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The following paper was presented by Natalya Belitser at the "Fuzzy
Statehood and European Integration in Eastern Europe" conference,
University of Birmingham, England, on 10 March 2000. The paper will be updated
and revised for publication at a future date. We are grateful to Ms. Belitser
for making the text of her paper available on the Web. - Ed.
The Constitutional Process in the Autonomous Republic
in the Context of Interethnic Relations and Conflict Settlement
Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy
On 21 October 1998, the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of
Crimea (ARC) adopted the Constitution of the ARC which was then approved by
the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine on 23 December 1998. It was
signed almost immediately by the President of Ukraine, and entered into
force on 12 January 1999. The version of the Constitution eventually passed
by the Verkhovna Rada was the fifth, this time successful attempt to adopt
the Main Law of the ARC. This event seemingly terminated a drawn-out crisis
that characterized relations between the Ukrainian central authorities and
those of the ARC. But, as will be seen later on, this event neither resolved
the power struggle between Kyiv and Simferopol nor did it promote more
stability or interethnic accord in the peninsula. As Inci Bowman, the
Executive Secretary of the International Committee for Crimea stated in her
20 January 2000, letter to the Council of Europe Secretary General Walter
Schwimmer, "the current political and social conditions in Crimea are
not conducive to maintaining a pluralistic and democratic society where the
cultural, linguistic, and religious identity of ethnic groups is respected."
But the main problem of interethnic relations in Crimea Bowman defines as
follows: "The Autonomous Republic of Crimea remains a land where
Crimean Tatars, who consider themselves indigenous people, are discriminated
against not only by the Slavic population, most of whom settled there within
the last 50 years, but by local authorities as well." 
A Brief History of the Crimean Separatism
To have a deeper insight into the causes and circumstances of the current
Crimean crisis, and the means employed in attempts to resolve it, it is
necessary to briefly delve into the history of the post-W.W.II and post-soviet
Crimea. In particular, it should be recalled that Crimea had been stripped
of its autonomous status on 30 June 1945, by the Presidium of the USSR
Supreme Soviet, and that in June 1946 the Supreme Soviet of the Russian
Soviet Federated Socialist Republic passed a law giving the peninsula the
status of an ordinary oblast of the RSFSR. Over the following years, this
region, which had been degraded and devastated by the forceful deportation
of its indigenous population during the W.W.II, turned into a dreadful
economic failure that the newly arrived Russian settlers were unable to
overcome. Despite the widespread view that in 1954, Crimea was just "presented"
to Ukraine by Nikita Khrustchev to commemorate the three hundredth
anniversary of Ukraine’s union with Russia,
this very failure was the main reason why Crimea was moved from Russian to
Ukrainian jurisdiction. It was believed that the situation could be
alleviated if the peninsula was administered by that entity with which it
had closer economic, geographical, and cultural links.
This decision was
issued by the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet and then approved
unanimously by a law passed by the USSR SS on 26 April 1954. It is important
to stress that throughout the following period until late 80s, when the
Crimean peninsula still held a status of an oblast of the Ukr SSR, this
status had never proven contentious either within Crimea, Ukraine, or the
USSR, or beyond.
During the turbulent
perestroika period, Crimea proved to be a stronghold of Communist party
diehards for several reasons. These included the composition of its
population, which consisted mainly of the post-W.W.II settlers, principally
ethnic Russians and so-called Russian-speaking people with generous share of
party, military and KGB pensioners. Strong links between the local
authorities and central (Moscow) government and nomenklatura, and the
military ambitions of the Black Sea Fleet added to the potential separatist
tensions. No organized pro-Ukrainian movement was then yet visible, and the
only political and social force emerging as an anti-regime opposition were
the Crimean Tatars who had just begun large-scale repatriation from exile,
mainly from Central Asia. This nation, subjected to genocidal deportation in
1944 under the allegations of collaboration with the Nazis, was the last of
the repressed peoples and nationalities of the USSR allowed to return to
their homeland, and only in the very late stages of perestroika.
political and social unrest relating to the so-called constitutional process
in Crimea in fact began with the first recognizable signs of Ukrainian quest
for independence. From the very beginning, all claims, declared intentions
and actual events accompanying this process were characterized not so much
by legal considerations as by some rather highly politicized manipulations
and maneuvers by the actors involved. 
The story of Crimean separatism in Ukraine could
thus be perceived as beginning in September 1990, when the Soviet of
People’s Deputies of Crimean oblast called for the rescinding of the
decree and corresponding law on the abolition of the Crimean ASSR, and
demanded the restoration of autonomy to the peninsula. This claim was
supported by the referendum held in Crimea on 20 January 1991, in which 93,3
percent of the participants voted for the restoration of the Crimean ASSR
not only as a subject of the USSR, but also as "a party to the Union
Treaty," i.e., a sovereign subject of the "renewed" and
"reformed" USSR proposed by the first and only Soviet President
Mikhail Gorbachev. After much heated debates and, perhaps, keeping in mind
the possible bloody and violent consequences of rejecting demands similar to
those made in other parts of the ailing Soviet Union, on 12 February 1991,
the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet adopted a law providing autonomous status for
Crimea within the borders of Ukraine. That this autonomy would have nothing
to do with restoring the pre-war situation, when the then Crimean ASSR could
be considered as a de-facto Crimean Tatars’ autonomy, had never been
raised at the official level by anybody but the Crimean Tatars themselves.
Following the failed August 1991 coup which
precipitated the collapse of the USSR, and resulted in Ukrainian
independence, all of the issues relating to Crimea’s legal status, the
mass repatriation of Crimean Tatars and other ethnic groups deported from
Crimea, and the generally disquieting state of interethnic relations on the
peninsula became not only a deep problem for the fledgling independent
Ukrainian state, but to a large extent also a significant factor in
Ukrainian-Russian interstate relations.
principal issue fought over by different political forces has been the
sovereignty of (or over) Crimea. Three main options were debated. The first
one argued for the creation of an independent Crimean Republic. 
