In last week’s column I expounded at some length on how the Fourth Wave of Ukrainian immigrants that have come to Canada in recent decades have not integrated into the existing Ukrainian community as did the previous three waves. In this week’s essay, I propose to delve into some of the reasons why this is so.
In my view, one of the primary causes behind this reality is the fact that most of these recent immigrants are coming with significant economic and educational advantages compared to their predecessors. Most Ukrainians that came in the first three waves starting in the 1890’s were poor, many were illiterate, and they came not necessarily by choice, but because they were driven to by war, political oppression or economic hardship. They arrived with meager possessions and with little or no knowledge of the official languages of Canada. They were culturally and politically very different from the resident majority population. They often faced very difficult barriers and challenges due to prejudice and racism. To survive and progress, they banded together into tightly knit Ukrainian communities until they were able to integrate successfully into Canadian society. That process typically took several generations.
The Fourth Wave immigrants have come Canada under very different circumstances. Many of them are well educated professionals, most speak English, and generally speaking, they have come here voluntarily to improve their economic lot or to get away from the tribulations of a post-Soviet country struggling to “westernize”. Many have come here with a financial nest egg that came from selling their properties in Ukraine or Poland. Upon arrival, they have not been forced to start at the bottom of the job ladder, but many have been able to find well-paying jobs because they possess needed technical skills and experience. Further, the historical biases that their predecessors experienced as ethnics, have pretty well disappeared within Canadian society which has become multiculturally much more tolerant. All things considered, they have not needed the support and assistance of the established Ukrainian community to survive here. Their social circles, while including Ukrainians, is not just restricted to them, as they have external options based on profession, outside interests and other community ties.
Another common reason for Fourth Wave ambivalence is what I call “political and cultural fatigue”. A significant number of Ukrainian immigrants coming here are just tired of the continuing struggles for Ukrainian independence and identity that have being going on for centuries and appear to have no end. They want to escape the crushing historical burden of being Ukrainian, and just disappear into the Canadian mainstream as quickly as possible. To them, the price to pay for being Ukrainian no longer justifies the benefits. They come here to become Canadians and not Ukrainian-Canadians.
There is also the issue of language. Many of those that have come to Canada from Central or Eastern Ukraine only speak Russian, the end result of several generations of intense Russification initiatives imposed on Ukrainians by their Soviet masters. Even if they identify themselves as Ukrainians, most have found that the existing Ukrainian community in Canada does not easily tolerate the Russian language in their midst. Russian speakers are generally viewed with some suspicion, if not condemnation, and are usually ostracized. As a result, Russian speaking Ukrainians tend to keep to themselves or join the ethnic Russian communities.
On a more basic level, there also appears to be some divergence between the Ukrainian organizational establishment here in Canada and the Fourth Wave when it come to how to deal with the government of Ukraine. By and large, The Ukrainian Canadian Congress, as the representative of the Ukrainian community here in Canada, has co-operated and worked fairly closely with the Ukrainian government. While it recognizes that there is a significant issue of corruption that the Ukrainian authorities have been unwilling to address effectively, it has kept its criticism mostly private and is focusing more on the longer term, while trying to maintain strong ties with the Ukrainian authorities. Those members of the Fourth Wave that are active in the Ukrainian community, have tended to be far more critical of the Poroshenko regime and have pushed for much stronger condemnation of the lack of progress on desperately needed reforms.
Lastly, I should mention that there exists some degree of suspicion between the descendants of those earlier Ukrainians that built the existing Ukrainian churches, halls and cultural centres and some of the newcomers that have in some instances tried or succeeded in taking over control of the organizations that own these assets.
When it comes to mutual understanding, trust and shared priorities, there is often a significant gap between the two communities. This is a gap that needs to be better understood and overcome.