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A Noble Cause Betrayed ... but Hope Lives On
Pages from a Political Life, by John Boyd

Chapter 4
My Reply to the Denunciatory Statement
of the AUUC National Executive Committee

Following is the letter I sent AUUC leaders after they issued a statement denouncing me without giving me an opportunity to present my position. My letter was not made known to the members, and I received no reply.

December 27, 1979.

To the members of the National Executive Committee,
 Association of United Ukrainian Canadians,
Toronto, Ontario.

This is my somewhat belated response to at least some of the calumnies and calculated distortions of fact contained in your statement of Sept. 18. Belated, partly because I have been unusually busy during the past three months, but mainly because I debated for a long time whether to bother with a reply at all, convinced as I am certain that it will fall on deaf ears. I decided to do so regardless — for the record.

Although I anticipated a negative reaction to my eulogy to Helen Weir, I must say that I did not expect it would take the venomous and vituperative form it did, surpassing even the statement of the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party in this regard. On reflection, however, I realized that it was symptomatic of the malaise that currently afflicts the AUUC leadership.

Several weeks ago, before your statement was translated into English, I showed a copy of the Communist Party's statement to a friend of mine, an astute and discerning person, a physician by profession, who has had no relationship to either the Communist Party or the AUUC and could therefore be quite objective. His comment was: "Whoever wrote that statement is paranoid." And I said: "If you think that statement isparanoid, you should see the AUUC's!" For, indeed, that it is; and whoever drafted it is obviously paranoid on the subject. But more on this later; first, let me comment on a few of the points dealt with in your statement:

  1. 1. Nobody suggested that insufficient tribute or a lack of respect was paid by the AUUC and its press to Helen Weir after her death. What I (and others) were critical of was the attitude towards her before she died. I cannot begin to describe to you how bitter Helen felt about this attitude and in her final days in the hospital she expressed herself very vehemently about it. After all, it was common knowledge that she was terminally ill with cancer for over a year before she died. That is why she was making all those trips abroad, as her "last fling." And she was in the hospital with her final bout of illness for two months. Where was the friendship and respect shown her during all that time? She felt very hurt and bitter about it during those final weeks and it was because her family (her children and her sister) saw this that they wanted her feelings made known. And because I was witness to it also, I gladly agreed.

    Incidentally, during the past year or two the AUUC press has carried full page (and longer) tributes to some of its active and leading women who had worked for 25 years or more in the organization — all richly deserved. Surely, when it was known that Helen was terminally ill, some sort of tribute could have been paid to her publicly while she was still alive. Failing that, at least some acknowledgement and appreciation could have been paid to her in person during her illness by some of the leading people with whom she had worked for so long — in a visit to the hospital, a letter, a card or even a phone call. Doing it after she was dead is not quite the same!

  2. There was no suggestion that anyone from the AUUC leadership was instrumental in preventing Helen from getting that medal from the Soviet Union. That was directed quite clearly at her "former friends" in the Communist Party leadership, who did intervene. Nor did I "add" the representative of the Soviet embassy. I simply stated the fact that a leading member of the Communist Party approached Helen "on behalf of the Soviet embassy." Which is true. He certainly did not ask her about it on his own behalf, for his own satisfaction. Obviously it is considered heresy or sacrilege by the Communist Party leaders (and apparently the AUUC's) to suggest that Soviet government officials would or could ever act (or fail to act) on some matter on the advice or recommendation of the leaders of the Communist Party in Canada. Yet we all know that this was not the first time it happened — nor the last. But apparently we must not say it publicly, must we?

  3. And speaking of the medal... If Helen was so highly respected and her past contributions so highly valued by the AUUC leadership, why did not someone from the NEC intervene with the Soviet authorities (unofficially, if necessary) to find out why she was denied it? As Helen mentioned on more than one occasion, and repeated it during her final days in the hospital, "If it had been someone in the NEC of the AUUC who had received such a telegram and then failed to get the medal, you can be sure there would have been a lot of questions asked 7- in the embassy and elsewhere." In retrospect Helen was sorry she had not pursued the matter of the medal herself soon after it was denied her, but personal and business problems at that time prompted her to put it off. She had hoped some day to get to Moscow and enquire from the Soviet Women's Committee about the matter herself, even after she first had cancer, but her final bout of illness thwarted her plan. But she was very bitter that none of her one-time colleagues spoke up on her behalf and she personally asked her children and me to make sure that all her friends knew how she felt. Where and how was this to be done? Published in the Canadian Tribune or the Ukrainian Canadian?

