On 4 December there will be a conference at the University of Ottawa about Ukraine, sponsored by the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) and the Sociology and Anthropology Graduate Students Association. Details of the conference can be found here. I will be giving a talk about ‘Russia’s role in the war in Donbass’.
The event has caught the attention of the organization ‘Euromaidan Ottawa’, which sent out the following email:
“We have learned of an event being planned at the University of Ottawa on December 4th 2014 that, in reviewing the program, includes topic that carry the potential of being twisted into Kremlin’s propaganda. … EuroMaidan Ottawa is asking that our community attend this event, and that all those who support freedom across the globe be prepared to address Russian propaganda that may be presented. … While we should always value and encourage free exchange of ideas and perspectives in a respectful forum, the fact remains that, Ukraine is in the midst of an information war. The Kremlin is spending hundreds of millions to paint a bizarre artificial portrait of Ukraine, and this campaign includes the cultivation of ostensibly objective academics to propagate their dirty work for them. It is our hope that the discussion at the upcoming seminar will be based on fact, however, it is important to remain vigilant and to ensure that discussions about the crisis in Ukraine be rooted in truth, therefore we encourage members of our community to be present at all such events, to correct the record if required.”
My first response to this is to point out that neither I nor any of the other presenters have received a kopeck from the Russian government. Nor has the conference, which in fact has received no funding at all other than the provision of tea, coffee and cookies courtesy of GSPIA. Euromaidan Ottawa is no doubt anxious that participants may present analyses of the events in Ukraine which do not coincide with its own narrative. It is right to expect this. But it is completely wrong to believe that anything which it doesn’t agree with is ‘Russian propaganda’, and that the ‘ostensibly objective academics’ who may challenge its point of view are saying what they are saying solely because they have been paid to do Moscow’s ‘dirty work’.
I hope, in fact, that some members of Euromaidan Ottawa will attend the conference and that we will have the opportunity to engage in a civilized academic debate. One of the points I will emphasize in my own presentation is that many of the basic facts about events in Ukraine in the past year remain highly contested, as do the interpretations of those facts. I do not pretend to know the ‘truth’. Instead, I seek to move somewhere closer to it through a dialectical process which involves debate with people with other points of view. If they can teach me something which changes my mind, all the better. Sadly, the Euromaidan email does not make me think that its members see things the same way. Rather, it suggests that they believe they know what is true and see their role as being to suppress all alternatives to that ‘truth’. I hope that this is not the case. We shall see.