Launching a parcel business
Q. Beyond the voluntary and the de facto loyalties the Ukrainian leaders had to the Party, were there financial arrangements that helped to solidify their place in the Communist family, so to speak?
One of the big sources of financial support for the Party by the Ukrainians was the parcel business set up after the war. Because so much of the Soviet Union was destroyed in the war, there was much poverty in the villages. And Ukrainian Canadians who had relatives in Ukraine wanted to help them. So, by an arrangement with Moscow, and with the help of the Party, a parcel business was founded.
An interesting sidelight, related to me by Krawchuk, is that originally a Canadian Jewish businessman named Bernstein went to the Soviet Union soon after the war with the aim of establishing such a parcel business. His liaison or intermediary was Paul Phillips. Apparently the Party leaders were hoping they would be able to make an arrangement whereby they could get a part of the action. Soon after, however, a Soviet embassy representative came to the Ukrainians and said: "Look, there's a bid being made by a businessman for a parcel firm. His name is Bernstein. Do you want a Bernstein dealing with parcels from your people? Why don't you take hold of it?" When Phillips heard about it, he tried to get Jack Cowan and the Ukrainians to form such a firm together. Cowan was a successful Jewish businessman, a long-time active Party member, who had a lot to do with the Party's financial affair. But the Ukrainians wouldn't agree to that; they proposed to take it on themselves.
Apparently there was a bit of a tiff about it, but finally the Party leadership agreed. So they formed a firm called Ukrainska Knyha, which means "Ukrainian Book." I personally thought it was a poor choice for a name, that one more acceptable in both English and Ukrainian would have been better, but I had no input in that.
How the Party was helped
The new firm was established and quickly proved to be very successful. It was very profitable. However, when the Party (and Moscow) agreed that the Ukrainians should run it, it was with the proviso that the Party would get something out of it. And the Ukrainians agreed to that. The company was set up with a board of directors of twelve, all Ukrainian Party members. Stanley Ziniuk was appointed manager and Peter Prokop treasurer. I know many of the details, because for a while my wife was on the board.
But they did some things in such a primitive way. For example, if Buck would ask the firm for, let's say, $120,000, Prokop would then ask each of the twelve directors to withdraw $10,000 in cash from their accounts (each account had the same amount), for which he'd give each of them a receipt; then he'd turn over the total amount in cash to Buck. One wondered why this rigmarole? The RCMP sure knew what the hell was happening; they weren't fooling anyone. But suggestions from some of the board members that things could be done differently, more subtly, fell on deaf ears. Buck called on them time and time again. He knew they were making big money. And while the Ukrainians were glad to help, they eventually thought the pressure was getting excessive.
No major differences
Q. Were there any great differences between the Ukrainians and the Party from 1931 to the 20th Congress of the CPSU?
Not really. During the 1930s, the main thing they resented was the double burden that was put on their members, which I've already mentioned. After that, the first difference came when the war broke out. Like a lot of other Party members, the Ukrainians resented the about-turn the Comintern made in opposing the war against Hitler. They were confused, didn't understand it and didn't like it. Being disciplined Party members, they didn't fight it, but neither did they carry out the order. They didn't publish the Comintern resolution. After the war, one of the many problems that arose was the fact that the Soviet regime wouldn't allow Ukrainians to visit their villages. That was the beginning of many protests and complaints about what was happening in Soviet Ukraine, which eventually led to the sending of the Party delegation, which I spoke about earlier.
Frustrations with Moscow
Let me cite another example of the kind of frustration the Ukrainians used to run into. Around about the late 1950s or early 1960s, the Party decided to send a delegation of veteran Party members, old-timers, to visit the Soviet Union. The delegation was headed by Kashtan and included a couple of Ukrainians, one of whom was A. Kachmar, a very loyal, dedicated Party member who was a leader of the ULFTA branch in East Toronto for many years. When the delegation arrived in Moscow and was asked what they would like to see, Kachmar said he would very much like to pay a visit to the village in Western Ukraine where he was born. He had not been there since he left for Canada as a young man. He was told that would not be a problem and that everything would be arranged. (He didn't know, of course, that the Soviet authorities always said that).
