Good Guys, Bad Guys and Ukrainian Nationalism

Yaroslav Hunka in the Canadian Parliment.

Yaroslav Hunka in the Canadian Parliment.

The Canadian Parliament’s standing ovation for a Nazi soldier highlights deep ties to far-right Ukrainian nationalism and staunch support for NATO. The embarrassing incident could unravel the political consensus on the proxy war.

During Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speech to Parliament on Friday Yaroslav Hunka received two standing ovations from MPs. The 98-year-old was labeled a “hero” by the Speaker of Parliament for fighting Russia. Anthony Rota noted, “We have here in the chamber today a Ukrainian Canadian war veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians and continues to support the troops today even at his age of 98.”

But Hunka’s fight against Russia was with the 14th Waffen SS, which largely consisted of volunteers from the western part of what’s now Ukraine (Galicia). SS members swore allegiance to Adolf Hitler and the 14th Waffen SS was responsible for a horrible massacre of a Polish village. They also killed Jews, Slovaks and Ukrainians. There are monuments celebrating the division in Oakville and Edmonton and the powerful Ukrainian Canadian Congress has long celebrated the SS Galician Division. (Hunka has donated at least $5,200 to the UCC, according to its annual reports.)

Thousands of Ukrainian Nazi soldiers were allowed to come to Canada after World War II and Canada has long been a hub of far-right Ukrainian nationalism. To justify its collaboration with the Nazis’ genocidal policies Ukrainian nationalists often claim Joseph Stalin’s USSR committed a genocide against Ukrainians. Canadians have led the way in promoting the Holodomor, which is important to anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalist mythology. Zelenskyy praised the “first ever Holodomor monument in the world” put up in Edmonton forty years ago.

In 2008 Canada’s Parliament labelled the early 1930s Holodomor famine, which left millions dead, a genocide. But millions also died in other parts of the Soviet Union in the early 1930s after droughts and collectivization of land.

In 2021 Justin Trudeau released a “Statement by the Prime Minister on Holodomor Memorial Day” that noted: “In 1932 and 1933, the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin orchestrated a deliberate famine — a genocide against the Ukrainian people — to impose total control over Ukraine, destroy the will of the people, and erase their identity.”

Alongside far right Ukrainian nationalism, Canada has been an aggressive proponent of NATO. It helped found the alliance with the US and UK and has participated in all its wars and major deployments. After the end of the Cold War Ottawa promoted NATO expansion eastward, including to Ukraine. (The head of NATO recently admitted that the war could have been avoided if the US/NATO agreed not to expand to Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “President Putin declared in the autumn of 2021, and actually sent a draft treaty that they wanted NATO to sign, to promise no more NATO enlargement. That was what he sent us. And was a pre-condition for not invade Ukraine. Of course we didn’t sign that… So he went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to his borders.”)

Canada’s parliament is in complete agreement on fueling the NATO proxy war. The House of Commons gave Zelenskyy at least 12 standing ovations on Friday and in a sign of their extremism, Liberal MPs immediately began tweeting video purportedly showing Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre not clapping as vigorously as required for the Ukrainian president.

In a press release announcing $650 million for armoured vehicles, as well as a bevy of other forms of support to Ukraine, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quoted saying “Canada will stand with Ukraine with whatever it takes, for as long as it takes. As Ukrainians continue to fight for their freedom and their democracy, our support will be unequivocal until they are victorious. Slava Ukraini!” After Zelenskyy’s speech to Parliament Trudeau delivered a fiery pro-war speech to a partisan audience in Toronto.

In a sign of the fanaticism the Globe and Mail editorial board published “Why Canada and the rest of the world must back Ukraine to victory” on the day of Zelenskyy’s visit. They wrote, “Canada, the United States and Europe must provide adequate and continued support to Ukraine that will keep the Russians on the run — until there is no choice for them but to return home, defeated. Anything less, even marginally so, will make the world a more dangerous place. The brave Ukrainian people must be our inspiration for making sure that doesn’t happen.”

The standing ovation by Parliament for a Nazi soldier is not an aberration or simple error. It’s tied to this country’s support for NATO as well as far right Ukrainian nationalism over Russian nationalism.

The question is will this embarrassing debacle help to unravel Canada’s mainstream right to mainstream left consensus on the NATO proxy war? The incident clearly illuminated the truth of what has been labelled “Russian propaganda” — Ukrainian nationalism has a long history of ties with the extreme right. While this doesn’t justify the Russia invasion, it should, at a minimum, make more people understand there are no absolutely good or absolutely bad guys in this conflict.

Yves Engler’s latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People’s History of the Canadian Military.