The second option suggested a fully-fledged autonomy within
Ukraine (e.g., according to the Constitution of the Crimean Republic of 6
May 1992). The third and most
radical scenario was propounded by pro-Russian forces which exerted pressure by threatening Crimean secession from Ukraine and
annexation to Russia. 
The separatist trends seemed rather successful during the first half of 90s.
An anti-Ukrainian mood spread among the majority of the Crimean population,
while a hesitant and feeble policy meant that the central authorities lagged
behind the events, and no comprehensive strategy for solving the whole
complex of Crimean problems had been elaborated.
initial responses to Crimean crisis on the part of the world community
revealed its principal preoccupation to be the rights and interests of the
Russian majority, because of the obvious fears of a "Balkanization"
of the Crimea problem.
a result of the above mentioned trends, the first versions of the Crimean
Constitution heavily exploited the notion of a "Crimean people" as
being the subject of the right to self-determination, including the right to
determine political future of the territory it occupied (and providing, in
such a way, every advantage to the Russian and Russian-speaking majority of
residents of the peninsula). The Russian language had to be made dominant,
and any attempts - no matter how mild or irresolute - to introduce the state
(Ukrainian) language as well as other measures perceived to be aiming at
"Ukrainization" of Crimea, were readily resisted "from below."
At that time, even those provisions declared as complying with Kyiv’s
requirement to bring Crimea’s Constitution and laws in line with those of
Ukraine, still defined Crimea as "a law-governed, democratic and
secular state... which builds its relations with Ukraine on mutually
coordinated acts and agreements." 
Hostility to Ukraine reached its peak in 1993 at a
time of a hyperinflation and deep economic crisis, that in Ukraine seemed
much more severe than in Russia. Manipulating this situation, the Crimean
parliament adopted a number of resolutions and laws strengthening its
autonomy, including the creation of a Crimean presidency, and scheduled
presidential elections for January 1994. At the same time, following acts of
civil disobedience organized by the Mejlis of Crimean Tatar people, and its
prolonged and complex negotiations with Crimean deputies, the Crimean
Supreme Council agreed to grant Crimean Tatars a quota of 14 seats in the
republican legislature. This decision also brought advantages to other
groups of returnees - the formerly deported Armenians, Bulgarians, Germans
and Greeks - who practically without any efforts or struggle on their own
behalf were also guaranteed representation in the peninsula’s legislature
(one seat for each group). The main drawback of this compromise was that it
was adopted for one term only, as a provisional measure to support ethnic
groups suffering from the consequences of deportation.
The presidential elections in Crimea did take place
on 16 January 1994. As a result of a broad dissatisfaction with Ukraine, the
winner was Yuri Meshkov who had based his electoral campaign on a platform
of union with Russia. One of his first steps was a decree on a referendum on
Crimean independence. Until the end of the year, there was a persistent
turmoil between Kyiv and Simferopol. Both the Ukrainian parliament and
President Leonid Kravchuk responded to Crimean laws and presidential decrees
with counter-resolutions and statements denouncing those steps as
contradicting the Ukrainian Constitution. Leonid Kuchma, President
Kravchuk’s successor in July 1994, did not come up to expectations of his
Crimean electorate, and continued to veto those Crimean laws that violated
This situation resembled a legal vicious circle. At
the same time, the very indecisiveness of the national authorities and their
unwillingness to take drastic measures or use military force to curb
separatist passions in Crimea meant that violent clashes were avoided and
the necessary time for finding more acceptable solutions was gained. Thus,
engagement in numerous negotiations between central and Crimean authorities
over the status of Crimea and the separation of powers between Kyiv and
Simferopol obviously helped both sides to refrain from open violence and to
pacify their most aggressive elements who were demanding prompt and decisive
measures to end the crisis. Meanwhile,
Meshkov’s popularity had been rapidly declining as a result of his
inability either to improve the economic situation or to involve Russia
decisively in support of the secessionist movement.
The power struggle between the executive and legislative branches in
Crimea loosened Meshkov’s grip further still.
Moreover, with the start of the Russian military operation in
Chechnia in December 1994, pro-Russian sentiments among the Crimean
population clearly diminished. Ordinary people grew much more cautious and
restrained in their rhetoric, perhaps because that time, they were able to
appreciate possibly the greatest advantage of Ukrainian citizenship: not
being sent to fight in someone else’s land, with a big chance to be killed
or become a killer.
changes in the Crimean political environment were felt in March 1995 when
the Verhovna Rada suddenly took decisive steps to integrate the ARC into the
legal space of Ukraine. The Law of Ukraine on the Status of Crimea, adopted
on 17 March 1995, abolished not only the Crimean Constitution of 1992 and
all laws and decrees contradicting those of Ukraine, but also the very
office of Crimean Presidency. The
much feared mass protests in Crimea failed to occur, and the reaction from
Moscow was relatively mild. The steps taken by Kyiv to draw Crimea and the
City of Sevastopol closer into the Ukrainian legal space rebounded
negatively on the negotiation of the Russia-Ukraine basic treaty, since some
factions of the Russian State Duma refused to sign it until more concessions,
particularly over the status of Sevastopol - "a city of Russian glory"
- were made.  But this obstacle was
removed in 1997, when this treaty was ratified by both sides, together with
the agreement on the division of the Black Sea fleet and its bases.
Though these events represented a rare example of a
peaceful curbing of rebellious separatism in a post-Soviet state, the
principal achievement of the Crimean Tatars and the other formerly deported
ethnic groups - namely, their guaranteed representation in the republican
legislature - was lost together with all of the other legal points that were
not to be found in Ukrainian national legislation.
This loss occurred despite the fact that a growing
proportion of Crimean Tatar returnees added a new element to the Ukrainian-Russian
struggle over Crimea by actually supporting Ukrainian state integrity, and
thereby becoming a factor that all the conflicting sides, as well as
international bodies and organizations, were compelled to reckon with.
claims of the Crimean Tatars in the documents adopted at the sessions of
Kurultayi (National Assembly) or
between the sessions, by the Mejlis (the main representative body of the
Crimean Tatar people elected by the Kurultayi), underwent a certain
transformation in the period following the first session of the Second
Kurultayi in June 1991. 
