Saturday, October 15, 2011

Transcript of Prime Minister Harper's speech upon accepting the Shevchenko medal from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress

Greetings to the Most Reverend Bishop Chmilar, and Your Grace Bishop Andriy.

Thank you Paul for those kind words.

I am honoured to receive this award and such a warm welcome from the Ukrainian-Canadian community.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress does tremendous work to promote the Ukrainian cause in Canada. So let’s
show our appreciation for Paul, for Lida Kulish of the Toronto Branch, and for the whole team!

You know, it’s a pleasure to see so many familiar faces here tonight. Especially those who joined us on our visit to Ukraine, last year. And I’m happy to see such a great turnout … not only from Eugene Czolij and the Ukrainian World Congress … But also from groups like the Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League of Canada, the Canadian Friends of Ukraine, the Canada-Ukraine Chamber of Commerce and many others that contribute in so many important ways.

And I’m proud of the strong contingent of my parliamentary colleagues here tonight … In particular, Senator Andreychuk, who has been such a strong voice for the Ukrainian community in Ottawa for almost 20 years. She has been joined by a number of our MPs who are working closely with the community here in the GTA [ed. Greater Toronto Area] – especially, to name just a few, Ted Opitz, Wladyslaw Lizon, and Bernard Trottier.

Friends, for 120 years the Ukrainian community has played an important role in the growth of this country. From East to West, Ukrainian-Canadians have made outstanding contributions throughout our society … in business, academia, the arts, sport, politics, and many different fields. And Canada is stronger for it.

C’est donc un honneur de recevoir cette médaille, qui a été présentée à d’éminents Ukraino-Canadiens et à des amis de l’Ukraine au fil des années.

This award has been presented to many distinguished Ukrainian-Canadians, as well as friends of Ukraine. Among those friends was John Diefenbaker, the first Prime Minister to receive it. I am honoured to follow in his footsteps … for Diefenbaker personified the distinctly Canadian reality that people from all backgrounds can and do succeed in this great country.

Of course, what really makes this presentation special is the fact it pays tribute to the legacy of Taras Shevchenko. His words provided the inspiration for Ukrainian independence. He said, and I quote: “Strive and you will triumph, for God is on your side. The rewards are glory, truth, and that most sacred of things, freedom.”

Shevchenko was a brilliant artist and a renowned poet. But most important, his was a voice for freedom. As a consequence, Tsar Nicholas the First condemned him to live in exile (and again I quote) … “Under the strictest surveillance, without a right to write or paint.”

But even that cruel sentence could not silence Shevchenko. Or dissuade his many followers. In the decades that followed, his spirit would inspire Ukrainians to fight for liberty against not only the Tsars, but also the totalitarian ideologies of the Nazis and the Soviets.

You know, here in Canada, with our deep Parliamentary traditions and our comparatively benign history, democracy sometimes gets taken for granted. We often need to be reminded of how long and hard the struggle for basic freedoms has been, and that it remains to be fought for so many of our fellow human beings.

The Ukrainian-Canadian community has always provided that perspective and that voice for the oppressed. I remember in the latter days of the Cold War, when some so-called experts talked of a middle way in global affairs … as if there were some kind of moral equivalence between the imperfections of our democratic societies and the totalitarian brutality of the Soviet empire.

Of course, Ukrainian-Canadians would have none of that kind of thinking. You reminded us of the realities Ukrainians lived under ... not just denial of basic rights, but of imprisonment, brutality and even, almost unbelievably, the imposition of mass starvation.

Of course, I am speaking of the Holodomor, of which I will say more in a moment.

But, the important thing is this, I’m here to tell you that as long as I am Prime Minister our government always will speak out for those things that elevate the human spirit – freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law - for all nations and peoples!

For, if we are not blind to the dark points in Ukraine’s past, neither are we forgetful of our own.

This Conservative government was the first to formally recognize Canada’s own black mark – the injustice of World War One internment. And we’ve established a recognition fund to make sure that everyone learns from that event.

We will never sweep history under the carpet. Not Canada’s history. And not Ukraine’s history.

That’s why, when I visited Ukraine last year I made a special point of visiting historic sites to pay my respects, on behalf of all Canadians.

And I started by laying a wreath at the Sad Memory of Childhood statue in honour of the many millions who died in the Holodomor.

In that quiet wooded place, surrounded by those of our delegation - for whom it was intensely personal - and asked to place bread and salt before the monument – a simple act of remembrance – I was deeply moved. The magnitude of the tragedy that the Ukrainian people suffered is exceeded only by the bitter recognition that it was inflicted upon them by their own government.

And it is a great sadness to me that for decades official Ottawa was afraid to call it what it was. A genocide.

But in 2008 , at the initiative of my colleague, MP James Bezan, we had the chance to finally do something about it – and we did. Our government adopted the bill in Parliament, declaring Holodomor to be genocide.

From now on, in our eyes at least, those who took the lives of so many Ukrainians must take the guilt as well.

In that same spirit of solemn remembrance I went to the museum at the infamous Lonsky Street Prison. There, I came face-to-face with the reminders of Soviet-era oppression. And I also saw Babyn Yar, where the Nazis slaughtered tens of thousands of people.

I made these stops because we must all understand Ukraine’s past to appreciate its promising future … and how central the desire of freedom is in that.

To see the faces of Ukraine’s future, I met with students at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. It was an opportunity to speak openly about the freedom that generations of Ukrainians have longed for.

I was tremendously impressed by these young men and women, their knowledge, their idealism their eagerness to hear of the past and to create a better future. They are the embodiment of Ukraine’s aspirations.

Through this trip, our government hopes to build on the personal ties that have long connected Canada and Ukraine.

During that visit, we signed a youth mobility agreement to make it easier for young people to get life experience in both countries.

And I announced new programs to provide expert Canadian advice and training in areas like economic development.

While I was in Kiev, as you remember I also raised issues that are of concern to the Government of Canada. I took particular care to show Canada’s support for democratic debate … by meeting with Yulia Tymoshenko.

Like many of you, I am seriously concerned about her situation. J’ai écrit directement au Président Yanukovych. Je lui ai fait part de ma profonde inquiétude … du fait que le procès ne s’est pas déroulé conformément aux normes de diligence requise ou d’équité … et du fait qu’un appareil judiciaire équitable et indépendant est essentiel dans une démocratie.

I’ve written directly to President Yanukovych. I let him know that I am deeply concerned … that the conduct of Tymoshenko’s trial does not reflect accepted norms of due process or fairness.  [ed: Letter here.]

Friends, we all know that a vigorous political opposition and judicial independence are vital to building a democratic and prosperous Ukraine. Canada will support Ukraine whenever it moves towards freedom, democracy and justice.

However, our foreign policy is rooted in principle, and in the defence of freedom. Et, pour être clair : notre gouvernement est très inquiet de l’orientation que semble prendre le gouvernement de l’Ukraine. Ce qui est arrivé mardi pourrait avoir de sérieuses conséquences sur notre relation bilatérale.

So to be clear, our government is very concerned about the path the Government of Ukraine appears to be taking.

Tuesday's developments may have serious consequences for our bilateral relationship. The Ukrainian people can count on Canada to stand-up for their liberty. Canada is always ready to help … to help democratic institutions take root, in Ukraine and around the world.

And I know that each and every person here tonight shares that cause … which is why I am so honoured to be here.

So thank you once again for your hospitality … for the honour that you have presented … and for the work you do, day in and day out, to preserve the proud heritage of Ukrainian-Canadians and to build our great country.

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