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CMHR | 03Jul2012 | Stuart Murray

Speech delivered by President and CEO Stuart Murray at the Memorial in Commemoration of Famines' Victims in Ukraine, July 3, 2012, Kyiv, Ukraine

Thank you for the kind introduction.  Thank you, all, for having us here in this magnificent city and making us feel so genuinely welcome in your beautiful country.  This is a great day for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It is a great day for Ukraine and it is a great day for Canada.

Today we enter a new agreement, a new partnership, but we build that partnership on the foundation of a relationship that has endured for generations.  There is tremendous kinship between Canada and Ukraine. It is a kinship that has shaped and enriched Canada, in particular in the very heart of our country -- in Winnipeg -- where the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has its home.

The Memorandum of Understanding we have signed today marks the very first official partnership between the Canadian Museum of Human Rights and an international museum. As an institution we aspire to forge many partnerships, but it is eminently fitting that Ukraine is the very first. 

We must acknowledge the impact Ukrainians have had in weaving the cultural and social fabric of Canada.  It is not just that Canada is home to the third-largest Ukrainian population in the world after Ukraine and Russia; it’s that Ukrainians have made an indelible mark on every facet of Canadian society that today helps define the whole of Canada.

On the Canadian prairies, where the Museum is located, all three of our provinces have had Ukrainian-Canadian leaders. (Filmon, Romanow, Stelmach). Our country’s 24th Governor General, the Right Honourable Ramon Hnatyshyn, also came from the Prairies.  In Winnipeg, where the Museum has its home, the first Ukrainian-Canadian ever elected to public office in our city also went on to become the best-known and longest-serving mayor in Winnipeg’s history. It’s a record that still stands. 

July 1 marks an important, country-wide celebration that we call Canada Day. July 1 is also marked an important, country-wide celebration that we call the Euro Cup final. And what a privilege it is to be in Kyiv at a time you are welcoming not just Europe but the world to Ukraine for an event that is truly global in scope.  Canadians have watched closely since the tournament started, as have football fans around the globe. We at the Museum feel tremendously fortunate to have been able to share in the celebrations. As international friends, please let us commend you on a job well done.

The partnership we have reached today reminds us of our responsibility to move through life looking both forward and back.  Our partnership is about a shared understanding that together we must find the courage to peer into even the most difficult corners of our history while holding fast to the optimism that we can together build a world where a genocide such as the Holodomor does not happen again, whether in our own lifetimes, or in anyone’s.  Our partnership today reflects the understanding that we owe it to the generations before us to recall the brutality they were forced to endure as we teach our children, and their children, the lessons of resilience and human triumph that emerge when those who have known the face of oppression come together in the name of human rights. 

We join together today with the resolve that our own children never witness for themselves the tyranny of genocide, or the failing of humanity to stop it.  If ever our children should hunger, let them hunger to help create a world that is more peaceful, more humane and more just; a world that celebrates the dignity of all people, and unfailingly recognizes there is no human life less equal than any other.  And, let our children be inspired by the work we are doing today. Let them learn from our example of building a stable bridge between two nations, with little regard for the ocean between us. Let them see that distance is not a barrier to unity.

We at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights join you not because the Holodomor is a Ukrainian tragedy. We join you today because the Holodomor is a human tragedy.  We join you because the Holodomor was an assault of unthinkable barbarism not only on the Ukrainian family, but the entire human family.  We join you because injustice here must summon outrage everywhere.  And so the act of remembrance and of finding new understanding in those horrific events must fall not just to those who identify as Ukrainian, but to all the world’s citizens.

We hold close to the principle that an attack against one is an attack against all.  And we respond with outrage, even now, at the viciousness of the inhumanity of using food as a weapon; of denying innocent people the simple right to feed a hungry child.

We find our strength in partnership as together we enhance understanding of human rights.  Let us relish the power we amass when we become ambassadors for human rights.  Let us move forward by raging against hatred and instead fighting for the dignity of one another.  Let us fight against intolerance and for respect and understanding.  Let us fight against division and for the belief that as members of the human family, we are far more alike than we are different.  In this recognition we find unity, and in our unity there is strength.

