ePoshta | 15Apr2011 | Roman Serbyn

1. Assessment of open letter from 78 intellectuals to UCCLA, UCC, CMHR.
2. Open letter to the signatories of the open letter to the UCCLA, the UCC and the CMHR

1. Assessment of open letter from 78 intellectuals to UCCLA, UCC, CMHR.

Dominique Arel's UKL 452, which was sent out on Monday last [11Apr2011], contains an Open Letter to The UCCLA, the UCC and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The letter has about 750 words, which is the usual length for articles that are intended for the newspapers. The letter is signed by 78 people, professors, independent scholars, etc. I don't know if the letter has appeared anywhere in print or online but it most likely will for it is an "open letter" written to influence the Canadian and world public. The letter concerns the Ukrainian community and I think that it should be made known and discussed. Below, I offer my commentary.

It is an accusatory letter made up of two parts. The first part consists of three paragraphs and deals with the Holocaust and the Holodomor, and their representation in the CMHR. The second part has four paragraphs and goes off into a spurious discussion of an unrelated matter: the activities of OUN, UPA and the Ukrainian Division during the German-Soviet War. The construction of the argumentation is reminiscent of the sophistry found in the Soviet Ukrainophobic literature of the 1980s. At that time, Soviet propaganda and its Sovietophile disseminators in Canada accused the post WW II Ukrainian immigrants of inventing a famine and blaming the Communist regime for intentionally creating it. The hoax of the famine, so the explanation went, was supposed to gain sympathy for the Ukrainians and deflect attention from the crimes they allegedly committed while collaborating with the Nazis. Therefore to fight the “bogus” famine, it was necessary reveal the “shady past” of those who talked about it.

Let us first examine, paragraph by paragraph, the part of the “Open Letter” dealing with the Holocaust, Holodomor and the CMHR.

1. “The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress have been campaigning against the plans of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg to mount a permanent Holocaust gallery. The UCCLA has mailed out a postcard across Canada that reproduces the cover of an edition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and implies that supporters of a Holocaust gallery are pigs. For its part, the UCC, which, in contrast to the UCCLA, is an elected body that represents major Ukrainian Canadian organizations, has complained that the planned Holocaust exhibit is ‘unacceptable, and has asked the Museum to provide the Holodomor, or Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, ‘no less coverage… than the Holocaust.’”

The first two sentences are mendacious and the third contradicts the claim of the first. First. The UCCLA and UCC have NOT been campaigning AGAINST a permanent Holocaust gallery. What UCC requests is a permanent Holodomor gallery, and UCCLA wants a gallery where the Holocaust and the Holodomor would be treated the same way. Second. The card with Orwell’s Animal Farm does not imply or suggest that supporters of a Holocaust gallery are pigs. It is an analogy on inequality between animals (in Orwell’s story) and the representation of genocides (in the Museum). Many Ukrainians criticized the card; they found it inappropriate because it could lend itself to misinterpretation. The UCCLA can be blamed for poor planning of its promotional material, but not for implying that supporters of the museum are pigs. It should not be forgotten that both the UCC and the UCCLA are also supporters of the museum, albeit not in its present form. The last sentence contradicts the first: if the UCC wants “no less coverage [for the Holodomor] than the Holocaust”, then that means that it wants the same permanency for the Holodomor AS for the Holocaust. Where is the logic in blaming the UCC of being against “a permanent Holocaust gallery”?

2. “We, the signatories to this letter, have all studied various aspects of genocide, fascism, anti-Semitism, Stalinism, war criminality, the Holodomor, and the Holocaust. We unequivocally recognize that the violence and oppression that Ukraine has experienced during its multi-totalitarian past ought to be remembered and commemorated in a Canadian museum devoted to the history and abuse of human rights. What we object to is the dishonest manner in which the UCCLA and UCC have distorted historical accounts of the Holodomor while at the same time refusing to acknowledge the Ukrainian nationalist movement’s role in the Holocaust.”

It’s laudable that the signatories are knowledgeable about genocide, the Holocaust and the Holodomor. The problem is that they did not bother to become acquainted with the objectives of the CMHR, as repeatedly stated in literature generated by the institution and by the defenders of the Asper plan. Had they done so, they would have learned that it is supposed to be an IDEAS museum, not a memorial for genocides. It is noble of the signatories to recognize the appropriateness of commemorating the Holodomor, but they forget that the primary goal of the museum is not to commemorate human atrocities, but to teach about human rights. It would be more useful for the discussion of the Museum if the signatories told us that they were experts in the field of human rights, that they know the real and not just the alleged causal relationship between the atrocities committed during WWII and the postwar codifications of human rights, and that they will help put human rights in the central gallery, where it logically belongs. That would be a useful contribution to solving the present controversy over the institution.

