Dictatorships often seek to rewrite history to their advantage. Joseph Stalin’s regime, for example, was a master at retouching images that no longer fit the Soviet story.
The disgraced dignitaries disappeared from the pictures, as if they did not exist. Sometimes, Stalin himself was erased by clichés that became embarrassing, such as the signing of the German-Soviet pact in August 1939. When this non-aggression pact between the USSR and Nazi Germany was broken, two years later, Stalin simply erased from the official photo. Can’t be seen or recognized. Well, that’s the idea.
But no matter what we do, we cannot erase the story, even the most shameful one.
Minister Karina Gould, the government’s leader in the House of Commons, wanted to put an end to the mistake on Friday, when elected officials rose to give a standing ovation to a Waffen-SS veteran. He proposed, in vain, to remove this episode from the archives of Parliament, as if it had never existed. We can imagine that MME Gould, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, was particularly shocked to realize that he was praising a Nazi and not a Ukrainian resistance hero.
Unfortunately, no matter what we do, this extraordinary mistake will remain a stain on Canadian political history. All the excuses, all the resignations and all the shirt ripping in the world won’t change anything.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, Anthony Rota, had no choice. All elected officials, including liberals, abandoned him. His resignation was inevitable. His unforgivable mistake made Canada a global laughing stock. It helped undermine the cause of Ukraine, which frankly did not need that. The humiliation is complete and the waste is complete.
In his presentation of Yaroslav Hunka on Friday, Mr. Rota praised “a World War II veteran who fought for Ukraine’s independence against the Russians.” The parliamentarians stood up to praise the old man.
Afterwards, many observers were offended by their lack of culture. If Yaroslav Hunka had fought against the Russians during World War II, he would have probably been on the side of Nazi Germany! How did the parliamentarians applaud him?
It’s easier said than done. That’s oversimplifying things, too. Like others, President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish and himself lost family members in the Holocaust, warmly praised the Nazi veteran. Can we seriously accuse him of not knowing the painful history of his country?
When the Germans invaded Ukraine in June 1941, they were welcomed as liberators by part of the population, especially in the western part of the country, which was annexed by the Soviet Union two years ago.
But the celebrations did not last. The Nazi regime killed 1.5 million Jews in Ukraine. He deported 2.2 million Ukrainians to Germany to force them to work in his factories and farms. He banned cultural activities. In short, Ukraine went from one oppressor to another.
Resistance was organized. Nationalist and communist supporters fought against the German occupation. They also fight… against each other. Then there are Ukrainians like Yaroslav Hunka, who chose the wrong side of history. In short, it’s complicated.
So let’s not jump to conclusions and say that if someone fought the Russians, that should make him an ex-Nazi. This is a shortcut that will please Vladimir Putin very much.
In the Commons on Friday, Volodymyr Zelensky began his speech by talking about the Holodomor, this great famine, caused by Stalin’s policies, that killed 3.5 million Ukrainians in 1932-1933.
The President noted that the very first memorial to the victims of the Holodomor was built in 1983… in Edmonton. At that time, it was unthinkable to build the smallest monument in Ukraine, still under Soviet rule. True to form, Moscow is resolutely silent about the less glorious parts of its history.
Today, Vladimir Putin continues the tradition by distorting history with disinformation campaigns. Like Stalin before him, the Russian president did not hesitate to brand any Ukrainian nationalist with the fascist label. He claims he invaded Ukraine to denazify that country – a democratic country led by a Jewish president, remember.
Putin’s propaganda is absurd. But now Canada is giving it a new lease of life.
Russia is waging an “unrelenting struggle” against fascism that is “trying to find its feet in the heart of Europe, in Ukraine”, a Kremlin spokesman stated in reaction to the scandal.
For Ukraine, this chaos is disastrous.
In the Commons, President Zelensky thanked elected officials for their unwavering support for Ukraine, saying Canada has “always been on the right side of history.”
Always… except once in Parliament, we see now, not knowing where to put ourselves.
On behalf of Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should apologize to the Jewish community, President Zelensky and his people. Admitting your mistake is the only honorable thing to do. There is no point in trying to sweep this shameful incident under the carpet; it is already engraved in the records.