Oct 05, 2005

Crimean Tatars: Will New Prime Minister Make Crimea Any Better?

Following recent events in Kyiv, Ukraine's only autonomous republic, Crimea, has dismissed its prime minister. The two events were not directly linked

Following recent events in Kyiv, Ukraine's only autonomous republic, Crimea, has dismissed its prime minister. The two events were not directly linked.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko fired Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in early September because her populism and huge ambitions had started to undermine trust in his government. The Crimean parliament sacked Anatoly Matvienko because, being a stranger to Crimea, he had failed to either become a respected umpire amid the endless squabbles between rival local elites or build a strong local team of his own.

Matvienko managed to stay in the post of Crimean prime minister for only five months. Yushchenko's appointment of Matvienko in April was a daring experiment; Matvienko became the first Crimean prime minister to have never worked in Crimea before. Moreover, he represented two forces that have never been popular in Crimea: the Ukrainian nationalists (as leader of the Sobor party) and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc in the national parliament in Kyiv. Purging the local government of corruption and giving the sluggish local economy a boost through new construction projects were perhaps the most daring among the tasks Matvienko undertook. And he failed to secure local support for either of them.

Rather than fighting corruption, Matvienko had, from the start, to lean for support on the local "clans," who supplied their representatives to his cabinet. This was because he failed to secure support from Crimean Tatars -- the natural allies of Ukrainian nationalists in their rivalry with the local Russian majority. The Tatars were not satisfied with Matvienko's initial offer of only two ministerial positions in his Cabinet (they eventually secured three posts, but were still not satisfied). Matvienko also failed to resolve the most difficult local issue -- land allocations to Tatar repatriates from Central Asia. Furthermore, Matvienko appalled not only Tatars, but also other Crimeans, with the remedies he suggested to end economic stagnation. These schemes included turning Crimea into a Ukrainian Las Vegas by moving all casinos there and building an oil refinery in the vicinity of the coastal resorts.

Matvienko resigned on September 20. He said this was a protest against the refusal of his colleagues from Sobor to back Yuriy Yekhanurov for the post of prime minister in Kyiv. Matvienko, a faithful ally of Yushchenko, wanted Sobor to vote in favor of Yushchenko's choice, Yekhanurov, yet Sobor, being part of Tymoshenko's bloc, refused to do so, in line with the bloc's policy. But Yekhanurov was eventually confirmed as Ukrainian prime minister without Sobor's votes in parliament. Matvienko's decision was most probably prompted by something else -- he realized that the chair under him was near collapse, as preparations for a no-confidence vote against him were in full swing in the Crimean parliament.

On September 23, the 100-seat Crimean parliament approved Anatoly Burdyuhov, the National Bank of Ukraine's local representative, as the new prime minister by 90 votes. Burdyuhov is reportedly a friend of Yushchenko's, and the leader of Yushchenko's People's Union-Our Ukraine (NDNU) faction in the local parliament. Burdyuhov's style has been more practical than Matvienko's. He did not promise any radical changes in the local economy, listing such down-to-earth matters as a successful planting season, budget planning, and fuel provision for the winter season among his priorities.

Burdyuhov has assembled a coalition cabinet that includes representatives of the NDNU, the opposition Party of Regions supporters, and Tatars. In order to secure the Tatars' backing, Burdhyuhov increased their representation in his cabinet to four posts, including two deputy prime ministers. Another move made by Burdyuhov, which Tatars should like, has been his promise to endow the Tatar Majlis -- the self-styled ethnic parliament -- with some legal status. This prompted an angry reaction from the Russian Bloc, whose leader, Serhiy Tsekov, went as far as telling the local legislature on September 28, when the cabinet composition was approved, "You are not parliament anymore. The Majlis of the Crimean Tatars is the real parliament now!" Another party unhappy with Burdyuhov's cabinet has been the Communists, whose leader, Leonid Hrach, resorted to the traditional Communist rhetoric, warning of "a criminal revolution" taking place.

Membership in President Yushchenko's party, the coalition principle of forming the cabinet, concessions to Tatars, and local roots should help Burdyuhov stay afloat until the parliamentary polls next year. But strained relations with the Communists and the Russian Bloc, who are popular among the Crimean Russian majority, may undermine his position during the forthcoming election campaign. If Burdyuhov fails to resolve the land allocation problem -- and all his predecessors failed to resolve it -- stable support for Burdyuhov by Tatars is not guaranteed either.

Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor