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A Report on

Seminar on the Repatriation and Integration of the Tatars of Crimea
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography
Yalta (Ukraine), 5-6 October 2001

by Kemal Seitveliev*

Last week I participated in this extraordinary event and thought that the list readers might be interested in a sketchy account of the proceedings there. The seminar was co-organized by the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography and by the Ukrainian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The latter was represented by Anatolii Rakhanskii, Vice-Chairman of the Ukrainian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Rakhanskii is a member of the Communist Party of Ukraine. In a brotherly embrace with his party comrade Leonid Grach – head of the Crimean branch of the Communist Party of Ukraine and the "director" of the Crimean Supreme Council - Rakhanskii designed the agenda of the event.

Not surprisingly, the concept they successfully implemented during the organization phase of the seminar was closely reflecting their vision of how Crimean Tatars should be repatriated and integrated into the Crimean and Ukrainian society. Without any false modesty, the bulk of the seminar speaking time was allocated to comrade Grach himself, who, in the best traditions of the Soviet meetings, published his welcoming speech in the Crimean newspapers … the day before he delivered it at the seminar. Characteristically, most other participants were not informed about the final agenda of the seminar before it started.

Rakhanskii/Grach tandem made skillful organizational maneuvers managing to minimize the participation of the Crimean Tatars and experts in the Crimean Tatar affairs whom they did not control or approve. The PACE secretariat co-organizing the event did not disappoint either, confirming their vision of the agenda where the members of the Crach-appointed Council of Elders (Soviet Aksakalov), together with "experts" whose visions could be published without altering in the leaflets of the "Russian Community of Crimea" were presented as major speakers on the non-governmental side of the debate.

Mejlis, however, due to long experience of communicating with comrade Grach, reacted in a timely manner and came to the seminal en mass, managing to take along several experts from Ukraine originally excluded by Rakhanskii and Grach. Moreover, losing in cabinet maneuvering, Crimean Tatars reverted to the traditional tactics of public protest. In the morning right before the seminar a group of about 50 Crimean Tatars, mostly from Bakhchisaray region, blocked the entrances of the sanatorium with serious intentions not to let Grach to get in. Passing by PACE delegates observed the protesters with the curiosity of the European bird-watchers on safari suddenly finding themselves in front of an exotically painted group of bushmen…

Comrade Grach demonstrating that he still remembers some lessons from the Party crash-course on essential conspiracy magically appeared in the seminar salon right before his speech, although Crimean Tatar protesters barricading all the entrances of the sanatorium swore they did not see him passing by...

In his speech Grach delivered his vision of repatriation and integration "according to the plan approved by the Party" (i.e. himself), complained about the extremists-radicals from Mejlis who want to politicize the otherwise peaceful, thanks to the efforts of Grach et al, repatriation process, and to build an ethno-national government in Crimea. Moreover, he said, Dzhemilev and Chubarov ignored the rights of other deported people – Greeks, Germans, Bulgarians, Armenians, and want to see themselves over and above all other national minorities in Crimea, including, of course, the most important ethnic minority of the local Russian population. In Grach's vision Crimean Tatars do not realize what they really need. "They had a quota in the Parliament in 1984-88 – did it bring them any benefits?" - he asked rhetorically. So now what – no quotas, no special treatment, no nothing. Crimean Tatars compete in the free democratic elections as everybody else does – and "who knows, may be they'll receive not 12% as they want, but 50% of the votes!"

The "pro-Mejlis" group present at the seminar left the conference room in protest when Grach was invited to present his "keynote" speech. Mr. Tadeusz IWINSKI, Chairman of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography disapproved: when after the speech of the self-proclaimed "leader of Crimea" (aka Grach) the protesters returned to the conference room, Ivinski pointed out that "democracy is not done this way – we should learn to listen to each other". Ironically, when he spoke about listening to each other, there were no Crimean Tatars on the panel that he headed - thanks to the efforts of the very Grach that he invited Mejlis to listen to.

