Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Crimean Tatars Threaten to ‘Block Ukraine’s Path to Europe’

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 10 – Declaring that Kyiv’s neglect of their rights leaves them no choice, a group of Crimean Tatar activists said this week that they will “block Ukraine’s path to the European Union” by providing information to “every Council of Europe mission” about “the genocide [against the Crimean Tatars] that is taking place in our days.”
Yesterday, Rinat Shaymardanov of the Avdet Social Organization, which has organized a Crimean Tatar hunger strike in front of the Ukrainian council of ministers building, handed out a declaration saying that if Kyiv continues to treat them as an “unimportant” issue, the Crimean Tatars will act to ensure that their situation becomes “the main problem” of Ukraine.
In its effort to join the European Union, he said, “Ukraine presents itself as a legal democratic state.” But the experience of the Crimean Tatars over the last 18 years, during which they still do not have “land, homes or the status of repatriates,” shows that Ukraine is just as anti-democratic and totalitarian a state as the Stalinist Soviet Union” (
Because of that and because the Ukrainian authorities have not responded to their latest protests, Shaymardanov continued, they have no choice but to do everything they can “in order that the world will find out about the true face of the Ukrainian powers that be,” a country with “an anti-democratic government” that “crudely violates the rights of indigenous peoples.”
Such a country, the Crimean Tatar activist said, “has no place in the civilized world community and no place among the legal democratic governments of the European Union.
Participants in the hunger strike have been carrying signs which underscore Shaymardanov’s declarations: “1944-2009 – the Genocide of Crimean Tatars Continues!” “15,000 Families Have No Houses Because of the Council of Ministers!” and “Ukraine + Genocide = Euro-integration???”
While the primary motivating factor behind the protest and the latest declaration its participants released appears to be the land question – tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars who have returned to their homeland from Central Asia have not recovered their property – the underlying cause is both deeper and at present more dangerous.
Since the end of Soviet times, the Ukrainian authorities by actions of omission and commission have outraged many Crimean Tatars. On the one hand, Kyiv failed to extend citizenship to Crimean Tatars who were forcibly deported from their homeland even though the Ukrainian government did extend citizenship to Ukrainians the Soviets had forced out.
And on the other, the Ukrainian government often has failed to back up the Crimean Tatars against the ethnic Russian community in Crimea, leaving the Russian arrivals in possession of land and other property that the Crimean Tatars are fully convinced is rightfully theirs and should be returned.
While the issues involved are complicated by the historical reality that until 1954, Crimea was part of the RSFSR, the Soviet republic which became the Russian Republic, rather than the Ukrainian SSR, which became the Ukrainian Republic, anger among Crimean Tatars about the actions of the Ukrainian authorities is creating an increasingly serious problem.
Despite the statements of the protesters this week, statements which reflect despair more than anything else, Crimean Tatars overwhelmingly are loyal to Ukraine and seek only Kyiv’s recognition of them as full-fledged citizens of Ukraine and the restoration of their rights within that republic.
Indeed, in the first years following the end of the Soviet Union, the leaders of the Crimean Tatars made it clear that they wanted to be Ukraine’s allies against those ethnic Russian activists in Crimea and their supporters in Moscow, including not unimportantly Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who wanted Crimea returned to the Russian Republic.
The vast majority of Crimean Tatars still feel that way, but enough of them have been alienated by Ukraine’s policies that at least a few are prepared to speak out in the way Shaymardanov has, something Russian groups interested in restoring Moscow’s control of Crimea will exploit (
There is still time for the Ukrainian government to recover its positions in Crimea and with the Crimean Tatars, but because of recent Russian actions, there is far less than ever before. And tragically, in this situation, statements like the ones the Crimean Tatars have made this week will make it more difficult for Kyiv to act even as they highlight the reasons why it must.

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