By Marco Levytsky
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Alberta Provincial Council (UCC-APC) has appealed to the Edmonton Heritage Festival Board not to allow the Russian Heritage Cultural Development Association to participate in the Edmonton Heritage Festival, scheduled for August 5-7 at the Edmonton Exhibition Lands. The Board has yet not made a final decision despite hearing the strenuous objections of the Ukrainian community both at a meeting with representatives of the UCC’s Edmonton Branch and from numerous letters sent them. The final decision will be announced on June 16, which is why UCC-APC has also appealed to Ukrainian organizations and members of our community to let them know of our objections before it’s too late.
As UCC-APC states:
“We cannot turn a blind eye to the ongoing heinous war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, which include but are not limited to executions, torture, intentional targeting of civilians, sexual violence, attacks on schools, hospitals, religious buildings, and non-military objects such as residential buildings.
“As organizations dedicated to upholding human rights, promoting justice, and supporting the well-being of all communities, we find it deeply troubling that the Edmonton Heritage Festival Board would extend a platform to a community that represents a country currently engaged in flagrant violations of international law and basic human decency. The decision to allow the Russian community’s participation in the festival undermines the principles of peace, justice, and respect for human rights that our multicultural society is built upon.”
In a May 23 letter to the Board, UCC-APC President Orysia Boychuk noted that “the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts, of which you are a member, has already taken a stance by suspending the membership of both Russia and Belarus, recognizing the severity of the situation.”
“In light of these events, it would be ethically inconsistent to allow the Russian community’s participation in the Edmonton Heritage Festival,” she added.
In his letter, UCC Edmonton President Yarko Broda stated: “It is disappointing that after little more than a year of genocide the Edmonton Heritage Festival is considering returning to business as usual.”
“The Russian government and state media has openly called for genocide by destroying Ukraine as distinct nation, culture, and language. This flies in the face of the half century of work the Edmonton Heritage Festival has done to promote cultural contact. In past years, the Russia Pavilion has prominently featured soviet and militaristic symbols. Not only does this violate your policies, but these are unambiguously symbols of hate which represent some of the vilest regimes and ideologies in human history. The Heritage Festival is meant to celebrate cultural identities and encourage cultural exchanges; instead, the Russia Pavilion glorifies Russian imperialism and chauvinism which has oppressed Eastern European and Central Asian peoples for four centuries and killed tens of millions of people in the last century,” he added.
Broda raised a very important point when he noted that “In past years, the Russia Pavilion has prominently featured soviet and militaristic symbols.” That clearly demonstrates that the organization behind the Russian pavilion has no qualms about glorifying both Russia’s war and the Soviet past.
In an Aug 4, 2016 editorial, Ukrainian News pointed out that back in 2014 (when the war really started) the Russian Pavilion was selling tee shirts showing missiles being fired at Ukraine from Russia. In 2016 the pavilion was selling magnets glorifying the USSR. The paper sent an e-mail to Jim Gibbon, Executive Director of the Heritage Festival stating that pavilions at Heritage Days should not be “selling paraphernalia that glorifies a totalitarian regime — the USSR. “Furthermore, this particular magnet implies world Communist domination. One may argue that the Soviet regime is part of Russia’s history, but one may also argue that the Nazi regime is part of Germany’s. However, you would never find Nazi paraphernalia at the German Pavilion, so why should Soviet paraphernalia be permitted at the Russian one?”
This message apparently never got through because the magnets continued to be sold throughout the festival. Gibbon later told Ukrainian News that he gets so many emails during the festival he can’t read them all. Had he been informed he would have told the Russian Pavilion to remove the magnets.
Festival organizers, however, did act upon a complaint that Olesia Matskiv of the Wounded Volunteers Fund was selling artifacts at the Ukrainian Pavilion to help provide medical aid to those wounded in the war against Russian aggression in Ukraine. Matskiv was told to take down her sign because it was “political”.
This shows that in the past the Festival Board has chosen to ignore both Russia’s aggression and the Russian pavilion’s own glorification of totalitarian terror. Last year it was the Russian Pavilion organizers themselves who decided that discretion was the better part of valour and chose not to participate. “With the current situation we cannot guarantee safe and stress-free days for our volunteers and pavilion visitors, due to potential issues beyond our control,” a statement from the association said.
“Due to the current negativity associated with Russia, some people prefer not to show their association with Russia due to business and personal reasons.”
No mention of the war, only “negativity associated with Russia”. Supposedly it’s the media which is to blame for reporting on Russia’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians and numerous other war crimes, thus creating this “negativity”.
If the Heritage Festival Board gives the Russian Heritage Cultural Development Association the green light to participate this year, then they will be sending the world a message that it’s fine to ignore terror and genocide when it is being committed. That’s why we urge not only members of our community, but all people who respect human rights and the sovereignty of nations to contact the Heritage Festival Board and to the sponsors of the Festival – TD Bank with their concerns.