a result, the open letter -- the text of which was drafted by a group of Canadian academics -- says the UCC and the UCCLA “ought to stay out of a debate” about the CMHR, now under constructoin in Winnipeg for a 2013 opening. Among its more notable international signatories are Sir Ian Kershaw (U.K.). Christopher Browning (U.S.A.) and Yehuda Bauer (Israel). Included in the 20 Canadian signatories are Catherine Chatterley, founding director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-semitism, and Winnipeg lawyer David Matas.

In its reply, the UCCLA said it found the letter’s call “for the silencing of Canadian voices in public discussion . . . nothing less than appalling . . . We reject the anti-democratic stammering of its authors.” Further, “we have no interest in contending with non-Canadians over the contents or governance of one of our national institutions, any more than we would expect any of them to give much . . . weight to what a few Canadians might want” in museums in their countries.

The association and the UCC have been feuding with the CMHR, established as a Crown corporation by the Harper government in 2008, over, among other issues, the museum’s intention to dedicate one of its planned 12 permanent “zones” to the Holocaust. Such an approach, they argue, “elevates” the suffering of one community over other victims of genocide and mass atrocities. The UCC wants the CMHR to create a separate Holodomor gallery that provides “no less coverage” than that given the Holocaust. By contrast, the UCCLA thinks all genocides, including the Holocaust and the Holodomor, should be explored in one “thematic gallery.”

The UCCLA release criticizes some of the open-letter signatories for having “no expertise in 20th-century European history. Others are well known for making unfounded allegations concerning the nature and behaviour of the Ukrainian nationalist movement of the 20th century, assertions serious scholars have dismissed as prejudicial.” It goes on to lash the signatories for their “delight in discounting” Ukraine’s losses during the Holodomor while failing to “protest” the lack of any reference to the crimes of Stalin and Mao in an earlier report by the CMHR’s content advisory committee.

Selected COMMENTS:

L Luciuk 7:32 AM on April 21, 2011:
Actually, a misleading caption, so let's not waste too much time on it. The phrase "stay out of the debate" was not used by UCCLA. It was actually written by those who drafted the 'open letter' that UCCLA protested. UCCLA does not support the censure or suppression of free speech. Attempts to silence legitimate debate on issues of public policy (like the proposed contents and governance of this taxpayer funded Canadian Museum for Human Rights) must be rejected. What UCCLA wants is an open and, one hopes, genuine dialogue on this issue, conducted with civility. Tellingly, the individuals who signed off on this 'open letter' are among the first to protest even the slightest perceived infringement of their rights as scholars (mostly) to say, write or do what they please - their academic freedom, they insist, is precious. How interesting to note that they are nevertheless keen to deny freedom of speech to others. That most of them are non-Canadians and non-taxpayers does, of course, have an impact on the weight and import of what they have to say - after all does any Canadian's view count when it comes to what a curator decides to include, or reject, in a British or German or French or Russian national museum?

The UCCLA website ( has several media releases about this issue, a useful source for learning what their views are instead of what others claim them to be. UCCLA's response to the 'open letter' will be available there later today (21Apr2011). A fair reading of that response will underscore who stands for freedom of speech and who wants to limit it.

Semperveritas 8:23 AM on April 22, 2011:
In the story on the open letter, three prominent scholars were mentioned as signatories: Sir Ian Kershaw (U.K.). Christopher Browning (U.S.A.) and Yehuda Bauer (Israel).

These names presumably add weight to the letter. However, the question that should be asked is how familiar were these experts, not just with their own fields of study, where they have a well established international reputation, but with the essential issues surrounding the museum. If Gail Asper can claim that the Canadian scholar Michael Marrus is "unaware" of the developments around the museum (National Post interview, 19Apr2011), then how "aware" and informed were the scholars in U.K, U.S.A., and Israel? Of course, these people could have been informed by the drafters of the letter: the initiator of the project Per A. Rudling and several of his helpers who participated in the drafting of the letter. But I'm afraid that their information would be of the kind found in the personal attack against me by Karyn M. Ball (one of the signatories) whose posting had to be removed from the the Globe and Mail comments. My point is that I doubt that the eminent scholars were probably not properly informed and relied on the honesty of the person(s) who approached them. Their signature of the letter was quite unfortunate.