The delegation travelled all over the Soviet Union, and each time Kachmar asked about his visit to the village, he was always assured there was no problem. Finally, near the end of the tour, he was told: "There is some difficulty with your visiting the village, but we can bring your relatives to visit you here in Kyiv." At which point Kachmar, a very mild-mannered man, summoned up the courage to tell them, in effect: "Through all these years I have faithfully devoted my life to the Party. If, after that, all I can do is meet my relatives here for an hour in Kyiv, forget it." Which impressed many of the Ukrainians there very much, they were very touched, but of course it didn't go over so well with the Party officials in charge of the tour.
Why Ukrainians stayed in 1956
Q. On Krawchuk's book I didn't see anything about the role the Ukrainian Party leaders played in reversing the changes from the 1957 convention, where Stewart Smith, J. B. Salsberg, Norman Penner and others got some constitutional changes after challenging the leadership of Tim Buck and some of his other colleagues. Other accounts have the Ukrainians playing a pivotal role in reasserting Buck's control and the subsequent constitutional reversals of the 1959 convention. Would you think that winning that support would be a matter of isolated dialogue with the individual members who happened to be Ukrainian? Or was it a group decision to support Tim Buck? What are your recollections of that process and the role the Ukrainians played?
Strangely, I never bothered to analyze or ask why the Ukrainian leadership did not choose to leave in 1956. They were certainly sympathetic to some of the criticism of the Soviet Union, but I guess they didn't think it was enough reason to leave the Party. I believe it would be true to say that in 1956 it was largely leading Party members who left. Relatively few rank-and-file members did. Perhaps the Ukrainian leaders sensed that the rank-and-file members wouldn't have gone for a break with the Party leadership and decided against any such move. They didn't leave then, even though they were shocked by the revelations at the 20th Congress and had serious questions about Party methods in the Soviet Union.
Mind you, there were extremists among them. Bill Kardash, for one. I was on the editorial board of the Canadian Tribune when its editor, Jack Stewart, decided to publish the text of the speech Khrushchev delivered to a closed session of the 20th Congress of the CPSU, which had been printed in the New York Times and which some Party leaders immediately labeled as not authentic and capitalist propaganda. Kardash was one of the first. He sent a telegram to the Canadian Tribune raising hell about it. The other Ukrainians didn't support him on that. They believed the speech was authentic.
How delegation originated
Q. It was while you were in Czechoslovakia that a Party delegation went to the Soviet Union to investigate Russification in Ukraine.
Yes. Actually the idea for such a delegation was first discussed while I was still in Canada in the spring of 1967. When the Ukrainians first came up with the idea, the Party leaders said: your best bet would be to send a Party delegation; if you went there from the AUUC you wouldn't get to first base. Which was true, of course. As it turned out, even the Party delegation ran into a lot of resistance. So an official Party delegation was agreed upon, comprising two non-Ukrainians, Tim Buck from Toronto and Bill Ross from Winnipeg, and four Ukrainians: Peter Krawchuk, Anthony Biletsky, George Solomon and Bill Harasym. After the delegation returned, it prepared a report and submitted it to the Central Committee, which endorsed it almost unanimously and decided to have it printed in Ukrainian and English. Well, the "shit hit the fan" in Moscow.
They didn't like it. And they pressured both Kashtan and Buck to change it, actually to withdraw it. But the Central Committee couldn't agree to a withdrawal, so they came to a compromise and decided to "accept it as information." There was a lot of foofarah about that in Moscow and in Kyiv, as well as in the Party leadership and among the Ukrainians here. Much later, the Party rescinded its earlier motion and voted to accept it, much to the chagrin of Moscow and Kyiv.
Delegation had big impact
Q. The Kyiv report was important to the Ukrainian Canadian community. And yet its story covered as a very protracted time frame, because it actually wasn't reversed by the Party until 1989. How open was the Soviet Union to the idea of receiving fraternal party delegations sent with a mandate to investigate conditions?
