Jan 13, 2005

Repatriation and integration of the Tatars of Crimea: discussion in the Council of Europe


Transcript of the discussion on repatriation and integration of the Tatars of Crimea in the Council of Europe, Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography

THE PRESIDENT.- The third and final item this afternoon is the debate on repatriation and integration of the Tatars of Crimea (Document 8655), presented by Lord Ponsonby on behalf of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

The list of speakers closed at noon today. Eleven names are on the list, and there are two amendments.

I call Lord Ponsonby to present his report. You have eight minutes.

Lord PONSONBY (United Kingdom).- In opening the debate, I must say how grateful I am that the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography heard presentations by two distinguished Ukrainian parliamentarians earlier today. Mr Grach, the speaker of the Crimean Parliament, and Mr Dzhemilyov, who is a Deputy of the Ukrainian Parliament and a representative of the Crimean Tatar people, spoke to us. So our debate will be informed by the contributions that they made earlier.

Most of the people sitting here will be aware of the history of the Crimean Tatars. Nevertheless, I shall rehearse some of it. Some 200 000 of them were deported in 1944 because they were accused by Stalin of having collaborated with the nazis - something that they denied. In 1967, the Soviet Union cleared the Crimean Tatars of that accusation by decree, and there was no stain on their name as far as the Soviet authorities were concerned.

Before 1989, some Crimean Tatar people, including Mr Dzhemilyov, tried to return to their homeland, but at that stage it was very difficult. Some were imprisoned for attempting to return. However, in 1989 there was a change of heart and the government sponsored a resettlement programme - an imaginative move on its part. To date, some 260 000 Crimean Tatars have returned to Crimea - 260 000 of a total of 500 000 people who had been resettled in Uzbekistan and other surrounding states.

About 12% of the Crimean population is now of Tatar origin. The vast majority of those Tatars have returned in relatively recent years and are living in extremely poor conditions. Last September I visited the resettlement camps just outside Yevpatoria. I was accompanied by Mr Rakhansky, the local MP, who I am glad to see is to speak in the debate.

There can be no doubt that the conditions are extremely poor, and urgent action is needed. The figures in the report are pretty bad. I shall not rehearse them all, but 60% of Tatars are unemployed, and many of those who are employed are in menial jobs. Most of them came from relatively prosperous backgrounds and are professional people, but they are not managing to live at the level that they achieved in Uzbekistan before returning to Crimea.

The issue of the Tatar language is dear to their hearts. I visited a primary school in which the children were taught in the Tatar language; although there are many criticisms about the lack of exposure to the Tatars’ mother tongue, I certainly saw a school in which it was being taught.

I have only about four minutes left, and I shall concentrate on three main issues. The first is citizenship, the second is political representation, and the third is land rights.

The citizenship question is important, because I think that it represents a success story. Especially in the context of the debates that we have had over the past couple of days, it is important to say loudly and clearly that the Ukrainian authorities have had a huge success, and shown great imagination and tolerance in accepting the Crimean Tatar people back into Crimea.

Other agencies, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organisation for Migration and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, have of course been involved. None the less, the Ukrainian Government itself is the main sponsor of the initiative. It was achieved through a bilateral agreement with the Uzbekistan Government, which could be a model for similar bilateral agreements with Russia and other surrounding states.

I understand that dual citizenship is a problem - but as I come from an old country, I do not quite see the problem. We are very relaxed about dual citizenship in the United Kingdom, but I realise that in a young country, dual citizenship may have resonances that older countries may not understand.

There is a problem concerning political representation. There are two Crimean Tatar representatives in the Ukrainian Rada - a number that is just about proportionate - but there are no Tatar representatives in the local Crimean Rada, because it uses the majority system for electing representatives. An amendment has been suggested, and various other proposals have been made to remedy the situation. The local Rada may move towards a more proportional system, or there may be some block representation of the Crimean Tatars.