After his speech comrade Grach almost as gracefully disappeared from the conference – up until the evening party where some conference participants, who had received personal invitations from the "leader of Crimea", drank for the success of the Crimean Tatar repatriation and integration. Again ironically, nobody from the "Mejlis group" (here, it should be recalled that all members of the Mejlis constitute, at the same time, the Council of Representatives of Crimean Tatar People under the President of Ukraine, established by the Decree of President # 518/99 from 18 May 1999), was invited to the party. Repatriation party without Mejlis – this could be put forward as the leitmotiv of the Grach's vision of how Crimean Tatars should return and integrate in Crimea. PACE committee members, unfortunately, did not show any unrest at this fact and raised their glasses in unison with the loyal first son of the Party in Crimea. (Though the next day, some of them confessed – in private talks only – that they were rather shocked by such an uncivilized behaviour demonstrated by Mr. Grach).

The "Grach show" aside, the rest of the conference was pretty informative:

First, almost all presentations by the Crimean Tatar leaders from the Mejlis group, as well as experts who sees Mejlis as the only adequate representative of the Crimean Tatar political demands, pointed out that there is a critical moment in the Crimean and Ukrainian history. Crimean Tatar community is not happy, to say the least, about the crystallizing political and economic structures and system in Crimea. Mustafa Dzhemilev noted that conflicts in the post-Soviet space emerged due to tensions much weaker than currently present in Crimea. It is a widespread belief on the side of the ruling part of Crimean and some Ukrainian elites that whatever their policies, Crimean Tatars will adhere to their principles of non-violence. However, Dzhemilev warned, although the loyalty of Crimean Tatars to their principles is strong, it is not limitless, especially when persistently abused by the current power-brokers in Crimea.

Crimean Tatars demand adequate representation measured by practical participation in all branches of the Crimean administration. The most immediate and major demand that Crimean Tatar leaders want the PACE to help them to achieve is to ensure adequate (minimum 12% of the total) participation of Crimean Tatars in the Crimean Supreme Council (parliament) due to form after the March 2002 elections.

Refat Chubarov explained that Crimean Tatars in the Supreme Council of Crimea should be effectively elected by Crimean Tatar voters. This referred to the promises of some parties, including Communists, to have Crimean Tatars names on their party lists. However, and this is the position expressed by Chubarov, Mejlis will not regard them "Crimean Tatar" delegates unless there is a significant Crimean Tatar voter base supporting them.

What happens if the Crimean and Ukrainian governments will say – "so what?" – and Crimean Tatars will again end up with no representation in the Crimean parliament? Mustafa Dzhemilev, in his usual quiet voice, said simply "there won't be elections in Crimea in 2002". Whether or not Mejlis will be able to block the elections is another question, but it might just as well try… The consequences – not only for Crimea – are hard to predict.

I cannot say PACE delegates ignored the subject. Tadeusz IWINSKI, Chairman of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography, who chaired the session, noted that the delegation will propose the Ukrainian government to take measures to ensure adequate representation of the Crimean Tatars. Wait and see…

Second, Crimean Tatars demand adequate share in the land privatization in Crimea. Until the rights of Crimean Tatars for land are secured, the leaders of Mejlis demand to freeze the land distribution in Crimea. Sometimes ensuring the rights of Crimean Tatars takes somewhat bizarre forms. Refat Chubarov declared that he had to vote against the law in the Parliament that would allow to buy and sell land on the free market. Willingly or not, Crimean Tatars in the Parliament joined forces with anti-market forces. Voting against a comprehensive land reform might win some time necessary to allow the redistribution of land in Crimea before it will become a private commodity, and taking it back will require another revolution on the scale of the 1917. Ironically, Crimean Communists who are generally against the private property for land, in Crimea may ignore their principles and speed up the process, so that Crimean Tatars could not reverse the privatization process. If so, we might observe a situation where Communists will become a pro-market force, and Crimean Tatars – an anti-market one…

The attitude of the PACE delegation to the land issue was quiet and it was not quite clear on whose side they were. Apparently, Lord Ponsonby's report, previously discussed on this list, constructed the basis of the PACE's attitude to the Crimean Tatar affairs. During his fact-finding mission Ponsonby failed to find any facts about the land problems (which hints something about the way he searched for them). Adequate attention of the PACE would be required because potentially, land is the major item of tensions in Crimea today. Once in effect, it may cause civil population-to-population clashes in Crimea. So far Crimean Tatars conflicted mostly with administration – this might be one of the reasons why these clashes never turned into a civil war. Land issue, however, may end the good luck of Crimea if population-to-population conflicts take place.

