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LOEWEN: Matroyshkas and news from Ukraine

August 20, 2014 - 7:21 AM

We live amidst a seemingly endless stream of “news” sources, Info News among them. Their challenge is the same as it ever was: To present as factually as possible the irregular lurchings of a world resembling Harry Houdini attempting an escape from the ties that bind.

Over the course of recent decades, many have come to eye these news sources with increasing suspicion, as we have begun to question the ownership and motives of the media elites that are able still to shape the narratives that determine so much of what we see and hear from the news-worthy corners of the globe.

Trying to uncover the truth is akin to toying with a Russian matroyshka, those charming wooden nesting-dolls. Once you start unpacking the dolls-within-dolls, if you’re persistent, you will arrive at what the French call that which is mise en abyme (placed in an abyss).

Unfortunately, many of our elected governments do not share the same suspicion as those that they govern; nor do they seem persistent at getting at the truth. In many instances, foreign policy positions are crafted not with an eye to positive future outcomes for the regions immediately affected, but rather to infinitely more narrow interests in their own backyard.

Our current regime in Ottawa is a case in point when it comes to drafting our Canadian response to this year’s events in Ukraine.

Some of us recall PM Stephen Harper’s congratulatory salutation to newly-elected President Victor Yanukovych in February 2010, a brief four years before his ouster from power:

"I extend Canada's congratulations to Viktor Yanukovych on his victory. These presidential elections were a source of pride for Ukraine, as they were deemed free and fair by independent election observer missions. This included more than 300 Canadian elections observers who monitored the conduct of the election... In this spirit, I look forward to working closely with President-elect Yanukovych to continue to advance our countries' common values and shared interests."

A lot has changed in four years, of course. PM Harper’s Ukrainian counterpart Yanukovych was unable to sustain a government capable of restraining oligarchical elements from raiding the country’s larder and turning it into an even greater economic basket-case than it was originally. And over the course of Yanukovych’s tenure, economic conditions worsened and the perception became widespread that the rulers were corrupt leading many to question their leaders and to point to the growing gap between the richest in that country and the rest. Sound familiar?

Many folks think they know the rest of the story: the people overthrew the government of Yanukovych, an interim government was installed, and soon afterwards a new government was elected into office. On its heels, eastern Ukrainian oblast Donetsk was “annexed” by the Russians, and soon a civil war was begun between the new Ukrainian regime and “radicals,” supported by Russia.

Of course, things are rarely as they appear; and this is especially true in the case of the recent war being waged in eastern Ukraine. What is most unsettling of all is the uniformity of opinion in the news vis-a-vis President Putin and the Russians, and exactly who is doing the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

We need to be mindful that Ukraine is a country as unique as any other, that we do not understand the nuances and complexity of the political culture. We rely on the news to illuminate these recesses in our collective historical memory, to give us some background on what has led to the current conflict, the competing political and economic interests at play.

Many are shocked when I tell them of neo-Nazi elements in the current government in Kiev. Many have never heard of political parties like Svoboda, an ultra-nationalist party that has openly anti-semitic policies, not to mention intentions to purge homosexuals in their midst, or outlaw abortions. They are perhaps even more scandalized when they hear that Svoboda has recently called Ukrainian-born actress Mila Kunis “a dirty Jewess.”

There are many reasons for us to pause before jumping on any particular bandwagon when it comes to talking about current events in eastern Ukraine. One would think that mature introspection, invaluable fact-finding and re-checking, in a word diplomacy, would be the order of the day for any world leader. In fact following the coup, most world leaders were understandably quiet about the situation before stepping out into the limelight on the issue.

But not our PM Stephen Harper. Mr. Harper was among the very first world leaders to visit Kiev and throw his unabashed support behind the newly-installed government.

It is disconcerting to know now that as Kiev’s army fires rockets into eastern Ukraine, it is unruly militias that are doing the dirty work of hand-to-hand combat and killing as many Russians and Russian supporters as they can. The militias are often neo-Nazi in nature, and they are welcoming foreign fellow-travelers into their ranks to join in on the killing.

In the last week or so I have discovered that there is even a young Ukrainian-Canadian identified as “Lemko” who has joined Azov Battallion, a violently racist militia of over 300 combatants formed by the equally odious Social National Assembly. Spokespeople for Azov have put out the call for more sympathetic foreigners to join their ranks.

One wonders what PM Harper might say about his support for Kiev if he knew about a man like “Lemko,” a member of Canada’s large Ukrainian Diaspora community. Needless to say, I have the opinion that Mr. Harper’s bellicose support for Kiev has more to do with garnering votes at home come the next election. I wonder if he would go so far as identifying fascistic elements like “Lemko” as “Freedom Fighters” and not the dirty scoundrels and criminals that he and his fellow-travelers are.

As the electioneering is seriously underway at this point, perhaps you’d like to ask our PM a few of these questions. The rest of us would like to know his responses too.

—  Having lost his 2,500 volume library in the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, Jeffrey is beginning to fill the void by writing his own. Reach him at jeff.loewen(at)

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
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