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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Michael Ignatieff's Offensive Remarks Still a Problem

By Ihor Cap
The whole Ignatieff-Ukrainian mess started just after the Liberal Leader’s trip to Ukraine. From then, it resurfaced again with Dr. Ignatieff’s “uncontested nomination” to the Liberal Party of Canada. Ukrainians were upset that two perfectly qualified Ukrainians were “snookered” out of their nominations in the Etobicoke-Lakeshore Riding to make room for Dr. Ignatieff, writes Myron Kuropas in The Ukrainian Weekly.
Soon after, the demotion of Ukrainian-Canadian Liberal MP Critic for Citizenship, Immigration & Multiculturalism Borys Wrzesnewskyj to the backbenches caused quite a stir in the Ukrainian community and some grief for the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada Michael Ignatieff as he scrambled across Canada to patch things up with leaders in the Ukrainian community. See Steve Janke blog “Ignatieff's imperial roots stir trouble on the Ukrainian front” in The National Post and Oksana Bashuk Hepburn’s article  "Ignatieff alienates many Ukrainian-Canadians” published in The Edmonton Journal or the more recent article “Ignatieff has 'respect' for Ukrainians, says Tories misinterpreted his words” in the Halifax .
Ukrainian community leaders met with the Canadian Member of Parliament in Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton. Michael Ignatieff is a former University of Toronto's Trinity College and Harvard Ph.D. History graduate, son of the late Russian-born leading Canadian diplomat George Ignatieff, and grandson of the Russian Minister of the Interior under Tsar Alexander III.  If you want more details on Dr. Ignatieff’s background, just do a Wikipedia search. It’s available there in some detail. However, it is not his liberal or academic credentials that came into question with community leaders. Nor was it the Liberal Party’s stance of respecting Ukrainian sovereignty. It was the “star-tsar’s” derogatory, stereotypical and neo-imperialistic remarks that he made about Ukrainians, and Ukrainian independence in his 1994 book Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism. To that, you might as well add the strong community perceptions that Ukrainians and others have lost an effective voice in the House of Commons that was Borys Wrzesnewskyj, until Ignatieff "silenced” him.
The Right Honorable Ignatieff made no apologies to the closed-door, by special invitation, meeting with some 30 Ukrainian community leaders in Winnipeg about what he said in his book. Some community leaders may have been quick to forgive Ignatieff, some will never forgive him, and still others are waiting for a public renunciation of those published views. Ninety nine percent of Ukrainians did not hear his message but various sources suggest that it all boiled down to one big, fat “misunderstanding.” In other words, Ignatieff only regretted how he said it. As such, it does not appear there will be any appeasement any time soon, if at all.
Exactly which passages of Ignatieff’s book does the Ukrainian community find problematic? The ones cited in Steve Janke’s
National Post blog are indicative. Here is what the unabashed Harvard Professor said about Ukrainians after his visit to the country in 1992.
"Ukrainian independence conjures up images of embroidered peasant shirts, the nasal whine of ethnic instruments, phony cossacks in cloaks and boots, nasty anti-Semites" (p. 106). "My difficulty in taking Ukraine seriously goes deeper than just my cosmopolitan suspicion of nationalists everywhere. Somewhere inside, I'm also what Ukrainians call a Great Russian, and there is a trace of old Russian disdain for these 'little Russians." (p. 108). Within the larger context of the book, however, such admissions could also be read as evidence of self-reflexivity-a willingness to lay bear rooted prejudices and stereotypes. See Michael Ignatieff, Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism (London: BBC Books and Chatto & Windus, 1993; reprint, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), 103-42.
Janke concludes his discourse with the supposition that “Ignatieff can use his I've-been-misunderstood line, but it's getting a bit old, and in any case, it's not the sort of excuse a politician ought to be using too often. Eventually the most patient Liberal supporter will demand a leader that is understood more often than not.” In turn, there is no misunderstanding about what the Kingston born Ukrainian community activist Lubomyr Luciuk thinks of Dr. Ignatieff’s remarks. His fighting words are a sentiment shared by many in the Ukrainian community.