I come from the United Kingdom, and I have a bit of a problem with those ideas, because in my country I defend the majority system. That system has its advantages, but it puts the responsibility on the political parties to ensure that their candidates represent different ethnic minorities. If people wish to defend a majority system, they must ensure that their political candidates represent different ethnic groups. Nevertheless, despite what may be called my prejudice, I believe that the remedy must be found by the authorities in Crimea.

As for land rights, the privatisation of the co-operative farms is an issue of great importance to the Crimean people. They are frightened that they will lose all chance of getting their rights back over land that they held before 1944, and I very much hope that that huge concern is taken on board during the privatisation process.

I now have half a minute left, and I shall use it to make one final point - that the economic needs of the Crimean Tatars are similar to the economic needs of all the people living in Crimea. There are a lot of ethnic groups there, and they all face huge difficulties.

I shall finish on an anecdote. I have a good friend who is Russian, and he went on holiday to Crimea every year as a boy, but, having been back there in the past two or three years, he says that he will never go back again. He says that he would take his family on holiday to Turkey instead, because a holiday in Turkey is cheaper and better quality.

It is a huge problem, because tourism underpins the Crimean economy. It is not just a problem for the authorities in Crimea; it is also a problem for Crimea’s Tatar people.
We are in a distant institution, adopting very important resolutions, but it is economic growth that will make the fate of all the Crimeans much easier to bear.

THE PRESIDENT.- Thank you, Lord Ponsonby. The first speaker is Mr Rakhansky, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr RAKHANSKY (Ukraine) said there were 30 000 returnees in his constituency alone. The Ukrainian Parliament was also discussing the Tatars today. The return of the Tatars presented a problem for the international community as a whole. There were few precedents in this area. Many other returnees had been repatriated to the Crimea, but little research had been carried out on repatriation and its consequences. He wondered what could be done to prevent inter-ethnic conflict following such repatriation. Insufficient funding had been set aside for the repatriation of the Tatars to the Crimea, and Ukraine seemed to be alone in facing up to this problem. He welcomed the Assembly’s recommendation that the Development Bank be encouraged to investigate ways of giving assistance to the countries of the Crimea to help them cope with this problem.

THE PRESIDENT.- Thank you, Mr Rakhansky. The next speaker is Mr Popescu.

Mr POPESCU (Ukraine) said the Tatar issue was not straightforward and was not only a matter of concern for the Tatars themselves. The social and economic problems facing returning Tatars were enormous. The report had omitted to mention those other nationalities which were also deported from the Crimea. Sometimes, entire villages had disappeared and many of the people who had been living in them had never returned. Those who had returned in earlier decades had not demanded that money be provided for them. There were many nationalities within Ukraine. The Tatars had two members of parliament. If the overall number of members of parliament was reduced there would be a number of problems, and quotas would have to be introduced to ensure compatibility with constitutional guarantees of non-discrimination in representation. He was in favour of assisting the Tatars, but believed that other people living in Ukraine should receive the same level of assistance. He supported the report with the written and oral amendments proposed to it.

THE PRESIDENT.- Thank you, Mr Popescu. The next speaker is Mr Szinyei, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr SZINYEI (Hungary).- During the century that has just ended, we saw huge advances and terrible human suffering. There were two world wars, revolutions, genocide and the two dictatorships of communism and fascism, which together caused the death and suffering of millions and left scars - some of which have not healed to this day.

I am pleased to have the privilege of speaking on behalf of my group. We in central and eastern Europe personally experienced the subject of this report when the authorities tried to find an easy solution to the ethnic - or minority - issue. They simply put people in wagons and transported them far away. Stalin once said of the Hungarians who lived at the foot of the East Carpathian mountains, which now belong to Ukraine: "The Hungarian problem is only a question of finding enough wagons."

The Crimean Tatars who inhabited the Crimean peninsula suffered the same fate. In 1944, they were deported from their homeland to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and other Far Eastern regions. In the final days of communist rule, perestroika paved the way for their return. The process was reinforced by the decision of the Supreme Soviet Council in 1989 to restore the rights of deported nationals.

Repatriation has proved as difficult as deportation was easy. Every year, about 50 000 people return to their homeland, but there are many social and economic obstacles, such as employment, to their quest for identity.