What the article does not explore is why a number of eminent Canadian scholars, who are much more knowledgeable about Ukrainian and Jewish affars and the the CMHR debate than their foreign colleagues, did not sign the letter.

As for foreign scholars, I am not saying that have no right to get involved in Canadian questions that deal with human rights. After all, human rights are universal, and the organizers of the CMHR have the ambition to set up a unique centre of learning that would attract scholars and students from around the world! What I'm saying is that when they do gets involved, they should at least first acquaint themselves with the fundamental issues.

P Rudling 8:50 AM on April 22, 2011:
Come on, Roman Serbyn, when attacking others, at least have the courage to sign with your own name.

Semperveritas 12:23 PM on April 22, 2011:
I don't attack, Per A. Rudling! I criticize, where criticism is warranted, and I do it from the position of semper veritas.

You should address your accusation to your helper Karyn M. Ball, who attacked me on another Globe and Mail story (17April2011), and her vicious attack had to be removed. Actually it is too bad that the attack was pulled, because by the time a saw it I just had the time to copy it but not to answer it.

You might like to know that I did write a letter some two months ago, signed it with my own name, and sent it in a staggered fashion of a week apart to four newspapers, beginning with the Globe. In it explained that an alternative approach to the museum (similar to what professor Marrus later stated in his letter and interview) would be more in keeping with the declared intention of the museums organizers (an IDEAS museum focused on human rights) would be a truly unique museum (there are many Holocaust museums but no museum dedicated exclusively to human rights) and would actually bring more glory to the Asper family and to the Jewish community than just another Holocaust and Human Rights museum. Three newspapers, including the Globe, didn't even acknowledge reception of my article, and one said "thank you, but no, thank you". My letters along the same line of argument were also ignored. And yet I sent my article to several Canadian historians and they all agreed with its contents and thought it should be published. My conclusion is that our newspapers prefer to continue to publish reports on the skirmishes of the "battle for the genocides" engaged by the CMHR with the UCC and the UCCLA. This is more fun than writing about human rights. It must sell newspapers, or at least attracts readers to their online editions.

I was very happy to see professor Marrus's letter in the Globe and his interview in the Post. They were proof that my approach was neither unrealistic nor unfeasible. That is why I have been quoting him a lot, and I see that others do it as well.

You notice that professor Marrus did not sign your open letter. And you did not have the courage and the arguments (not to attack him but) to even comment on his approach. Only two persons tried to discredit professor Marrus without, however, challenging his ideas (!), but since their swipes were in other newspapers, I don't know if I'm allowed to discuss it here.

My challenge to you: give us your assessment of what was wrong with professor Marrus's analysis and suggestion.

P Rudling 2:33 PM on April 22, 2011:
I am not interested in debating anonymous signatures. As a professor emeritus and lobbyist for the UCC, at the very minimum, that you should confirm your identity and appear with full name, Roman.

Semperveritas 4:19 PM on April 22, 2011:
I think it is clear to everyone who is interested in the identity of Semperveritas that he is Roman Serbyn, who taught history at the University of Quebec in Montreal from 1969 to 2002, now retired but still active in research, some publishing and giving papers at conferences. I also edit Holodomor Studies. Funny that your helper Karyn M. Ball had no problem identifying me. The trouble was that someone fed her a lot of lies which she posted on the Globe (pull, to my disappointment). She, however, did not have the courage to answer my email to her in which I asked if it was her.

I sent you my analysis of the your open letter (first draft with many typos, but with my basic ideas sufficiently clearly expressed). You did not deign to reply. I have corrected the errors and could send you the updated version -- will you reply to it?

If I really wanted to attack you, I could do it by analyzing your publications on Ukrainian subjects, especially the one we discussed at the Ottawa conference, a few years ago.

But the subject of discussion here is not the your or my publications, but the CMHR. I think that you simply have no valid arguments to counter what I write about the right approach to a HUMAN RIGHTS museum and you use the excuse of my "anonymity" to avoid a discussion.

Now that I have confirmed that Semperveritas is Roman Serbyn, will you have the guts to discuss in the open?

I think more people would be interested in our discussion if it were not so difficult to find the article on the internet.