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The Transfer of the Crimea to the Ukraine*

By a decree issued February 19, 1954 of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the Crimea was transferred from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR. This decree was passed amid solemn circumstances. There were many speeches, which as far as one could tell had one purpose: to explain to the peoples of the USSR the reasons which made this act essential. According to the speakers the chief reasons were these: 1) The Crimea's economy is closely linked with the economy of the Ukrainian Republic; 2) The Crimea forms, as it were, a natural extension of the southern Ukrainian steppes. Thus the reasons were given and the transfer accomplished. It was all carried out quietly and calmly, without any great publicity in the newspapers. One might even think that this act actually had only the significance assigned to it by certain commentators in the West: "It makes absolutely no difference to the owner in which of his many pockets he is accustomed to carry his valuables."

The Soviet government, not having widely publicized this matter in the press, betrays more by its silence than it could have expressed through "solemn meetings" and all the publicity which the USSR creates even for less important events.

The point is that it is disadvantageous and even dangerous for the Soviet government to publicize this matter, precisely because inordinate attention to this subject might cause the people to search for the actual reasons which impelled the government to take this step. Actually, did the Crimean economy just now become closely linked with the economy of the Ukraine, or the Crimea just now become a natural extension of the southern Ukrainian steppes? These factors existed far earlier—have always existed. Why then was the Crimea transferred to the Ukraine only now, in 1954? One might think that considerations of military administration could have required this transfer: an attempt to end the inconvenience resulting from the fact that the Tavriya Military District was situated on the territory of two republics, the Crimea (RSFSR) and the Ukrainian SSR, and that this compelled the military organs to be administratively responsible to the governments of two different republics. But this reason is unfounded precisely for the reason that this situation had existed for ten years, and the military authorities had gotten along with it.

There are other more important reasons, ones which made this transfer essential. As is known, the Crimean Autonomous Republic was liquidated on February 23, 1944 (the decree, incidentally, was not actually promulgated until June 26, 1946), and its native population, the Tatars, deported from the Crimea to Central Asia and the northern districts of the USSR. A great many Russians and Ukrainians were deported along with the Tatars. In general, they deported everyone who had shown the slightest trace, not just of collaboration, but even of tolerance toward the German occupation. It is known that during the war a partisan movement developed on a large scale in the Crimea. Consequently the Soviets regarded as loyal to Soviet authority only those who had been connected with this partisan movement to some degree. Neutrality was regarded as collaboration with the Germans.

Thus, when we speak of the deportations from the Crimea, we cannot in any case regard them as deportations of Tatars alone. The process of deportation embraced a huge proportion of the entire Crimean population. At the present time it is hard to say exactly how many people remained, but in any case there were not many. The Soviet government sent streams of new settlers into the "liberated" Crimean lands. It transported whole villages from the central provinces of the RSFSR, together with their individual and kolkhoz property. Likewise, thousands of persons evacuated during the war, but now homeless, received a new area in which to settle—the Crimea. As a result, the Crimea was re- populated, but since it had lost its native Tatar population it no longer had a lawful basis for being a republic. In this manner the RSFSR lost the Crimean Autonomous Republic, but acquired the Crimean Province.

Why, after the decree of 1946 liquidating the Crimean Autonomous Republic, was there not a second decree attaching the newly-formed Crimean Province to the Ukrainian SSR? This can be explained only by the fact that the reasons which, increasing in importance, forced the USSR government only as late as 1954 to transfer the Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR, did not appear so obvious at that time.

What are these reasons? We can understand, for example, why the Crimea as an Autonomous Republic, should belong administratively to the RSFSR rather than the Ukrainian SSR. The Crimean Tatars, being Moslems, were always attracted by the Turkish people, to whom they were kindred. The history of the Crimea during the period of Soviet domination is the history of the struggle of the Crimean Tatar against Bolshevism and for the support of the Moslem world. When tragedy had overtaken this nation, the result of this struggle was an open battle of the Crimean Tatars against the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks saw and realized this. Consequently the Crimea was put in a special category subjecting it to particular observation and control. Naturally, this control could not be entrusted to the Ukrainian SSR, for the Ukrainian Republic, itself shaken by civil war in which national movements played a not inconsiderable role, could not enjoy Moscow's confidence, the more so because even in the Communist Party of the Ukraine in the 1920's, tendencies toward economic independence had begun to make themselves felt quite strongly. Things got to the point where the Central Committee of the KP(b)U was considering the question of entering the Communist Party of the Ukraine into the Comintern as a separate Ukrainian section. The urge toward Ukrainian independence was so strong that the Kremlin had to wage a real battle with it. It was just at this time, and, of course, with the blessing of the local Communist authorities, that a literary movement arose in the Ukraine headed by the Communist writer Mykola Khvylovy with his slogan, "Away from Moscow."

