The Crimean parliament has approved the latest draft Crimean constitution on the first reading. This is the version hammered out last month by a task force of Ukrainian and Crimean lawmakers. However, many deputies objected to the compromises worked out by the task force and final adoption of a new constitution for the autonomous republic still seems far away. (Trud-Ukraina, December 7)
Language is a key problem. The original draft states that Ukrainian, Russian and Crimean Tatar are all state languages in Crimea. The Ukrainian authorities want this brought into line with Ukrainian law, under which only Ukrainian has the status of state language. Russian and Crimean Tatar would be reduced to the status of "official languages." But deputies representing Crimea’s ethnic Russian population want Russian to retain the status of state language, while Crimean Tatar deputies want to strengthen, not weaken, the status of their language.
Another dispute concerns the composition of the Crimean parliament. At present, it is a unicameral body consisting of 94 deputies. Kiev wants it to become a bicameral body of 50 deputies. (Itar-Tass, November 20) Related to this is the issue of parliamentary representation for the Crimean Tatars. Under the present arrangement, they have guaranteed representation with 14 deputies. The latest draft constitution calls for proportional representation, which would reduce the number of Tatar deputies to around ten (reflecting the fact that ethnic Tatars make up about 10 percent of the population). This is more attractive to the Tatars than direct majority voting, which would almost certainly deprive them of representation altogether, but they would prefer to keep the current system of guaranteed representation.
Over the past two years Kiev delayed approving the Crimean constitution, preferring to give precedence to the adoption of Ukraine’s own new constitution, to which Crimea’s constitution has to conform. But Moscow’s reentry onto the scene, with the Russian parliament’s recent assertion of Russian sovereignty over Sevastopol, threatens to provoke fresh tensions between Kiev and Simferopol. As long as Russia was bogged down in Chechnya, the Yeltsin leadership had little appetite for foreign adventures and did not encourage Russian nationalist parliamentarians in their effort to fan separatist sentiments in Crimea. But now that the first shots have been fired in the 2000 Russian presidential election, it may be that the window of opportunity for Kiev and Simferopol to regularize their relations is about to close. Kiev has little to gain from a further delay in the adoption of a Crimean constitution that would anchor the peninsula in an independent Ukraine. But the volatility of the Russian political situation threatens to give Simferopol back some of the leverage it lost during the Chechen conflict.
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