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A history of fighting institutionalized bullying

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A current social concern in Winnipeg is bullying. It is not new, nor is it restricted to the schoolyard. Injustice, inequality and discrimination -- political bullying -- are practiced by the powerful to keep the "others" down. Ukrainians in Canada, including those who live in Winnipeg, have experienced its destructive impact and have worked hard to eliminate it. Meanwhile, their kin in Ukraine are not that lucky. They need help. Why should Canadians care? One reason: we know there's a better way.

Maltreatment hit the Ukrainian pioneers to Canada early as unscrupulous ship agents charged for descent accommodations but put them in steerage by taking advantage of their lack of language. Later, they faced the discriminatory school issue when no education seemed better to authorities than one in the Ukrainian language. The First World War brought the internment of "enemy aliens" whose crime was to have come from a homeland under the domain of the Hapsburg Empire. Post-Second World War stirred up anti-DP sentiment against those who fought or fled the evils of the Soviet and Nazi atrocities, which obliterated some 14 million non-combatants alone, for the most part in Ukraine.

The 1932 to 1945 years of terror created the "bloodlands," for the most part Ukraine. The survivors were mocked by Canada's left-wingers for seeing a Communist under every bed and "Nazi" name-calling, a bullying tactic that turned into an ugly witch hunt. Ukrainian Canadians had to defend their good name from false accusation before a federal commission of inquiry and in courts. They won.

Every injustice motivated them to come together and seek change. Early on they organized co-operatives and credit unions to further economic progress and, to this day, to engage in politics to ensure fair play. Some of their contributions were groundbreaking.

Liberal Yaroslav Rudnyckyj wrote the dissenting report for the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Bi-Culturalism underscoring that all Canadians, not just Anglo-Celts and French, make up Canada. Conservative Senator Paul Yuzyk became the standard bearer for multiculturalism practices now in most of the Western world. Both were Winnipeggers.

Ukrainian Canadians understand first-hand institutionalized bullying is dangerous to human rights and freedoms and feel obliged to share their hard-learned lessons globally.

Because of this they protested the Gulag sentences of political dissidents in the years leading up to Ukraine's independence; exposed Soviet crimes against humanity; and cheered full-force when Canada recognized their ancestral homeland's independence after 70 years of Soviet tyranny.

Large numbers of Canadians -- not only those of Ukrainian descent -- went to monitor elections and applauded the Orange Revolutionists for standing up to falsification. They did all this because their Canadian experience assured them there is a better way for Ukraine.

Another reason for caring is that, unfortunately, all is still not well in Ukraine. Under the current regime it has become a pseudo-democracy; its leaders, institutionalized bullies.

Protected by parliamentary impunity, oligarchs-cum-politicians rule primarily to enrich themselves. In 2011, some $360 billion moved into private banks in Cypress, British Virgin Islands and other havens.

The sum is larger than Ukraine's entire national budget while the average per capita income is about $900 a month, although this is significantly skewed by the princely wealth of a very few.

Bribes are de rigueur and personal rights and freedoms threatened. Most of the media is in the hands of the oligarchs.

Worst, the political opposition has been undermined by the arrest of some 100 leaders, including the ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The oligarchs are internationally connected, very powerful and determined to hold on to power.

Like most Canadians, Winnipeggers of Ukrainian descent don't like bullying and want it to stop. They know that discrimination is soul-destroying and inequality breeds resentment and hate. They know from the history of Ukraine that the power of unchecked politicians who fail to respect the rule of law leads to atrocities. And they know about the state orchestrated famine, the ethnic cleansing, the forced labour, the exile and other crimes against humanity committed there and do not want to see them repeated ever again.

Not there; not anywhere.

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn is a survivor of Ukraine's bloodlands, former president of U*CAN Ukraine Canada Relations Inc., and an international political commentator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2012 J11

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