Although the Declaration on the National Sovereignty of the Crimean Tatar
People, adopted in June 1991, is still being used by some politicians as a
tool of anti-Crimean Tatar propaganda, it is crucial to remember that all of
this occurred when the Soviet Union still existed.
After its collapse, the Crimean Tatars’ political elite
demonstrated a rare political wisdom and pragmatism by never supporting any
claims threatening the integrity of Ukraine or the inviolability of its
borders, and by looking for legal ways to establish their right for internal
national self-determination within Ukraine. These circumstances also explain
the strong Crimean Tatar drive to get an official status as an indigenous
people rather than one of the national minorities of Ukraine. This claim has
been based on international documents such as the ILO Convention N 169, and
the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (which is still
under consideration by the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations and
has not yet been presented to the General Assembly).
The Crimean Tatars believe that gaining indigenous people status,
together with Ukraine’s joining the ILO Convention N 169, would assist
them in their quest to secure, for example, a guaranteed proportional
representation, at least commensurate with their population, in legislative
and executive bodies at all levels, the official recognition of the Mejlis
as the main representative body of Crimean Tatar people, and the genuine
protection of their cultural, educational, linguistic, and religious
Meanwhile, new versions of the Crimean Constitution
had been prepared, but none of them regarded the need to re-establish the
rights of the indigenous population of Crimea as an issue. The only
concession, for instance, in the version adopted by the Crimean parliament
on 21 September 1995, recognized the co-existence on the territory of the
Crimean Republic of three state languages: Ukrainian, Russian, and Crimean
Tatar (though only Russian was identified as an "official"
language to be used in offices). The same provisions were carried over into
the next draft of 1 November 1995. These versions of the Crimean
Constitution were then widely discussed between the working groups of the VR
of the ARC and the VR of Ukraine created to reconcile the positions of the
two sides. By the end of 1997, agreement was reached over the vast majority
of the articles (only 22 articles of the overall 136 remained disputed).
However, some key questions were still unresolved; among them Crimean
internal citizenship, as well as references to "Crimean people"
and "Crimean statehood" in several draft articles.
should be noted that at this stage, when the worst of the Crimean
secessionist crisis of early 1990s had passed, and the immediate danger of
violent clashes had been avoided, some international organizations and
experts became more actively involved in the Kyiv-Simferopol negotiations
and legal disputes. For example, OSCE offices were opened both in Kyiv and
Simferopol at the end of 1994, although the results of their efforts to
settle the Crimean crisis were not always regarded as successful.
In fact, a speech on 31 May 1995, to Crimean deputies by the Swiss
diplomat, Andreas Kohlschutter (the
then head of the OSCE mission to Ukraine), provided full support for only
one, i.e. the Crimean, side of the conflict and charged "powerful
radical forces in the Ukrainian parliament" with vicious intentions to
"punish and discipline the Crimea, and to destroy Crimean autonomy."
This intervention evoked many protests within Ukraine and was given sharply
negative appraisal by some prominent independent international experts.
More fruitful turned out to be the activities of the OSCE Office of
High Commissioner on National Minorities established in 1993. Its head, Max
van der Stoel, has focused much personal attention to Crimean issues,
particularly to the problems of repatriation and resettlement of Crimean
Tatars, citizenship, and, also, to some provisions of the draft Crimean
for example, when the draft Constitution of 21 September 1995 that proposed
Crimean citizenship was considered, he correctly recommended that there is
no need to stipulate it in addition to Ukrainian citizenship.  High Commissioner also commented on the delineation of powers between
the Ukrainian national authorities and those of the Republic of Crimea as
laid down in the law of Ukraine of 30 June 1992,
the division of property in Crimea, and a special status for Sevastopol.
Recommendations were also given that the resettlement of the Crimean Tatars
should be decided in collaboration with their representatives appointed by
Mejlis and, most important, "to continue the present quota system (for
Crimean Tatars) as long as the present electoral law of Crimea remains in
effect... A continuation of the quota system would not be justified if an
electoral system will come into being which would give them a near certainty
of having a representation broadly commensurate to their percentage of the
total population of Crimea." 
Similar recommendations concerning, inter alia, Mejlis participation in
the nomination of candidates for elected bodies and a proportional
representation of Crimean Tatars in the ARC parliament, were also made in
subsequent letters dated 19 March and 5 April 1996. 
should be noted that at that time Ukrainian governmental officials objected
to any special measures singling out Crimean Tatars from among the other
returnees, and intended to solve the whole complex of repatriation problems
on the basis of the criterion that they all belonged to the category of
formerly deported people rather than to a specific ethnic group. For example,
Hennady Udovenko, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, in his letter to Max
van der Stoel expressed his belief that adopting such a course "may
create an undesirable precedent in the aspect of development of the
constitutional system in Ukraine." 
Crimean Tatars who by that time had developed a strong sense of self-identification
as a coherent people or nation were equated with all other returnees to
Crimea, belonging to ethnicities (namely, Armenians, Bulgarians, Greeks, and
Germans) that already had their own firmly established kinstates. The same
status - of them being just one of among many national minorities of Ukraine
- was earlier stipulated for the Crimean Tatars by the Ukrainian law on
national minorities adopted on 25 July 1992. All claims, draft proposals for
the Crimean Constitutions suggested by Mejlis and later, by the Kurultayi
faction of the Crimean parliament, and statements and resolutions of the
Mejlis and the Kurultayi were neglected. 
awkward situation subsequently changed somewhat, especially after the new
Constitution of Ukraine was adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on 28 June, 1996.
For the first time, the term "indigenous peoples" has been
introduced into Ukrainian legal terminology. Thus, Article 11 stipulates
that "The State shall facilitate the consolidation and development of
the... ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious attributes of all
indigenous peoples and national minorities of Ukraine." According to
Article 92 p.3, the rights of indigenous peoples and national minorities are
to be determined by Ukrainian law, whereas Article 119 p.3 reads that
programs of national-cultural development of indigenous peoples and national
minorities in areas of their compact residence must be supported by local
state administrations. 
