The rally is organized mainly by people of Russian descent who have requested that other interested Canadians, especially with heritage from central and eastern Europe participate.
What is the main purpose of the rally at the Russian consulate general on March 31st?
The “Rally in support democracy and human rights in Russia” has one major goal: to attract public attention to the situation with human rights abuse in the biggest country in the world and its leaning towards autocracy. Of course, the Canadian public is pretty aware of the violations of the Constitution and political oppression in the Russian Federation, the only question we want to raise is: What could we do to stop it?
We need Canada to initiate a process of excluding Russia from the G8 due to the uncivilized, undemocratic behavior of those who govern in Moscow.
Don’t think that it’s a strange, fuzzy move: it’s almost the only way to compel Putin and Co to be in line with the Russian Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other international treaties. Why will it work? Because Putin wants to be appreciated all around the globe, especially amongst the Western elite. It’s critically important for Putin to be included into that exclusive circle. The threat of exclusion from G8 will force Putin to return basic human rights to the Russians.
Is this the first time the Russian community has demonstrated in Toronto?
A broad coalition of Russian opposition parties had started their rallies in support of Article 31 of the Constitution of Russian Federation (which states right to peaceful assembly) in July 2009. The first time Russians in Toronto came to protest in front of the Russian consulate was in August 2010.
Last stage in Toronto was started on January 31, 2011 - after the shameful arrests of many dozens of pro-democracy activists during a peaceful demonstration in Moscow on Dec. 31. 2010.
In your opinion are Russians in Toronto divided between pro- and anti-Putin groups? Are they cohesive politically? Do they have other issues which unite or separate them? What are the main issues that Russians here debate or are most of them uninterested in political issues?
I haven’t conducted a comprehensive survey of Russians in Canada, therefore I could just express my personal opinion and share observations.
There is no pro- or anti-Putin groups among Russians here, because politics is not the most important issue for immigrants. People preoccupied with financial difficulties, cultural adaptation, building their careers from the scratch in Canada, etc.
I would say that political involvement amongst Russian immigrants is very low – on both local (up to federal) level and regards their Motherland.
However you should take into consideration limitations of my personal experience: I communicate mostly with middle age professionals and have very modest familiarity with retired people and youngsters. I know that some young people who were brought to Canada by their parents as teens, had developed a strangely good feeling about the Soviet Union, communism, Stalin, and Putin. You could say that’s from lack of history’s comprehension, and you may be right, but it doesn’t change the situation.
[/B]We understand that most people from Russia have come to Canada seeking better opportunities. Some may be here because of other reasons. What may these be?[/B]
Most Russians have arrived in Canada in the last 20 years as professionals, skilled workers. However there is a small percentage of people who tried to escape prosecution – mostly on economical, than on political ground. It was kind of “assets diversification” process for some businessmen, who acquired real estate in GTA and settle here with families.
As far as I know Russians were not accepted as refugees in Canada recently, with the exception for people from Caucasus region.
If your unasked question is about KGB' spies, I have nothing to say: yes, probably there were a few (or more), but they don't wear a mark of Cain on their forehead, so you can't recognize them.
How well organized is the Russian community in Canada? Is there a central organization recognized by most Russians?
Candidly speaking there is no such thing as a Russian community in Canada, nevertheless at least 100 000 Canadians claim Russian as their mother tongue. We could speak about Estonian or Ukrainian, Jewish or Italian communities, but we can’t speak in the same sense about Russian one.
There is no one working organization, even so there were a few attempts in the last 10 years to somehow organize Russians into a community. There are a lot of Russian businesses, there are synagogues and churches, even theaters, but there is no community. Everyone is on his own; none could rely on the support of a community. It’s sad, very sad, but it’s what we have.
Many Canadian residents originally from Russia are of Jewish heritage. Do they have their own distinctive community or are all people from Russia considered to be of the same background?
There is a different interpretation of “Jewishness” in Canada and Soviet Union: the former sees it as a faith, the latter saw it as an ethnic group. There is a relatively small Jewish-Russian community of orthodox Jews, however the majority of Russian-Jewish immigrants are secular with some observing traditions.
And as a member of Community Relationship committee at Canadian Jewish Congress I could say that the Russian-Jewish Canadians are politically and socially uninvolved and from that prospective are pretty similar to the rest of Russian Canadians.
Perhaps you can also introduce your background, current employment and activity. What brought you to Canada?
I was born and grew up in St.-Petersburg (I’m a bit ashamed that I’m from the same city as most odious figures in Kremlin’s clique). I came to Canada in 1999, working as an independent consultant on the field of business analysis.
I’m not into politics, but I’m truly concern about the situation with human rights in Russia. Its size and political weight in Eastern Europe (less in the world), its economical influence on its neighbors – all defines high priority of the issue for everyone who is interested in co-operative development and peaceful prosperity of Eastern Europe.
Interview by Estonian Life
Interview with March 31st rally organizer Ivan Yushin