Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 100

In the early hours of May 23 a bomb exploded at the office of the Crimean Speaker and leader of the Crimean branch of the Ukrainian Communist Party Leonid Hrach in the Crimean capital of Simferopol. There were no casualties, but the building and windows of nearby houses were reportedly damaged. The incident took place near the camping site of the Crimean Tatars who since May 18 have been picketing the local government with slogans “Communists go out of Crimea!” and “Hrach is mini-Milosevic.” The Tatars are commemorating the anniversary of their deportation from Crimea by the Soviet regime in 1944. Hrach, who has long warned the Tatars against open confrontation, hurried to vehemently deny allegations in the media about the Tatars’ possible involvement. He instead accused unnamed criminal groups for organizing the explosion to aggravate the political situation and to take revenge on Hrach for his crusade against organized crime in Crimea. The Tatar leaders and the Ukrainian Ministry for Internal Affairs representative in the region, Hennady Moskal, also refuted the explosion’s direct connection to the Tatars’ protest (NTV–Moscow, Inter, STV, May 23; see the Monitor, May 19).

This blast, despite the prompt soothing words from Hrach, may exacerbate the tension mounting in Crimea between Tatars and the Russian majority, many of whom support the Crimean communists. The Russians tend to see the Tatars returning to their historic land as unwanted intruders in a region with a high level of unemployment and thriving crime. The Tatars, currently making up some 10 percent of the Crimean population, raise legitimate claims for equal rights with other local ethnic groups and protest bureaucratic hurdles on their way home. Some Tatar leaders, however, demand special privileges not envisaged by the constitution, including indigenous nation status and guaranteed numerical representation for Tatars in the legislature and executive branch. This provokes a suspicious and sometimes hostile attitude among other local ethnic groups. Official Kyiv has so far succeeded in preserving the fragile ethnic peace in Crimea.–OV