There was some debate of whether the word "integration" should mean "integrate into the local society" or "integrate with the local society". Grach and his "camp" adhere to the first definition and get impatient with the political demands of Mejlis implying that it is not only Crimean Tatars that should adjust. Mejlis and some Ukrainian experts favor the second definition of the term – to "integrate with" as a dynamic, two – sided process of mutual adjustment of the "local" and "incoming" societies. Crimean Tatars insist on the term of "indigenous people" as the only one that adequately represents their specific connection to Crimea as territory, their right for special legal status different from those of the local national minorities (like Russians) or other categories of local ethno-linguistic communities (refugees, immigrants, etc.). Mejlis's opponents counter that if Crimean Tatars are considered "indigenous people" it places them "above" other ethnic groups in Crimea – namely other deported communities (Bulgarians, Germans, Greeks and Armenians), as well as the largest local national minority – Russians. Mejlis representatives, however, responded in the sense that the situation of Crimean Tatars is different from all of the above-mentioned ethnic groups because they do not have any other native land outside of Crimea. Moreover, they reminded, none of these problems would be on the agenda if Crimean Tatars would not be deported from Crimea in 1944. If today some special measures are not taken in order to overcome the consequences of the deportation, this will mean that the current power-holders in Crimea approve and take advantage of the juncture created by the 1944 crime against humanity.

"Special advantages" to Crimean Tatars, therefore, are justified to the extent that they help to neutralize the negative consequences of the deportation. In this context, it should be mentioned that in the CoE report of a mission to Crimea and Ukraine from 20 to 29 September 2000, compiled by Marcel Zwamborn and available (in English) to the participants of the seminar, the necessity of "affirmative action" targeted at Crimean Tatars, is emphasized. At the same time, Crimean Tatars themselves accept some very significant limitations to their demand of "special attention". Thus, Refat Chubarov reminded that Crimean Tatars insist only on those rights that observe the rights of other nationalities in Crimea, as well as the national interests of the Ukrainian state.

With regard to the European community, Natalie Belitser noted that the long-battered Crimean Tatar concept of "indigenous people" seems to gain stronger foothold and acceptance with recent document named "A Declaration of Liberal Democratic Principles concerning Ethnocultural and National Minorities and Indigenous Peoples". This excellent document was developed by a group of outstanding international experts (including Lord Russel-Johnston, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) between July 1998 – May 2000. It was discussed, amended and adopted by the Second Minorities Conference of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in September 2000; original English version, as well as Ukrainian translation, is published in "Kryms'ki Studiji" Informational Bulletin, N 1 (7), 2001. The proposed definition and very concept seem legitimizing the term "indigenous people" in forms that overlap with the Crimean Tatars approach to this term. Indeed, there is a widely shared opinion that enlightened European minds, when hearing about "indigenous people" imagine immediately Native Americans or some backward tribes, ignorant of any political activity and organized civil society. Of course, such stereotypes are not applicable to Crimean Tatars who would like to have a term that would refer to them in a way that would underline rather than undermine their strengths: the well-developed format of their political consciousness, the stringently observed non-violence and civility in the protests and in the organization of the movement as a whole; strict adherence to democracy; well-educated and highly developed human resources, etc.

The notion of "indigenous people" had, therefore, to be combined with notions of a modern, politically developed society that would not only "be integrated" into the "local" society; but would also be culturally strong enough to "integrate" the "locals" into the communicative and cultural mold of the "returning people". Mr. Ponsonby made a precious remark in his report: "nobody could explain me what does the term "indigenous" mean". Undoubtedly, it was because he did not speak to those who could explain him the term in Crimea. However, it turned out there were quite a few fellow Europeans that could also enlighten the respected lord on this issue.