At the same time, the entire chapter of the Main Law
of Ukraine dealing with the ARC bears no mention of indigenous peoples or
any kind of specific provisions to protect their rights and/or ensure their
sustainable development, referring only (among the prerogatives of the ARC)
to "participating in the development and realization of state programs
for the return of deported peoples"
(Article 138, p.9). Accommodating the concept of Crimean autonomy
into the principles defining the state structure of Ukraine is also rather
strange because Article 132 says that the territorial structure of Ukraine
is based on the principles of the unity and integrity of the State’s
territory, whereas Article 133 declares that "the administrative and
territorial structure of Ukraine consists of the Autonomous Republic of
Crimea, provinces (oblasts), regions, cities, settlements, and villages."
The Ukrainian Constitution also states that "The Autonomous Republic of
Crimea is an inseparable constituent part of Ukraine and decides on the
issues within its competence within the limits of authority determined by
the Constitution of Ukraine" (Article 134). Article 135 in fact
confirmed that the ARC has its own Constitution, adopted by the Verkhovna
Rada of the ARC and approved by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine by no less
than one-half of its constitutional composition.
the adoption of the Ukrainian Constitution and decrees of the Cabinet of
Ministers of Ukraine, a joint working group was formed by the Ministry of
Justice and the VR’s Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and
Interethnic Rrelations, with the participation of the Law and Politics
department of the Mejlis. Its aim was to draft legislation dealing with the
indigenous peoples of Ukraine. In 1996-1997, a draft Concept of National
Policy of Ukraine Relating to Indigenous Peoples, as well as a draft Law on
the Status of Crimean Tatar People were developed and subjected to
international review. Some positive responses were received, and even Mr.
Max van der Stoel who, quite understandably, would still prefer to solve the
Crimean Tatars’ problems within the framework of the rights of national
minorities, admitted that "When referring to international and
Ukrainian legal instruments regarding national minorities which are
applicable to indigenous peoples, I do not intend to suggest that no
distinction can be made between national minorities and indigenous peoples.
An important difference is, in my view, that in contrast to a national
minority, an indigenous people does not have a kinstate." 
This passage can be regarded as granting implicit support for Crimean Tatars’
claim concerning the uniqueness of their situation. Unfortunately, neither draft prepared by the working group has yet
been accepted by the VR of Ukraine for further consideration, and the high
expectations raised by these developments seem to be gradually petering out.
indeed, the worst predictions of the Crimean Tatars came true. Despite all their protests, appeals and statements, in February 1998
the heated debates over the electoral system in the Crimea and the
functioning of its legislature concluded in two laws adopted by the
Verkhovna Rada and signed by the President. One of them, "On the
Elections to the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,"
stipulated that the Crimean Parliament, unlike the Parliament of Ukraine, 
would be elected under a purely majority system. The second law, "On
the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea," stated that
all the 100 deputies are elected on the basis of universal, equal, and
direct suffrage (without any mention of the national electoral districts, or
quotas for either the Crimean Tatars, or other formerly deported groups, or
national minorities). Since the
Crimean Tatars constituted a minority, though sometimes a substantial one,
in all of the electoral districts, this decision practically stripped them
of any chance to be represented in the Crimean legislature. Besides, their
opportunities to vote, or run in the elections, were also sharply reduced
because at that time (29 March, 1998), approximately 90000 Crimean Tatars
had still to acquire Ukrainian citizenship. 
has been anticipated, today approximately 270 000 Crimean Tatars, - an
indigenous people of Crimea comprising approximately 12 percent of the
peninsula’s population - have not a single seat in the Crimean legislature.
The Communist, Lentul Bezaziyev, the only ethnic Crimean Tatar
elected due to the overwhelming support of his party, can by no means be
regarded as representing or acting on behalf of the Crimean Tatar community.
At the same time, the two leaders of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, - the
Chairman, Mustafa Djemilev, and his First Deputy, Refat Chubarov - were
elected to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (Mustafa Djemilev - on the Rukh
ticket, and Refat Chubarov in a single mandate district under the
majoritarian system). Although
it was an important achievement that for the first time provided the Crimean
Tatars with the possibility of continuing their struggle for the full
restoration of their rights at the level of the national legislature, it was
of little help in resolving the numerous accumulated problems at the local
The Adoption of the Crimean Constitution
Following the 1998 elections, the situation deteriorated even further,
especially after Leonid Hrach, the leader of the Crimean Communists, became
the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of the ARC. A skillful and experienced
politician, Hrach accomplished
what his predecessors had failed to achieve. Under his personal guidance,
the fifth version of the Crimean Constitution was prepared (without the
participation of the Crimean Tatars) in such a way that after eight days
after the failed attempt of 15 December 1998, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine
approved the Main Law of the ARC. This
occurred under the heavy prompting of the left-wing Speaker Oleksandr
Tkachenko and other Left deputies who did not take into consideration the
valid arguments of the deputies from the right-centre factions. The latter
argued that though the most unacceptable notions like Crimean citizenship,
Crimean statehood etc. had been eliminated, a number of articles still
conflicted with the Ukrainian Constitution, also that the draft Constitution
of the ARC did not take into account the specificity of the legal status of
the Crimean Tatars as an indigenous people of the autonomy, in particular,
did not provide them with guaranteed representation in the republican
There is also considerable evidence that parliamentary procedure was
seriously violated. For example,
a "fatal" step was taken during the discussion by Rukh deputy Ivan
Zayets, who proposed an amendment that in the case of a collision between
the provisions of the Crimean and national Constitutions, the latter takes
precedence. The inclusion of
this amendment (that Zayets later explained was more a question addressed to
the chairman of the Crimean parliament) added some votes in favour even
though the Ukrainian deputies had no right to introduce any changes into the
text of the Constitution adopted by the Verkhovna Rada of the ARC, being
able only to approve or disapprove it as a whole. 
These legal and political uncertainties urged a
number of Ukrainian deputies to apply to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine
for a decision on whether the adopted Crimean Constitution complies with
national legislation. The submission, signed by 50 M.P.s, had been accepted
by the Court but its consideration was delayed initially by the forthcoming
presidential elections and then under the pretext that more urgent issues
were still unresolved. Today, it is still a pending case, and no date has
been fixed for the review.
