Winnipeg Sun | 05May2011 | Dean Pritchard

Holodomor vs. Holocaust
Controversy dogs Human Rights museum

It’s the question that won’t go away: Should the Canadian Museum for Human Rights treat the Holocaust any differently than other historical genocides, such as the Ukrainian Holodomor?

The Holodomor is the name for a man-made famine engineered by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Millions died in Ukraine and other Soviet republics.

The museum raised the ire of many in the Ukrainian community following news it will be home to just two permanent, standalone galleries, one featuring the Holocaust, the other the plight of First Nations peoples. The Holodomor will be featured in a permanent gallery or “zone” that will also include other genocides and atrocities from around the world.

Ukrainian Canadians like Orest Cap say that’s not right. He’s in a unique position to comment on the controversy. The University of Manitoba education professor’s mother is a Holodomor survivor and both his parents are survivors of Nazi labour camps.

“We Ukrainians have suffered tremendously throughout the years,” Cap said recently outside the museum construction site. “If we are to have any social justice, if we are to create an educational element and understanding, the Holodomor needs to be prominent as part of that museum.”

The city erected a memorial to the Holodomor nearly 30 years ago outside city hall.

“I find it ironic that a few blocks away, we have a national museum that is still thinking if we should have a permanent gallery and exhibit related to the Holodomor,” Cap said.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress asked candidates in last Monday’s federal election to weigh in on the controversy. A survey distributed to candidates prior to the election included the question: “Do you support the inclusion of a permanent and prominent gallery for the Holodomor (Ukrainian famine genocide) of 1932-1933 at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights?”

More than 100 candidates responded to the survey, with approximately 80% coming out in support of a permanent standalone Holodomor gallery, said UCC executive director Taras Zalusky.

“We will be cross-referencing candidates who responded (with winning candidates) and meeting with them to discuss the issue in more detail once they have settled in,” Zalusky said.

He said the Holodomor and the Holocaust should have equal prominence at the museum.

“We support a permanent gallery for the Holocaust -- it’s not a case of us verses them,” Zalusky said. “Our position is that there should be a permanent and prominent gallery highlighting the crimes of communism.”

Museum spokeswoman Angela Cassie said plans for how the Holodomor will be represented at the museum “are still in development.”

“The Holodomor has always been part of our exhibition plans and continues to be,” she said. “It is going to be provided in a human rights context -- it’s not a memorial.

Cassie said the museum needs flexibility to change exhibits when necessary.

“We are creating a different kind of museum with a subject matter that is very complex,” she said. “It requires us to change the way we think about museums. It’s a tremendous challenge. Unfortunately there are no shortage of stories when it comes to human rights.”