I have never believed that the sins of the fathers (or grandfathers) should place a burden of guilt upon succeeding generations, so at first I found myself detached from the current Chrystia Freeland brouhaha, and even a little embarrassed that some of my political allies were making such a great to-do over it. So her grandfather, Mykhailo Chomiak, was a pro-Nazi Ukrainian collaborator -- so what?
As it turns out, Freeland has quite an affection for the old man, whom she describes as someone who "worked hard to restore freedom and democracy to Ukraine." And this is the person chosen by the Trudeau government to be our Foreign Minister, dealing with a nation that is still a bubbling hotbed of contending factions, ethnic hatreds, and alternate versions of history. Ukraine is a country where streets are now being named after Jew-killers, and where it is now illegal to refer to these butchers and their militias as anything other than heroes.
Some just throw up their hands and say the situation there is and was too complex to permit moral judgements. Others pick sides. But I cannot share in the apparent nostalgia for the past that leads some of my comrades to support the great Russian chauvinist Vladimir Putin, while the continual whitewashing by the West of the ultra-right influence in Ukraine deserves unqualified censure.
We all know, or should know, that Russia delights in mischief-making and fake news -- recent events in the U.S. are proof of that. Nor could we expect any love on Russia's part for the outspoken pro-Ukrainian activist Chrystia Freeland. So is this story just more Russian disinformation, as Freeland claims?
One salient point is the lengths to which Freeland has gone to present her grandfather as a mere victim. For example:
I'm…a proud member of the Ukrainian-Canadian community. My maternal grandparents fled western Ukraine after Hitler and Stalin signed their non-aggression pact in 1939. They never dared to go back, but they stayed in close touch with their brothers and sisters and their families, who remained behind. For the rest of my grandparents' lives, they saw themselves as political exiles with a responsibility to keep alive the idea of an independent Ukraine, which had last existed, briefly, during and after the chaos of the 1917 Russian Revolution. That dream persisted into the next generation, and in some cases the generation after that.
This is an unvarnished lie. Chomiak did not flee in 1939. He moved to Cracow, the capital of the Nazi Generalgouvernement, to become chief editor of a pro-Nazi collaborationist newspaper called Kravivski Visti. He worked out of offices that had been emptied of their Jewish owners, and then, when the tide of war turned, he continued his work in Nazi-occupied Vienna. He presided over the publication of virulently anti-Jewish articles in 1943, under orders from the occupying Nazi forces, and his editors actively solicited them.
"We need serious articles that would reveal the harmful and disintegrative role of the Jewish element in literature, the press, art and philosophy," an editor wrote to one author, who eagerly accepted his assignment. But several authors simply refused his invitation: one, in fact, was hiding a Jew in his home in Warsaw at the time. Indeed, there was a negative reaction from several Ukrainian intellectuals, who saw this collaborationist kowtowing for what it was. But the editors, according to the historian John-Paul Himka, a relative of Freeland's, saw in this campaign of anti-Semitism an opportunity to promote Ukrainian nationalism.
No, Mykhailo Chomiak did not flee to the West after the Hitler-Stalin pact. He actively collaborated with the Nazis until the end of the war, and made his way to Alberta after that, where he died peacefully of old age in 1984. And Freeland, who collaborated on the Himka article, has known all this for at least two decades.
Some commentators, motivated by anti-Russian animus (not entirely undeserved, in my opinion), have gone so far as to excuse Chomiak’s conduct:
[T]he newspaper, Krakivs'ki Visti, was the only intellectual lifeline left to the people of the dismembered Ukraine at the time, and…Freeland's grandfather, the journalist Michael Chomiak, had no control over the Nazi mumbo jumbo he was obliged to print as the newspaper's titular editor.
One only needs to recall White Rose, or the countless resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied countries who were captured and shot, or tortured to death, and that morally lax position falls to pieces. Chomiak didn't have to be chief editor of a pro-Nazi newspaper: he had a choice. Even Himka, who is generally sympathetic to the squeeze the editors of Kravivski Visti were in, concludes: "[T]hat more than submission to coercion came into play is suggested by the conviction on the part of the editors that they could use the series [of anti-Semitic articles] to promote the Ukrainian cause" -- this, while Jews were being slaughtered all around them. As to the writers solicited for the vile articles that appeared, Himka writes of their "indifference to and even approval of the destruction of the Jews."
Again, Chrystia Freeland is not responsible for any of this. But her cover-up of the facts is worrying, and her helming of Global Affairs Canada must be causing more than a few ripples in diplomatic circles. Dislike of Putin's endless shenanigans shouldn't blind us to the fact that, at least on occasion, the truth can be even more devastating than fake news.
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Image: Flickr/Joseph Morris