As regards the reaction of the Crimean ethnos to the
final version of the Crimean Constitution, only two of them, namely, the
Russians and the Crimean Tatars, expressed a clear-cut position.
The former, represented by the Russian Community of the Crimea and
the regional branch of the Slavic party, protested against it on the grounds
that a "betrayal of Russians in Crimea" had occurred (referring in
particular to Article 10, p.1 which stipulated that in parallel with the
State (Ukrainian) language, the functioning, development, usage and
protection of the Russian, Crimean Tatar, as well as the mother tongues of
other nationalities, shall be protected in Crimea).
On 23 October 1998, the Russian State Duma also issued an angry
Statement "On the Affirmation by the Constitution of the ARC of the
Ukrainian as the Only State Language on the Territory of the Autonomous
Republic of Crimea." Although in point 2 of the same Article 10 it was
indicated that only Russian - as the language of the majority and that of
the interethnic communication - can be used in all spheres of public life.
Therefore, it can be easily seen that by merely mentioning the State
language to be recognized as such in Crimea a certain, if only declarative,
concession had thus been made to Kyiv.
At the same time, nothing actually prevented Russian speakers from
continuing to use their language, whereas the Crimean Tatar language was
indeed relegated to the status of that of any other nationality in Crimea.
wonder, then, that there was a sharp, almost immediate reaction to this and
other provisions (neither of which contained any special measures for
restoring and securing the rights of the indigenous people of Crimea) of the
draft Constitution adopted by the Crimean
VR on 21 October 1998. This
issue was a major topic of the regional conference of the delegates to the
Third Kurultayi, convened on 21 November 1998.
The delegates appealed to the Ukrainian Parliament and President not
to consider the Draft Constitution of the ARC until special laws and
regulations on Crimean Tatar issues were adopted.  In his report to the conference, the Chairman Mustafa Djemilev
emphasized that the Constitution provided Leonid Hrach with almost
unrestricted powers, and aimed at turning the Crimean Tatars’ historic
homeland into a Russian stronghold on the territory of Ukraine.
According to the Crimean Tatars’ leadership, the adoption of this
version of the Constitution would not promote interethnic tolerance and
mutual understanding among the peninsula’s population.
These concerns were repeatedly expressed by Refat Chubarov, Nadir
Bekirov and other leaders of the Crimean Tatars. Moreover, recalling the
last round of negotiations between Hrach and Ukrainian deputies preceding
the final vote, Refat Chubarov stressed that "Hrach was ready to meet
many demands and give his consent for changing a number of articles - except
those proposals concerning the Crimean Tatars." 
Post-Adoption Events and Developments
The negative impact of the adopted Crimean Constitution for the Crimean
Tatar community, as well as the general deterioration of the interethnic
situation in the peninsula, soon became evident. As Bruce Pannier commented,
"The adoption of the new Constitution seems to have sparked a new round
of violence against Tatars." 
During the night of 15 January 1999, the building of the Mejlis was attacked,
and the office of its Chairman burned and completely destroyed. Prior to the
attack, water and telephone services to the building had been cut, thus
providing some evidence that the crime was premeditated.
Throughout 1999, several mosques were burned.
Also, graveyards, and a monument in Simferopol dedicated to the
deportation were vandalized. Anti-Crimean Tatar (and more generally, anti-Muslim)
propaganda has been resumed in the Crimean print and electronic media, being
especially fanned by the events in Kosovo and, later, by the second Chechen
war. These negative trends still seem to persist and the events of 11
January 2000, may serve as evidence.
day, three plain-clothes militia officers entered the Mejlis office and
tried to confiscate the documents of the "Krym" Foundation located
in the same building, the latter being accused of misappropriating public
funds allocated for housing construction. 17 officers of the "Berkut"
special militia unit then surrounded the building, and they left only after
the intervention of Mustafa Djemilev. The
whole incident lasted only 15 minutes.
The next day, Gennadiy Moskal, the Chief of the Crimean militia
forces, came to the Mejlis with apologies, admitted that his officers acted
illegally and promised to conduct an investigation.
Nevertheless, this event certainly added to the rising confrontation
and while being vigorously discussed on the Internet, was once even referred
to as a "Stalinist type" action. 
As regards the recent interethnic situation in
Crimea and its coverage by the national and international media, it should
be noted that there is a significant difference, not always recognized from
the outside, in the attitude to the problems of the Crimean Tatars by
Russians and Ukrainians, and in Crimea particularly.
The latter, in general, express much more sympathy with the plight of
this long-suffering people and share something of a sense of "common
fate; " that both the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar peoples have been
victimized by the Russian and then the Soviet Empire.
NGOs and the local branches of national-democratic parties support the
demands of the Crimean Tatar. Close
links have been established between some Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian NGOs
for furthering effective collaboration. 
As a result of the growing attention paid by the Ukrainian community of
Crimea to Crimean Tatar problems, in 1998, an Ukrainian language Quarterly
Bulletin "Crimean Tatar Issues" was established by the Crimean
Independent Centre of Political Researchers and Journalists. It covers all
of the most important events concerning the Crimean Tatars, publishes
research studies, and translates into Ukrainian the documents issued by the
Mejlis and Kurultayi. Regrettably, most of the pro-Ukrainian "shoots"
of civil society in Crimea are still too weak to influence the political
decision making process, or to influence events more favourably for the
Crimean Tatars. It should be
admitted that Crimean Tatar NGOs are actually more advanced than their local
Ukrainian counterparts, and often play a leading role in many joint
the context of Ukrainian-Crimean Tatar relations, it is especially
interesting to note the mutual support of the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar
communities on such a sensitive issue as linguistic rights and their
implementation in the Crimea. Ukrainian public figures living in Crimea
express, inter alia, their belief that the Crimean Tatar language should to
be learned not only by Crimean Tatar pupils, but also by Ukrainian children.
