On September 19, a roundtable on inter-ethnic relations took place in Simferopol, Crimea. At this gathering, the European Union’s Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara and other members of Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers, deputies of the Crimean Parliament, members of the Council of Ministers of Crimea, including its chairman Anatoly Mogilev, as well as representatives of the Crimean Tatar people (http://interfax.com.ua/news/general/167885.html?fb_comment_id=fbc_178455865673758_369127_179794042206607#f27d662d3fe9f38). The purpose of this three-hour official meeting, which was organized by the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the Delegation of the European Union and with the support of the local Crimean government, was to discuss the socio-political predicaments of the Crimean Tatars in Ukraine (http://qha.com.ua/kojara-lichno-otneset-dokumenti-medjlisa-v-minyust-130404.html).
In his opening address to the participants (http://euukrainecoop.net/2013/09/19/fuele-2/), Fule identified Crimea as one of the most important regions for the EU’s policy in the Eastern Partnership region (Eastern Partnership countries include Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia) (http://vestiua.com/ru/news/20130920/37909.html). Moreover, he encouraged the Crimean authorities and the Crimean Tatar representatives to find common ground and establish a constructive dialogue so that a roadmap for conflict prevention could be designed that would address the unresolved issues vis-à-vis the peoples forcibly deported from Crimea in 1944 (http://www.avdet.org/node/8329). Fule also urged the Crimean authorities to officially recognize the Mejlis, the executive body representing the Crimean Tatar community (http://crimea24.info/2013/09/20/v-evrosoyuze-schitayut-chto-ukraine-sleduet-priznat-medzhlis/). Additionally, he advocated for the adoption of the law “On the Restoration of the Rights of the Deported Peoples on Ethnic Grounds” by the Ukrainian authorities, which was previously rejected and/or vetoed. Although this law was adopted by the Ukrainian Verhovna Rada (Parliament) in 2004, the then-President Leonid Kuchma vetoed it. In June 2012, it was passed at its first reading, but the second reading was postponed again (http://avdet.org/node/8329).
One of the main topics of discussion in Simferopol was the realization of the “International Forum” on the restoration of the rights of the Crimean Tatar people in their homeland, which is to take place in 2014. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM), this Forum is quite important for the security and the socio-political future of Crimean Tatars in Crimea. Indeed, the HCNM’s August 16, 2013 report, prepared by seven international experts and titled, “The Integration of Formerly Deported People in Crimea” (http://www.osce.org/hcnm/104309), emphasized support for the International Forum (2014) under the auspices of the OSCE HCNM. Furthermore, Commissioner Fule stated that this Forum could provide a great platform for a discussion on the restoration of the rights of the Crimean Tatar people in their historical homeland (http://interfax.com.ua/news/general/167885.html?fb_comment_id=fbc_178455865673758_369127_179794042206607#f27d662d3fe9f38). “[In lieu of] successful cooperation with the OSCE HCNM, a recognized authority in conflict prevention, I would like to recommend the careful examination of their report and recommendations, and their participation in this process,” Fule declared (http://crimea24.info/2013/09/20/v-evrosoyuze-schitayut-chto-ukraine-sleduet-priznat-medzhlis/).
As a response to the EU commissioner, Leonid Kozhara (who, as Ukrainian foreign minister, assumed the OSCE chairmanship in January 2013) flat out rejected to work with the OSCE report. He argued that compiling such a report could be appropriate under European law, but it was absolutely unsuitable with respect to the laws of Ukraine (http://qha.com.ua/osce-report-ignored-by-ukrainian-foreign-ministry-khamzin-129501en.html).
The Ukrainian government’s hostility toward the OSCE became even more apparent when the Ukrainian and Crimean authorities ignored proper diplomatic protocol and did not allow the three representatives from the HCNM (Director Ilze Brands Kehris, Senior Advisor Bob Deen, and Legal Advisor Vincent De Graaf) to sit around the roundtable with all the other participants, but instead seated them in the press box reserved for Crimean journalists (http://www.avdet.org/node/8329). Ali Khamzin, the head of external relations of the Mejlis, pointed out that this was a serious insult toward the European guests who came to Crimea to present their report to the Ukrainian authorities (http://qha.com.ua/kojara-lichno-otneset-dokumenti-medjlisa-v-minyust-130404.html).
Despite Fule’s recommendations about the recognition of the Mejlis, the chairman of the Crimean Council of Ministers, Anatoly Mogilev, who is well-known for his anti-Tatar rhetoric, once again refused to cooperate with the Crimean Tatar executive body in front of Fule’s team. Moreover, he paradoxically told the EU officials that the process of the return and resettlement of the Crimean Tatars and other formerly deported peoples (Greeks, Germans, Armenians and Bulgarians) to Crimea is complete and that these ethnic groups possess the same standard of living and enjoy the same rights and privileges as the rest of the Ukrainian and Crimean population. Consequently, he also rejected the idea of holding the International Forum in 2014 (http://15minut.org/article/evrosojuz-prizval-ukrainu-priznat-krymskotatarskij-medzhlis-2013-09-20-01-41). Similarly, Foreign Minister Kozhara also stated that Crimean Tatars in Crimea are not discriminated against by any means and that they are able to enjoy all the rights open to other Ukrainians (http://newsland.com/news/detail/id/1252085/).
These statements by Kozhara and Mogilev, which contradict the recent (September 10) National Expert Commission of Ukraine report that addresses the increasing Tatarophobia in Crimea, fueled negative reactions among the Crimean Tatars (http://qha.com.ua/komissiya-morali-predlagaet-obedinitsya-protiv-tatarofobii-130171.html). In fact, the US State Department’s 2011 and 2012 reports on human rights in Ukraine, (http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/186627.pdf; http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/#wrapper), as well as its International Religious Freedom Report (www.state.gov/j/drl//irf/rpt/), all comment on the increasing discrimination against Crimean Tatars after 2010, and point out the non-recognition of the Mejlis by the Ukrainian authorities. Similarly, a report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in Ukraine, prepared by the International Minority Rights Group (MRG), which monitors the protection of the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples in Europe and Central Asia, also displays cases of radical discrimination against the Crimean Tatars in Ukraine (http://avdet.org/node/8343)
Khamzin, the Mejlis’ external relations head, is nevertheless hopeful following the September 19 roundtable in Simferopol. He believes that after Fule and his team personally witnessed the negative situation of the Crimean Tatars in their historical homeland, the European authorities may facilitate the modification of Ukrainian politics toward national minorities. He argues that that this awareness in turn, will lead to the realization of the planned International Forum for the restoration of their rights in 2014 (http://newsland.com/news/detail/id/1252085/).