I confess that I have an embroidered Ukrainian shirt, several in fact, which my mother hand-made for me, and which I am proud to wear. I share other kindred, albeit more intellectual, prejudices with Michael Ignatieff, who probably thinks he is my "Elder Brother." So I get a laugh when reading about those puffed up White Russian emigres - with their pro-fascist sentiments and stunted ideas about the rights of other nations to self determination - who fittingly ended up as so many Grand Duke Such and Such taxi cab drivers in Paris, or Princess This and Thats serving up tables, or themselves, in Harbin dancing halls. They were the flotsam of the failed Tsarist regime, pretenders and pogromchiks, most shoveled into the dustbin of history during the interwar period, although a few managed to hold on long enough to serve Hitler as collaborators on the Eastern Front. One of their own (and yes he was a Count, what else), Vladimir Kokovtsev, described his fellow exiles in 1930 as an admixture of "nostalgia, fatalism, balalaikas, lugubrious songs of the Volga, a crimson shirt [and] frenzied dance."
In the end, Ukrainians will not want anything “…to do with those who called them Little, or Russians, nor would they ever vote for anyone who thinks they once were, are now, or ever will be,” says Luciuk in his article "Ukrainians were never 'little,' or 'Russian'."
Dr. Ignatieff’s contempt for Ukrainians appears to be recent, but The Ukrainian Weekly informs us that it goes much further back than originally thought. In the "
The Ignatieff imbroglio", author Mr. Kuropas tells us that:
Mr. Ignatieff’s antipathy toward Ukrainians appears to be lifelong. “From my childhood in Canada,” he wrote, “I remember expatriate Ukrainian nationalists demonstrating in the snow outside ballet performances by the Bolshoi in Toronto. “Free the captive nations!” they chanted. In 1960, they seemed strange and pathetic, chanting in the snow, haranguing people who just wanted to see ballet and to hell with politics, They seemed fanatical, too, unreasonable. Hadn’t they looked at a map? How did they ever think Ukraine could ever be free.”
Evidently, Dr. Ignatieff is not going to rest anytime soon. Just check out the latest headlines in late June of 2009 in the Winnipeg Free Press , or the The Winnipeg Sun . According to these media reports, Ignatieff’s anti-Ukrainian views have resurrected, but this time in a constituency flyer. The flyer was placed purportedly by Senior Tory MP Vic Toews into the mailboxes of citizens in his own riding in the province of Manitoba where a large number of Ukrainians reside. Ouch! Toew’s took advantage of this public relations fiasco by quickly reminding his constituents of what the Conservative Party has done for Ukrainians on the flip side of this flyer, we are told. Of course, Grit opposition members cried foul saying Ignatieff’s words were taken out of context. However, Tory MP Vic Toews challenged the lone Grit MP Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre) “to explain the context" of the Liberal Leader’s remarks to Canadians. You can read about that in the Canadian Press or Winnipeg Sun . Meanwhile, Grit MP (for Youth and Multiculturalism) Ruby Dhalla’s embattlement with the 'Nannygate' scandal is not helping the Liberal’s case of an effective replacement for Borys Wrzesnewskyj. See Wikipedia’s interpretation of the event.
Will the Tory “attack ads” change anything? Well if you ask Jim Mosher and Marc Zienkiewicz of
The Lac Du Bonnet Leader, not at all. They believe that such attacks on Ignatieff may even hurt the Conservatives. After all, “Ignatieff is a scholar. He has written extensively. He is a literate, passionate Canadian,” they say. As true as that may be, one might also say that Ignatieff has only himself to blame for a problem of his own making. In the process, Canadian citizens are learning more about Ignatieff than Wikipedia cares to offer about the Liberal Leader. Will a public apology from Ignatieff be enough for Ukrainians? I am not so sure of that either, although some Ukrainians may be prepared to give him a second chance with Wrzesnewskyj’s reinstatement. Others are not so forgiving of the Harvard scholar. Apparently, Dr. Ignatieff has offended Ukrainians in more ways than one. Morris Lewicky, in Meeting Michael Ignatieff , points out some of the other erroneous statements made in Ignatieff’s book.