Among the Russian majority of Crimea such understanding is rare,
although there are striking exceptions such as Vladimir Polyakov, the
principal of a secondary school who introduced, on his own initiative,
courses in both Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar
in his Russian-language school. 
On the other hand, Crimean Tatars for whom studying Ukrainian is much
more difficult than it is for
the Crimean Russians, generally express more positive attitude towards using
Ukrainian. Moreover, one of the few local Ukrainian newspapers "Dumka"
was initiated in 1999 in Bakhchesaray by the "Ukrainian House" NGO
with a huge support from, and in close
collaboration with the Bakhchesaray Regional Mejlis.
would therefore be a mistake to generalize a notion of hostile behaviour on
the part of the entire "Slavic population" of the peninsula as has
been done, for example, by the CoE Rapporteur Lord Ponsonby, who stated that:
"The local Slavic population displays a regrettable degree of
xenophobia vis-a-vis returnees and at best, is disinterested in their plight."
it is important to be aware that despite the rather high level of
understanding and support achieved by the Crimean Tatar political elite and
NGOs in their relations with national democratic forces, all the
developments following the adoption of the Crimean Constitution upset the
precarious interethnic accord in the peninsula and resulted in the further
disillusionment of the Crimean Tatars and their growing dissatisfaction with
the positions and actions of not only the local, but also the national
authorities.  Accordingly, the scale of their protests has been increasing.
This was clearly revealed by the protest march preceding the meeting
of 18 May 1999, commemorating the 55th anniversary of the deportation.
In an attempt to improve the situation, on 18 May 1999, the President
of Ukraine signed the Decree "On the Council of Representatives of the
Crimean Tatar People," which, in compliance with Article 106, p. 28 of
the Ukrainian Constitution, de facto legalized the Mejlis as a consultative-advisory
body under the President.
But even this delayed compromise has failed to be fully implemented: the
Council is still not functioning because of the incompatibilities between
the two sides over, in particular, a number of draft regulations determining
the mechanisms of the Council’s interaction with the Office of the
President and other authorities.
from the disquieting events relating to the interethnic situation in Crimea,
the consequences of the adopted Constitution have by no means had a positive
impact on the general stability in the peninsula. The enormous powers gained by Chairman Hrach, particularly control
over the appointment of local officials, soon led to a crisis in relations
between the peninsula’s legislature and government. The latter, headed by the pragmatic Sergiyi Kunitsyn, managed, for
the first time in the history of the ARC, to achieve some positive economic
On 16 December 1999, Mr. Kunitsyn appeared to have gained an upper hand by
persuading the majority of Crimean deputies to vote for the dismissal of the
VR’s Presidium that consisted wholly of Hrach’s stalwarts.
not yet occurred. And the power
struggle, so typical for the ARC, continues in an even more acute form than
before. Both sides are trying to get support from their respective lobbying
groups in Kyiv and appeal to the President who, in turn, prefers not to take
any decisive steps, trying to demonstrate instead his impartiality. The high degree of economic independence gained by the ARC at the
expense of disavowing any overt pretensions over political independence,
resulted also in increasing disputes between the central and Crimean
authorities over, for example, such issues as the fate of all taxes
collected on the territory of Crimea, and of the value-added tax in
turbulent national events of 1999-2000, and especially the continuing
confrontation between the executive and legislative branches, and between
the pro-presidential majority and the left minority within the parliament
itself at the beginning of this year, further delayed the long-awaited
parliamentary hearings on the "Legal Solutions to the Problems of the
Crimean Tatar People." Preparations for these hearings actually began
in mid-1999. 
The hearings were initially scheduled for September 1999. They were then
rescheduled for December and again for the beginning of 2000. Regrettably, considering the current overall political situation,
neither the parliamentary Committees nor any of the other interested parties
seem ready to organize hearings within the foreseeable future.
Therefore, a great opportunity to implement timely a
relatively "mild" solution to the problems of the Crimean Tatars
through passage of a law granting them the special status of an indigenous
people has been lost. As a
result, the demands of the Crimean Tatars have changed to the more radical
claim of converting the ARC into a national Crimean Tatar autonomy within
Ukraine. This demand, until
recently propounded only by more radical members of the Crimean Tatar
community, is now shared by the vast majority of its political elite, as was
confirmed by the last session of the Kurultayi held between 31 October - 2
November 1999. At the same time
this claim is today perceived as not excessively extreme by at least some
Ukrainian deputies and public figures.
Several M.P.s of the Rukh and the Reforms-Centre factions, having
visited the Kurultayi as invited guests, expressed their unconditional
support for such a solution, and even some former presidential candidates
indicated publicly that they would like the see a future Crimea as a Crimean
Tatar Autonomy. This issue is
surfacing with an increasing frequency at roundtables and NGOs’ meetings
examining interethnic relations in Ukraine, and the discussion occurs quite
calmly without eliciting any "shock" or openly adverse reaction.
These very facts may reflect a growing - albeit slow and painful -
acceptance by Ukrainian society of such a prospect.
Only a few years ago, this would have been looked upon as a kind of
"heresy," a subject not even worthy of serious discussion.
Proceeding from the above account, it is possible to reach the conclusion
that from the very beginning, the principal aim of the entire constitutional
process in Crimea was not so much to find a proper legal solution that would
take into consideration all of the historic, ethnic, and cultural specifics
of this region and integrate them into the general texture of Ukrainian
political and economic life, but rather to appease the pro-Russian majority
there, to pacify its pronounced secessionist trends, and by doing so, to
avoid more violent scenarios. As
a result, the Crimean peninsula has been turned into something akin to a
Russian national autonomy within Ukraine - a fact never officially
recognized by the state authorities, but gradually becoming a matter of
The main problem of interethnic relations in Crimea
and, actually, in Ukraine as a whole, remains that of the Crimean Tatars.
