The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association wants foreign scholars to stay out of the escalating debate over the contents of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and keep their "anti-democratic stammering" to themselves.
In a media release Thursday, the UCCLA, a Toronto-based advocacy group formed in 1984, said "how we spend our tax dollars, how a Canadian national museum is governed and what should be in it are matters for Canadians to decide -- our business, not theirs."
The association was responding to an open letter published last week, signed by more than 80 scholars from the U.S., Europe, England and Israel, criticizing the UCCLA and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress for "distorting historical accounts of the Holodomor [the death, by starvation, of millions in Soviet-occupied Ukraine in 1932-32]" in their debate with the CMHR "while at the same time refusing to acknowledge" the role Ukrainian nationalist movements played in the Holocaust. As a result, the open letter -- the text of which was drafted by a group of Canadian academics -- says the UCC and the UCCLA "ought to stay out of a debate" about the CMHR, now under constructoin in Winnipeg for a 2013 opening. Among its more notable international signatories are Sir Ian Kershaw (U.K.). Christopher Browning (U.S.A.) and Yehuda Bauer (Israel). Included in the 20 Canadian signatories are Catherine Chatterley, founding director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-semitism, and Winnipeg lawyer David Matas.
In its reply, the UCCLA said it found the letter's call "for the silencing of Canadian voices in public discussion . . . nothing less than appalling . . . We reject the anti-democratic stammering of its authors." Further, "we have no interest in contending with non-Canadians over the contents or governance of one of our national institutions, any more than we would expect any of them to give much . . . weight to what a few Canadians might want" in museums in their countries.
The association and the UCC have been feuding with the CMHR, established as a Crown corporation by the Harper government in 2008, over, among other issues, the museum's intention to dedicate one of its planned 12 permanent "zones" to the Holocaust. Such an approach, they argue, "elevates" the suffering of one community over other victims of genocide and mass atrocities. The UCC wants the CMHR to create a separate Holodomor gallery that provides "no less coverage" than that given the Holocaust. By contrast, the UCCLA thinks all genocides, including the Holocaust and the Holodomor, should be explored in one "thematic gallery."
The UCCLA release criticizes some of the open-letter signatories for having "no expertise in 20th-century European history. Others are well known for making unfounded allegations concerning the nature and behaviour of the Ukrainian nationalist movement of the 20th century, assertions serious scholars have dismissed as prejudicial." It goes on to lash the signatories for their "delight in discounting" Ukraine's losses during the Holodomor while failing to "protest" the lack of any reference to the crimes of Stalin and Mao in an earlier report by the CMHR's content advisory committee.