A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] The Ignatieff Affair

Canadian philosopher and writer Michael Ignatieff has been parachuted into the federal riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore by the Liberal Party of Canada as their star candidate. This action has many of the inhabitants of this riding, heavily central and eastern European in population, upset, as The Globe and Mail notes.

Protesters in the riding also claim Mr. Ignatieff has no ties to the Ukrainian community and worse, has actually disparaged the community’s heritage in his 1993 book on nationalism called Blood and Belonging.

Ms. Oleksiuk said the passage in the book that is offensive to Ukrainians reads as follows: “My difficulty in taking Ukraine seriously goes deeper than just my cosmopolitan suspicion of nationalists everywhere. Somewhere inside I’m also what Ukrainians would call a great Russian and there is just a trace of old Russian disdain for these little Russians.”

The riding has many relatively new immigrants from Ukraine and Poland who will not welcome Ignatieff to their community, Ms. Oleksiuk said.

I was surprised by this news since I own a copy of Ignatieff’s Blood and Belonging and I didn’t remember anything that Ukrainians could seriously object to. It didn’t take me long to find potentially objectionable passagess.

I have reasons to take the Ukraine seriously indeed. But, to be honest, I’m habving trouble. Ukrainian independence conjures up images of peasant embroidered shirts, the nasal whine of ethnic instruments, phoney Cossacks in cloaks and boots, nasty anti-Semites.

From my childhood in Canada, I remember expatriate Ukrainian nationalists demonstrating in the snow outside ballet performances by the Bolshoi in Toronto. ‘Free the captive nations!’ they chanted. In 1960, they seemed strange and pathetic, chanting in the snow, haranguing people who just wanted to see ballet and to hell with the politics. They seemed fanatical too, unreasonable. Hadn’t they look at the map? How did they think Ukraine could ever be free?

Yet the tendentious fanatics who refused to look at maps, who refused to accept that Soviet power would last an eternity, got it right, and the rest of us got it wrong (79-80).

Throughout Blood and Belonging, Ignatieff adopts the strategy of positioning himself as a cosmopolitan outsider, as someone who may be tied to a particular forum for new nationalism by ancestry (Ukraine) or by birth (Canada/Québec) or by life experience (the former Yugoslavia) or not at all, as a witness to a new nationalism that disrupts a hitherto smooth-functionining non-national framework. He ends Blood and Belonging by concluding that although post-Cold War nationalism is destabilizing and dangerous, it might well be the only way for peoples not in control of their own nation-states to preserve their group identities. A middle way is needed but, alas, is wanting. In the specific case of Ukraine, after confronting his own reluctance to acknowledge a distinct Ukrainian nation, rooted in his aristocratic family’s long-standing attachment to Ukraine and its territories as Russian, Ignatieff concludes from the perspective of the early 1990s that Ukrainian nationalism will be hard-pressed to overcome its Soviet inheritances.

If I was a Ukrainian-Canadian, would I have a legitimate right to think that Ignatieff was slighting my nation, for whatever reason? I have to conclude that I would. I also have to say that in Blood and Belonging, Ignatieff was working out his inherited kneejerk reactions to Ukrainian nationalism and identity as a writerly trope, with no small success. That said, there are more substantial reasons to oppose Ignatieff’s nomination apart from the Ukrainian issue.

At tonight’s meeting, the association executive, which earlier took issue with some of Mr. Ignatieff’s statements on Ukrainian nationalism, will challenge the rejection of the other two candidates — one of whom is the association president. It also will question whether Mr. Ignatieff qualifies for a nomination under the party’s rules that state candidates must be “ordinarily resident in Canada.”

Mr. Ignatieff, 58, who has lived outside Canada for the past 30 years, bought a condo in Toronto at the end of the summer but is still teaching at Harvard University outside Boston. He has been appointed a visiting professor of human rights at the University of Toronto, but that appointment does not begin until Jan. 1.

“I’d like to own a house in the Bahamas. Would that make me resident there?” asked association membership secretary Myroslava Oleksiuk.

A party official said last night that “it is our view he meets the definition. He continues to teach at Harvard on Tuesdays and Thursdays but he has been living and working here [in Toronto], building his involvement in the community.”

[. . .]

Mr. Chyczij filed nomination papers by the deadline, but they were rejected because party rules required him first to resign from the executive. Mr. Chyczij said he assumed he could resign once his nomination application was accepted. Marc Shwec also filed nomination papers, but the party said it didn’t have his membership on record.

Ms. Oleksiuk said she had Mr. Shwec’s membership along with 25 others, which she was about to deliver to party headquarters when the “electoral emergency” was imposed.

I like the guy, but could the Liberal Party have at least tried to avoid the appearance of a totalitarian centrally-directed party forcing its will upon its membership?

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2005 at 7:50 pm

Posted in Assorted

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