The Crimean Tatars’ original political objective was to create an independent state - an aspiration that they eventually abandoned. They sympathise politically with the Government of Ukraine and are grateful for the opportunity of repatriation. We appreciate the way in which Ukraine has handled matters in the autonomous Republic of Crimea. The nationals who live there enjoy self-government and the rights to learn in their mother tongue and to retain their customs and cultures. We encourage the Ukrainian authorities to pursue such an approach because, through those rights, nationals may find peace and happiness. There are other good examples of that approach in Europe, such as in south Tyrol, on the Finnish island of ?land and, more recently, with the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

We in the Group of the European People’s Party welcome Lord Ponsonby’s excellent report and propose that the Assembly accept its recommendations. The issue is highly topical because there are similar tensions in today’s Europe. In the light of the crisis in Kosovo, we cannot afford delay. We are concerned about the nationals of Vojvodina.

The Crimean Tatars’ dark history is testament to the dangers of forcibly uprooting people from their homeland. The only way of preventing or solving ethnic tension is to give the various nationals and minorities the opportunity for autonomy and self-government. Minority peoples who do not belong to a sovereign state should not perpetually bear the mark of discrimination.

In conclusion, I shall quote a Hungarian politician and philosopher Istvan Bibo, who said about fifty years ago: "A state power may gradually win the tentative loyalty of a minority, insofar as it has the courage to confer rights on that minority, or opportunities for self-government."

THE PRESIDENT.- Thank you, Mr Szinyei. The next speaker is Mr Zvarych.

Mr ZVARYCH (Ukraine).- Back at home, I am a member of the Rukh Party, which I represent in my parliament. Our position on the Crimean Tatars is very clear. On Lord Ponsonby’s comments on the responsibility of political parties, Mr Dzhemilyov was elected to the Ukrainian Parliament on the Rukh Party’s list. He was number nine on our list, thereby guaranteeing election.

As a parliamentarian who represents Ukraine in this august body, I should express the gratitude of the Ukrainian delegation for the Assembly’s raising of this issue. It brings to the fore the plight and human suffering of a nation that faced near extinction. The matter highlights what Lord Ponsonby recently described as "a success story" in Ukraine - a story that one would never figure from the Monitoring Committee’s report.

I thank the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography and its rapporteur, Lord Ponsonby, for a comprehensive, well-prepared report, which not only adequately underscores the poignancy of the problem, but offers a series of both short and long-term remedial measures and solutions.

In contrast to the report on institutional reform in Ukraine, which we recently discussed, and which I felt was completely subjective and imbalanced, the report on repatriation and integration of the Crimean Tatars is constructive. If it can be faulted at all, it might be because it does not present a comprehensive list of what Ukraine has already done to facilitate the repatriation of Crimean Tatars and to find an equitable solution to the problem of securing their reintegration into the social and political fibre of Ukraine.

I do not intend to test the Assembly’s patience by citing an exhaustive list of our achievements in this area. Suffice it to say that the primary reason why we now have the opportunity to correct the gross injustice that was perpetrated on the Crimean Tatars is that Ukraine finally achieved its independence in 1991 and subsequently acceded to the Council of Europe. If we were not present, the problem would probably not have surfaced.

I again state that I am grateful for the fact that the Council of Europe has opted to draw the attention of its member states to the plight of that deprived nation. I am grateful because perhaps now there is a chance of the rest of Europe joining Ukraine in working towards an equitable solution for the Crimean Tatars - not by words alone, but by deeds as well.

As we all know, deeds cost money. In a situation of extreme economic crisis, Ukraine has contributed more than $ 300 million towards the repatriation of the Crimean Tatars. If we were to take the various support programmes that have been launched by Ukraine or which Ukraine has helped to structure in co-operation with the OSCE, the United Nations and the European Union, the sum would be much higher.

The OSCE, which had set up a mission on the Crimean peninsula in order to work with Ukraine in resolving this problem, recently commended Ukraine for its progressive national minority policy.

