Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada at the Ukrainian Catholic University
October 26, 2010
Prime Minister Stephen Harper today made the following remarks at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine:
“Well, thank you very much, everybody, for that really warm welcome. Thank you, Father Gudziak, for allowing me to come and be here today. It’s a pleasure to be with all of you here.
“I would also like to just begin by recognizing some of my parliamentary friends and colleagues who have come from Canada to be with us today. First of all, Senator Raynell Andreychuck, who led an observer mission in the last Ukrainian election. The Chairman of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group and Member of Parliament Mark Warawa, and Secretary of the same group, Member of Parliament James Bezan.
“Now as Father Gudziak mentioned, there are strong people-people links between our two countries.
“Ukrainians have been emigrating to Canada for more than 100 years and one and a quarter million Canadians have Ukrainian roots. That’s about 4 per cent of the total population. And that percentage is much higher on the Canadian prairies where I reside. It’s a part of Canada that looks like parts of Ukraine and where you would recognize many of the surnames, as you would for members of the distinguished Ukrainian delegation that is travelling with me here.
“So this is like a homecoming for them. And of course everywhere we go, we are seeing that wonderful hospitality for which Ukrainians are rightly famous.
“Now we’ve had some productive talks with your government. I will come to one part of those discussions that may be of particular interest to you a little later. But before that, I’m really here to speak to you about some other things, deeply important things, values and principles that Canada and Ukraine share.
“When Ukraine first declared independence in 1991, the first western country to recognize your status as a sovereign independent country was Canada. And you might ask why were we so quick to do that? What was the hurry? For we didn’t wait very long. You affirmed your independence on December 1st. On December 2nd, we recognized your government and your statehood. Even before, in fact, the Soviet Union had officially ceased to exist.
“Why? Now, some of you here certainly won’t remember the Cold War. But I can tell you, certainly tell those of us who do, we heaved an enormous sigh of relief when Soviet communism was finally and irrefutably discredited. The communist ideology had purported to be the cure for all that ails humanity. It had just one problem. Before it could work its miracles, it had to jail or kill every living soul who disagreed. And so millions were murdered and millions more were starved. It is a past that must not be forgotten, that must never be swept under the carpet.
“Yesterday, I visited the Holodomor memorial.
“Holodomor was of course officially recognized as a genocide by Canada’s parliament two years ago, largely thanks to the work of my caucus colleagues, in particular James Bezan, who in fact introduced the legislation. Now as you know, almost as many or as you may know almost as many Ukrainians died in the Holodomor during the 1930s as there were Canadians alive at that time. To contemplate an act of malevolence on that scale truly focuses one’s mind on the nature of this evil. So much for communism’s supposed ideals.
“Of course through it all for years, for decades, thousands of Ukrainian Canadians demonstrated at every reasonable opportunity to raise awareness in the west of Soviet oppression. They did so because they knew all too well that their brethren back in Ukraine had no such freedom. And among the leaders of this Ukrainian Canadian vanguard was a parliamentarian from Toronto, named Yuri Shimko, a descendant of Ivan Franko who I know is revered in this city and throughout western Ukraine.
“So, yes, Canadians did rejoice when we saw that ideology of Soviet communism consigned to history’s scrap heap. And when Ukraine reclaimed its freedom, we were more than ready to reach out to those who had lived under communism for all those horrible years.
“Besides the bonds of kinship that exist between Canada and Ukraine, there are important values and principles to promote. As Canadians, we believe that a government must work in the interests of its people, not the other way around. We believe that countries which respect the rights of their own people are more likely to respect the rights of other nations and to be good world citizens.
“And we believe that countries where citizens know what their governments are doing and can hold them accountable are less likely to make war on their neighbours than those were power is the possession of an exclusive ruling class responsible to nobody. There are exceptions. There have been exceptions. There always will be. But the exceptions of anything prove the general rule. If peace is your goal, then a free and democratic society is the way to go.
“Therefore, the cornerstone of Canada’s foreign policy is the promotion of such values: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and all the institutions that come with them: property rights, an impartial judiciary, and above all, freedom of expression and a free press. The freedom for which Gongadze became a hero.
“In fact, we do not believe that you can have any one of these things: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, without the others. But the first is freedom. So that when Ukraine rejoined the brotherhood of the free, we in Canada were among the first to cheer.
“And we have tried to be more than mere spectators. As a friend of Ukraine, we have done a few things intended to widen your road to democratic reform. These have been both done at the governmental level and informally through community and trade organizations. First was the establishment of embassies and consulates immediately after Ukrainian independence. It tells you something about your Canadian cousins, that when the Ukrainian embassy opened in Ottawa, the cost of it was largely covered by the Ukrainian-Canadian community, a great example of how active that community is.
“Since then there have been high-level delegations travelling back and forth, visits to Ukraine by three of our governors general, and twice to Canada by your own presidents.
“And I am proud to point out that Canadians have repeatedly participated as observers in Ukrainian elections in 2004, 2006, 2007 and again this year.
“Canadians are happy to assist with elections because it is in the choosing of the government by the governed that freedom becomes more than just a word.
“There have been many government contacts at an operational level and the Canadian International Development Agency has assisted with programs to encourage small business. In fact today we are announcing six more projects to foster growth and boost grain exports. And of historic importance, we are now working with your government towards a Canada-Ukraine free-trade agreement. Our economies complement each other in several ways and it should be possible to lever our historic and linguistic ties to stimulate trade investment and job creation.
“Trade builds prosperity for everyone and it presents particularly great opportunities for young people such as yourselves who have a global perspective. I said earlier there was something in the current rounds of talks with your government that should be of particular interest to this audience. For many years, our two countries have had a program through which as many as 50 Ukrainian university students a year come to Canada to work as interns in our parliament to see how our parliament works. I’m happy to tell you that yesterday, we took that idea much further and way beyond the confines of government.
“Yesterday, our government signed a youth mobility agreement so that young Canadians and young Ukrainians will find it easier to travel between our two countries and work in each other’s. Obviously as Canadians we want to keep strong and vital the close relationship that we have with the Ukraine. We would love to see lots of you come to Canada, both for work and to have some fun. All we ask is that while you are in Canada, to teach us more about your Ukraine and make sure you share your Canadian experiences with your friends. Tweet about what you see, post the best of your photos of Canada on Facebook. You can help all of us to become better friends.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen, I just want to conclude with this. Your country has been in transition for 20 years. Just as nobody could have predicted the past two decades, no one can say what the future holds. But it is a great time to be alive.
“In fact, as I look about me, I am reminded of a fragment of poetry. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven. For ultimately what your country becomes, how it responds to the turns of future history and how you live as citizens, all this will be up to you and your generation. You have great things ahead of you, great things to decide. A whole destiny to shape.
“I would therefore say this not only to you but to all the fine young people of Ukraine.
“As you set about your life’s work, remember that in Canada, you have friends. Friends who respect and admire Ukraine’s heart for freedom, its spirit of national self-determination, and the courage of its people, a courage that has never deserted you, even in the darkest nights of your long history.
“As Shevchenko wrote, and I quote: ‘Strive and you will triumph for God is on your side. The rewards are glory, truth, and that most sacred of things, freedom.’
“I look forward to meeting all of you and I wish all of you good luck in your future. Slava Ukraini! Slava Canada!”
The Prime Minister’s Office – Communications