Issues

October 2015

Re: “Fault Lines,” by Antanas Sileika

The names of the victims of Communism are legion, many of them “known only to God.” After decades, even generations, of suppression of their names and life and death stories, it is understandable and salutary that their descendants and surviving confederates wish them to be remembered publicly.

In West Germany, recovery of the knowledge of the Holocaust came to a head with the challenge from the post-war generation of 1968 to their complicit parents’ generation: they all stood accused. But recovery of knowledge of the crimes of Soviet Communism on the lands where they occurred was violently aborted by the state when it sentenced its dissidents to the Gulag. It was up to the militant 1968 generation in the West to begin the recovery project: after the publication in translation of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago in 1973, we could not say we didn’t know.

To this point I am in sympathy with Sileika’s defense of an “officially-sanctioned monument” to the victims of Communism, and I share with him the experience of the “sneers” of the leftish “harpies of Canada” when I have written in sympathy with the Orange and Maidan revolutions in Ukraine. But I have also come under attack by Ukrainian-Canadian “nationalists” when in the pages of this journal I wrote that I relied on historians, not ideologues, for truth about the Holodomor, one of those egregious Soviet crimes historian Timothy Snyder situates on the “bloodland” of Soviet Ukraine in the 1930s.

But I am a third-generation Ukrainian-Canadian, whose Galician forebears came to Alberta in the early 1900s, and there was no immediacy to the events of the post-war period in western Ukraine. Indeed, how could there have been, with no communication, as I recall, with the Soviet relatives until the early 1960s. The stories that the post-war survivors brought with them to Edmonton in the 1950s had no resonance; and I plead guilty to Sileika’s charge that their experience in the post-war anti-Soviet resistance known as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (or UPA in Ukrainian) did not seem to me the real trauma of WWII (for that was Auschwitz and Hiroshima). Besides, these survivors tended to the ideological right while I was tending left.

Imagine, then, my shock when a few years ago I learned of relatives with my name from my paternal grandfather’s village in western Ukraine who had been members of the UPA. The shock is intensified by knowledge of historians’ (controversial) work on the activities of this “resistance movement” – that it participated in the ethnic cleansing of Poles and Jews as well as, later, fighting heroically if hopelessly against the Soviet occupiers after 1945. (My relatives died in 1951.) Double shock when I learned that, on my maternal side, Baba’s brother had been “disappeared” by a soldier of the UPA for “collaborating” with the new Soviet authority (he was a socialist sympathizer).

History’s victims on all sides. To whom to raise the memorial? The UPA soldier has been reburied in the village cemetery. Baba’s brother simply vanished into oblivion, a victim of anti-Communism.

Myrna Kostash
Edmonton, Alberta


My parents were East European immigrants, arriving in Canada, in my mother’s case, just before WWII. Members of my mother’s family who remained in that part of Poland that was to become Soviet Ukraine suffered atrocities at the hands, not of the Communists, but of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA): one of my mother’s cousins, who’d identified himself as a Pole rather than a Ukrainian was tortured, then beaten to death by members of UPA. One of my mother’s uncles, however, was deported to a gulag and never heard from again.

This family history may help illustrate the painful complexity of what we mean by historical memory: my opposition to the proposed “Victims of Communism” monument in Ottawa, and the “Tribute to Liberty” group that’s proposed it has to do with what Milan Kundera called “the gnawing beetle of reduction.” Although I have experienced some extraordinary memorials—notably Berlin’s Denkmal to the Murdered Jews of Europe—I have found that most monuments to those killed by war, or by acts of terrorism like the Air India bombing, act to freeze memory: though meaningful and poignant to the generation that erects them, these structures become part of the urban decor to most members of succeeding generations.

To sustain living forms of memory, we need works of art which complicate and extend, not simplify and reduce human experience. In terms of ‘the nightmare of history’, a novel like Three Day Road, Obasan, or Fugitive Pieces is an incomparably greater and more effective catalyst for memory than a concrete wall with names on it, however many educative apps that wall accommodates. Would that the Harper government directed millions of taxpayer dollars to the dissemination of works of the imagination that could convey to succeeding generations something of the trauma of having been a First Nations solider in WWI, an interned Japanese-Canadian, a murderously persecuted Jew: all victims of history in both Canadian and international terms.