Ignatieff talks about smelly Ukrainian hotels but doesn’t mention that this was a throwback of Soviet rule and that this was only one year after Ukraine gained independence. No wonder they were still using USSR Passports with Ukraine red stamped across the face. He goes on to state that “Russian Orthodox” Christianity was brought about in 987. It was in 988 and it was Rus’, as Ukraine was then known, and not Russian [Orthodox] as they refer to themselves. He claims that it was the Russian Prince Vladimir who brought Christianity. In fact it was the Kyivan-Rus Prince Volodomyr. He keeps referring to Ukraine as a new country, ignoring the fact that Ukraine was founded in 482 AD - long before Russia appeared. There are many references of a contemptuous nature throughout this chapter. 
This begs the question, “How could Ignatieff have gotten this wrong too?” This should be a no-brainer for a learned 1976 Harvard Ph.D. graduate, in History, I might add. Moreover, he could have easily walked over to The Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI) with Chairs of Ukrainian Linguistics, Ukrainian Literature, and Ukrainian History to clear up any confusion of the historical facts. The history of Kyivan Rus’ was offered at Harvard then too, but only at the HURI because it was part of Ukraine’s history. Harvard, the finest University in the USA recognized this as well. The HURI was already in operation in January of 1973 and founded by the late notable scholar and Institute’s very first Director Omeljan Pritsak. I’m sure The HURI Institute’s Professor Pritsak would have been delighted to meet Ignatieff personally to discuss topics of mutual interest to both of them. That the Right Honorable Ignatieff might have benefited from these discussions is certain since Professor Omelian Pritsak was also a well-known scholar and giant in this field with a bibliography of more than 500 entries. Moreover, it was hard to miss any of the Institute’s course offerings then since the Institute was founded on the premise that it partner with other associated faculty at Harvard. This principle is still maintained to this day. Is this just another case of an opportunity missed by Dr. Ignatieff? Perhaps, but to print such nonsense in the 90s is inexcusable. See HURI’s Mission statement on their web site page. Read Omeljan Pritsak’s 1973 publication entitled “Why Endowed Chairs in Ukrainian Studies at Harvard? : A Selection of Articles Concerning Ukrainian Cultural Policy” if you want to learn more about the making of The Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard, published by the Ukrainian Studies Chair Fund, Inc. Cambridge, Mass.-New York, N.Y. Library of Congress Catalogue No. 73-88645.
Consequently, these are not just “rhetorical” words and statements that we heard from the Liberal Leader as Marco Levytsky, editor of the
Ukrainian News in Edmonton would have us believe. Nor is it simply a matter of “processes that were wrong” in the book that Dr. Ignatieff would have us believe. After all, this is an “unbiased analysis of Ukrainian nationalism” to use Ignatieff’s own words in his retort to Canadian historian Orest Subtelny who challenged his twisted version of Ukrainian history on Canada’s TVO. The release of Dr. Ignatieff’s Book was based on a documentary mini-series Blood and Belonging for the BBC a couple of years before he published his Book. A work of non-fiction for which he won an award. As such, I find myself agreeing with Morris Lewicky’s assessment of Ignatieff’s statements about Ukrainians in his “Ukraine” chapter of the Book. Lewicky, in Meeting Michael Ignatieff, affirms that Ignatieff’s book is replete with “…references in this chapter that are biased and incorrect. He distorts history in favour of his Russian roots.” More recently, political commentator Oksana Bashuk-Hepburn shares her final assessment of Canada’s Liberal Leader in her March 11, 2009 article entitled “Ignatieff alienates many Ukrainian-Canadians“. She concludes her view with these words:
Unlike America’s President Barack Obama, whose electoral campaign and formulation of cabinet are exemplary in attempting to unify, reach for the best qualified, and heal in troubled times - Hillary Clinton and Republicans in his cabinet come to mind - Ignatieff excluded and disqualified a competent MP and with him an entire body of Canadians. This behaviour has more in common with the arrogant Russian rather than Canadian politician. This should worry Liberals and all Canadians. See InfoUkes web site for the complete article.