I wish to refer to the issue of citizenship, which is mentioned in the report. It is true that the Ukrainian authorities have refused to consider the option of allowing the Crimean Tatars the opportunity of maintaining their citizenship - at least in the interim - to facilitate their reintegration. However, Ukraine’s officials cannot act otherwise since, rightly or wrongly, Article 10 of the Constitution of Ukraine directly and unequivocally prohibits dual citizenship. Hence, this question cannot be a policy issue.

The Ukrainian Parliament will soon consider new legislation that will simplify the procedures for acquiring citizenship, and will reduce the interim period of statelessness to an absolute minimum.

Finally, I fully support the rapporteur’s position that assistance should be offered not only on a multilateral basis but on a bilateral level.

THE PRESIDENT.- Thank you, Mr Zvarych. The next speaker is Mr Cilevics.

Mr CILEVICS (Latvia).- I congratulate the rapporteur, Lord Ponsonby, who has done an excellent job and handled an extremely complicated issue very sensitively.

I have personal feelings about this issue. In the early 1990s, I met many representatives of the Crimean Tatars and I visited Crimea to take part in some small projects aimed at helping those Tatars who returned to Crimea. I admire these people.

Crimean Tatars have been fighting for recognition of their basic rights, including the basic right to return to their homeland, under extremely difficult conditions. Many of them, including Mr Dzhemilyov - whom we had the honour to meet today at the meeting of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography - were persecuted by the Soviet authorities.

The Crimean Tatar movement always used non-violent and democratic methods to achieve its goals. Because of this, there was no large-scale violence and bloodshed in Crimea, despite a complicated political and economic situation. It is important to bear that in mind for, as we know, such a commitment to non-violence has not been the case in all former communist states.

The consistent struggle of the Crimean Tatar movement was not fruitless. The Crimean Tatar people have managed to gain the respect of many fellow citizens of different ethnic origins. The fact that two leaders represent the Crimean Tatars in the Ukrainian Parliament is good evidence of that. It is particularly important that one of them, Mr Refat Chubarov, was elected in an electoral district where the Crimean Tatars do not constitute the majority of voters.

The Crimean Tatars have more resources at their disposal. There is broader coalition-building and closer co-operation with non-governmental organisations and the political parties of national minorities in Ukraine. It seems that the Crimean Tatar leaders somewhat underestimate the potential effectiveness of the minority rights standards enshrined in the Council of Europe documents. The implementation of minority rights is not a privilege.

I fully support the amendment tabled by Mr Gross and other members of the Assembly. The main conclusion of the report is that increased assistance from the Council of Europe is needed in terms of legal issues related to the integration of returnees, economic aid for housing, education, job creation and social protection programmes. I fully support that conclusion.

There is a moral obligation to help not with moralising but with practical contributions. I suggest that the assistance programmes to the Crimean Tatars be assigned the highest priorities when deciding the allocation of funds.

Once again, I thank the rapporteurs and express my sincere hope that the Council of Europe will fulfil its moral duty and provide substantial aid to the Crimean Tatar refugees.

THE PRESIDENT.- Thank you, Mr Cilevics. The next speaker is Mr Gross.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) said that he had recently visited Ukraine and had travelled to Crimea, where he had talked to workers on the ground and had seen for himself the problems faced by the Tatars. The problems faced by the Tatars were also faced by other communities. While he agreed with the report and was in favour of the recommendation that increased assistance be given to the Tatars, he warned of the danger of appearing to support a particular minority at the expense of others. This could cause ethnic tension and aggression. The economic problems of the entire region were gigantic, and there should be economic assistance for the whole region in addition to specific help for the Tatars.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine had recently made derogatory remarks about the Assembly. Such comments were unhelpful, and countries should realise that criticism had been made in a constructive spirit.

He could not support Mr Popescu’s proposal that the report should also mention the problems of other ethnic groups. While other communities in Crimea were experiencing problems, it would be best to address these issues in separate reports. The report under consideration dealt with the particular problems of the Tatars.

He noted that while constitutions often gave minorities the same rights as others, it was sometimes necessary to provide additional assistance to certain groups to enable them to exercise those rights.

