Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 102

On May 18, Crimean Tatars held mass rallies to commemorate the 56th anniversary of their deportation to Central Asia in 1944, when Stalin indiscriminately accused them of collaboration with the Nazis. Since the late 1980s, when Crimean Tatars were allowed to return to their homeland, their problems have only accumulated. The situation may now explode. The Tatars, who now make up 12 percent of the Crimean population, are not represented in the Crimean Autonomous Republic’s parliament; the unemployment among them is at 70 percent against a 15 percent Crimean average; Tatar children often cannot be schooled in their native language. The Tatars, who are settling mostly in rural areas, cannot participate in privatization of the land, primarily because most of them failed to obtain Ukrainian citizenship by 1994, when President Leonid Kuchma issued a land privatization decree. The Tatars are legitimately dissatisfied with their situation, but their desire to improve it often meets with indifference, if not open opposition, from the Crimean authorities.

In commemoration rallies in Sevastopol and the Crimean capital, Simferopol, tens of thousands of Tatars appealed to Kuchma and the parliament in Kyiv to bless the transition to a Tatar national autonomy within Ukraine and to introduce a direct presidential rule by Kyiv in Crimea. The Tatars do not trust the Crimean parliament chaired by Communist Leonid Hrach, who, they believe, is the main opponent of their resettlement to Crimea from other former Soviet republics. The Tatars demand that Ukraine: (1) grant the Tatars legal indigenous nation status; (2) officially recognize Crimean Tatars’ representative organs, the Kurultay and the Majlis; (3) ensure the use of the Crimean Tatar language in Crimea on par with the state language, Ukrainian; (4) redistribute the land in Crimea; (5) introduce proportional quotas for Tatars in the regional power bodies; (6) return to Crimean towns and villages their original Tatar names. The Tatars threatened open confrontation with the authorities, if these demands are not met.

The Tatars’ often encounter sympathy from official Kyiv and strong support from Ukrainian nationalists, who view the Tatars as a natural counterweight to the Russian majority in Crimea. At the same time, the local parliament and most Russians, who are afraid of losing their cultural hegemony in the region, apparently support Hrach in his antagonism toward the Tatar movement. So far, some 260,000 Tatars have returned to Crimea from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia. Another 150,000-230,000 more would like to return. The Crimean Russians are wary of this immigration of a Muslim population with a different culture and language, and fear that they might lose their own lands and jobs. Hrach strongly opposes the idea of ethnic autonomy for the Tatars, arguing that this may result in “a Crimean Chechnya.” He is against granting them quotas in the power bodies, which, he says, would violate other ethnic groups’ rights, and he opposes the status of indigenous people. This runs counter to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe recommendation to multi-ethnic states to legally define the status of national minorities, the Crimean Tatar leaders, Refat Chubarov and Mustafa Dzhemilev, argue.

Both the Tatars and Hrach keep appealing to international bodies and official Kyiv for support, but the matter is complicated and delicate. A poorly calculated interference from outside could upset the fragile political balance in Crimea among the Tatars, Hrach (supported by the strong local leftists) and the Crimean executive (backed by Kyiv, which has so far played a more or less neutral role). Europe’s moral authority, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has confined itself chiefly to economic recommendations in its resolution on the Crimean Tatars, which it adopted on April 5. For his part, President Kuchma duly ordered the government on May 16 to step up financial assistance to the Tatar resettlement, to “study” the land problem and to ease enrollment of young Tatars to Ukrainian universities. Kyiv is not likely to allow Tatar autonomy: This would not ease the ethnic tension in Crimea and would contradict the Ukrainian national idea of a unitary state (Den, April 28; Khreshchatyk, May 12; Krymskie izvestiya, May 13; UNIAN, April 5, 24, May 16, 18).

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