Eastern Europe

by Lucy Slavianska (@lucylsl) in Toronto, Ontario

As mainstream media focus on the war in Ukraine and Canada’s position on it, headlines in the Eastern European diaspora media reveal some of the other challenges, struggles and joys of its community in Canada.

Canada Relaxes Visa Requirements for Citizens of Romania And Bulgaria

Romanian and Bulgarian media report on the Harper government’s decision to relax the visa requirements for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals.

According to new regulations coming in 2016, Bulgarian Flame reports, Bulgarian citizens who have held a Canadian visa in the last 10 years or who hold a U.S. non-immigrant visa will no longer need to apply for Canadian visas, but will only have to register for an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). The same regulations apply for Romanian citizens.

The news came after Romania and Bulgaria, both European Union (EU) members, declared they would not ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a EU-Canada free-trade agreement, if Ottawa would not lift the visa requirements for their nationals. In order for CETA to come into effect, all 28 EU members must ratify it.  

Prior to Bulgaria and Romania, the Czech Republic declared it wouldn’t ratify CETA if Canada didn’t lift the visa requirement for Czech citizens. The Harper government removed visas for Czech citizens, but only relaxed the requirements for Bulgarians and Romanians.

“It is a step towards the total lifting of visas for Romanians,” Pagini Romanesti writes, “but it seems unlikely that the Canadian authorities will take this decision very soon.”

Canadians, on the other hand, don’t need visas for any of the EU countries, including Romania and Bulgaria.

Biometric Data Collection Expands for Visitors to Canada

The federal government announced that the collection of biometric data from people entering Canada would vastly expand.

Polish website Bejsment.com, however, informed its readers that Poles who cross the Canadian border do not have to provide such data, because the new regulations do not apply to nationals of countries with which Canada has visa-free agreements. Also, the website explains that the biometric data of the Polish citizens are already saved in the electronic chips of their passports.

However, citizens of 148 countries who require visas will be subject to biometric data collection which includes fingerprints, facial and iris scanning. According to the federal government, the tightening of border control would not only increase the internal security, but would also limit the influx of unwanted people.

The drawback of the new project is the high cost – about $200 million for installation, and about $20 million annually for maintenance of the system.

Despite the expenses, security expert John Thompson believes that other countries should follow Canada’s example. In fact, collecting biometric data is already a common practice in Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. 

Photo Credit: Bejsment.com (Accompanied original referenced article.)

The Fight for Kindergarten Ukrainian-Language Programs

Parents, teachers, community activists and organizations are concerned about anticipated changes in the decades-old Ukrainian language program running in three kindergarten classes in Toronto’s Eastern-Rite Catholic schools. In five articles, the Ukrainian-Canadian news portal New Pathway followed the heated discussions and actions of the Ukrainian community to preserve the language program.

Until 2014, the three kindergartens, which included separate half-day classes in Ukrainian, were partly funded by parents. When they became fully funded by the province, John Yan, senior coordinator at the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), said there would be changes to the Ukrainian language component’s delivery.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]After several meetings, the prompt and united actions of the Ukrainian community members resulted in successful negotiations with TCDSB.[/quote]

Meanwhile, a petition stated, “Teachers were informed that they have to abandon their separate Ukrainian classrooms and assume support duties within the regular English curriculum.”

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) Toronto branch announced a committee of parents and community activists would challenge the changes. Some of the group’s main concerns were, “the difficulty of combining instruction in two languages for young children in a single session,” “the volume of instruction in Ukrainian” and “ways to ensure the interests of Ukrainian teachers in the new circumstances.”

After several meetings, the prompt and united actions of the Ukrainian community members resulted in successful negotiations with TCDSB. On June 3, 2015, the UCC and TCDSB released a joint statement announcing children would spend half a day with an English teacher and the other half with a Ukrainian one and an ECE (early childhood education) team.

Photo: St. Josaphat Catholic School Celebrates 50 Years // Photo Credit: tcdsb.org

Annual Competitions Encourage Reading, Writing and Spelling in Polish

To stimulate young people of Polish background to learn, use and improve their Polish-language skills, Polish schools in most provinces organize competitions in essay writing, reading and spelling at the end of every school year. Polish portal Goniec published Teresa Szramek’s report on the most popular competitions in the country.

This year, the Best Essay in Polish Language competition was held for the 50th time. According to Szramek, the jury did a tremendous job, reading and evaluating hundreds of essays sent from Polish schools from all across Canada. Among the grading criteria were the ability to use the language beautifully and the courage to speak out on difficult subjects.

The reading contest, “Champion at Reading Beautifully,” took place at John Paul II Polish Cultural Centre Mississauga. Children read a text by Barbara Gawryluk’s My Bullerby, a novel about a girl who faces challenges when her parents decide to emigrate from Poland to Sweden.

