What’s in Putin’s Head?

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Vladimir Putin

Lorenz M. Lüthi

As we are slowly coming to terms with a new reality in international relations, we try to make sense of it using the anecdotal and fragmentary information available to us. Few outside of Russia can claim to understand what is going on in Vladimir Putin’s head. Most of us are guessing about the rationale behind the war, the decision-making process that led to its outbreak, and the long-term goals Putin is trying to pursue with this military assault on Ukraine.

The first casualty, when war comes, is truth, as the oft-cited saying goes. The aggressor Russia and the victim Ukraine wage a propaganda war at home and abroad, and opportunistic partisans in the rest of the world are not shy to use the conflict to score cheap points. Ideological convictions often trump logical thinking and detached analysis.

Yet, we still must ask what led Putin to start this war, because the answer will guide future European and North American policies towards Russia for a long time to come.

Whether or not Russia ever received a promise in the 1990s, as Putin claims, that NATO would not expand into East Europe is a matter of debate among scholars—with proponents on either side. Yet, three decades later, this is a moot point. International relations are not static but dynamic.

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A Chain of Events: Creating an Archive of Winnipeg Cycling History

Jon Benson 

From its early embrace as a recreational activity upon its arrival in the 1800s to hosting a world champion at a race downtown in the 1990s to a community of folks working diligently to build up and maintain an infrastructure making commuting here safe and enjoyable for everyone year-round, Winnipeg has a long history with the bicycle. But how do these things all connect?

At the WRENCH (Winnipeg Repair Education N’ Cycling Hub), we envision a world where everyone is empowered to experience their community by bicycle. The WRENCH operates the largest and best equipped community bike shop in western Canada. It is an international leader in community bike programming. Since 2010, the WRENCH has utilized volunteer labour and bike parts reclaimed from the waste stream to create community bike programming aimed at educating youth, empowering volunteers, and providing people with affordable and sustainable active transportation options.

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The threat of the truckers protest

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Photo by Indira Tjokorda on Unsplash.

Lesley Wood

The trucker’s convoys are a serious problem, not because of their demands, nor even their disruptive tactics, but because of their appeal to the many folks, frustrated about their jobs, their lives and the inaction of governments.

Their ostensible goal is to end vaccine mandates.  Which were happening anyway, despite the risk, because all levels of government are facing pressure to ‘open up the economy’. Now that the already planned openings are occurring, the truckers claim victory, and gain a sense of momentum. Vaccine mandates are a not the point. Sure, there are lots of anti-vaxxers mixing with the “We hate Trudeau” crew, while anti-Semites, far right racists and neo-Nazis percolate the mix. Their unity rests not so much on a particular demand, but on anger, propped up by a populist chant of Freedom! They see themselves as fighting elites who don’t care about the ‘little guy’. This puts the rest of us in an awkward position. Few of us wants to be arguing against freedom, or rooting for elites. Continue reading

History Slam 204: Cultivating Community

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By Sean Graham

Each year, fall fairs fill schedules in communities across the country. While in recent years, plenty of attention has been given to the increasingly absurd food items that are sold, the fairs have retained some of their agricultural roots. Held in the fall to celebrate the harvest, fairs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were a mix of trade shows, community building, and an expression of rural Canadian culture. From showcasing produce and livestock to competitions for textiles and baked goods, these events became important sites of political, economic, and social expression, particularly for women, whose participation in all aspects of the fairs further increased the recognition of their critical roles in preserving and growing Canadian agricultural communities.

This is the subject of Cultivating Community: Women and Agricultural Fairs in Ontario, a new book by Jodey Nurse, a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Waterloo. In exploring the growth of Ontario’s fairs well into the 20th century, she shows how women used them to demonstrate all aspects of rural womanhood. This included demanding space in everything from the organization of fairs to the livestock competitions and everything in between. Corresponding with broader political and economic changes at the time, the evolution of the fairs saw the increased role of women significantly contribute to their prosperity. And while Nurse focuses on the situation in Ontario, the book addresses universal themes of agricultural culture in Canada, which is particularly relevant today as the overall proportion of rural populations are shrinking.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Dr. Nurse about the book. We chat about what happened at fairs, who was involved in the planning, and the evolution of what constituted ‘acceptable’ women’s activities. We also discuss the economic challenges and benefits of participating in the fairs, the recognition of women’s contributions, and the materiality of these events. We finish by talking about the women who joined organizational bodies, the challenges of following them in the written archive, and the elements of early century fairs that continue today. If you’re in Guelph, Jodey is having a book launch as part of the Rural History Roundtable at 2:30.