And in the context of those who suffered atrociously at the hands of Soviet Communism, putting abundant copies of Canadian novels such as Rhea Tregebov’s The Knife-Sharpener’s Bell, or memoirs like Modris Ekstein’s Walking Since Daybreak onto library shelves and school curricula, and making compelling film versions of such works for those who fail to ‘rea[d] history [or any kind of literary text] after high school,” would, for this taxpayer’s money, help us far better to understand our capacities for good and evil than the frozen memorials authored as “Tributes to Liberty.”

Janice Kulyk Keefer
Toronto, Ontario


Antanas Sileika raises important questions at the top of his essay: the vexed politics behind Ottawa’s monument to victims of Communism. He asks what it means to memorialize the past in a complex cultural mosaic like Canada. He asks why we commemorate some events and not others, and how we should go about deciding which are most deserving.

Sileika, who has written elsewhere about the Lithuanian resistance struggle against the Soviets in the post Second World war period, wonders why the planned monument to the victims of Communism, to be built near Parliament Hill, has met with so much controversy, when a project to construct a Holocaust memorial nearby has met with greater support? One reason, he suggests, is that the narrative of the Holocaust has been more easily adopted by Canadians. He also cites the widespread belief that the Conservative government is attempting to curry favour with particular ethnic voters and the disdain of Canadian progressives for whatever Stephen Harper does.

Surprisingly, he dismisses these latter reasons for controversy as disingenuous. Surely, given the penchant of the Harper government for wedge politics, it is hardly misleading to suggest that a Holocaust memorial to please Canadian Jews, and a monument to the victims of Communism to please Eastern-European Canadians, would be perfectly congruous instrumental acts.

Choosing which victims to honour is a divisive, not to say dangerous, abuse of power in multicultural Canada. The outcome is to incite competition among once-abused immigrants and their descendants. And to create hurts. Sadly, Sileika’s essay is a pertinent example of both of these.

Privately funded memorials are the business of whomever wishes to erect them, but government-sponsored monuments should create unity, not division. They are important, even necessary, when designed to express remorse for shameful acts that were once the policies of the country in question. In Germany and France, for example, where the Holocaust was perpetrated and abetted, memorials to the victims are integral to the national story. They mark the transition to a different world view and stand as a reminder of domestic history.

An official monument to the generations of abused children of Indian Residential Schools would be properly integral to Canada’s past – and present. It would speak to our now-shared acknowledgement of the harm inflicted by successive Canadian governments, and bring solace to the surviving victims.

Unity matters. Monuments to particular victims, be they of the Holocaust, or of Communism, do not belong in the symbolic spaces surrounding Canada’s Parliament.

Erna Paris
Toronto, Ontario


Antanas Sileika responds:

<p>I welcome these responses on fraught subject matter.</p>
<p>Myrna Kostash rightly points out the complexity of narratives which inevitably end up in collisions that can be avoided only by careful reading of history.</p>
<p>Janice Kulyk Keefer echoes Tony Judt’s complaint that memorials cannot replace history, but since we live in an ahistorical society, monuments are at least some kind of nod toward an understanding that there was a world before “now” and the way we live in the present has been affected by the past.</p>
<p>I think Erna Paris misreads my comparison with Holocaust memorials. My point is that Holocaust memorials worldwide are being emulated because of their successes. Why is an Ottawa Holocaust Memorial less “controversial” in the press? Probably because there is a tradition of fine Holocaust memorials and this one is an addition to a rightly respected category. As to wedge politics, politicians are always trying to curry favour, right from the creation of the Canadian concept of multiculturalism in the Trudeau (pere) era. We can deplore this tendency all we want, but canny lobbyists will exploit politicians just as canny politicians will try to exploit them back.</p>
<p>It may be more appropriate for monuments to be built by governments that wish to apologize for their crimes, but if no communist or previously communist government is willing to apologize to the victims of Communism, those who wish to remember these crimes have to do so somewhere else. I cannot imagine the Putin government in Russia building a gulag monument, nor should anyone be forced to wait until it does.</p>
<p>I concede many points, from the venality of the political intentions around the monument, to the site, to the design, but insist that if people want to remember, let them do so in whatever way they can.</p>
<p>These words are being written in the final weeks of the election campaign. By the time this issue goes to print, the government and its projects may become history as well.</p>

Antanas Sileika


Re: “Foreign Posturing,” by Paul Heinbecker

Ambassador Heinbecker sets himself the task of comparing Harper’s foreign policy record to those of previous governments, particularly Mr. Mulroney’s. And no matter what Harper has accomplished, Heinbecker sees it falling short. Harper came to office as a bumpkin who had never travelled much, appointed a series of bumpkins as foreign minister, and leaves Canada as isolated as it has been in 75 years.

