Anti-war voices must not be silenced!

PV staff 

On the eve of the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine, a new front in the conflict opened up on university campuses in Canada. In what appears to be a coordinated strategy, right-wing Ukrainian organizations are attacking anti-war events and organizations, which they claim are spreading hate against Ukrainian people.

At the end of January, the Ukrainian Students’ Society (USS) at the University of Victoria launched a complaint against the Victoria branch of the Young Communist League (YCL), which has club status at the university. The USS claims that members of the YCL photographed a USS banner in September 2022 and posted it online with the “malicious” claim it was fascist and antisemitic. The group accuses the YCL of harassing and accosting Ukrainian-Canadian students, and further claims that the YCL’s actions are an attempt to justify Russia’s “genocide” against the Ukrainian people and are responsible for ratcheting up anti-Ukrainian hate on campus. The USS has complained to university administration and is calling for an investigation and review of the YCL’s club status.

In response, the Victoria YCL issued a statement in which they emphatically rejected the accusations that any of its members had harassed or accosted another UVic student, made threats or carried out violent acts. “The only partial truth in [the USS] statement,” they said, “is that the YCL Victoria club posted a photo of their banner on its Facebook page – a photo which was taken with the permission of the individual managing the UVic Ukrainian Students Society table at that time. The individual stated that they did not speak Ukrainian and did not know what the words on the banner meant.”

The slogan on the USS banner translates as “Glory to Ukraine – Glory to the heroes.” It is widely understood that the slogan originates with the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), formed in 1929, whose members shouted it while giving the fascist salute. The OUN was an ultranationalist and terrorist organization led by Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. Its acts of antisemitism and ethnic cleansing (particularly against Poles) is well documented. The Jerusalem Post has published frequently condemned the glorification of Bandera and Nazi collaborators in Ukraine.

Contrary to the claim that it supports the war or aggression towards Ukraine or Ukrainians, the YCL has publicly and constantly called for an immediate end to the hostilities in order to prevent further loss of life, and for a peaceful political settlement to the war. This is consistent with the YCL’s work for peace, denuclearization and disarmament, and against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and all forms of hatred and discrimination.

Soon after the USS complaint, the accusations against the YCL Victoria escalated and developed into attacks on social media against YCL Victoria organizer Tyson Strandlund, and other anti-war voices including the Communist Party of Canada and the Vancouver Island Peace Council, which is a member of the Canadian Peace Congress. It appears that individuals associated with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress have been part of this escalation.

Around the same time, similar attacks were launched against the organizers of anti-war events in at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. Specifically, the Carleton Ukrainian Students’ Society (CUSS) accused the Ottawa Peace Council, Ottawa YCL and prominent peace activists Yves Engler, Tamara Lorincz and Miguel Figueroa (who they note was long-time leader of the Communist Party of Canada) of being “provocateurs” and “funded by Russian interests” because of their participation in a panel titled, “The War in Ukraine: What is the path to peace?”

As was the case in Victoria, CUSS accused the anti-war event and participants of “encouraging genocide against Ukrainian peoples.” They are calling on university administration to ban the organizers of the anti-war event, claiming it was “hate speech.”

None of the organizers or participants in the anti-war events in either Victoria or Ottawa acted or spoke in an “anti-Ukrainian” manner. None of them promotes violence or hate toward Ukraine or Ukrainian people. And none is a Russian agent.

Larry Wasslen of the Ottawa Peace Council specified that the organizers of the event at Carleton University were very clear that they were opposed to the war, and that “every single member of the panel condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

The real reason these organizations and individuals are being targeted by the right-wing Ukrainian lobby is not because they are “anti-Ukrainian,” but because they are anti-war. And their anti-war stance is becoming shared by more and more people, as support for the conflict declines in Canada.

Rather than entertaining absurd claims of violence and hate from peace and anti-war organizations, university administrations should ask themselves why they allowed a group to brandish banners with Nazi-era slogans from antisemitic and ultranationalist organizations. Certainly, any student or campus worker whose family or community had been terrorized by Hitler or Bandera fascists would feel targeted by such slogans and feel desperately unsafe.

Suggestions that speaking out against the war is equivalent to promoting genocide are as irresponsible, untrue and politically dangerous as claims that it is antisemitic to oppose Israel’s violence and occupation in Palestine.

As Canadian Peace Congress president Miguel Figueroa said to People’s Voice, “These attacks against anti-war events and organizations are an assault on dissent. Their intention is to intimidate any group or individual who speaks out against the war, or who provides an analysis that is different from the mainstream, state view. This is an effort to gag anyone who calls for peace – for a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement – by claiming that they are part of a Russian plot.”

Right now, this fight is on a handful of university campuses. But the stakes are enormously high, and they set the stage for what is to come next. This campaign is an assault on peace, on freedom of speech and on academic freedom. The current attacks are against students, but they can and will expand quickly to involve faculty and media, all in an effort to silence voices for peace.

The best response – the best way to defend against this onslaught – is to advocate even louder. Working people need to hit the streets, mobilize, organize and demonstrate against war.

Anti-war voices must not be silenced!

[Photo: anti-war rally in Victoria last year]

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