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The Lessons of Netflix’s Munich

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Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons) brandishes a document promising peace between Britain and Nazi Germany. Still from Munich: The Edge of War.

Alvin Finkel

When people desire a more bellicose response to an international conflict, they often accuse their opponents of failing to recognize the lessons of “Munich.” We are hearing that from some Canadian conservatives with regards to Canada’s response to the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. The assumption in their use of “Munich” is that the leaders of Britain and France “appeased” Hitler in September 1938 by approving his plan to seize the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia and ignoring his earlier seizure of Austria. But that assumes that the men negotiating with Hitler in Munich despised his goals but caved to preserve an impossible peace. In fact, there is evidence that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his government supported Hitler’s goal of conquering central and Eastern Europe and then invading the Soviet Union, provided that he left western European nations and their colonies alone. The new Netflix movie Munich: The Edge of War, like much of the historical work on the event and on Chamberlain, ignores that possibility.

The movie, based on a popular novel by Robert Harris, gets some things right. It introduces a network of influential Germans conspiring to overthrow Hitler and their failed efforts to win British government support. It shows Chamberlain telling Britons that Czechoslovakia was not worth fighting over before he’d even gone to Munich, though it somewhat muffles the defeatist words of his radio address. It suggests that Chamberlain believed that Hitler would not stop his territorial conquests with Austria and Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland, both conceded at Munich.

The rest is apologetics. Chamberlain is presented as a near-pacifist who finds the prospect of war appalling and who is convinced that the British people, exhausted from World War I, need to see more betrayal by Germany and more rearmament by Britain before agreeing to another war. Beyond negotiating the Munich Pact, he demands a personal meeting with Hitler to obtain the famous piece of paper in which the two countries agree not just to “peace in our time” but to eternal peace. He argues naively that Hitler’s signature will reveal him to the British people as treacherous if he seizes more territory.

Plentiful evidence demonstrates that Chamberlain, who had expressed enthusiasm for the Nazis’ destruction of communism, socialism, and unions in Germany, was not opposed to substantial Nazi expansionism. Continue reading

The State of the Site: Digging into ActiveHistory.ca Statistics

With the start of the new year,[1] the editorial collective at ActiveHistory.ca thought it would be useful to share some data about the performance of the website, along with some brief analysis of what this data tells us about how it is being used by readers. At the end of this piece, we invite readers to chime in and tell us about how you use the site and share any other thoughts about the ActiveHistory.ca project.

Insight #1: Site traffic is strong and continues to grow

In 2021, ActiveHistory.ca set a record for its most ever site views, racking up 500,170 visits, for a daily average of 1,370.  

Below you can see a breakdown of total and daily site views by month and year, going back to October 2012, about three years into the site’s existence.

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Historia Nostra: Hear, Here Underrepresented History

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Katrina Bjornstad and Erin Isaac

Hear, Here is a postmodern heritage project that began in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 2015 with the aim to make hidden histories visible in public space. Based in part on Shawn Micallef, James Roussel, and Gabe Sawhney’s [murmur] project, the concept behind Hear, Here is simple: within a particular community, project organizers post an orange sign with a phone number.

When the number is dialed, the caller will hear a story about the space in which they stand and have the opportunity to contribute a story of their own. There can be several stories associated with each sign. This platform has many advantages over traditional street-level heritage mediums. A major advantage of Hear, Here’s use of oral history is that it allows historically underrepresented or unrepresented voices to become unobscured. As a community-based project focused within gentrifying or gentrified areas, the project aims to reveal stories that have been covered over as communities change. By making hidden histories visible in public space, Hear, Here signs raise awareness about problems within the community and can become a catalyst for change. Continue reading

History Slam 203: Flying to Extremes

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By Sean Graham

If you read any edition of the Year in Review (100 Years Later) series, you’ll notice that I, to the great frustration of my co-author Aaron Boyes, insist on including advancements in aviation each year. There is something that I find completely riveting about flying – that we can get into a metal tube and a few hours later be on the other side of the world is remarkable. Trips that 200 years ago would take years can now be done in under a day. And yet, despite the complete sense of awe that I get whenever I watch planes (I spent a summer during undergrad working on the airfield at Pearson International Airport, which was an amazing plane-spotting experience) people can get so mad during the process.

