by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The Canadian parliament has offered a great illustration of why it’s important to know history.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was visiting Ottawa on Friday. As a gesture to Ukraine, the speaker of the Canadian parliament, Anthony Rota, invited a guest, Yaroslav Hunka.
Introducing the guest, Rota said, “We have here in chamber today, a Ukrainian Canadian veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians and continues to support the troops today even at his age of 98.”
When he said “against the Russians” there, that should have triggered some deeper thinking. As Joe Warmington writes for the Toronto Sun:
“Historians were confused by how a person could be fighting against the Russians when the then-Soviet army was aligned with the Allied forces, including Canada, against Hitler’s Germany which had occupied Ukraine. They quickly learned that Hunka had served with the First Ukrainian Division during the war and came to Canada after that.
“That division was also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS — referred to as the SS Galichina — and considered part of . . . Germany’s Nazi war machine.” …
… But let’s think this through. Political operations like this don’t get planned by one person. How many people in Rota’s office — and the prime minister’s office, which would have likely been involved in planning this event — missed that someone fighting against the Russians in Eastern Europe during World War II might have some connection to the Nazis? Or at the very least, remember that at that point Canada was allied with the Russians against the Nazis?
It’s not as though World War II is a minor event in Canadian history. Over a million Canadians served in the war, and Canadian forces successfully led the assault on one of the five beaches on D-Day. That ought to be a source of national pride and be firmly secure in national memory.
The consequences of this mistake go beyond national embarrassment.