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If the Russian community wants to participate in the Heritage Festival, then it must denounce the war

Jun 12, 2023 | Editorials, Featured, Opinion

Visitors and Pavilions at the Heritage festival in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer

As June 16 – the day Edmonton’s Heritage Festival Board will announce its decision on which ethnocultural groups will be allowed to set up pavilions at the Festival scheduled for August 5;7 – approaches, the question of whether or not to allow the Russian Heritage Cultural Development Association to participate becomes more urgent.

As we have mentioned earlier, both the Alberta Provincial Council (UCC-APC) and the Edmonton Branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress have appealed to the Festival Board to keep Russia out.

“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,” stated Orysia Boychuk, President of UCC-APC who noted that the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts, to which Edmonton’s festival belongs, has already suspended the membership of both Russia and Belarus.

Supporters of the Russian Pavilion argue that Russian Canadians did not ask for this war and are not participating in it. As one such supporter, T.A. Zinger, stated in a letter to the editor of the Edmonton Journal: “Russian-Canadians chose to be Canadians and are intertwined in Canadian community and culture. They even showed up to the Russia/Ukraine war protests in support of Ukraine.”

That may be true, but the number of Russians who have come out and publicly supported Ukraine is minimal. The vast majority of the Russian community either supports Putin’s war outright, or has chosen to remain silent. As far as the organizers of the Russian Pavilion have shown in the past, they both support Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea and subsequent occupation of parts of Donbas and long for a return of the Soviet Empire. Among the items sold to the public in past years have been magnets emblazoned with the hammer and sickle as well as other Soviet paraphernalia.

Were any such items to be sold again this would constitute an extreme provocation. As it is, just glorifying Russia as if nothing has happened will be provocation enough. Especially as there are thousands of Ukrainians in Edmonton who have fled the war. They have lost husbands, wives, sons, brothers, sisters and other loved ones to Russian aggression. They have lost their homes to indiscriminate Russian bombing. They have witnessed unspeakable atrocities. How do you expect them to react? Members of the Russian community who do support Ukraine have themselves pointed out to the organizers that this would be a provocation, but they have been ignored.

The Russian Canadian community is adamant that the Heritage Festival is a place where Canadians of every ethnic background can come together peacefully and respectfully, in a spirit of friendship and inclusivity to openly and proudly share their heritage and, in the process, better understand what makes all of us Canadians. We agree with that too. But the Russian Canadian community cannot have it both ways. It cannot speak of all the wonderful and admirable qualities of the nation with whose ethnic population it largely, if not completely, identifies while that very same nation has simultaneously set for itself the goal – in the words of Russia’s leadership –of eliminating all traces of the Ukrainian language, Ukrainian culture, the Ukrainian state, and the Ukrainian nation itself.

Therefore, if the Russian Heritage Cultural Development Association (RHCDA) claims to honour Canadian values, it should back-up its words with concrete actions. That means it cannot continue to feign ignorance and do nothing while Moscow commits genocide against the people of Ukraine, encourages its soldiers to rape women and even children, destroy civilian infrastructure, create ecological disasters by blowing up a dam and flooding hundreds of square kilometres of land and then shell first responders coming to the aid of flood victims, among scores of other war crimes Russian forces commit every day on the territory of Ukraine. As 18th century philosopher Edmond Burke said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Instead, the RHCDA must clearly, publicly and unequivocally denounce Russia’s war upon Ukraine. A meaningful way to demonstrate true goodwill would be to collect donations for humanitarian aid to Ukrainian victims of the war and to do so in a transparent and verifiable manner to dispel any suggestion or possibility of misappropriating or redirecting collected funds to other purposes.

Either the Russian Canadian community supports democracy, the rule of law, the freedom and independence for all nations and all peoples, or it does not. If its claimed commitment to the former is to be believed, then it must denounce the Kremlin’s genocidal war in no uncertain terms. And if it does not, then it has no right to participate in the Heritage Festival as it should be clear to everyone concerned that it fundamentally opposes the values the festival espouses and upholds.

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