    Incidentally, why in your statement do you refer to the medal "she is supposed to have received" (malab ottytnaty) rather than "was to have received" (mala otrymaty)? Was this calculated to still leave some doubt about it? To avoid any conclusion by readers across Canada (and even more so abroad) that the NEC was in any way confirming the fact that she had been awarded the medal but did not get it?

  4. The same sort of innuendos and half truths abound throughout the statement. I did not "weave in" the events in Czechoslovakia and the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Lenin. I mentioned the former only in passing when I said that "In her heart and mind Helen remained a Communist to her dying day, even though she dropped her membership in the party some 10 years before — soon after the tragic events in Czechoslovakia in 1968" and the latter when I referred to the medal, which was awarded "on the occasion of the centenary of Lenin's birth." (This, incidentally, was the ploy used in the Communist Party's statement —which did not even mention the medal. I had naively hoped that perhaps the AUUC leadership was above this kind of dishonesty).

    In your eagerness to identify with the Communist Party's statement you also assert that my remarks were intended to "whitewash" myself (the Party used the term "refurbish his image"). Both statements make. no sense whatsoever, even for your purpose of finding yet another means of slandering me. If I am out to "whitewash" myself or "refurbish my image," who am I doing it for? When and how was my image tarnished? From whose point of view? And how would my remarks have brightened it?

  5. Another example where you calculatingly exploit the public's ignorance of the facts is your reference to my eulogy at Tony Kay's funeral. I deliberately sent Peter Krawchuk the text of my remarks soon after the event to refute the same kind of distortions that were being circulated at that time. In spite of that your statement repeats them. In speaking of Tony's boundless energy right up to his final days, I said that "He did, of course, now and then, talk about his eventual retirement, but wasn't really ready for it. He was a man of too much energy to retire. So when a few weeks ago he was told he would have to retire from his job when he reached 65 this coming July, he took it quite hard. His mind, of course, told him he would have to accept it, but apparently his heart could not."

  6. That older people get heart attacks on the eve of or soon after forced retirement is an established medical fact. Only someone carrying on a vendetta or with slander in mind could conclude from these remarks that I accused the AUUC of "causing his death."

You also seek to brand me with evasiveness and irresponsibility by taking out of context and distorting my remarks that "I was told" and "I was so informed." The fact is that in each case I was told by the family what they wanted me to say. But this did not mean or imply that I don't stand by what I said. On the contrary, I take full responsibility for what I said. I should add that what I said was considerably toned down from what I personally would like to have said had it been in other than a public place.

Yes, on all counts yours is a paranoid statement. But this is not surprising. It is born of the paranoia that characterizes the attitude of your committee (particularly three or four of its members) towards the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble and the Guild. There really is no valid reason for the present impasse and inimical relations between the AUUC leadership and the Ensemble.

How did matters reach such an impasse? Clearly, when the Ensemble and its supporters voted by an overwhelming majority to become an independent body, and could not be convinced otherwise, that was the time when the AUUC leadership (no matter how they disagreed with it or did not like it) should have taken a sober, mature and objective attitude and accepted the reality of the situation, rather than say "they're all out of step except us." A change had taken place and the wise course would have been to accept that change and adapt to it. Had such a realistic and objective course been taken, a modus vivendi could have been worked out between the two organizations. They could have existed separately as does the WBA and more recently the Senior Club in Toronto, and forms of cooperation could have been found and developed. Instead, a few leading AUUC individuals (whose egos would not permit them to back down) insisted on retaining control — or else. In so doing, they lost contact with several hundred second and third generation Ukrainian Canadians in Toronto, Hamilton and the surrounding area. These several hundred people, by the way, were raised in the AUUC milieu and always had and continue to have a friendly attitude toward and great respect for the AUUC.

That is why it is an utter fabrication to say, as your statement does, that the Guild leadership, from its earliest days, has been the source of "various gossip and insinuations directed against the NEC and the entire organization." This is simply not true. There were and are, of course, some sharp and bitter criticisms of individual members of the NEC by individual Guild members (which, incidentally, have been very much reciprocated). Even these were existent in the earlier days in only a mild form but have grown and developed chiefly as a result of the intransigence and hostile attitude of some of the NEC members towards the Ensemble and their stubborn insistence that the Ensemble must yield to their point of view. But there never was anything except the warmest feeling and respect for the AUUC as a whole and a continuing universal regret that close and friendly relations between the two organizations do not exist.