Heinbecker’s indictment begins with Canada-US relations, where he sees only missteps and blames these exclusively on Harper’s aversion to Mulroney-style personal diplomacy. Obama once overlooked Harper when asked to list his closest international contacts in a media interview. The reader might ask if this latter oversight was worse than George W Bush failing to mention Canada in his speech to Congress following the September 11 attacks during the Chretien government.

But let’s look closer. In 2008, Obama campaigned on an explicit hostility to NAFTA. Since then, he and Harper have cooperated on many continental initiatives. The auto bailout. Expediting customs and security at the border. Starting the difficult work of harmonizing product regulations. Does Harper’s focus on the nitty gritty of policy get any credit for this turnaround?

Heinbecker goes on to reiterate many of the commonplace complaints about Harper’s record. He snubs the UN. The Mexicans are upset. The Chinese are upset. The Palestinians are upset. The Americans are upset that Harper took a stand on the invasion of Ukraine. And on and on.

True, Mr. Harper has taken tough positions internationally. Some of these positions have upset foreign leaders, just as Mr. Mulroney upset Mrs. Thatcher over South Africa. Who was in the right? Western countries opposed the Soviet absorption of the Baltic republics for decades, something we all rightly celebrated when Mr. Mulroney’s government recognized their independence in 1989. Mr. Harper’s position on Crimea will be celebrated too when international law is vindicated and that territory is restored to Ukraine. Heinbecker’s friends in Washington may have seen Canada’s tough talk on Ukraine as “political grandstanding by a military lightweight.” My friends in DC saw it as Harper standing for international law.

Heinbecker claims the Harper record on development cooperation has been “chequered”. But this is where Harper’s approach shows most boldly. He took on the toughest Millennium Development Goals, the ones around child and maternal health, and did so without getting tied up in a debate about abortion. Canada’s aid spending rose quickly in the wake of the global financial crisis with a new emphasis on effectiveness and results. In 2012, the OECD noted Canada’s improved focus and called for better coordination of development with other government policies. Harper responded by uniting CIDA and DFAIT. Since then, his ministers have put more focus on harnessing Canada’s mining investments overseas to its development goals. This is hard, unglamorous work but it pays off.

Heinbecker canvasses the well worn complaints that Harper has “willfully diminished our diplomats’ standing”. Why, Harper even sold some of Canada’s embassy residences overseas!  Maybe these were, in Heinbecker’s time, “multipliers of diplomatic access and influence.” But in 2015, would our ambassador to Ireland be better off with a golf course for a front lawn instead of a large, modern flat in downtown Dublin? Did the golf course really multiply our access and influence? How about the full time salary devoted to maintaining the Canadian ambassador’s castle in Rome?

Heinbecker hankers for a golden age of Canadian foreign policy. But when was this golden age? Back in the 1950s, long before his time as a PCO speechwriter? Back in the 1970s, when Canada barely made the cut into the G-7? Back in 1980s when Trudeau refused to criticize the declaration of martial law in Poland? Was it when you could tootle off to a foreign posting, representational clothing allowance in hand, and leave your front door unlocked? Or when the great wise men of the foreign service tutored their ministers in the true pursuits of Canadian foreign policy?

The “tell” in Heinbecker’s hankering for a mythic golden age of diplomacy comes when he rails against the Harper government for, supposedly, “treat[ing] foreign affairs often as a means to cultivate diaspora communities and constituencies at home.” The Harper government “has taken pandering far beyond what any of its predecessors have done.” Harper doesn’t listen to the great minds of foreign policy. Instead, he spends too much time listening to “diaspora communities” – code words for “ethnics”. Or, as Harper sees them, Canadian citizens from other parts of the world.