The sophistry in the last sentence is worthy of Soviet propagandists but beneath the dignity of such a pleiad of distinguished intellectuals, as has signed the letter. How honest are they when they call the UCC and UCCLA dishonest in their treatment of the Holodomor? And where is the eminent intellectuals’ intellectual integrity, when they bring into the discussion an unrelated issue, which has absolutely no bearing on the question of whether the Holocaust and the Holodomor permanently should be displayed in the CMHR. What we have here is rather a mirror image of some of the participants’ own distorted view on the Ukrainian national movement during the war. The insinuations of this last sentence are done in a truly dishonest manner.

3. “The Ukrainian famine, which constitutes one of Stalin’s great crimes and one of Europe’s most devastating tragedies, deserves a place in any venue dedicated to commemorating and understanding the violation of human rights. Yet the way the UCC treats the Holodomor is problematic. All demographic studies place the number of famine deaths in Soviet Ukraine in the range of 2.6 to 3.9 million. This is, in itself, a grievous toll. Nonetheless, the UCC has, at times, inflated the number of victims to seven or even ten million. The implication is obvious: seven or ten million is more than six million; the Holodomor deserves more attention than the Holocaust. Such a manipulative attempt to exploit human suffering is reprehensible and should not be acceptable to the Canadian public.”

This paragraph continues the sophistry begun in the preceding paragraph. Neglecting the fact that the museum is to be forward looking, with a goal to teach about universal human rights, and not backward looking, commemorating the violations of human rights (we have Holocaust, Holodomor and all sorts of genocide museums and monuments for that), the signatories continue to speak about commemorating the Ukrainian famine. Why this concern about commemorating the Holodomor in a museum not meant for commemoration of genocides? Is it innocent ignorance of the museum’s vocation, or a manipulative attempt to disparage the efforts of the Ukrainian community to have proper representation of the Holodomor in the museum?

The deniers of the Ukrainian genocide love to play the figures game, intentionally neglecting the fact whether it was 2.6 or 10 million, the number is not a decisive factor in the qualification of the crime. Demographers play with statistics, which, unfortunately, are rather incomplete for Ukraine and do not take into account many other factors, such as deportations, migrations, etc. There were at least 8 million Ukrainians living in the RSFSR on the eve of the Great Famine. Hardest hit regions in RSFSR (besides Kazakhstan) were the very regions inhabited by Ukrainians (Kuban, Volga region). The signatory genocides experts somehow forget these victims outside the UkrSSR. That would be similar to Holocaust scholars counting only Jewish victims in the Reich and leaving out, say the Babyn Yar shootings. Isn’t that manipulative on the part of the signatories?

What is even more reprehensible in the signatories’ claim that the UCC inflated the number of Holodomor victims to 7 or 10 million in order to have a higher number than that for the Holocaust, and in this way present the suffering of the Holodomor as more worthy of attention than that of the Holocaust. The number used by the UCC is around 3 million (which is too low and doesn’t cover the Ukrainians outside the UkrSSR). Such manipulative attempt on the part of the signatories to distort and discredit the action of UCC is truly reprehensible, and should not be accepted by the Canadian public, who may read this spurious letter.

*  *  *

The second half of the letter is an attack on the OUN, UPA and the Waffen SS Division Galicia. It should be noted that although the letter is supposed to be about the efforts of the UCC and UCCLA to define the place of the Holocaust and the Holodomor in the CMHR, the signatories have chosen to raise a completely irrelevant issue, that of the role of the three Ukrainian organizations during WW II. My comments will be brief on this part of the letter, because the questions raised there is irrelevant to the discussion of the CMHR, and because, at the end, I wish to comment on the essence of the museum (which is HUMAN RIGHTS), a topic, which the drafters of the letter chose to avoid. 

4. “We are also troubled by the attitude of the UCCLA and UCC toward the OUN, the UPA, and the 14th Grenadier Division of the Waffen SS ‘Galicia’ (1st Ukrainian). OUN stands for the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. UPA is the Ukrainian abbreviation for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the armed branch of the OUN. The Galicia Division, a military unit that was primarily involved in counterinsurgency activities, was established by the Germans in 1943. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians who belonged to these formations perished while resisting the ruthless imposition of Soviet power at the end of the war. Today many Ukrainians revere the members of these organizations as the champions of an oppressed people. In February 2010, the UCC called on the Canadian government “to make changes to Canada’s War Veterans Allowance Act by expanding eligibility to include designated resistance groups such as OUN-UPA.” Last Remembrance Day, the UCC asked Ukrainian Canadians to honour veterans who belonged to OUN, UPA, and the Galicia Division.”