For a long time I personally had tried to get both sides to reach some sort of compromise but it eventually became obvious that as far as some influential NEC members were concerned it was "knuckle under" or else.

This stubbornness and intransigence by a few NEC members gradually developed into hostility and eventually into a paranoid attitude. They could not transmit this hostility to all the rank and file members who were able to see the work of the Ensemble first-hand, but were able to alienate the members in the other parts of Canada by misrepresenting and distorting the aims and purposes and work of the Ensemble — much as has been done in your statement about the memorial meeting for Helen Weir. This hostility has been built up to a point where a provincial secretary of the AUUC could tell a member of the Ensemble (an old acquaintance from away back) that "you're all a bunch of CIA agents!" And the wife of an NEC member told Helen to her face that "you people (in the Ensemble) are worse than the Ukrainian nationalists!" Another person closely associated with the leadership, speaking of Helen, was quoted as saying, "She is not the same person ever since she went to the Party school in Moscow." (Which was not taken kindly by Helen when she heard of it, I can tell you).

All this, I repeat, stems from the fact that a few individuals in the NEC insisted (and continue to insist) that only their way is right. Any suggestions, of course, that perhaps there could be another way are unacceptable. Just as any serious challenge or criticism of a chosen policy of the AUUC leadership becomes heresy. (When, for example, was the last time that Life and Word or the Ukrainian Canadian carried a letter to the editor critical of an AUUC policy or of something written in the paper?) This attitude has been, and still is, all too prevalent in the Soviet Union, in most Communist Parties (including Canada's) and has spilled over into many of the organizations in which Communist Party members play a leading role. It is reflected in the Communist Party's statement about the memorial meeting to Helen Weir, wherein my remarks, by some convoluted logic, were branded as anti-Soviet, anti-Party and even anti-working-class. Viewed historically, this style or method of leadership is really nothing new. It has developed and has become characteristic of the Communist movement over the past few decades and all of us at one time or another were (and some still are) guilty of practising it. It is a continuation — in milder form, of course — of the methods used by our one-time idol, "Uncle Joe," who had the "advantage" of dealing with those who disagreed with him (even mildly) not only by denouncing them but by eliminating them physically. Eventually he too became paranoid about anyone who did not accept his way. This is the logic of such an attitude.

While I, too, was once a practitioner (and sometimes a victim) of this method of "leadership," when I was a part of the "establishment" (by the way, why are you people so afraid of that term?) I am happy to say, as did Helen Weir, that I stopped being a docile conformist some time back. Perhaps that is why I, like Helen, was for a time not fully accepted as part of the "establishment" and eventually not at all. I think it wasn't at all accidental that after my return from Prague I was never invited officially by any AUUC body —not even once — to discuss what kind of a role, if any, I might play somewhere in the Ukrainian movement, after having served in it for most of my life. Of course, I surmised that the fact that I had dropped my membership in the Communist Party might have had something to do with it. Theoretically, I know it ought not matter, but there is the practical-side to consider, for it could at times prove to be embarrassing. After all, how many ex-members of the Party are there in the AUUC leadership? (Helen, too, was convinced that her dropping out of the Party had much to do with the changed attitude towards her — why there wasn't the same warmth and sincerity — and the reason why nobody took the trouble to intervene on her behalf about the medal. In this she probably had a point).

Despite these attitudes, throughout the 10 years since I returned from Prague, I retained my membership in the AUUC with at least some equanimity and satisfaction, in earlier years even with some hope that eventually it might develop into something more substantial, until — as in the case of many other members — the unreasonable and hostile attitude towards the Ensemble and Guild made my membership in the AUUC less than comfortable or pleasant. Now, with the publication of your abusive and defamatory statement I find my membership in the AUUC no longer compatible either with my principles or my sense of personal dignity. And so, after being in the AUUC and its predecessors for 53 years (I joined the Youth Section of the ULFTA in 1926 at age 13), a good many of those years in the leadership (I became national secretary of the Youth Section in 1931), I have decided to discontinue my membership.

All of the above is solely by way of setting out some of my views and feelings on record. Because I do not believe that with the attitudes currently prevalent in your committee a dialogue that would lead to anything fruitful is possible, I am not at all interested in receiving a reply.

With fond memories of one-time mutual respect and of pleasant associations in days gone by, I remain,

Yours sincerely,
John Boyd

[ Continued ... ]

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