Toronto Community Events Promote Public Awareness of Great Famine

by Andrij Kudla Wynnyckyj 


TORONTO - Federal, provincial and municipal politicians praised the efforts of Canada's Ukrainian community in raising awareness of the Famine-Genocide of 1932 - 1933, a scholar looked back at the difficulties faced over the years in the academic and political arenas to raise this awareness, and an ecumenical service was conducted for the souls of millions of victims of crimes against humanity perpetrated in the 20th century during commemorations held here over the week of November 22-28. 

Gerard Kennedy, a member of Ontario's legislature who is of Ukrainian background, led off the week, and Sarkis Assadourian, a member of the federal House of Commons who is of Armenian ancestry, brought it to a conclusion. 

On November 22, Mr. Kennedy, member of provincial Parliament for Parkdale/High Park and the opposition Liberal Party's education critic, rose in the House at Queen's Park to issue a commemorative statement about the Great Famine, placing it on the province's official record that "over 7 million Ukrainian men, women and children were starved to death by the then Soviet regime." 

Mr. Kennedy commended the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) for "continuing to increase public awareness of the Famine-Genocide of 1933." 

Later that evening, at an official opening of an exhibit mounted by the UCC Toronto Branch and Media Watch Ukraine in the rotunda of Toronto City Hall, Mr. Kennedy expanded on his remarks by recalling the "rumour that hung over my grandparents' home" that a man-made famine had devastated Ukraine. 

The former Food Banks of Canada activist told an assembly of about 250 members of the Ukrainian community they should be praised for their pursuit of a United Nations resolution condemning the use of food as a weapon and stressed that "word of what happened in 1933 must get out more clearly to the world." 

City Councillor for High Park-Parkdale Chris Korwin-Kuczynski, who was active in the erection of a monument in his riding to victims of the Katyn massacre and attendant repressions perpetrated by Stalin's regime, offered assurances that a similar monument to the victims of the famine "would occupy an appropriate and prominent place in the city." 

Mr. Kuczynski also brought a proclamation from Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman designating the week of November 22-28 as Famine-Genocide Commemoration Week, and expressed his disappointment that the mainstream media had chosen not to attend that evening's event. 

Michael Luchka, host of the "Kontakt" TV program and the master of ceremonies at the exhibit opening, concluded proceedings with a stinging commentary. He said it was high time that the world was aware of the Famine's legacy, and confronted Famine denial both in the past and in the present. 

The politics of genocide studies 

On November 24, Dr. Frank Sysyn, director of the Petro Jacyk Centre for Ukrainian Historical Research (PJCUHR) was interviewed by CFRB Radio morning show host Ted Woloshyn, and in the afternoon delivered a lecture titled "The Politics of Genocide Studies: Putting the Ukrainian Famine on the Agenda in the 1980s." 

Delivering his address in a seminar room at the University of Toronto's John Robarts Library, Dr. Sysyn chronicled the success of the efforts by the Ukrainian diaspora's wider community and a coterie of scholars who braved opposition both from the Soviet political and academic apparat, and from left-leaning academics and journalists in the West. 

Dr. Sysyn drew on his article, "The Role of the Ukrainian Diaspora in Research and Public Discussion of the Famine of 1932-1933," recently published in a collection of essays titled "Studies in Comparative Genocide" (St. Martin's Press, 1999). 

Dr. Sysyn noted that the appearance of Robert Conquest's study "The Harvest of Sorrow," the establishment of the U.S. Congressional Commission on the Ukraine Famine, the pursuit of a condemnation of the Stalinist regime at the International Tribunal in the Hague, and statements on the tragedy from the administrations of U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney were watersheds in a tortuous journey leading to the acceptance of the Famine as a topic of discussion on the international stage, scholarly and otherwise. 

Dr. Sysyn remarked on the extreme hostility visited by scholarly critics on Famine researchers. He quoted a review of Dr. Conquest's most recent book, "Reflections on a Ravaged Century" (W. W. Norton and Co. 1999), that appeared in the November 21 issue of The New York Times Book Review. 

Josef Joffe, a Munich-based liberal journalist, in an article titled "The Worst of Times," wrote that "Conquest ... at Stanford's Hoover Institution and Richard Pipes at Harvard did not have an easy time in the academy during the 1970s and 80s, when 'anti-Communist' became an epithet and moral judgments about the 'evil empire' became, well, 'judgmental .'" 

To dramatize the moral perversity of the Soviet regime's apologists, Dr. Sysyn quoted Dr. Conquest's interview with a Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm, who averred that even if he had known that millions had been murdered by the regime, he still would not have renounced communism because "the chance of a new world being born in great suffering would still have been worth backing." 

Dr. Sysyn again read from Mr. Joffe's review: "This is the quintessential answer of the 20th century, stunning in its cruelty and breathtaking in its naïveté‚ ... Evil means will not produce lofty ends, but poison them ... Though wrapping themselves in the emancipatory banner of the Enlightenment, the Communists were no better than the Nazis. Conquest asks us to listen to Ilya Ehrenburg, Stalin's poet laureate, when writing about the kulaks...: 'Not one of them was guilty of anything, but they belonged to a class that was guilty of everything.' Substitute 'Jew' for 'kulak,' and 'race' for 'class,' and you can hear Heinrich Himmler." 