Thus, the Party leaders in the Kremlin not only could not entrust the Ukrainian Communists with the "surveillance" of the Crimea, but had to throw their best Party cadres into the struggle with Ukrainian independence aspirations. To wage this struggle they sent Lazar Kaganovich to be secretary of the Central Committee of the KP(b)U. He was succeeded by Postyshev.

Today the population of the Crimea is a unique conglomeration which in no way strives for unity with the Moslem world nor regards Turkey as a path of escape from the Bolsheviks. From this point of view the transfer of the Crimea to the Ukraine is fully justified. After the deportation of the Tatars, the Crimea ceased to be a vulnerable spot in the Soviet Empire. Here, it would seem, lies the solution to the action of February 19, 1954. The point is that, in order to remove the danger of the Crimea's being separated from the USSR, it was possible to deport the Tatars, but the Kremlin could not possibly deport from the Ukraine all the Ukrainians who might have the same aspirations. By the time the Crimea was joined to the Ukraine, these aspirations had not diminished, but on the contrary were making themselves felt even more strongly. The campaign for holding celebrations of the tricentenniel of the unification of Russia and the Ukraine, the oft-repeated appeals to the Party to combat bourgeois nationalism, and the winning of Ukrainian writers, artists, scientists, etc., by awarding them Stalin prizes are measures designed to combat Ukrainian separatist sentiment.

In the light of these facts, the transfer of the Crimea to the Ukraine takes on the significance of a carefully considered political step. The transfer of the Crimea to the Ukraine is in the interpretation of the Communist Party a gift of the "elder brother" to the "younger brother" on the occasion of the tricentennial of the unification of Russia and the Ukraine, as if to demonstrate the solicitude of the central government and its desire to meet the Ukrainian people halfway, at the same time reducing its gravitation toward independence from the Kremlin.

This transfer reveals the long term policy. The Ukraine, as the largest republic outside of the RSFSR, is quite understandably the republic with local sentiments which all the other republics listen to. It is the center in which, as it were, all the republics are united in their national aspirations. The Central Committee of the KPSU had in mind, as well, the idea of weakening the significance of the Ukraine as such a center when it ordered the Supreme Soviet to issue this decree. In the first place, the Ukraine, having received the Crimea, an area which in fact belongs to the Crimean Tatars, at the same time makes itself an empire to a certain degree, for now it possesses lands without justification based on ethnographic principles. Therefore, it is the Ukraine and not the RSFSR which turns up as a party to the dispute over the lands of the Crimean Tatars. This places all the republics of Central Asia—the whole Moslem world of the USSR—in opposition to the Ukraine.

Thus, nearly twenty-five million members of the USSR's Moslem world will no longer look on the Ukrainian SSR as their ally in the struggle against the Kremlin's imperialism, but on the contrary will look upon it as a republic with imperialist tendencies which, by virtue of these tendencies, should become an ally of the Kremlin.

Another result is a change in the relationship between Turkey and the Ukraine. There is no doubt that from now on demands made by the USSR on Turkey will be issued not in the name of the USSR but in the name of the Ukrainian people. It is by no means a coincidence that even now a press campaign has be- gun in the Ukraine to arouse hatred against Turkey. They have begun to drag from the annals of history long forgotten facts about the struggle of the Ukrainian people with the Turks, the Turkish bondage, and the misfortunes and disasters caused by the Turks in the Ukraine. All these misfortunes and disasters, one might conclude from the Soviet press in the Ukraine, occured because at the border of the Ukraine there was the Crimea, populated by Tatars.

The tone of this propaganda campaign tries to create in the Ukrainian people the impression that the deportation of the Crimean Tatars from the Crimea was not by way of punishment for their anti-Soviet struggle during the Second World War, but an act whereby the Soviets demonstrate their solicitude for Ukrainian national interests, their friendship with and confidence in the Ukrainian people.

Thus the matter is explained, and thus the Ukrainian people are being prepared for the massive political offensive against Turkey as well as an offensive against the great support given to the Near East by the free world. These are the actual reasons hidden behind the screen of "economic links" and "natural extension of the southern Ukrainian steppes." It was these reasons which determined in advance the decision of the Soviet leaders to transfer the Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

From: Bulletin of the Institute for the Study of the History and Culture of the USSR (Munich), vol. 1, no. 1 (April 1954): 30-33. Unsigned article.

Posted: July 2005

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