They weren't at all. They sort of had to, since a Party secretary headed the delegation. They tried in all kinds of ways to sabotage it or make things difficult for it. But they couldn't, especially because Krawchuk in particular was very firm and knew how to confront and deal with some of Ukraine's Party leaders. He knew their background and methods. So while it might have been easy for them to fool Buck with some statements, Krawchuk had all the facts. He knew both chapter and verse, and with his photographic memory was able to confront them with concrete data and examples.
Q. How significant is it that in 1989 the leadership apologized for the Ukrainian delegation report? What's the significance, within the Party, of receiving an apology for any issue?
I don't think it was very significant. By the time the apology reached Moscow, it was the Gorbachev era and the Soviet Union was beginning to fall apart. Nevertheless, the apology was balm for the soul of the Ukrainian leaders and a blow to the hard-liners.
Q. Let's continue with the wider issue of getting an apology, or of being rehabilitated. In the culture of the Communist world, people were sometimes rehabilitated 60 years after their death. Somebody would say, "Oh, well, on further investigation we've decided that this person was all right, or in retrospect we are sorry." And it always has some level of cultural significance. I'd like to get your comment on that aspect of the culture of the Party.
Personally, I'm not too impressed with apologies. Maybe, historically, posthumous rehabilitation adds something. But I don't think it really achieves anything.
Q. I'll give you another example. At the Party's 28th convention, the Party's stand on the 1968 events in Czechoslovakia was on the agenda to be discussed and perhaps reversed. I assume it was important to Tom Morris and others to have it on the agenda. But because of procedural wrangling it was never dealt with. Yet the fact that it wasn't dealt with was perhaps a harbinger of the split in the Party, because the issue was never resolved even in retrospect. That's what I'm getting at, as to the cultural significance of reversals.
You're right, it probably meant a lot to people like Tom Morris. It would have proven him right, as it would have for me, except that by this time I was no longer in the Party, so it didn't matter to me. Nor will it have the same significance to young people 20 years from now. It will be just one of many things that happened — mistakes and what not — during the Party's history. When you see that people like Paul Pauk and others in the Party still approve of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, well, they would also have been against having it on the agenda.
About the Ukrainian community
Q. You mentioned that, for the most part, both the left-wing and the nationalist Ukrainian organizations represented, or now represent, only a small percentage of the wider Ukrainian community. But through the decades from the 1920s to the 1980s, how does that dynamic change? What would be the relative size of each?
As far as the early years are concerned, I would have to hazard a guess. It depends on a lot of factors. During those years most of the Ukrainians lived in what could be called ghettos in the cities and in rural areas where they constituted a large percentage of the population. Let's take Alberta, where I grew up. There was a large area east, northeast and southeast of Edmonton that was settled largely by Ukrainian farmers who had originally been granted homesteads at the turn of the century. Ukrainians in those communities made up as much as 90 percent of the population. There was the odd Romanian or Pole. The reeve, bank manager, postmaster, station agent and the general store owner would all be Anglo-Saxon or French Canadian. In time, Ukrainians did occupy some of these positions and eventually, after putting up a fight for them, even had their own Ukrainian schools. For many years, the people spoke mostly Ukrainian, except for the young people, who began to speak more English. And this was true also of the Finnish communities across Canada.
Ethnic "ghettos" in cities
The situation was different in the cities and towns. where, as I said, for a long time there were ghettos of different ethnic groups. Take the town of Thorold, in the Niagara Peninsula, where I lived from ages 10 to 17. It was at that time a very Tory, predominantly Anglo-Saxon town. But there was an Italian ghetto made up of Italian immigrants who were brought in to dig the new Welland Canal 'and two ghettos called Thorold Park and Thorold South, settled largely by Ukrainians, most of whom worked in the town's three paper mills. In Winnipeg, the Ukrainians were largely concentrated in the north end of the city. In Toronto, there were basically three Ukrainian settlements: in the central area roughly between Queen and College and Bathurst and Ossington, in West Toronto (the area around Dundas and Dupont streets), and in East Toronto (around Ontario and Dundas streets).