What really galls critics of Harper’s foreign policy is this democratizing instinct. Harper pays attention to Canadians who have overseas roots. And this means he pays attention to international issues that are of interest to lots of Canadian voters. Many Canadians have personal connections to Ukraine and Sri Lanka. They have just as much right to influence our foreign policy as Heinbecker does. In fact, those connections give them valuable insight into conflicts around the world. Ukrainian Canadians remind us that Russia’s actions in Crimea are illegal.  Harper reflected the entirely legitimate outrage many Canadians have about the situation in Sri Lanka when he boycotted the Commonwealth Summit. The influence of diaspora communities on Canadian foreign policy is a measure of Canada’s strength not our weakness.

Harper’s not a glad hander and he’s not willing to have his fellow Canadians shoulder a greater burden than others on global issues just to feel better about his moral superiority. Heinbecker pooh-poohs genuine advances like the Canada-EU CETA and the Canada-Korea trade deal. Despite enormous challenges, Harper got us to the table for the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks and has kept us there. He played a disproportionate role in shaping the G-20 and other multilateral economic institutions following the global financial crisis. These are major achievements, but they are small beer to Heinbecker. Instead, he thinks we should have hobbled our oil and gas sector with greenhouse gas regulations so we could then approach the US with “clean” hands on issues like pipeline construction Nostalgia steeped in myth, as Derek Burney likes to say, is not a substitute for a foreign policy. Or, as PJ O’Rourke once wrote, everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.

Ian Brodie
Calgary, Alberta


Paul Heinbecker responds:

The laughter that the audience at the Munk debate could not suppress when Prime Minister Harper claimed a good relationship with President Obama illustrates the fallacy at the core of Harper’s foreign policy. For Harper, saying something makes it so. Communications trump substance. Canadian foreign policy has become foreign posturing.

Harper has damaged relations with our three most important economic partners—the US, Mexico and China. For example, relations between Ottawa and Washington are at their lowest ebb since Nixon; Keystone XL is in limbo; and the North American Leaders Summit is cancelled, by Harper, the better to obscure the fissures between himself and the others. In a full decade in office, he has never spoken to the US Congress, unlike his counterparts from Israel (twice), the UK, Australia, Germany, France, Mexico, Korea (twice), Ukraine and Jordan. As for accomplishments, in my essay I give Harper credit where credit is due, notably in negotiating (yet to be ratified) trade agreements. The problem is that after 10 years in office only modest credit is actually due, outsized claims of success notwithstanding.

Harper’s contempt for the UN is well-known; it is also warmly reciprocated. The organization nevertheless goes on about its business, in September hosting the largest diplomatic gathering in history, 163 leaders, to discuss the major issues of our times–cooperation on sustainable economic development, terrorism, refugees, peacekeeping and climate change. No US President has missed a UN General Debate in my career-long memory. Harper has participated three times in 10 years. His foreign ministers have represented him  hectoring and lecturing ineffectually to largely empty chambers .

Canada is the only one of 192 signatories to renounce its ratification of the Kyoto Accord on climate change, the only one of 196 signatories to walk away from the Desertification Convention and the only one of 28 NATO members including the US not to sign the Arms Trade Treaty, which regulates international trade in conventional arms. Meanwhile, we are selling vast amounts of military equipment to serial human rights abuser Saudi Arabia, while proclaiming our “principled” foreign policy.

On Ukraine, Harper’s acolytes applaud him for standing up for international law, as though no one else does. They praise what they perceive as tough-minded leadership. But talk on Ukraine is cheap, and claims to international leadership are delusional, where they are not actually dangerous.  Portraying Canada as “a staunch ally” of Ukraine and telling Ukrainians they can count on us against the Russians, as Harper did, is just blowing smoke. Bolstering Ukrainians is one thing; bull-shitting them and Canadians is another.

Leadership on these issues goes to those with big battalions not to those with little budgets who punch below their weight. Canadian defence spending as a percentage of GDP is the lowest it has been since the Thirties, about half of what NATO asks its members to spend. Development assistance as a percentage of GDP is at the lowest point since measurement began in 1969, Harper’s valuable but one-off maternal and child care initiative notwithstanding. The British for example spend at three times the rate we do.