Dr. Sysyn also proposed some dramatic "what ifs?" Among them, he posited that, if evidence about the Famine been listened to, the West might not have agreed to the secret "repatriation" clauses of the Yalta agreement. Hundreds of displaced persons in Central Europe would not have been driven to suicide, and hundreds of thousands if not millions could have been spared the horrors of the gulag after they were forcibly returned to the USSR, the scholar said. 

Concluding his address, Dr. Sysyn pointed out that if global awareness of the Famine-Genocide is to take the next step, Ukraine and its society will have to confront its Soviet past. He said that compared to recent commemorations of victims of genocide in Armenia, where a million of that country's citizens and members of its diaspora turned out to consecrate a massive monument, Ukraine's efforts in this regard were minuscule. 

Remembering many genocides 

On November 27 at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church a moving candle-lighting ceremony was the centerpiece of an ecumenical service conducted in memory of the 1932-1933 Famine-Genocide's victims, as well as the victims of all crimes against humanity committed in this century. 

In all, 21 candles were lit for victims of genocides and crimes committed all around the globe. UCC Toronto Branch President Maria Szkambara read off a brief incantation about the particular victims, and then an altar boy would apply the flame from his candle to the wick of another held by a youth flanking the altar. 

In chronological order, horrors visited upon the First Nations of North America, Congo (by King Leopold of Belgium), Armenia, the Pontus (southeastern area of the Black Sea where Greeks were murdered en masse), Libya (in Mussolini's occupations and decimation of Arab population), Belarus, China (during Japan's invasion), Poland, the Baltic states, European Jews, Roma (Gypsies), Palestine, India-Pakistan, Biafra, Cambodia, East Timor, Kurdistan, Sri Lanka, Rwanda-Burundi and the Balkans, were recited. 

The Rev. Bohdan Sencio of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Bishop Isidore Borecky of the Ukrainian Catholic Church headed a contingent of 12 clergymen conducting the service, during which the shrine also served as avenue for a secular remembrance. 

The Rev. Sencio delivered the homily. In part, it was a recitation of grievances against Stalin and his henchmen, as well as against those in the West who abetted the crime by assisting the Soviet regime with their denials that it was occurring - such as U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who chose to recognize the USSR in 1933, and Walter Duranty of The New York Times, who filed false news reports about Ukraine. 

In part, it was an evocation of the evil time when "the sky darkened, the sun went out, the wind howled the funerary 'Vichnaia Pamiat' as mounds of corpses were buried, as even those clinging to life were thrown into pits." In part, it was a condemnation of the abuse of God-given free will, surrendered to leaders who ordered the destruction of millions. 

In conclusion, it was an invocation. "Let us not rest until we fix in the world's consciousness the tragedies of this century, so that there be no more famines, no holocausts, no more mass crimes. no genocides," the Rev. Sencio said. 

Ukraine's consul general in Toronto, Mykola Kyrychenko, condemned "the deliberate action by Stalin and the Soviet regime that brought about the death of millions of Ukrainian peasants to ensure the country's subjugation." 

Mr. Kyrychenko added his voice to those commending the Ukrainian diaspora for its role in preserving the memory of the Famine, praised the decision to commemorate the victims of other tragedies as well, and stressed the further purpose that such ceremonies should have. "Let memory become a real corrective force against the instigators of violence ," the consul said. 

Assadourian as keynote speaker 

The keynote speaker at the week's concluding event was Sarkis Assadourian, the Brampton-based federal member of Parliament (MP) who is spearheading an effort to establish a museum commemorating victims of crimes against humanity in Ottawa. Mr. Assadourian noted that his approach aims to avoid controversies over what is genocide and what is not, and to head off pointless debates that "compare catastrophes?"

Mr. Assadourian averred that a museum should be built to mark all such crimes and that Canada is the best country for such a facility. "Canada sends peacekeepers to impede, to prevent such genocides and crimes today, and that's why people should support this effort." 

"It's not my mission, it's not an Armenian mission, it's not a Ukrainian mission, not a Jewish mission, to commemorate victims and raise the consciousness of the world so that horrors do not grow to monstrous proportions. It's a mission of all the peoples of the world," the MP underscored. 

The Liberal backbencher told the audience that his private member's bill to establish the museum (initially badged as C-479, then as C-224) had been recently endorsed by a member of the Cabinet, Heritage Minister Sheila Copps. 

In response to a question Mr. Assadourian addressed to her in the House on November 18, Ms. Copps praised her colleague for assembling a nationwide coalition of 22 organizations and encouraged all MPs to speak in support of Bill C-224. 

The MP praised the Ukrainian Canadian community for mobilizing an effective campaign of letters and postcards in support of the museum, which recently topped 80,000, over half of which came from Ukrainians.

The Ukrainian Weekly, Dec. 19, 1999, pg 4, 17

Reprinted with permission.
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