Today in Kyiv we join together to identify a way forward.  All of us in this room recognize there is no forward motion without first confronting the past.  We are grateful that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will have an opportunity to build on the strong foundation you have established at the National Memorial. For countless Ukrainians, your work has brought awareness and understanding.  The Canadian Museum for Human Rights must do the same.

Canada has made many contributions to the international advancement of human rights, and as a nation we feel rightly proud.  Yet Canada’s human rights record is not without blemish, and it is our obligation to present and future generations that we both confront and learn from our past failings. Canada interned its own citizens of Ukrainian descent during the First World War. Some four thousand Ukrainian-Canadians were interned in two dozen camps across Canada. We did little better in World War Two.  The Government of Canada has taken concerted action to commemorate and recognize the injustice. But as a nation we have not fully reconciled the irony that a culture that today is proudly celebrated for having shaped the Canadian identity had also been deemed an enemy alien by its own government. 

We cannot hide this.  This is a story we must tell, and will tell, at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.  And we will go much further.

Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide” during the Second World War. Within the walls of our museum we will examine in detail the events Lemkin identified as genocides, and a study of the Holodomor will be a permanent and prominent piece of that important exhibit.  I’ve mentioned two areas of the museum where important aspects of the Ukrainian story will be told. In a third gallery, as part of an exhibit we call Human Rights Revolution, we will explore the influence of the Holodomor on the international development of the concept of genocide. 

Finally, our Museum has dedicated one of its galleries the struggle against the denial and minimization of large human rights violations called "Breaking the Silence.”  As one of the genocides that the Canadian government officially recognized in 2008, the Holodomor plays an important role in this gallery.  Visitors to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will learn about the historical context of the Holodomor and  the evidence that shows this crime against humanity took place.  It will look at the efforts made to hide it from the world.  Most importantly, it will look at the ways that people have used freedom of speech to break the silence about the Holodomor, bring recognition to this tragic event, and fight for justice today.

Our task must be to acquaint all Canadians with these critical chapters of their history. And our commitment at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is to paint the picture in full. This is an essential task. But we know we must aim higher still. We must inspire both Canadians and our international visitors to draw strength from these lessons, and in turn inspire others to stand against injustice and for human rights.  We in this room know that a critical ingredient of the formula to dissolve injustice is recognizing openly when injustice has taken place.  When we deny or minimize the atrocities of the past -- the Holodomor; the internment of free citizens -- we allow the victimization to continue and make reconciliation and healing impossible.

When we publicly and openly confront past atrocities we create a foundation on which we can then move forward to create the kind of world that does not repeat the failings of the past.

Our partnership today gives me great confidence that we can be successful in our mission.

I wish to acknowledge the Ukrainian Canadian Congress for making the introduction between the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the National Memorial.  That introduction has now spawned an agreement. And that agreement has already spawned a discussion about how we will share knowledge, experiences, best practices and the resources of our staff. 

As we prepare to open our doors, I know you will find the fruits of our partnership well reflected within the Museum walls.  The mandates of our respective museums diverge, but in my view it’s precisely that which gives today’s partnership its distinct value.

In Canada, when we are asked what our future visitors will find at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, we often affirm that our primary focus is not on the past, but on the future.  When we note that the story of the Holodomor will have a prominent and permanent home at our Museum, our future visitors understandably seek clarity around how a decidedly future-focused museum has made it such an apparent priority to re-examine the past.  And if you’re wondering the same, I simply offer this: The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will not be a place the world comes to light a candle in remembrance of those lost to history’s most tragic events.  But the Museum will be a place that lights a fire in the hearts of all who come through our doors to make certain such events never happen again.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights was born from an optimism that a better world is indeed possible. This is an optimism I know the National Memorial shares.  As friends gathered in common cause, let our partnership forged today in Kyiv remind us that a better world is within our reach.

Thank you.