THE PRESIDENT.- Thank you, Mr Gross. The final speaker is Mr Strizhko.

Mr STRIZHKO (Ukraine).- The subject matter of the debate has deep historic roots and significant political relevance. The issue has clear-cut social, economic, cultural and geo-political facets, but none of those facets will alone be sufficient to resolve the problems of the Crimean Tatar people. The resolution of but one of those elements would be impossible without the resolution of all the others. Moreover, to take on the task of resolving one of the issues would not be correct.

We must take a step by step, balanced approach in resolving specific problems and in forming general policy. Any attempt to solve the problems in one strike would not help their resolution but would multiply their number. That fact should be known to everyone, especially to those who speak in the name of the Crimean Tatar people. We should proceed carefully because we know how destructive the interference of external forces would be. Without doubt, some would want to turn the Crimea into another Chechnya or Kosovo.

A complex feature of the issue is the difficult social and economic position of Ukraine. Considerable amounts of money were, and are, needed to adapt and integrate national minorities in developed European countries. For Ukraine, full-scale resolution of the problem today is impossible. Net annual income per capita amounts to only $ 500, and more than half the population live in poverty. In the circumstances, the state does all that it can to solve the Crimean Tatar issue. The issue will not be resolved only by integration and adapting to poverty. Without a rise in the economy and social sector and without change in the economic and political situation in Ukraine, the issue will remain unsolved.

Foreign assistance would not be effective because assistance should be rendered not to specific national groups but to the region as a whole. That is the only way in which the policy will be effective and will ameliorate the social and economic situation and attenuate rising national contradictions.

Today, the Crimean Tatar people are as non-homogenous as the whole of Ukraine - fabulous riches contrast with stark poverty. It is impossible to make a mistake and to replace social problems with national ones.

Unfortunately, the majority of the Ukrainian people are deprived of many basic rights and safeguards. People live in unemployment, without wages and pensions or a dignified human life. All those who live in Ukraine and in the Crimea should understand the fact that Crimea’s problems are problems not only for Ukraine but for the Crimean Tatars. I hope that Europe will start to understand that.

THE PRESIDENT.- Thank you, Mr Strizhko.

That concludes the list of speakers. Before I call the rapporteurs, I remind members to ensure that they have inserted their voting cards in the slot. I call Lord Ponsonby, the rapporteur.

Lord PONSONBY (United Kingdom).- We have had an interesting and well-informed debate. I was pleased by the well-balanced speeches of the representatives of the Ukrainian Rada.

I received much briefing material from countries that, unfortunately, were not represented in the debate today. I think specifically of members from Turkey, who, for their own reasons, were not present today. The net effect is that the debate was not as balanced as it could have been, despite the contributions of the representatives of the Ukrainian Rada. I agreed with the general tenor of the debate and it is not simply motherhood and apple pie to say that the general rise in the economy is of overwhelming importance not only to the Crimean authorities but to the Tatar people. That is why I concluded my introduction with an anecdote about Russians going to Turkey for their holidays rather than the Crimea.

Mr Popescu mentioned the oral sub-amendment that he might move, and Mr Gross responded to him. I shall follow the advice of the Clerk, and I apologise to Mr Popescu for being unsure of the rules on oral sub-amendments when I spoke to him before the debate.

Mr Strizhko’s speech summed up the importance of the debate, the importance of balance and the importance of recognising the rights of minority groups - but in the context of economic growth.

THE PRESIDENT.- Thank you, Lord Ponsonby. I call Mr Iwinski, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Mr IWINSKI (Poland).- I shall be brief. We have had an interesting discussion on the Crimean Tatars, with participation from the Chairman of the Medjlis and from others. I will present the opinion of the committee on the amendments later.

THE PRESIDENT.- The debate is now closed. The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography has presented a draft recommendation in Document 8655. Before we vote, I once again remind members to ensure that their voting cards are correctly placed in the slot.