In the same vein, Canadian political analyst Christina S. Franko is neither impressed nor convinced of Dr. Ignatieff’’s sincerity. In her view, “Mr. Ignatieff failed to do the one thing he needed to in order to repair his image in the eyes of the Ukrainian community—he failed to withdraw his offensive historical assessment of the Ukrainian people,” she says in The New Pathway article "Ignatieff Remains Unconvincing." Canadians of Ukrainian descent are particularly perturbed by the Liberal Leader’s “…portrayal of Ukrainian ethnic tribalism and its alleged genetic proclivity towards anti-Semitism”, says Christina. If anything, Dr. Ignatieff’s “unbiased analysis” appears to fly out the window when it comes to 
“…his family’s complicity in Tsarist-era anti-Semitic pogroms. His great-grandfather was Count Nikolai Ignatiev, who instituted the Tsar’s notorious May Laws against Jews. Yet, according to Ignatieff’s family biography, The Russian Album, “rounding up all the Jews” was a necessity “to protect them from outraged peasantry.” So much for historical objectivity. (Read the full story in the The New Pathway on the web site.)
The infamous Count Ignatieff gave this lame excuse when he was appointed Minister of the Interior in Tsarist Russia.  Back then, Count Ignatieff was taken to task for trying to hide his involvement in fomenting the anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Ukraine in order to extort blackmail from the wealthier Jews. “The Father of Lies” they christened him.  Here is how reporter Harold Frederic described the situation back in October 26 of 1891 in The New York Times.
   The Jews themselves were never under any illusions as to the motives of their tormenters. The first great anti-Semitic riot at Elizabethgrad, in April, 1881, only preceded by a day or two Ignatieff’s accession to office, and very shortly after came the terrible fires and looting at Kief, where 2,000 Jews had the roofs burned over their heads. It was clear enough that a definite purpose underlay these outbreaks and inspired the attacks in the Novoe Vremya. There could be but one explanation of Ignatieff’s attitude.
    If there had been any doubt, his circular rescript to the Provincial Governors in September, 1881, must have cleared it away. In it he disclosed his whole line of campaign. “While energetically protecting the Jews from violence,” he said, “the Government recognized the need of equally vigorous measures for removing the existing abnormal relations between the Jews and the native population and for protecting the people from that injurious activity of the Jews which was the real cause of the agitation.” In these, and other not less menacing phrases with which Ignatieff prefaced his directions for the formation of local commissions to inquire into the subject, the Hebrews discerned the foundations for a colossal superstructure of blackmail.
The pogroms continued because there were no serious attempts to stop them. Yet, there was no difficulty subduing them in other regions where the provinces had Governors who were not loyal to Ignatieff, for example in Wilna.  (See Nikolai Pavlovich Ignatiev in The Fury of Europeans)
It seems that there is just too much residual baggage that Dr. Ignatieff brought back with him when he re-entered Canada to enter the political arena. His baggage is full of old belongings that have no place in the New World. There is a chance that Dr. Ignatieff will do the right thing before election time and that is to issue a public apology to Ukrainians across this great country of ours. It still might not get him the votes he wants, but if he has any redeeming qualities, this is the time to show them. Canada has had many a great Liberal Leader. Michael Ignatieff will not be one of them.

Author: Ihor Cap
About the Author
Ihor Cap is a Slavic Studies graduate from The University of Ottawa with a specialization in Ukrainian Studies, and is a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in Canada. He also holds an Education Specialist degree and a Ph.D. in Comprehensive Vocational Education from The Florida State University.

This article was first published  July 2, 2009  in