Ignatieff Remains Unconvincing
By Christina S. Franko
Earlier in May, a meeting with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, spearheaded by Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj and his former executive assistant, Yvan Baker (now, UCC-Toronto Vice-President) took place with representatives of Toronto’s Ukrainian community. With a possible election looming, the fact that such a meeting took place surprised no one. Mr. Wrzesnewskyj finds himself in an unenviable position, with a party leader most Ukrainians distrust, and many dislike intensely. Some had hoped that Mr. Ignatieff might redeem himself as a politician by withdrawing, once and for all, the derogatory remarks that so many Ukrainians found offensive. Alas, this was not to be.
Just as in Edmonton one month earlier, by the end of the meeting in Toronto, notwithstanding his long litany of standard remarks on issues of foreign policy and immigration, 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.
It was back in 1993, two
years before the release of his controversial book, that Ignatieff produced the
documentary mini-series Blood and Belonging for the BBC. The series
later aired in
Before he needed our votes, Ignatieff, the historian, questioned the legitimacy of Ukrainian independence, by writing in his book Blood and Belonging:
“My difficulty in taking Ukraine seriously goes deeper than just my cosmopolitan suspicion of nationalists everywhere … I am also what Ukrainians would call a Great Russian and there is just a trace of old Russian disdain for these “little Russians.” The thought of their independence conjured up only “images of embroidered peasant shirts, the nasal whine of ethnic instruments, phony Cossacks in cloaks and boots, nasty anti-Semites.”
Many of us wanted to give
Ignatieff the benefit of the doubt, but his stubborn arrogance underscores why
the Bloc Quebecois recently called him “a scornful aristocrat.” During
Ironically, while Michael Ignatieff refuses to withdraw the smear of anti-Semitism which he places on Ukrainians, he conveniently fails to address 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.
Grandfather Pavel was governor of Kyiv gubernia and served as Minister of Education to Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia. Mr. Ignatieff is not likely to change his opinion of Ukrainians, molded by his family’s Tsarist, imperial past, who have seen Ukraine as nothing more than a part of a once Great Russia.
I am reminded of a public
event I attended years ago at the
Michael Ignatieff may want to be Prime Minister, but real leadership requires a dose of humility and political sensitivity that Ignatieff is dearly lacking. While no politician is perfect. if pressed, I would choose PM Harper over Ignatieff. Not only has the PM never insulted the Ukrainian people, in responding to the concerns of the Ukrainian community, Harper has consistently delivered on issues that previous government’s failed to address by providing millions of dollars in internment redress; declaring unequivocal support for Ukraine’s right to NATO membership; and recognizing the Holodomor-Famine as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people.
Mr. Ignatieff, it’s time for
you to realize that the days of Counts and serfs are long gone. By refusing to
recant your offensive views on
Christina S. Franko is a Canadian political scientist of Ukrainian origin.