Despite that, I am always excited to learn more about aviation, which is why I was so looking forward to talking with Dominique Prinet, who worked as a pilot in the 1960s and 1970s. Based out of Yellowknife, he flew throughout the north of Canada. From landing on both lakes and skis, surviving near misses when fuel ran short, and navigating the ever-changing weather without the benefit of modern equipment, Prinet’s tales of northern flying highlight the danger and thrill of aviation at this time. Far away from his childhood in France during the Second World War, Prinet fell in love with the people and environment of a region where in the summer flying by sight is a 24-hour possibility and in the winter the unseen danger of ice accumulation on the aircraft is a constant nerve-wracking presence.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Dominique about his experience flying in the North, as told in his book Flying to Extremes: Memories of a Bush Pilot. We chat about Dominique’s entry into aviation (7:16), the skillset required to be a pilot (11:28), and the day-to-day of flying in the North (15:26). We also discuss Dominque’s love of the region (23:15) and a few of the dangerous situations in which he found himself through his career (34:23).

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History Slam 202: The Racial Mosaic

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By Sean Graham

In October 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau delivered a statement in the House of Commons to announce that multiculturalism was now an official government policy. Based on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which had been appointed in 1963, the intent of the policy was to both recognize the contributions of diverse ethnic groups while also protecting cultural freedom for all Canadians. In the fifty years since that announcement, the idea of multiculturalism and its meaning to Canada has continued to expand and change to reflect the country’s shifting demographics.

When thinking about the introduction of official multiculturalism, though, it’s important to remember that it didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of time for the government’s position on what constituted a ‘Canadian’ to change. The land that is now Canada has been home to diverse cultural groups from time immemorial, but the recognition of the nation’s diversity was a marked change in how the state officially viewed the population. Tracing the evolution of that position, in particular through the significant challenges presented by the interwar period, tells us a lot about what led to the Prime Minister’s 1971 announcement.

This is also the subject of Daniel R. Meister’s new book The Racial Mosaic: A Pre-History of Canadian Multiculturalism. In telling the story, Meister uses a historical biography approach to assess the changing conceptions of race, pluralism, and identity in the interwar period. Through the stories of Watson Kirkconnell, Robert England, and John Murray Gibbon, the book explores multiculturalism’s historical antecedents while also examining how race and racism have contributed to settler-colonialism in Canada.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Daniel about the book and history of multiculturalism. We discuss how he defines the pre-history of multiculturalism and pluralism, how these have contributed to colonialism, and the changing interpretation of race in the interwar years. We also chat about the rise of nationalism following the First World War, the utility of historical biography, and the key factors leading to 1971.

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The Shifting Boundaries of Colonial Land Taking: The Continuity of Settler Land Theft and Indigenous Resistance in Kahnawà:ke  

photo of an protest camp

Figure 1 #LandBack Encampment in Kahnawake, July 16, 2021. Photo by Daniel Rück

Daniel Rück

Non-Indigenous people who encounter Indigenous #LandBack protests are often surprised or taken aback. They may be angry about being inconvenienced on their commute and may even resort to racist stereotypes to explain what is happening. They might ask themselves questions like: Why are Indigenous people so upset? Why are they choosing to occupy land or block a road instead of writing letters to their elected representatives? To understand why, Canadians would do well to learn about the long histories of all the ways settlers have been taking Indigenous lands, and the centuries-long struggle of Indigenous peoples to defend their lands.

Take, for example the Kanehsatà:ke Resistance (Oka Crisis), which was a response to both the expansion plans of a golf course, but also to centuries of land theft and injustice in both Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawà:ke. This is also true of the many other actions by land defenders in so-called Canada, and around the world, including more prominent ones like Land Back Lane (at Six Nations of the Grand River) and the Wet’suwet’en defense against unauthorized pipeline construction on their lands in so-called British Columbia. Another such action has been happening since the summer of 2021 in Kahnawà:ke, a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community near Montréal.

In April 2021 the city of Châteauguay, which borders Kahnawà:ke, gave the green light to a new development of 290 housing units on land that historically belonged to Kahnawà:ke and was never ceded. The Kanien’kehá:ka Nation at Kahnawà:ke strongly opposed this development as one that “further usurps lands that rightfully belong to Kahnawà:ke.”[1] According to a Longhouse press release:

The western boundary of the territory of Kahnawà:ke originally extended to the Wolf River (now called the Chateauguay River), an estimated 9-square mile zone that has been wrongfully occupied by Chateauguay. Since the fall of New France in 1760, numerous petitions were made to the succeeding British Regime from Kahnawà:ke complaining about breeches to our territorial integrity and encroachment along the western boundary.”[2]

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke also communicated its opposition to the project to the Chateauguay mayor, Quebec Premier François Legault, and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, but the letters had little impact. On July 1, 2021, after it was clear that all protests had been ignored or dismissed, a group of Kahnawa’kehró:non set up an encampment to try to stop the development, and this land defense continues to this day.

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