Progressives ignore Canadian support for Ukraine’s right-wing policies

Fire at trade union office in Odessa

An important union and progressive principle is to wish for others what we want for ourselves. Except, it seems, in international affairs.

In the Ukraine, Canadian unions, language rights organizations and anti-racist groups have been indifferent to Ottawa promoting policies they’d consider anathema at home.

In my 2018 book Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada I detailed Canadian unions lack of reaction to a horrific incident in Odessa, which continues to mark Ukrainian politics. On May 2, 2014 42 were killed in a fire at the headquarters of the Odessa federation of trade unions. Neo-Nazi “Right Sector” militants sequestered “anti-Maidan”/pro-Russian demonstrators inside and 40 people choked to death on smoke or died jumping from the building. The far right purportedly instigated the violence in response to a Mayday celebration in a city with significant ties to Russia.

Demonstrating a striking lack of solidarity with their Ukrainian brethren, Canadian unions were silent about this horrific massacre. I searched in vain for a Unifor, CUPE, United Steelworkers, UFCW or PSAC statement on the fire at the union office.

Six weeks earlier Unifor released a statement about the successful 2014 rebellion against President Viktor Yanukovych, who hailed from the Russian speaking east of the Ukraine. Unifor’s Statement on Ukraine criticized “violence committed by the state against its own citizens” and noted that “we watched with horror as the political protesters demonstrating in the main square of Kiev, Ukraine were met with deadly violence.”

Unlike those in Kyiv, the victims in Odessa were considered “pro-Russian” so the dominant media barely covered their killings. As a result, Canadian union officials ignored them as well.

Far right groups played an important role in the Maidan protests against Yanukovych and there’s evidence to suggest they were responsible for some of the deaths blamed on government security forces. In “The far right, the Euromaidan, and the Maidan massacre in Ukraine” University of Ottawa professor Ivan Katchanovski points out that far‐right organizations played “crucial roles in the violent overthrow of the Yanukovych government” and they participated “in the Maidan massacre of the protesters and the police.”

Katchanovski confirms a Canadian Press report about opposition protesters being camped in the Canadian embassy for a week during the rebellion against Yanukovych. He reports, “the leader of the [Far right] Svoboda-affiliated C14 admitted that his C14-based Maidan Self-Defense company took refuge in the Canadian embassy in Kyiv on February 18 and stayed there during the Maidan massacre.” But I couldn’t find a major Canadian antiracist or antifascist group that questioned Ottawa’s support for the Maidan protests.

Canadian support for neo-Nazis in the Ukraine was all but ignored by antiracist groups until others reported that the Canadian military was training neo-Nazis. Still, Canadian Race Relations Foundation, Canadian Anti-Hate Network, etc. have said little about Canadian policy in Ukraine even though there’s evidence of ties between far-right Canadians and the world’s best organized neo-Nazis in the Ukraine.

Those concerned about minority language rights and federalism should also be raising questions about Canadian policy towards the Ukraine. Ethnically and linguistically divided, 30% of Ukrainians speak Russian (similar to the percentage of French speakers in Canada) as their mother tongue. The country is linguistically and culturally divided based on geography yet the government in Kyiv appoints governors across the country.

Kyiv has refused to implement its commitments to federalism under the German and French negotiated Minsk agreements, which sought to end fighting in the Donbass region that resulted from Yanukovych’s ouster. Hostile to federalism, the Ukrainian government has also launched an assault on minority language rights. Recently, the government passed a law forcing media outlets that publish Russian language editions to also publish in Ukrainian. (Imagine forcing Le Journal de Montréal and Le Devoir to publish an English language edition.) Ottawa has backed these Ukrainian government attacks against minority language rights and federalism.

Despite seeking to promote “democratic federalism” globally, the World Federalist Movement (Canada) doesn’t appear to have questioned Ottawa’s anti-federalist policies in the Ukraine. Similarly, minority language rights groups have stayed mum regarding Ottawa’s support for political forces trampling on minority language rights in the Ukraine.

The truth is our government is supporting — in fact promoting — policies in the Ukraine that progressives in this country would find repugnant. But there’s been no outcry from unions or other left organizations. Why? Is it because they only believe what the corporate media reports regarding foreign affairs? They want to believe Canada is always a force for good in the world despite generations of evidence to the contrary? Or they only wish for others what we want for ourselves inside Canada, the rest of the world be damned?

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