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Catholic Register | 25May2013 | Ruane Remy

Human rights museum in the wrong, say Ukrainians

Members of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress are demanding that the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights more fully recognize abuses suffered by Ukrainians in Canada and in the former Soviet Union.

When the museum opens next year in Winnipeg, it will downplay the wartime internment of Ukrainians in Canada and virtually ignore communist crimes committed during the Joseph Stalin era, said UCC executive director Taras Zalusky.

“When we saw how, first of all, the internment of Ukrainians (in Canada) during the First World War was not going to have an exhibit, it was only going to be represented by a photo, we were kind of upset,” said Zalusky, who toured the museum in February.

Zalusky also expressed dismay about the museum’s treatment of the Holodomor, a famine created by Stalin policies that led to millions of deaths in the Ukraine in 1932 and ’33. He called Stalin’s actions “intentional famine, genocide.”

“There’s no gallery, there’s only a single panel near the washrooms,” he said, adding the museum is guilty of “a horrendous oversight” by being “entirely silent” on the communist crimes.

Zalusky said the UCC wants a permanent and prominent representation of the Holodomor in its own gallery and a permanent exhibit on Canada’s first national internment camps.

Maureen Fitzhenry, media relations manager of the museum, calls the disagreement a misunderstanding of how the museum is to be organized. She said it is an “idea museum,” not an artifact and collection museum.

“We’re looking at human rights through themes,” she said. “We’re not saying, here’s the Ukrainian thing, here’s the Rwandan thing… it’s not like a collection of grievances. Instead we’re trying to raise the importance of human rights for everyone, and we’re using different examples, so the Ukrainian Canadian stuff is scattered throughout three different galleries.”

She said the Holodomor and wartime internment are integrated in multiple ways into different exhibits and will be presented permanently and prominently. She also said the museum is honouring all its commitments to the Canadian Ukrainian community.

“The Asper Foundation promised that wartime internment would be dealt with prominently and respectfully. We’re doing that,” she said.

“In our Canadian human right’s journey, we’re exploring wartime internment in a number of ways, including that of Ukrainian Canadians. We’re using static images, interactive digital insight stations that are full of information and a mini- documentary film on a 96-foot screen. One of the mini-documentaries is devoted to wartime internment, beginning with Ukrainian Canadian internment.”

Fitzhenry said the Holodomor is acknowledged on “a recognition wall featuring atrocities, including the Holodomor,” and through an “interactive study table which will have primary source evidence about the Holodomor.” Additionally, first- hand video testimonies will be played at another spot in the museum.

She said that just because these types of exhibits are projected or use other modern technology, it does not mean they are any less permanent than traditional static exhibits, adding that no exhibit is near a washroom.

The “Ukrainian Canadian experience is extremely important to the Canadian experience and the lessons of human rights,” said Fitzhenry.

Zalusky disagrees that the museum is only an ideas museum and argues that the current display and projection plans fall short of what the Ukrainian community is seeking.

Zalusky says there are built exhibits called niches.

“If there can be one (a niche) on the Winnipeg General Strike, (if ) there can be one on the Japanese internment or the Chinese head tax, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t have Canada’s first national internment operations, the one that created a precedent of removing the rights of Canadians,” he said.

“We have supported the museum. We hope that it can be something that we can be proud of and not ashamed of when it opens its doors next year.”


Roman Serbyn Sunday, 26 May 2013 15:32
    The fundamental problem with the so-called CMHR is that its primary focus is not on human rights but on human wrongs. Had the museum's administration respected the idea of a CANADIAN museum of human RIGHTS, it would have put these RIGHTS, as they developed and evolved primarily in CANADA, but also around the world, in the conceptual and physical centre of the museum. Human wrongs (violation of human rights), such as genocides, mass atrocities, slavery, discrimination, etc., etc., should have been used to demonstrate and illustrate examples of "man's inhumanity to man", how HUMAN RIGHTS were ignored and trampled in the past.

    Human rights are universal and uniting, and had the museum pursued this approach in the conceptualizing and organizing the museum's displays it would have united the Canadian society behind such a worthy project, which at the same time would have been unique, for there is no other museum in the world dedicated solely to human rights. On the other hand, human wrongs are individual and the victim communities have already put up museums and memorials to them. By their very nature, commemoration of human wrongs tend to be divisive, and the could not but create competition and strife between various sections of the multi-cultural, mustii-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious Canadian society. Had the CMHR focused on "rights not wrongs", as Professor Michael Marus so aptly argued in his letter to the Globe and Mail, it would have united the whole Canadian society behind the project. Instead, the CMHR unwisely chose to make one human wrong - the Holocaust - the conceptual centre of the whole project and to structure the rest of the material around around it. In this way the other genocides and mass atrocities appear to be subordinated to one atrocity, and even the human rights legislation in Canada and around the world, is seen as assuming the role of props to emphasize the tragedy and the primary position of the Holocaust. Such an approach could not be a unifying factor of the Canadian society, and in fact it had started what I call "the struggle for preeminence in the memorialization of genocides".

Dr L Y Luciuk Sunday, 26 May 2013 10:37
    What is wrong with the taxpayer funded Canadian Museum for Human Rights is that it elevates the suffering of one community above all others. That is intellectually and morally indefensible.