Museum must decide whose human rights abuses will be featured — and how
By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press | The Canadian Press – Sat, 8 Jan 10:00 AM EST
WINNIPEG – Organizers behind the Canadian Museum for Human Rights face a challenge that is already stirring up controversy: how to decide which abuses, atrocities and genocides should be featured and how much attention should each receive.
Some groups are already upset that the Holocaust is to get a permanent space when the museum opens in 2013, while other genocides will share a “mass atrocity” gallery.
“It’s about fair and equitable treatment of these tragedies,” Taras Zalusky, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said from Ottawa.
Zalusky’s group has been pushing for a more prominent display of the Ukrainian famine in 1932-33 in which millions starved to death because of Soviet farm policies and food seizures. The famine will be part of the mass atrocity gallery, but Zalusky argues it and other lesser-known events such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide deserve more attention.
“As a teaching museum, it should be the role of that museum to inform Canadians about some of these not-well-known episodes in our history.”
The German-Canadian Congress is also upset with the attention given to the Holocaust.
“No suffering by one group of people can be more important than the suffering of others,” the group said in a recent news release.
The controversy has required the museum’s chief executive officer, Stuart Murray, to rely on his considerable diplomatic skills. The former politician has met with the Ukrainian Congress and other groups, and frequently stresses that the museum doesn’t want to get into a debate over whose suffering deserves greater prominence.
“We don’t want to get into a comparative, because once you start comparing two genocides, you start comparing a third and a fourth, and that’s a slippery slope,” he said. “We want to … (demonstrate) through a human rights lens why these things happened.”
Most of the 12 permanent galleries will be thematic and avoid focusing on one event or group. One will outline the history of human rights in Canada, including internment camps for people of Japanese, Ukrainian, German and other heritages during the world wars. The only ethnic group to receive a gallery of its own will be aboriginals.
The project remains $25 million shy of its $150-million private fundraising goal, but construction is already well underway. Asper’s daughter, Gail, has said she is confident the shortfall will be made up with either private or more public money.
There could be more debate once the museum opens and the public gets a look at how some atrocities are depicted.
The human rights museum has tried to avoid missteps by hiring historians and other experts to help develop programming. But Murray says the museum will not shy away from sensitive subjects.
“Our goal is not to rewrite history. We clearly are going to report history as it existed, but the fact is there will be multiple perspectives that will be shown … on issues.”