“The reading contest for children is really important,” Szramek writes, “especially in the era of ubiquitous Internet. The contest aims, among other things, to arouse interest in books, which are a cultural asset of every nation, and to encourage reading, because books develop the imagination and enrich the vocabulary of the young readers.”

A record number of candidates also competed for the title of Spelling Champion of the Year 2015.

Photo Credit: Goniec (Accompanied original referenced article.)

Volunteers Run “Food Bank On Wheels”

People who use the Canadian social assistance system should not just passively wait for help – many of them could be more actively engaged in improving of their situations and the lives of others in need, says Lada Alexeychuk in Russian Week.

Alexeychuk is involved in an organization created and run by volunteers who call this activity “food bank on wheels.”

The work is simple: the volunteers talk to grocery store and warehouse managers and, at the end of the day, pick up the food that has not been sold. They immediately deliver this food to the homes of people in need. In this way, about 100 people receive fresh fruit and vegetables every week.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Since products are delivered the same day, the “food bank” doesn’t need storage or administrative staff. All it takes is the will to help others.[/quote]

Alexeychuk writes that elderly people are especially grateful for this home-delivery service in winter, because they don’t have to walk the slushy, slippery streets to get food.

Since products are delivered the same day, the “food bank” doesn’t need storage or administrative staff. All it takes is the will to help others.

“The reasons people need help are different – unemployment, sickness, old age, immigration,” Alexeychuk says. “However, if a person is in need of social assistance, this doesn’t mean that he or she is completely helpless. If you think about it, every man, even the weakest person with disability can be of some help in some way.”

Photo Credit: Russian Week (Accompanied original referenced article.)

Lucy Slavianska is a Toronto-based journalist who has lived and worked in Bulgaria, Japan, Venezuela and the Netherlands. She has a PhD in clinical philosophy and background in editing and publishing.

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Sunday, 09 February 2014 15:13

A Canadian at Euromaidan in Kyiv

Written by

by Mark Semotiuk

I had seen the reports. Riot police indiscriminately beat innocent women and children. Tanks were shipped into the city. 20,000 people were transported into the Kyiv and paid to attend a pro-government rally. Provocateurs were paid to start fights so that a state of emergency could be declared. The National Security Agency raided opposition offices with machine guns and closed subways due to terrorist bomb threats. Reports of Russian Special Forces, who were loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and had no national ties to the protestors, landed in Ukraine. People talked of an impending civil war. I was afraid to go to the Maidan.

The moment I arrived, my fear melted. Tens of thousands of people greeted me to the largest cultural festival imaginable. On stage they played modern pop songs. In the crowd people grouped together and sang classic folk songs. Both the pop songs and the folk songs were about love of country and love of people. Every half hour the entire crowd burst out into the national anthem.

Grandmothers stood in the square until 4 a.m.; students would not leave. People were draped in Ukrainian flags and traditional clothing. Volunteers passed around free food and tea and manned medical tents. Young couples came here on dates. Friends shared stories, sang songs and read poems around fires to keep warm. The people were united against fear.

Through casual conversations, I learned that the people were protesting because President Viktor Yanukovych’s “democratically” elected government lost its legitimacy through corruption. Its power relies on a system of political patronage where supporters are paid with bribes or political favours. Its influence depends on propaganda and fear of economic or physical consequences. Members of the Yanukovych government embezzled money. As if that was not enough, when the Yanukovych government tried to control the people’s protests with fear, the government became undisputedly illegitimate.

Illegitimate government

The protesters told me that words of the Yanukovych government do not match its actions. The Yanukovych government claims that Ukraine cannot strengthen its ties with the European Union because of the short-term economic consequences. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that failed to implement the reforms necessary for Ukraine’s economy to grow. Supporters of the Yanukovych government claim that the West is illegitimately intervening in Ukraine. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that is illegitimately paying people to attend pro-government rallies. The Yanukovych government says that the riot police are necessary to protect the security of the country. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that is beating, torturing and killing the Ukrainian people. Through these actions the Yanukovych government has rendered itself illegitimate.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The protestors know that even after the illegitimate Yanukovych government falls there is a long and difficult road ahead. They talk about how Ukraine must crack down on corrupt practices; reform the pension sector; create an independent judiciary; implement fiscal, exchange rate, and monetary policy reform; and provide for more capital investment.[/quote]

Will to reform

The protestors aspire to modernize the Ukrainian economy so that it can grow. They want to become more economically sophisticated and diversify into different markets. They no longer want their financial well-being to rely on turning under-priced Russian materials into world-market-priced commodities. They point to Poland and other post-Soviet countries that have blossomed due to reforms implemented in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Through an immense outpouring on the streets of Kyiv, the Ukrainian people have shown the political will to bear the cost of these reforms. If the reforms are implemented, they believe Ukraine’s economy will flourish.

