A count for the Commons

Michael Ignatieff should have realized his riding is populated by the 'little' people he apparently disdains

Lubomyr Luciuk
Citizen Special
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Liberal candidate Michael Ignatieff thought people like my parents were "strange and pathetic" because, in the 1960s, they would gather in protest, even in the snow, "haranguing people" who just wanted to see the Bolshoi ballet, and "to hell with the politics."

He wondered how they thought Ukraine could ever be free. Hadn't these folks bothered to check a map? Didn't they know Ukraine had "been part of Russia for centuries?" And why wouldn't they accept that, "obviously," Kyiv was the "birthplace of Russian national identity?"

When, "unbelievably," that city became the capital of a "new" and independent state, he confessed to having "difficulty in taking Ukraine seriously" because, as a "Great Russian" he held "just a trace of old Russian disdain for these 'little Russians'," meaning Ukrainians. The thought of their independence conjured up only "images of embroidered peasant shirts, the nasal whine of ethnic instruments, phoney Cossacks in cloaks and boots, nasty anti-Semites."

I confess that I have an embroidered Ukrainian shirt, several in fact, which my mother hand-made for me, and which I am proud to wear. I share other kindred, albeit more intellectual, prejudices with Mr. Ignatieff, who probably thinks he is my "elder brother." So I get a laugh when reading about those puffed up White Russian emigres -- with their pro-fascist sentiments and stunted ideas about the rights of other nations to self-determination -- who fittingly ended up as so many Grand-Duke-Such-and-Such taxi cab drivers in Paris, or Princess-This-and-Thats serving tables in Harbin dancing halls. They were the flotsam of the failed Tsarist regime, pretenders and pogromchiks, most of them shovelled into the dustbin of history during the interwar period.

One of their own (and yes he was a count, what else), Vladimir Kokovtsov, described his fellow exiles in 1930 as an admixture of "nostalgia, fatalism, balalaikas, lugubrious songs of the Volga, a crimson shirt [and] frenzied dance."

Of course, some took longer to accept their fates than others. The counts Ignatieff, for example, reportedly held forth in Toronto libraries in the mid-1930s, blustering on about Russia Yesterday, Russia Today.

How strange. How could they dare dream of "their One, Holy and Indivisible Russia" ever being restored? Did they not have maps? Did they not realize that their feeble tsar and his mendacious ministers, and the Imperial Russia they all pined for, were irrevocably lost, replaced by what the Man of Steel, Stalin, and his Bolshevik minions were manufacturing?

Happily, the commissars have gone where the counts went earlier, even if a few self-styled "Great Russians" still wander about. Perhaps I should show a little Canadian empathy. After all, once you've been a commissar, or a count, it is hard to become a commoner.

But there's the rub. Mr. Ignatieff wants to play a role on the floor of the House of Commons. He says he is a Liberal, one of our indigenous brand of Reds. He regards them, and they like to boast of it too, as the only legitimate governing party of Canada, rather like those other party members used to claim in Mother Russia, after they chucked out their Dukes and Dames, those they didn't butcher.

So we have a self-styled governing party divvying up this land and assigning the peripatetic descendant of some kicked-out grandees an estate he wants to call his own, known to locals as Toronto's Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding.

This intellectual star-tsar, deeded this Canadian peat, has discovered, however, that it is peopled with "Little Russians." Back in "the good old days," when other Ignatieffs held carriage of some captive turf just south of Kyiv, populated with peasants in embroidered shirts, that finding would have been of little consequence. At least until 1917, most serfs were quiescent. But when they got mad a lot of counts took road trips. Some even came to Canada.

It may happen again. For the common folks in this country, sometimes also known as voters, aren't happy. They don't like being lorded over. They even had the temerity to think that, in a democracy, they had a right to choose one of their own to represent them.

In fact, the good people of Etobicoke-Lakeshore had two guys in mind for that job. I know both men. They have embroidered Ukrainian shirts and occasionally do "play" at being Cossacks, since we all prefer that role to pretending to be the Count-of-Somewhere-Else that hasn't existed for nearly a century.

And we checked the map. Ukraine has regained its place in Europe, something we'll wager tsarist Russia never will. That happened, in part, because "strange and pathetic" people, like our parents, stood in the snow and called for the freedom of the captive nations instead of going inside to get warm and gawk at ballerinas.

They wanted nothing to do with those who called them Little, or Russians, nor would they ever vote for anyone who thinks they once were, are now, or ever will be.