But there were cities, towns, mining camps, rural areas and isolated communities all over Canada where there would be only one Ukrainian family living, or perhaps three or four, but not enough to constitute a community. These did not belong to any Ukrainian organization; at best they subscribed to a Ukrainian newspaper.
Majority don't belong
But to come back to your question, my guess would be that anywhere from one-third to one-half of the Ukrainian Canadian population, if not more, did not belong to any organization. Many of these did go to a Ukrainian church, where there were enough of them to constitute a parish. But many couldn't even do that. Today, with assimilation making rapid inroads among the young people, this section of the community that doesn't belong to any Ukrainian organization is growing larger and larger. It has affected the left-wing organizations to a greater degree than the right-wing ones, because the post-war immigrants, including the displaced persons who left Ukraine or the refugee camps of Central Europe and came to Canada, joined only the nationalist organizations, not the AUUC. As a result, these organizations have more members who speak Ukrainian.
Today, there are very few young people in the AUUC. When an AUUC function is held, with very few exceptions most of those attending are in their 70s or 80s, a handful are in their 40s or 50s, and practically none are in their 20s.
Community rapidly dwindling
The number of young people in the nationalist organizations is also dwindling, but at not quite the same rate. Because of the influence of the more recent immigrants, these organizations are doing more about keeping the Ukrainian language alive. The left-wing Ukrainian organizations have very few members under 30 or 40 who speak Ukrainian well. I'm of the first generation of Canadian-born, so my Ukrainian is quite good, although it's rusty, because I don't use it much. But there are very few people of the second and third generation in the AUUC who have a good knowledge of Ukrainian. The AUUC did send some of its younger leading people to Ukraine to study, so these few did learn the language to a degree. But very few of the rank and tile, the ordinary members, can speak, read or write Ukrainian. How long the Ukrainian community in Canada will last is hard to say. It is dwindling fast and the changes being brought about by the computer age will speed up the process even more.
Q. Given the demographic crisis in the Ukrainian organization, is there an effort among the membership to avoid taking political sides, such as that which occurred in its most recent manifestation in 1992 with the split in the Party?
Not really, because there are very few Party members in the organization now. Here you have to understand something else that happened. After that Party delegation to Ukraine and after the events in Czechoslovakia, the ties with the Party were weakened drastically, and after the 1992 split in the Party they were completely broken. When the Ukrainian organizations were large and thriving, the Party leadership insisted that there be some strong representation from the ethnic groups on all the leading Party bodies, especially the Ukrainians. Now there is no representation and, as I just said, only two or three Party members in leading positions in the Ukrainian organization. Mind you, there still is some political drifting and vacillating. For example, when Krawchuk wrote Our History, there were some members who were against publishing some of the things in it. They were hesitant about exposing the Party's role in the Ukrainian organization. But they were outnumbered; the majority said, "Let's tell it like it was."
Q. From reading Our History, I think the review of the AUUC's history that was adopted at its November 1989 convention is a pretty balanced assessment made in a critical spirit. Do you think the AUUC has succeeded in coming to grips with its past?
Not really. Mainly because I think there still are different views on how to assess the past. I believe the majority of the AUUC's present leadership accepts Krawchuk's assessment. But there still are a few who question whether he should have gone as far as he did on Party control.
What the Ukrainian leadership is now lacking is any realistic vision for the future, a realistic idea of where they're going and what to expect. That's largely because the future is impossible to predict. Some want to sort of keep the AUUC going as is, disregarding the fact that times have changed very drastically; that they do not have young people — whom the mainstream Ukrainian organizations, with a few exceptions, do not have, either — and that the technological and communications revolution has speeded up the process of assimilation even more than anyone ever anticipated. I remember years ago how both in the Ukrainian organization and in the Party we used to talk about the assimilation process, that it was an objective and inevitable process, but that we should resist it as long as we could. I think that has gone by the board, and the entire policy of multiculturalism is undergoing drastic changes since it was launched almost 40 years ago.
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