Saturday, June 06, 2009

Old hatreds, new politics and Mikhail Lennikov

A family is being torn apart as old ethnic conflicts, Conservative politics and the ghost of the Cold War have caught Mikhail Lennikov in their toils.

Lennikov is presently in sanctuary, trying to avoid deportation to Russia, which was scheduled this past Wednesday. As a young man in 1982, he joined the Russian secret police (the KGB), quitting (or being dismissed) in 1988. He claims to have been recruited against his will, and that his resignation was not well-received by the KGB, which began to threaten him. In 1997 he brought his family to Canada, and in 1999 applied for permanent residency, disclosing to immigration officials that he had worked for the KGB. In 2002, he was told that he--and his family--were inadmissible for that reason.

"There is sufficient credible and trustworthy evidence to conclude that Lennikov was complicit in acts of espionage during his years as an active KGB member," wrote lead member Irene Dicaire in a 2006 decision that Lennikov has been fighting ever since.

"It is my view that Lennikov was trying to downplay his true role and to hide his real goal," she said.

He worked as a Japanese translator, he says, not daring to turn down the KGB's request that he join the organization, but the Immigration and Refugee Board claims that he collected information on visiting Japanese businessmen. There is no reason to disbelieve this, but bumping that up to the level of "espionage" raised my eyebrows a bit. His job appears to have been similar to the shadowing of some foreign visitors by our very own CSIS, whose doings have been in the news recently. Indeed, he left Russia in 1995 to live in Japan for two years before arriving here.

His family, just a few weeks ago, received preliminary permission to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds, sparing the bright young Dmitri Lennikov, who has just graduated high school with distinction, the possibility of being drafted into the Russian military.

There is a good background summation of the case here by the CBC's Terry Milewski. It does not reflect well on the current government. Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has been oddly evasive regarding the reasons for its decision, which appear to have been based at least in part upon an error-laced briefing note from Stephen Rigby, the head of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

But there may be more to this than one flawed memorandum.

Lubomyr Luciuk, a Ukrainian nationalist (to put it mildly), has been aggressively campaigning to have Lennikov deported. Luciuk, a professor at the Royal Military College
, and the director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, has been at this sort of thing for a while.

He was in the news in 2005, engaging in a public spat with the head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber. A number of Ukrainians worked with the Nazis, and Luciuk has been somewhat defensive on that score. He jumped to the support of John Demjanjuk, for example, now facing trial in Germany for complicity in the deaths of 29,000 people, and he has been a fierce advocate for Wasyl Odynsky, a former guard at the Trawniki and Poniatowa forced labour camps, who lied his way into Canada. (In 2007, the Harper Cabinet, for reasons best known to themselves, cut Odynsky a break and let him remain in the country.)

Luciuk has publicly mocked the search for Nazi war criminals in Canada (scroll down), and in 2005 urged the prosecution of four Russian nationals instead. According to the
Globe and Mail's Kirk Makin, "Mr. Luciuk said it is a complete coincidence that the four individuals who have been targeted for attention are Jewish."

Add this, too, to the simmering stew of inter-ethnic conflict and Cold War memories: Harper's Conservative Party has been waging a battle for the hearts and minds of Canada's various immigrant communities for years. It moved to gain Ukrainian-Canadian support in 2004 by offering compensation for ill-treatment by the Canadian government during the First World War. Meanwhile, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, Russian by extraction, has been targeted by members of the Ukrainian community since 2005.

And caught in the midst of all of these forces far beyond his control, Mikhail Lennikov is about to see his life destroyed.

All fourteen of you perished....
[We] enter the kitchen to find there
one more broken cadaver, its black eyes beadily staring
...We had felt no talent to murder,
it was against our pluck. Why, why then? For raisons d'État. As
householders we had behaved exactly as every State does,
when there is something it wants, and a minor one gets in the way.

--W.H. Auden, "Talking to Mice"

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