The Galicia Division fought in the Battle of Brody where it was decimated, and it had to be reconstituted from the survivors and new recruits. It is thus not true that the Division “was primarily involved in counterinsurgency activities”. As for UCC’s calling on the Canadian government to recognize the UPA veterans, what’s wrong with that? In what way did the Red Army, whose true record of military crimes across Europe is now documented, treat the civilian population better than the UPA did? If the Canadian government could recognize the veterans of the Red Army and grant them veteran privileges, then why couldn’t it do the same for the UPA veterans?

Members of all armies commit crimes during war. Yet we honor them. So what is wrong with honoring UPA and Galicia Division. I agree that since OUN was not a military formation it does not belong in that list.

5. “In their calls to honour the members of these organizations as veterans, what the UCCLA and the UCC do not fully acknowledge is that all three groups have been implicated in violence against civilians on a massive scale. Significant historical research indicates the political responsibility of the OUN in anti-Jewish violence in the summer of 1941. Emerging research also demonstrates that many former policemen who aided the Nazis in genocidal operations subsequently joined the UPA, created in early 1943. Moreover, the UPA murdered tens of thousands of civilian Poles in the western province of Volhynia to undercut the ability of postwar Poland to make claims on the area. The Galicia Division was also involved in anti-civilian military actions, although mainly outside of Ukraine.”

This paragraph is also completely irrelevant to the purported intention of the letter, which was to discuss how UCC and UCCLA imagined the place of the Holocaust, the Holodomor in the Human Rights Museum. One does not have to be a specialist in the fields in which the signatories claim expertise, to see that the presentation of the activities of OU, UPA and the Division is one sided and therefore lacking in scholarly integrity. All the atrocities are attributed to the Ukrainian side in the Polish-Ukrainian conflict, Jews are shown as being only persecuted and never saved by Ukrainians, in the Galicia’s war on armed Yugoslav Communist partisans the signatories forget that this campaign can hardly be treated as “anti-civilian military action”.

6. “By pointing out the historical record of the OUN, UPA, and the Galicia Division, we do not mean to suggest some sort of collective responsibility for genocide on the part of all the men and women who served in them, and certainly not on the part of all Ukrainians. Nevertheless, in an age when the mass murder of civilians is regarded as a crime against humanity, the mixed record of these organizations has to be openly debated, particularly when the significance of the Holocaust is being questioned in a public campaign pertaining to a fair representation of the history of human rights.”

The first sentence is remarkably self-serving: “look how good and honest we are, we don’t condemn all Ukrainians, and not even all the members of the OUN, UPA and the Galicia Division! How generous! Yes, mass murder of civilians has to be openly debated, but we must debate ALL mass murders, not just on one side of the conflict. They must also be debated in a context appropriate for the discussion. One does not just introduce them to strengthen a false argument, in this case the big lie, which ends the last sentence. The big lie is the signatories’ claim that “the significance of the Holocaust is being questioned in a public campaign”. It is not the significance of the Holocaust (the genocide) that is being questioned; what UCC and UCCLA question is the way this genocide is presented: 1) in relation to other genocides, and 2) in a museum devoted to human rights and not to genocides. That is quite clear, and to confuse the issue, the way the letter does, can only mean that the signatories are badly misinformed, or that they have an ulterior motives

7. “We therefore assert that since the UCCLA and UCC have not understood that confronting the historical record openly and honestly is preferable to manipulative falsehood, have engaged in a competition of suffering, and have failed to acknowledge both the vices and the virtues of the nationalist movement, they ought to stay out of a debate about the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.”

This scurrilous accusation against the UCCLA and UCC, based on a mendacious analysis of irrelevant issues, is outrageous, beneath the dignity and intellectual integrity that should be sustaining the pleiad of notable intellectuals.

The political goal of the drafters of the letter (to which the other signatories lent their names, perhaps not always fully realizing its manipulative nature) is revealed at the end of the letter, in the address to the UCCLA and UCC: “stay out of a debate about the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.” “Stay out of a debate!” -- an intellectuals’ approach to discussion that both the Gestapo and the KGB would have admired.

Significantly, the letter contains no discussion of the mandate of the museum, its declared goals, and the way it intends to achieve them. It does not take into consideration the wishes of the Canadian public and of its component communities, as expressed in polls and newspapers. In response to the open letter of the 78 intellectuals, I would like to address to them my own open letter.