I call Mr Gross to support Amendment No. 1. I understand that he wishes to move the amendment in a modified form by leaving out, in line 3, the words "(especially the Scandinavian States, Germany, Romania, Slovenia, etc)." The amendment now reads, in the draft recommendation, replace paragraph 7.viii with the following new sub-paragraph:

"invite the Government of Ukraine and the regional authorities of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to study the experience of other member states of the Council of Europe concerning the representation of minorities and indigenous peoples, with a view to securing the effective representation of the Crimean Tatars in national, Crimean and local public affairs; and for this purpose to take into account the Council of Europe’s 1995 Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and the June 1999 Lund Recommendations on the Effective Participation of National Minorities in Public Life elaborated at the request of the OSCE’s High Commissioner for National Minorities."

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) said that the amendment invited the Government of Ukraine to draw on the experiences of other countries in dealing with the representation of ethnic minorities. These experiences showed what achievements could be made in this field.

THE PRESIDENT.- I have received an oral sub-amendment to Amendment No. 1 from Mr Popescu, which is, in line 5 of the English text, after the words "Crimean Tatars" add the words "and other national minorities".

I consider that sub-amendment is in order. Do members object to its being discussed?

Mr POPESCU (Ukraine) said that the purpose of the oral amendment was to draw attention to the other nationalities which had been deported from the Crimea.

THE PRESIDENT.- Thank you, Mr Popescu. Does anyone oppose the oral sub-amendment?

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) invited the Assembly to reject the oral amendment. It made no sense in a report dealing entirely with one minority to introduce a reference to other minorities at the very end. He accepted that it might be useful to have separate reports dealing with these minorities.

THE PRESIDENT.- What is the opinion of the committee?

Mr IWINSKI (Poland).- As the committee has not had the opportunity to consider the sub-amendment, I can only express my own opinion. The report is not about other national minorities. For example, there are one million Poles in Ukraine. The report is about the integration of the Tatars of Crimea. Perhaps future reports could relate to other national minorities. I am against the sub-amendment.

THE PRESIDENT.- Does Mr Popescu wish to raise a point of order?

Mr POPESCU (Ukraine) said he would not move his amendment. He noted and agreed with the comments that had been made about further reports dealing with the other minorities.

THE PRESIDENT.- The sub-amendment is not moved.

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?

That is not the case.

What is the opinion of the committee?

Mr IWINSKI (Poland).- Almost all the members of the committee voted in favour.

The voting is now open.

Amendment No. 1 is adopted.

We now come to Amendment No. 2, which is in the draft recommendation, after paragraph 7.viii, add the following sub-paragraph:

"invite the Government of Ukraine and the regional authorities of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to study the experience of other multi-ethnic states of the Council of Europe, with a view to restoring and securing the rights of the Crimean Tatars to education in the Crimean Tatar language, and the use of their language in all private and public affairs; and for this purpose to take into account the Council of Europe’s 1992 European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and its 1995 Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and the October 1996 Hague Recommendations regarding the Education Rights of National Minorities and the February 1998 Oslo Recommendations regarding the Linguistic Rights of National Minorities, elaborated at the request of the OSCE’s High Commissioner for National Minorities."

I invite Mr Gross to support the amendment.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) said that the amendment dealt with the language issue, which was a minority right separate from the question of political representation.

THE PRESIDENT.- Thank you. I have received an oral sub-amendment to Amendment No. 2. Does Mr Popescu wish to raise another point of order?

Mr POPESCU (Ukraine) said that he had intended to move an oral amendment, but as he had withdrawn his earlier oral amendment he would not move this one.

THE PRESIDENT.- Thank you, Mr Popescu. The sub-amendment is not moved.

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?…

That is not the case.

What is the opinion of the committee?

Mr IWINSKI (Poland).- The committee is totally in favour of the amendment.

THE PRESIDENT.- I shall put the amendment to the vote.

The voting is now open.
Amendment No. 2 is adopted.

We will proceed to vote on the whole draft recommendation, as amended, in Document 8655.

The voting is now open.

The draft recommendation, as amended, is adopted
We will now proceed to vote on the draft order contained in Document 8655.

The voting is now open.
The draft order is adopted.

We congratulate the rapporteur and the committee.