Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 136

The Communist speaker of the Crimean parliament, Leonid Grach, has denounced the campaign by the Crimean Tatars for official recognition of the Tatar People’s Majlis (the Tatars’ self-styled parliament) as their own local government. Grach said Crimean Tatar leaders “do not understand to what their efforts to establish a parallel authority may lead.” (UNIAN news agency, July 13)

The Tatars know very well what it is they want. They have been campaigning for years for the right to manage their own affairs and for official recognition of their Majlis. Their determination has only increased since parliamentary elections last March–in which many Tatars were stripped of the right to vote–deprived them of representation in Crimea’s Supreme Soviet, parliament of the autonomous republic.

Since 1990, when the Tatars were allowed to return to Crimea from exile in Central Asia, they have set up their own social service and welfare agencies. Each community has its own Majlis. Each local Majlis elects representatives to the Majlis next up the hierarchy, up to the main Majlis in Simferopol. But the Tatars remain desperately poor: Unemployment is high and many returnees are still without proper housing. Majlis President Mustafa Jemilev, who represents a force for moderation, says that creating a Tatar autonomous region based on territory is “an impossible dream” because Crimea is so russified. (Crimean Tatars make up only twelve percent of the population, while Russians make up nearly seventy percent.) What the Tatars want, Jemilev has said, is “not more rights, but for our rights to be guaranteed.” At present, he says, “there is very strong discrimination, and this is a factor for destabilization and possibly violence.” (Newsday, June 16, 1997) Now, one year since Jemilev spoke these words, the gulf between Crimea’s Tatar and Russian communities has widened still further.