Roman Serbyn is a professor of history (retired)
Université du Québec à Montréal

2. Open letter to the signatories of the open letter to the UCCLA, the UCC and the CMHR

Almost eighty intellectuals from North America and Europe signed the letter addressed to the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It would seem that theirs was in response to the museum’s declared intention to be a unique institution of learning with an innovative program on human rights, providing new material that will be of interest to the whole global village. The organizers of the museum had stressed their intention to create an IDEAS museum, and not an institution for the memorialization of genocides. One would think that such a noble project, with such worthy objectives, would receive general approval from the whole Canadian society, much of which consists of communities, which had suffered outrageous denials and crass violations of human rights, in their homelands. Instead, the project has become controversial and divisive.

Good intentions and captivating enthusiasm do not always result in good planning. It is no secret that Israel Asper wanted a museum that would commemorate the Holocaust and teach about human rights, something along the lines of the Washington Holocaust Museum and “Human Rights and Holocaust Studies Program” of the Asper Foundation. In the project, the word Holocaust was dropped from the name of the institution, and the institution became “Canadian Museum for Human Rights”. But the Holocaust theme remained and was inserted as the pivotal Sixth Gallery – the anchor of the institution and the lens through which all the other genocides were to be viewed and human rights examined. The museum would thus fulfill two goals: it would commemorate the Holocaust and teach human rights. Had the organizers been more logical they would have called it “Holocaust and Human Rights Museum”. As it is under the protective wing of the Canadian government and relies on government financing, it can legitimately use the adjective Canadian to its title. All Canadians thus became shareholders in this national institution, and the idea that only the Holocaust would be memorialized in such a grand manner, and all the other 50 or so genocides and mass atrocities would be squeezed into another gallery upset many members of ethnic communities. They had suffered genocides and other atrocities in their homelands, and now demanded appropriate recognition for these sufferings. Thus began what we may now call the “battle of the genocides”, with Gail Asper and the defenders of a stand-alone Holocaust gallery, on one side, and those who opposed what they see as unfair treatment of the other atrocities – on the other side.

It is amazing that both sides have lost sight of the fact that CMHR is supposed to be an IDEAS museum, focusing on human rights, and not an institution to commemorate GENOCIDES. After all, the Holocaust and the Holodomor are not universal and timeless human rights ideas, but particular humongous mass murders of specific human groups. The discrepancy between what the museum was supposed to be about (human rights), and what the two sides were now fighting over (genocides) was noted by professor Michael R. Marrus, a well-known and highly respected scholar of the Holocaust. In a pithy letter to the Globe and Mail, which is worth quoting in full, Marrus wrote:

“The fact that, several years into the mandate of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, ethnic communities and the institution’s planners are squabbling over a genocide exhibit shows how shallow is the museum’s view of human rights. And this from an institution that is supposed to teach us all lessons!

The museum would have done better to focus on human rights, not wrongs, and to think more critically about the complex origins of human rights consciousness in our time. Those origins, still much in dispute by historians, have surprisingly little to do with genocide and much more to do with the evolution of democratic ideas, social communication, globalization and international politics.” (24 March 2011)

The Toronto-based paper published the letter under the title “rights, not wrongs.” In a capsule, the title contained an analysis of what was wrong with the planning of the museum, and how it could be fixed. Professor Marrus elaborated on his ideas in an interview for the National Post, the most important passage of which reads:

“Prof. Marrus said the museum is operating under the belief that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a touchstone of the modern human rights movement, was inspired by the Holocaust.

‘The museum points to the declaration as evidence that the Holocaust was somehow the moving force behind the modern human rights movement.

‘Unfortunately, there is very little evidence for this contention. To the contrary, in the immediate postwar period there still does not seem to have been a very clear sense about the nature of the Holocaust, and it takes until the 1960s or '70s for this to really gel. I think the prominence given to the Holocaust, however well meaning, is historically incorrect’.” (6 April, 2011)

I find it rather strange that the 78 international intellectuals did not take professor Marrus’s comments into account in their reflections on the controversy over the Canadian Museum. Instead, they joined in the “battle of the genocides”, and rather than focus on human rights, as Marrus advised, got involved in championing one side of the dispute, by denigrating the other. This attitude is not helpful in the present situation and one is tempted to throw back at signatories their own advice: If you cannot offer anything constructive, “stay out of a debate about the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.”

Logical application of Marrus’s analysis would be to give priority to human rights in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, by reserving the pivotal 6th gallery for the most important human rights legislation such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention on Genocide, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and possibly some others, and structure around this anchor, the rest of the museum. Human rights cannot be fully understood without reference to the ills, which they are meant to cure. The violations of human rights, from the most grievous, such as genocides, to the most trivial, have a place in a human rights museum, but their role must be one of support: to illustrate the need for human rights and help understand them.

Roman Serbyn
Professor of History (retired)
Université du Québec à Montréal