Ilmi Umerov, in concert with other speakers, noted that while the social tensions in Crimea increase by themselves, there are groups that add to the already visible fire. Thus, he noted, the Crimean branch of the State Security Council of Ukraine (SBU) has joined the club of Communists and radical Russian organizations to claim that Mejlis is responsible for all emerging social and confessional conflicts in Crimea. He cited an SBU report where this organization, in the best style of the Soviet KGB, demonstrated a dramatic misconception of the conflict of the Crimean Tatar community in Bakhchisaray with the adminstration of the Uspenskii monastery; accused regional Mejlis of stirring up interethnic and inter- confessional conflict and promised to take preventive measures against it. Umerov demonstrated other documents from various sources including the Supreme Council and the Cabinet of Ministers of Crimea proving that the conflict was orchestrated from the outside and was consciously provoked by the administration of the monastery with the approval of the administration of Crimea.

This presentation left very unpleasant taste. Unfortunately, Crimean Tatars today find themselves facing not only the arbitrary actions of some of the Crimean politicians and bureaucrats, but the whole local bodies of the Ukrainian administrative machine acting against them. Ilmi Umerov, when asked whether the policy of the local SBU branch reflects somehow the covert ideas of the Ukrainian security powers about the Crimean Tatars responded that so far, the local SBU seemed to be implementing the Tatar-related visions of Moscow rather than Kiev. However, it is more than clear that if the attitude of the local branches of all-Ukrainian organizations with regard to Crimean Tatars will not change very drastically, conflict of Crimean Tatars with the Ukrainian state may become inevitable.

The same theme was addressed by Mustafa Dzhemilev who cited a recent report by the Ukrainian Rozumkov Center of Economic and Political Research – close to the Ukrainian state administration think-tank – urging the Ukrainian state bodies to de-emphasize their acceptance of Mejlis and search for ways to by-pass Mejlis in their policies towards Crimean Tatars! He also mentioned that this particular publication was denounced by the expert roundtable in Kyiv, and that the authors promised to comply with the expressed criticisms– nevertheless, just this text once again surfaced at the seminar in Yalta.

Together with the recent reports about the inaction of the Ukrainian state bodies in the face of the police beatings and killings of Crimean Tatars, of court decisions reflecting political orders by the top Crimean bureaucrats, permanent and unrestricted information campaign in Crimean mass-media against Crimean Tatars, the anti-Tatar rise of the radical Russian organizations in Crimea, the speeches of Ilmi Umerov and Mustafa Dzhemilev left very grim impression. So far, Crimean Tatars stubbornly believed that their interaction and conflict with the local anti-Tatar forces in Crimea bears a certain pro-Ukrainian value, and therefore, the Ukrainian mainland notices and appreciates their efforts. However, if such all-Ukrainian organizations as SBU and Rozumkov Center are not shy of issuing printed documents with their "recommendations" and "policies", de facto approving the standpoint of Grach, "Russian Community of Crimea", Moscow "analysts", etc., this may point out that there is no ally where Crimean Tatars conventionally saw it.

The members of PACE delegation, hopefully, captured some of the tensions present in the Crimean air these days, and will reflect them in their reports and counseling to the Ukrainian state and international community. It seems that the tensions in Crimea, where they must have weakened, increased. The political engagement of some important Ukrainian state agencies and institutions in Crimea undermines the credibility of the Ukrainian state in the Crimean Tatar minds. This is a dangerous development. Ukraine should remember that its last strategic ally in Crimea is Crimean Tatar people. If the Crimean Tatar belief into the credibility of this alliance will be broken, it is hard to imagine where Crimean Tatars, finding enemies on all sides, will turn their attention and where they will search for friends. Those in Crimea and Ukraine who hope that the policies of the "divide and rule" against Crimean Tatars will bring them political and administrative advantages may find out that dealing with a fragmented mass of small autonomous organizations and worldviews might be much less pleasant and healthy than with one "radical" Mejlis which so far managed all its political activity without a single human life in the debit.

Special thanks to Ms. Natalie Belitser for a thorough review of this text and very valuable additions to it. Views expressed or implied here may not necessarily reflect her opinion on the events however. — KS


*Kemal Seitveliev is a second-year student at Harvard University, Regional Studies: Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia AM program. He is currently conducting a study on the Ukrainian foreign and energy security policy in the Caspian/Caucasus/Black Sea region at the Institute for Oil Transportation in Kiev. He is a member of the International Committee for Crimea, Washington, DC, and frequently contributes to Crimea-L.

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