Thursday, February 29, 2024

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    Canada’s Parliamentary Controversy: Ovation for WWII Figure Stirs Political Furor

    Ovation for Individual with WWII Nazi Ties Sparks Outrage and Apologies

    Canada finds itself mired in a deepening political controversy following a standing ovation given to an individual with ties to a Nazi military unit accused of wartime atrocities during World War II. The incident unfolded in the House of Commons and has since triggered condemnation and apologies.

    The ovation occurred shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivered an address to the Canadian parliament. During the session, the assembly’s speaker, Anthony Rota, drew lawmakers’ attention to 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, whom he hailed as a “war hero” for his service in the First Ukrainian Division.

    Photographs from the Canadian parliament captured President Zelenskiy and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau standing and applauding Hunka, a sight that has drawn sharp criticism from Jewish organizations. As lawmakers cheered, President Zelenskiy raised his fist in acknowledgment while Hunka saluted from the gallery during two separate standing ovations.

    The Kremlin swiftly labeled the incident “outrageous,” and pro-Kremlin social media accounts seized upon images of President Zelenskiy’s participation.

    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, expressing his disapproval, deemed the episode “clearly unacceptable” and “deeply embarrassing” to the Canadian parliament and the nation as a whole.

    Critics have pointed out that the First Ukrainian Division is more commonly known as the Waffen-SS “Galicia” Division or the SS 14th Waffen Division, a volunteer unit operating under Nazi command.

    The decision to allow approximately 600 members of this division to settle in Canada after World War II has long been a source of controversy in the country. It led to a government commission of inquiry in the 1980s to investigate whether Canada had inadvertently provided refuge to war criminals.

    Members of the division faced accusations of involvement in the killings of Polish and Jewish civilians. While the Nuremberg tribunals found the Waffen-SS guilty as an organization of war crimes, they did not indict the Galicia division as a whole.

    Over the weekend, Speaker Anthony Rota issued a statement in which he apologized for his actions. He expressed regret for his decision to recognize Hunka after learning of additional information. Rota clarified that neither his fellow parliament members nor the Ukrainian delegation were aware of his plan to acknowledge Hunka. He also revealed that Hunka hailed from his district.

    Jewish organizations, including the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, voiced their deep concern and condemnation of celebrating an individual associated with a Nazi division responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians.

    Canada’s opposition Conservative leader, Pierre Poilievre, joined the calls for an apology from Prime Minister Trudeau.

    Trudeau’s office emphasized that Rota had apologized and assumed full responsibility for extending the invitation to Hunka and the subsequent recognition in parliament. The Prime Minister’s office stated that they had not received advance notice of Rota’s actions, nor had the Ukrainian delegation.

    Dominique Arel, the chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa, shed light on the historical context. Arel explained that the division Hunka served in attracted numerous Ukrainian volunteers who hoped to achieve Ukrainian independence. Non-German volunteers who shared Nazi aims or sought to utilize Nazi power for their objectives were organized into SS divisions. Arel noted the symbolic challenge posed by serving in a military unit associated with one of the most notorious criminal organizations of the 20th century.

    The controversy coincided with President Zelenskiy’s visit to Ottawa, where he sought to strengthen support from western allies for Ukraine’s struggle against the Russian invasion. Despite President Putin’s portrayal of his Ukrainian counterparts as “neo-Nazis,” it is important to note that President Zelenskiy is of Jewish heritage and has family ties to the Holocaust.


    This incident also raises uncomfortable questions about the commemoration of prominent Ukrainian figures who aligned with Nazi forces during World War II. In his address to Canadian lawmakers, President Zelenskiy acknowledged the city of Edmonton’s recognition of the Holodomor victims, a mass famine that inflicted immense suffering on Ukrainians in the 1930s. However, Edmonton contains memorials to Roman Shukhevych, a known Nazi collaborator, and the Waffen-SS Galicia division, which have faced increased scrutiny in recent years.

    The controversy serves as a stark reminder of the complex historical legacy and sensitivities surrounding individuals and groups associated with Nazi-era activities and their commemoration in contemporary settings.

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