And as for diasporas, my criticism is not that Harper listens to ethnic groups—listening to all Canadians is essential to governing and all governments have done so for generations–it is that the Harper government panders, and does so at a level that damages the national interest, which is more than an agglomeration of diasporas’ views. One of dozens of examples is Minister Kenney’s draping himself in the flag of the defunct South Vietnam regime.

Harper supporters indulge in unintended irony when they credit his foreign policy with a “democratic instinct”. This is the government that has tried to limit democracy in Canada, notably by passing the “(un)Fair Elections Act, interfering in an investigation of Conservative Senators, controlling information like never before, including denying the Parliamentary budget officer information on the F-35,  passing omnibus budget bills, perpetrating the Robocall scheme, proroguing Parliament to avoid defeat in a vote, and stoking xenophobia and exploiting it to illegally deny Muslim minorities their Charter Rights as  citizens, the better to get Conservatives re-elected.

The assertion of Harper’s acolytes that criticism of Harper’s foreign policy is nostalgic is best evaluated in the context of Harper’s harking back to the War of 1812, adding “Royal” to the names of the Canadian air force and navy, co-locating Canadian offices abroad with the British, decreeing that Canadian embassy lobbies will prominently display pictures of the Queen and hanging a gigantic portrait of Elizabeth in the the Foreign Affairs Department in Ottawa, dominating the entrance used by foreign visitors.

My motivation in critiquing Harper’s foreign policy is to put it into perspective.  I am not pining after the good old days but I am drawing on the breadth and depth of my experience to show how far e are falling short of our potential. Over many generations Canadians have built one of the most successful, prosperous and respected states on earth. We have more than enough talent, resources and standing to do great things if only we have the vision and generosity of spirit to do so.  What I pine for is the next Golden Age of diplomacy, not the last. Canadians will never see that Golden Age as long as

Harper is in office and he and his acolytes think foreign policy is just about Talking Points and the next election.

Paul Heinbecker


Re: “Heal Thyself,” by Marc Lewis

Norman Doidge responds:

<p>I thank Lewis for his thoughtful and gracious review of The Brain’s Way of Healing, and for realizing that the core of the book lies in its overall attempt to conceptualize and illustrate that there are different stages to neuroplastic healing, the understanding of which is clinically useful.</p>
<p>We differ a bit about how to define neuroplasticity, and therefore how broad the neuroplastic healing process is. Neuroplasticity, as I define it, is that property of the brain that allows it to change its structure and function in response to mental experience. Others, including Lewis define it more narrowly as the changes that occur where neurons meet one another, at the synapses. This is because we have experiments showing that learning changes synaptic connections. It is these changes which are increasingly called “rewiring” the brain. But I think we have evidence that neuroplastic change also involves change at many levels.</p>
<p>We do not yet know that thought and mental experience work directly or solely by changing synaptic connections. Though I have met many neuroscientists who assert “our thoughts are in the connections between neurons,” I have not met one who can explain precisely how thoughts are encoded there. To see brain areas change with learning does not mean that we have cracked the neural code.</p>
<p>Indeed, we don’t yet know whether thoughts are encoded between neurons, within neurons, at the intracellular level, and even at the genetic level, in the activities of neurons, in the glial cells, in some combination of these factors, or perhaps in other ways. Each of these “levels” changes with mental experience, and I think we now have evidence that each, in its own way, provides a potential avenue for brain healing.</p>
<p>I agree wholeheartedly that the developmental psychologists were, among psychologists, the most “plastic” in describing how the mind changes over time, but my reading is that development psychology’s mainstream approach rarely spoke in terms of brain change. Now that we can see the brain is neuroplastic it is tempting to project that knowledge onto the past. Freud, William James and Pavlov all speculated the brain was plastic. Still, the reigning behaviourist John Watson mocked the idea of brain plasticity, and for decades cognitive and artificial intelligence psychologists spoke of the brain mechanistically. On Lewis’s main point, however, I agree: given what we now know, the developmental psychologists’ discoveries of various stages of development fit beautifully with the new discoveries of brain development. Both approaches can learn from each other.</p>

Norman Doidge
Toronto, Ontario


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