Feb 05, 2015

Crimean Tatars: Stalin Statue Paying Tribute to Yalta Conference Causes Indignation

On the occasion of the Yalta Conference’s 70th anniversary, the Russian administration commissioned a statue portraying its three main protagonists, which include Stalin.. The unveiling of the statue spurred indignation among the Crimean Tatars, who were repressed and deported under the Soviet leader’s regime. However, it is the symbolic weight of the tribute and its reference to the community’s present situation that leads the Tatars to voice their discontent.


Below is an article published by Blouin News:


Crimean Tatars were reportedly outraged by a new statue of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill unveiled Wednesday at Yalta’s Livadia Palace. The sculpture was commissioned to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the famed Yalta Conference that took place there between the “Big Three” heads of state of the allied powers, where they cooperated to plan the post-war order. For the newly annexed peninsula’s Tatar Muslim minority, the monument constitutes a celebration of the bloodthirsty General Secretary, who brutalized Tatars in the Soviet era.

The Tatars have a fraught history with Russian leadership. Indigenous to the region for centuries, the group came under Moscow rule under Catherine the Great and have long endured persecution as an ethnic and religious minority. Comprising around 12% of the Crimean population, the Tatars have historically resisted assimilation and have retained their distinctive local culture. In 1944, Stalin expelled the Tatars from their ancestral homeland and sent them to modern-day Uzbekistan, where those who didn’t perish on the journey were doomed to bleak lives until 1989, when several hundred thousand returned.

In a letter to President Putin, the National Movement of Crimean Tatars beseeched him to rescind the statue and show that “you really condemn the Stalin regime’s crimes.” But this is hardly the first commemoration of Stalin’s participation at Yalta on the grounds. Indeed, the Livadia Palace site has been operating as a tourist destination for quite some time. The statue itself appears heavily based on famous photos taken at the Yalta Conference, which are also ubiquitous in and outside of the palace. There are even wax figures of the “Big Three” already on display there, which undermines the contention that this commemoration is novel or unprecedented. It is tough to imagine how one would even go about curating a Yalta museum without invoking Stalin, whose so-called “cult of personality” dominates post-Soviet memories of the “Great Fatherland War.”

So it seems more likely that the Tatar protests have less to do with the depiction of Stalin itself, and more to do with justifiable anxieties about the new Russian yoke. Memories of their long exile to the Central Asian steppe remain fresh, and Tatars have overwhelmingly supported Ukrainian rule over Russian. After boycotting the referendum that formally transferred Crimea to Russia, vocal Tatars have reportedly been targeted by pro-Moscow authorities. Reports of silencing tactics like raids of Tatar-language schools and mosques support the idea that the peninsula’s regime change is bad news for the Tatar Muslims.

Local Tatar political figures have also been targeted. This week, a U.N. spokesperson condemned the arrest of the local head of Mejlis, the autonomous Tatar assembly. Tatar news organizations have also faced raids. This state crackdown appears similar to methods used to dampen minority insurgencies in places like Chechnya, where the results were disastrous. Furthermore, Tatar leaders say, they have launched no provocations in Crimea to warrant the preemptive strong-armed tactics.

Seen from this light, the fury over the innocuous statue seems much more justified. Tatars aren’t upset by a historically accurate depiction of Stalin — they’re upset by leaders who seem poised to repeat his mistakes.