May 16, 2005

Crimean Tatars: Power-Sharing Deal Gives Tatar Minority a Greater Role in Crimean Affairs

Lawmakers in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula have approved a power-sharing agreement that ends months of political deadlock and strengthens the role of the territory's ethnic Tatar minority
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Prague, 13 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders of the Crimean Tatar community, who have for years fought for greater political representation and economic rights on the peninsula, are welcoming the 12 May power-sharing agreement as a step forward. Under the deal, the Crimean Tatars will receive two ministry portfolios as well as the post of deputy prime minister in the local government. The agreement, which was worked out between Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev and Crimean Prime Minister Anatoliy Matviyenko, ends four months of administrative deadlock on the peninsula.

Matviyenko was appointed prime minister of the peninsula by President Yushchenko in the wake of the Orange Revolution. He replaced Communist Leonid Hrach, who had refused to negotiate with the Tatars.

But Matviyenko found himself unable to form a new government until yesterday's deal was struck, as Tatar legislators boycotted sessions of the regional parliament.

Now, it seems the peninsula's ethnic Ukrainian and Russian majority and their Crimean Tatar counterparts could be opening a brighter chapter in their often strained relations.

Crimean Tatars, who now make up roughly 20 percent of the peninsula's population, were deported by former Soviet leader Josef Stalin to Central Asia in 1944 on the pretext that they had collaborated with Nazi occupiers.

They began to return in large numbers to their homeland after the collapse of the Soviet Union but have faced many difficulties.

Nicola Dell'Arciprete, who monitors events in Ukraine on behalf of the Hague-based Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, told RFE/RL the Crimean Tatars have two main grievances.

"The two main issues are first of all: land; what the Crimean Tatars consider the land stolen by the Stalinist regime. And the second issue is cultural diversity and linguistic protection of the Crimean Tatars' language," Dell'Arciprete said.

Much of the land the Tatars once lived on and cultivated is now settled by ethnic Russians and Ukrainians. The land is fertile and some of it lies on the much-coveted coastline, which is lined with resorts. As a result, many Tatar returnees whose families once prospered have been forced to squat in makeshift settlements, without proper sanitation, roads, and often electricity.

Resolving this issue in an equitable way without causing large-scale social upheaval and inflaming ethnic tensions is one of the long-term challenges facing the government.

Culturally, the Crimean Tatars also want their language to be accorded the official status it enjoyed before World War II. Dell'Arciprete said yesterday's power-sharing agreement goes at least one step in the right direction.

"The new power-sharing agreement also gives to the Crimean Tatars a [television] channel and some media space in their language," Dell'Arciprete said. "This is a very important point for a community in which 86 percent of the young generation are going to school in Russian-speaking areas and learning, first of all, Russian."

As Hanne Severinsen, a member of the Council of Europe's Monitoring Committee on Ukraine, told RFE/RL, the Crimean Tatars have faced alternating periods of welcome and hostility since they began returning home.

"In the beginning, I think, there was a lot of good will," Severinsen said. "And in fact, [the Tatars] gained some land. But also because of economic problems, [their situation] has been stagnating."

Now, the hope is that with their participation in the government, the Crimean Tatars will be able to make more progress in regaining the status they once enjoyed in their homeland.

Source: Radio Free Europe