The Crimean Tatar community represents the most organized, easily
mobilized political force in the ARC, and a further delay in the adoption of
legislative and normative acts for securing the full restoration of their
rights is fraught with the danger of a more radicalized movement. This would result almost inevitably in a serious ethno-political
conflict which might develop into a crisis more severe than ever before. In this respect, the eventual adoption of the Constitution of the ARC
in December 1998 aggravated the situation instead of promoting its
Having come through so many ordeals in their recent
history, the Crimean Tatars have developed a strong sense of self-identification
as a coherent nation with distinct ethno-cultural and religious traditions
to be restored, secured and bequeathed to the next generations. Their claim
to self-determination should properly be understood and acknowledged as
stemming mainly from an acute (and to a certain extent quite justifiable)
fear of losing this identity, if simply through a gradual and apparently
"natural" assimilation into the Slavic majority of the peninsula.
To relieve the resulting tensions, the self-identity of the Crimean Tatars
must be fully recognized, fully respected and meet with a favourable
response from both the national authorities and society as a whole.
It seems impossible to find successful solutions to
the problems of the Crimean Tatars by continuing to regard them as just one
of the national minorities of Ukraine, or on the basis of the observance of
individual human rights alone. The collective rights of the Crimean Tatar
people should be protected by means of a full development of those articles
of the Ukrainian Constitution recognizing the existence of indigenous
peoples on its territory, and in the spirit of international law dealing
with this category of peoples. Otherwise, even more serious measures will be
required, such as the adoption of particular models designed for small
nations having no nation state of their own (such as, the autonomous
territorial units of Basques and Catalans in Spain).
In contrast to the Crimean Tatars, the Russian
diaspora in Crimea, especially (and this must be stressed) when not provoked
from the outside, has a much lower potential for mass mobilization and large-scale
protests, and, in reality, has no justified grounds for doing so. The problems of national minorities in Crimea, including those
belonging to the formerly deported groups lack, as a rule, a political
dimension as an obligatory component for expressing their demands and
therefore could be settled in parallel with an improvement in the general
socio-economic situation in Ukraine.
It appears that the international community, and
especially the bureaucracies of some of the international intergovernmental
organizations, is often far from understanding the plight of the Crimean
Tatars beyond their socio-economic conditions (even though these are indeed
terrible). The political demands of the Crimean Tatars are therefore
perceived sometimes as a manifestation of political extremism. It is highly desirable that a deeper insight into the problem is
achieved and that concerted actions aimed at preventing one more ethno-political
conflict in Europe, are undertaken. As
a concrete step towards such a strategy, the Ukrainian government - the only
post-Soviet government with an active state program for repatriating and
integrating the Crimean Tatars and other returnees to Crimea - should be
encouraged and supported and not only through badly needed financial and
economic assistance. It seems
equally important to urge national decision makers to develop a legal system
that would be able to provide reliable and genuine protection for minority
rights with perhaps a special emphasis on the political rights of the
indigenous Crimean Tatar people.
See also RFL/RL Watchlist, v. 2, N 2, 13 January 2000; v. 2, N 4, 27
See, for example, "Minority Rights in the Former Soviet Union"
by Tim Potier, in: Law Journal, Special Issue, September 1999, p. 63.
Some aspects of the Crimean crisis, and chronology of events till April
1995 are covered by: "Crimea: Dynamics, Challenges, and Prospects,"
edited by Maria Drohobycky, American Association for the Advancement of
Science, 1995, 250 pp. For an analysis of the Crimean Tatars’ movements
and positions during the events of early and middle 90-s, see "Politics
in and around Crimea: A Difficult Homecoming" by Andrew Wilson, in: The
Tatars of Crimea: Return to the Homeland, Edward A. Allworth, ed.,
Duke University Press, 1998, pp. 281-322. The most updated information on
the issue can be found in: The Repatriation of the Crimean Tatars: A
Chronicle of Events by Julia Tystchenko & Vyacheslav Pikhovshek,
published (in Ukrainian) by the UICPS, Kyiv, 1999, 343 pp..
The name Crimean ASSR was changed to Crimean Republic by the Crimean
Supreme Council in February 1992, whereas on 5 May, 1992, its independence
was declared subject to an all-Crimean referendum to be held that August.
They referenced the arguments made repeatedly by the Russian Parliament
and Ministry for Foreign Affairs that the act of the 1954 transfer had
See, for example, the version of Crimean Constitution adopted by the
Crimean Supreme Council on 24 September 1992.
For more details, see "Crimea and Sevastopol" in: Ukraine and
Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry by Anatol Lieven, United States Institute
of Peace Press, 1999, pp. 105-133.
This first meeting of elected delegates was named the Second Kurultayi to
emphasize the continuity of the democratic tradition of the Crimean Tatar
system of self-government. In 20th century, the first and only Kurultayi,
which proclaimed the restoration of Crimean Tatar statehood, was held in
November 1917. This attempt was brutally suppressed by the Soviets who
used the Red Army against the Crimean Tatars.
The texts of the most important documents issued by the sessions and
conferences of the Kurultayi can be found in a Russian language
publication by the Mejlis of October 1999: "The Documents of the
Kurultayi of the Crimean Tatar People, 1991-1998."
See "Conflicting Loyalties in the Crimea" by Natalia Belitser
& Oleg Bodruk, in: Conflicting Loyalties and the State in Post-Soviet
Russia and Eurasia, M.Waller, B.Coppieters, A.MaLashenko, eds., 1998,
See, for example, "An OSCE Diplomat Bungles Diplomacy in Crimea"
by Adrian Karatnytsky, Wall Street Journal Europe, 7 June 1995.
OSCE REF.HC/10/95, 15 November 1995.
This law granted Crimea greater autonomy, but it would come into effect
only after Crimea’s Constitution and laws were brought into harmony with
those of Ukraine, and the independence referendum was cancelled.
OSCE REF.HC/10/95, 15 November 1995.
See Ref.HC/7/96, Ref.500/R/L.
See OSCE REF.HC/10/95.
For more details, see: "Politics in and around Crimea: A Difficult
Homecoming" by Andrew Wilson, in: The Tatars of Crimea: Return to
the Homeland, Edward A. Allworth, ed., Duke University Press, 1998, pp.
289-291, and The Repatriation of the Crimean Tatars: A Chronicle of
Events by Julia Tystchenko & Vyacheslav Pikhovshek, Kyiv, 1999, pp.