For Ukraine to thrive there is one reform that must be made above all. It must be united. The Yanukovych government has a political base, part of which is legitimate. But, in December, as I walked through the barricades separating pro and anti-government rallies, I saw that it was government soldiers who prevented fellow countrymen from interacting. Like Stalin the Russian despot, members of the Yanukovych government recognize that ideas are more powerful than guns.

As EuroMaidan burst out into the national anthem, the government protestors could hear them. Hundreds of the paid protesters stop listening to the political programming so that they could sing along. They longed to be united.

It is a beautiful thing. Every time Ukrainians sing the national anthem they send a message to the illegitimate Yanukovych government. In particular, they finish with the final line:

Душу й тіло ми положим за нашу свободу. І покажем, тобі Віктор, що ми, браття, козацького роду.

We will lay down our soul and our body for our freedom. And by doing so we will show you that we are brothers of the Ukrainian family.

Mark Semotiuk is a Ukrainian Canadian who has been an international election observer in Ukraine on multiple occasions.

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Sunday, 02 December 2012 14:43

PULSE: Eastern Europe

Written by

Canadian media targeted at East European immigrants covered a broad array of topics over the last month, ranging from Remembrance Day events to the harassment of a teacher in Brampton via Twitter. 

Most of the East European media reported on immigration issues and immigration policy. Bulgarian Пламя (Flame bulgarianflame.com) and the Nový Domov(The New Homeland, Czech and Slovak newspaper blog.novydomov.com ) inform readers about Ontario’s new immigration policy. In the Canadian section Estonian World Review (www.eesti.ca/estonians-in-canada/list1) reported on the Canadian Government launch of the new ePassport that will be more attractive and more secure. EWR also reported on the 2012 Citizenship Week which was marked by special citizenship ceremony commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 at the Lundy’s Lane Historical Museum in Niagara Falls.

Many of the media reflect upon the Canadian commemoration of the Remembrance Day and how this Day correlates with their homeland history and memory.  Puiu Popsescu wrote an article in the Romanian Observatorul (the Observer www.observatorul.com), on Remembrance Day and its meaning for Romanians in the context of this country’s history. In story “Pain Factor”published in Наша Канада (Our Canada, newspaper for Russian immigrants www.nashacanada.com), author explains that Remembrance Day was not celebrated in the Soviet Union because it was associated with the victims of the wars and the pain and explains that Russians in Canada need to remember it in order to build better future.

East European immigrant papers devote articles to topic of beauty of language and verbal expression. Editor in chief of the Bulgarian Пламя(Flame) Viara Dimitrova, wrote about the beauty of Bulgarian language. She was inspired to write her commentary after watching video of Rafael Agilar who was born in Manila, lived in California, and teaches English language in Bulgaria, singing Bulgarian traditional song in a talent show. In the Romanian Observatorul (the Observer), Vavlila Popovici wrote a commentary about decency in appearance and in language and why vulgarity is not acceptable.

The Канадский Вестник (Canadian Courier, Russian weekly) reports on an incident in Brampton in which students of St Marguerite D’youville Secondary School made inappropriate remarks of sexual nature about their teachers on Twitter. Two students were suspended for seven days and three of them for two days. Website also reports on the case of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who was ordered out of office by Superior Court Justice in a conflict of interest case.


Many introduce successful members of their community. Пламя (Flame) presented successful Bulgarians in Canada Igranka and John Balkansky and Serbian Новине (the Newspapers  www.novine.caviolinist Aleksandar Gajic who played at the opening of the charity event organized by Canadians for Children at Health Risk. Новине (the Newspapers) also portray traditional Serbian Slava Day (Patron Saint Day). 


Russian website Наша Канада(Our Canada) provides opinions and commentaries on current topics wit h a touch of humor. In one of the commentaries, Leonid Sik wrote a satirical note “Sleep Country” about the acquittal of a man who violated a woman, because he was able to prove that he was asleep at the time of the commitment of the crime. In another text, author Victor Topaller wrote in a specific satirical style about relations of western countries with Russian president Vladimir Putin.


Ivana Bjelic Vucinic holds an MA in Journalism and Communication studies from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade. In the period from 2000 until 2004, she worked at radio Politika, University radio, and gained experience in television journalism in Belgrade. In the previous five years, she worked in media development, implementing various projects to support local and regional media and strengthen media associations. She is a newcomer to Canada - she moved to Canada in July 2012.

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