The fate of the residents of one occupied region of Ukraine—Crimea—remains largely obscure to outside observers. In the period since the Russian Federation annexed the region in late February 2014, the outside world has had little access to ordinary people there to see the extent and nature of the changes to their lives. Are people happier now that they are ‘reunited’ with Russia? How have the new authorities lived up to their promises and to public expectations?
On the mostly ethnic Russian-inhabited Crimean peninsula, the Crimean Tatars—a Turkic minority—constitute 10-12% of the total population. The Soviet regime, suspecting the Crimean Tatars of Nazi sympathies, deported them en masse to Central Asia in 1944, and only allowed them to start returning decades later. The Crimean Tatars were a majority in Crimea until the mid-19th century, but Russification of the region after the Russian Empire annexed the peninsula in 1783—in violation of a treaty—saw a swift decrease. Today, the Crimean Tatars are still treated with suspicion by their Russian neighbors and cohabitants.
An opinion piece published in the Russian-language version of the Radio Free Europe site claims that over 90% of the promises made to the Crimean Tatars by the Russian authorities following the Russian annexation in 2014 have been broken. A graphic in the article lists 12 promises, only one of which has been fulfilled, namely, recognition of the Crimean Tatar language as equal to Russian and Ukrainian for official purposes. Those promises set forth in the Resolution of the Parliament of Crimea No. 1728-6/14 that have been broken (those with a red ‘X’), allegedly, include:
- On paper: 20% representation in the Supreme Council of the Republic of Crimea (the parliament) by Crimean Tatars. In fact: The actual proportion stands at 4%.
- On paper: Guaranteed representation of Crimean tatars on district and city councils and other organs. In fact: Law No. 17 of the Republic of Crimea does not provide for this.
- On paper: Recognition of Kurultay (the national conference) of the Crimean Tatars people and its formation of organs of power. In fact: The Mejlis is recognized as an extremist organization.
- On paper: Confirmation of the five-year and annual plans for the restoration of the Crimean Tatars returning to Crimea with corresponding financial assistance. In fact: Not one has been developed in two years.
- On paper: Resolution of legal, organizational, financial and land issues during the return of Crimean Tatars to the Republic of Crimea from their places of deportation. In fact: Vladimir Putin (2014): ‘In this case it concerns both a very urgent and complicated question, but a question that must be resolved one way or another, and I mean in the sense of a necessary formulation of objects of property, including land allotments.’ Sergei Aksyonov (2016): ‘From September there will be forced requisition of illegal objects… We must clean Crimea.’
- On paper: Realization of the rights and interests of the Crimean Tatar people in the sphere of national culture, in this case the interaction of the development of cultural institutions and professional creative collectives. In fact: Over the last two years not a single new Crimean Tatar cultural establishment has appeared.
- On paper: Protection and rebuilding of historical and cultural monuments of the Crimean Tatars. In fact: In the Bakhchysarai Palace in two years, three general directors have been involved in an ongoing scandal concerning the trade of objects inside and a 40% decline in incomes.
- On paper: Promotion of the development in Crimea of a system of pre-school, school and higher education in the Crimean Tatar language. In fact: The number of schoolchildren receiving education in the Crimean Tatar language in 2013: 5,406; in 2015: 4,740. Education in the native language in 2013: up to 11 classes; in 2015: up to 9.
- On paper: Promotion of the use of existing historical toponyms of Crimea, changed after the deportation of the Crimean Tatar people on 18 May 1944. In fact: At the entrance to a few population centers, additional historical names will be situated, but no official name changes will take place.
- On paper: Promotion of the development of print and electronic mass media in the Crimean Tatar language. In fact: Prohibition of the activities of ATR in Crimea and blocking of independent internet and mass media.
- On paper: Guarantee of the equal functioning in Crimea of religious confessions. In fact: Searches of mosques and systematic detention of Muslims, entry of Islamic religious literature into the register of extremist materials.
Following is the opinion of one observer concerning the plight of the Crimean Tatars since the Russian annexation.
Andrey Vvedensky / 29 April 2016
Special to Crimea.Realities
I think more than 90% of all post-Soviet politicians will eventually go to hell. But not even for murder or robbery, which they’ve also worked on a lot, but mainly for lies. Daily, cynical, shameless lies, which have permeated every sphere of politics and public life. In Ukraine, fortunately, this figure has been steadily declining, but here in Russia lies—obviously—are a built-in principle of state policy. Much has been written about the political component of the prohibited Mejlis, about the juridical—and to speak humorously, therefore we will simply look at how the Russian regime lies to the Crimean Tatars.
On March 11th, 2014, at the extraordinary plenary session of the eighth convocation of the then-Supreme Rada of Crimea, a document was adopted so fantastic in its content that it is worth citing it:
‘On guarantees of the restoration of the rights of the Crimean Tatar people and their integration into the Crimean community’
Aware of the tragic fate of the Crimean Tatar people in the twentieth century, perceiving their return and settlement in their historical homeland as an act of justice and seeking to contribute to the guarantees of the restoration of the rights of the Crimean Tatar people and their integration into the Crimean community,
The Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea resolves:
In approving the new Constitution of the Republic of Crimea to provide for the following guarantees to restore the rights of the Crimean Tatar people and their integration into the Crimean community…’
And then the 13 promises follow, the degree of fulfillment of which will be shown below. The quintessence of all these sweet promises in the address of President Vladimir Putin to the representatives of the Crimean Tatars in the Kremlin on May 16th of that year: ‘We are ready—the federal government, the regional, and, I’m sure, the local—we are absolutely ready to work with all people who sincerely, I want to stress, seek to ensure that people live better in their native land.’
Now it seems it’s time to check whether the Russian authorities have kept their word, and whether the Crimean Tatars really do live better in their native land.
Well, of the twelve promises given to the Crimean Tatars by the regime in 2014, after two years only one has been performed, and that one is for the most part declarative. Thus, the level of deceitfulness of the current leadership of the ‘Republic of Crimea’ has exceeded 91%.
As they say, ‘I congratulate you, Citizen Liar.’
Andrey Vvedensky, Crimean Observer
(The views expressed in the ‘Opinion’ category convey the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial board.)