The English translation of the term "indigenous peoples" instead
of "people" or "populations" fully complies here with
its intended meaning in Ukrainian. The appearance of this term within the
text of the Constitution reflected a compromise between different
political views, following efforts to explicitly designate the Crimean
Tatars as an indigenous people of Ukraine failed because of the stubborn
resistance of the parliamentary left-wing deputies. The latter strongly
opposed the introducing the very notion of "indigenous peoples"
in addition to "titular ethnos" and "national minorities."
At the national level the electoral system is mixed; half of the deputies
are to be elected under a majority system, the remainder under a
The new law on Ukrainian citizenship, which entered into force on 20 May,
1997, provided a simplified procedure for gaining Ukrainian citizenship by
affiliation for those persons and their first- and second-degree
descendants, who were forcibly displaced from Ukraine by the Soviets.
But there was simply not enough time for tens of thousand of
Crimean Tatars to make use of this opportunity.
Besides, a serious obstacle remained in the shape of the
requirement that any other citizenship should be relinquished.
That was practically impossible in the case, for example, of the
Crimean Tatar returnees from Uzbekistan. The
process of gaining Ukrainian citizenship received an impetus only
following an intergovernmental agreement for simplifying the procedure for
the renunciation of Uzbek citizenship by the formerly deported people of
Crimea, concluded at the initiative of the Ukrainian government after
prolonged and complex negotiations. The outstanding role played by the
UNHCR Offices in Kyiv and Simferopol in bringing these negotiations to a
success conclusion, and in promoting amendments to the previous Law on
Ukrainian citizenship, as well as in implementing the legal provisions and
regulations to benefit both the de facto stateless returnees and
those who were wishing to exchange Uzbek citizenship for Ukrainian, has
been greatly appreciated.
For more details characterizing the turbulent events surrounding the 1998
Crimean parliamentary elections, see The Repatriation of the Crimean
Tatars: A Chronicle of Events by Julia Tystchenko & Vyacheslav
Pikhovshek, Kyiv, 1999, pp. 204-215.
See, for example, the Conclusion on the draft Constitution of the ARC
issued by the Rukh faction of the VR on 15 December 1998, and Rukh’s
statement dated 24 December, 1998. A detailed analysis of the fourth and
fifth versions of the Constitution of Crimea was prepared by the Institute
of Politics, see "The Political Calendar," Supplement 1, Kyiv,
December 1998, pp. 3-121.
A detailed description of this dramatic stage of the constitutional
process is given in: "The Repatriation of the Crimean Tatars: A
Chronicle of Events" by Julia Tystchenko & Vyacheslav Pikhovshek,
Kyiv, 1999, pp. 238-247.
See "The Documents of the Kurultayi of the Crimean Tatar People,
1991-1998," pp. 117-125.
For responses to the adoption of the Constitution of the ARC see
"Avdet," N 21, 24 November 1998, N 22, 8 December 1998, N 1, 20
January 1999; "Today," 24 November 1998; "Voice of Ukraine,"
11 December 1998; "Ukraine and the World," 15-21 January 1999,
and many other publications by the national and Crimean newspapers and
magazines. See also The Repatriation of the Crimean Tatars: A Chronicle
of Events by Julia Tystchenko & Vyacheslav Pikhovshek, Kyiv, 1999,
"Ukraine: Crimean Tatars Begin Protest March" by Bruce Pannier,
RFE/RL, 6 May 1999.
See, for example, the contributions to the http://www.euronet.nl/users/sota/krimtatar.html,
and http://members.xoom.com/iccrimea, and also the information distributed
by the MINELRES and the CRIMEA-L: A Discussion List on Crimea and Crimean
Tatars. It should be added, however, that the incorrect information
presented by the RFE/RL Watchlist of 13 January 2000 - that about 200
militia officers surrounded the Mejlis instead of the 20 that actually
participated according to the data submitted by the Mejlis - may to some
extent have influenced public opinion.
Some examples of such a successful collaboration can be found in: "Ulterior
Integration" by Natalya Belitser, NGO News, Freedom House, N 13,
Summer 1999, p. 8.
See, for example, "Ukrainian-Russian-Crimean Tatar Relations in
Crimea" by Sergiy Lyastchenko, March 1997, author’s archive.
Vladimir Polyakov is also a writer who published many articles in the
local media, and a book: Crimea: The Fates of Peoples and the People.
Simferopol, 1998, 270 pp..
Preliminary Draft Report to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of
Europe on: "Repatriation and Integration of the Tatars of Crimea,"
8 October 1999, AS/Mig(1999)30.
See, for example, the Parallel Report Prepared by the Foundation for
Research and Support of the Indigenous Peoples of Crimea "About the
Situation in Crimea (Ukraine)." This document, intended to supplement
the official report of the Ukrainian government to the Council of Europe
on the observation of the provisions of the CoE Framework Convention on
the Protection of National Minorities, accused the Ukrainian state of not
only the ongoing discrimination against the Crimean Tatars, but also,
surprisingly, with such "sins" of the past as, for example,
preventing the Crimean Tatars from returnining to their homeland during
the Soviet period.
The composition of the Council is exactly the same as the list of the
members of the Mejlis; Mustafa Djemilev is its Chairman, and Refat
Chubarov is his first Deputy.
See: "The Comparative Analysis of the Economic Situation in Crimea
for a Period 1998-1999," Roundtable on Crimean Issues, Kyiv, 2
January, 2000, author’s archive.
See, for example, RFE/RL Newsline, v.3, N 245, December 1999.
A formal request to hold the hearings had been submitted by Roman
Bezsmertny, the Permanent Representative of the President in the
Parliament of Ukraine, to the parliament’s chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko.
Every point addressed in his letter of 27 June, 1999, was articulated in
such a way that revealed a more than adequate understanding of the
specificity of the Crimean Tatar problematique. This specificity was
described as arising from their actual position as a people rather than a
national minority - in fact, an indigenous people whose situation has been
seriously aggravated by deportation and the hardships of repatriation, and whose rights and interests are not secured either in Ukrainian
law or by the Crimean Constitution.