Jul 06, 2009

Crimean Tatars: Possible Course Change for Kyiv

Active ImageThe reopening of a criminal case against the deporters of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 fuels speculation that Kyiv is gearing up to change its approach to the community.



Below is an article published by the Georgian Daily:

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has asked prosecutors to consider opening a criminal case against those who deported the Crimean Tatars and other ethnic groups from Crimea in 1944, an apparent response to a Crimean Tatar hunger strike in Kyiv and a possible indication that Kyiv is about to change its approach to the Crimean Tatars.

In announcing this step, presidential press secretary Iryna Vannykova said yesterday that “the chief of state says that he fact of illegal and forced mass deportation of the Crimean Tatar people from Crimea in 1944 is undeniable, as is the fact of deportation of other ethnic groups living in Crimean territory” (www.kyivpost.com/nation/44486).

She added that the prosecutor general’s office and the Ukrainian security services are “to conduct an impartial pre-trial inquiry in to the matter,” on the basis of which “the actions of the Soviet totalitarian regime in Crimea could be appropriately qualified in legal terms” and charges filed.

Given recent threats by Moscow officials to punish anyone who questions the Russian version of World War II and given Ukrainian efforts in the past to use the courts to focus attention on the tragedies Ukraine suffered under the Soviets, Yushchenko’s order may represent only an act of defiance that is entirely consistent with past policy.

But there may be another factor at work here as well: Kyiv’s desire to mollify the increasingly angry Crimean Tatars, given the Ukrainian government’s less than entirely satisfactory relationship with that community in the past and Kyiv’s need for allies on the peninsula where some Russian nationalists have been promoting secessionist ideas.

Groups of Crimean Tatars have been staging protests continuously since April 6 [2009] to demand that the Ukrainian authorities address their demand for the return of land that was seized by the Soviets after Stalin deported the Crimean Tatars 65 years ago. And then the World Crimean Tatar Congress raised this and other issues in a telegram to the Ukrainian government.

Not having gotten a response, ten Crimean Tatar activists on May 12 [2009] began a hunger in Kyiv, initially in tens as in Moscow 20 years ago. Three dropped out because of health problems, but 16 more later joined. And these strikers are now in the third month of their action.

Senior Ukrainian leaders have refused to receive them, although they have sent more junior officials out to urge the Crimean Tatars to end this protest. In the hope of gaining more attention, the hunger strikers began beating metal barrel drums every 15 minutes to insure that Ukrainian officials know they are still there and have issued an appeal to the world.

That appeal says that the failure of the Ukrainian authorities to address the land problem in Crimea has convinced those taking part in this protest that they can no longer “trust that the government considers the Crimean Tatars part of the Ukrainian people” and that the Ukrainian authorities are acting in ways that have “only one name – genocide!”

Given that the Ukrainian government does not live up to its own constitution and chooses not even to meet with the Crimean Tatars, “openly ignoring not only picketers but those who may die from their hunger strike,” the activists say that they have only “one way” left – “to appeal directly to the international community.”

“The entire world,” they continued, “must know about the criminal behavior of [Kyiv] toward an entire nationality! It must know about the falseness of Ukrainian claims to the UN and European Union that Ukraine is developing as a democratic and law-abiding state! [And] it must know about this genocide and that Ukraine, with such a government, cannot be in Europe.”

Lest that anger lead a few Crimean Tatars to line up with Russian nationalists in Crimea against the Ukrainians, something Crimean Tatars are overwhelmingly loathe to do, and in order to strengthen the sometimes frayed ties between Ukrainians and the Crimean Tatars as a whole, Kyiv does not need to do very much.

The hunger strikers are asking only that the land issue be addressed fairly, but if they continue to be ignored, their demands may become more political and more difficult for Kyiv to cope with. President Yushchenko’s decision this week [6 July] to address one key issue suggests he understands that and may be open to more changes in Ukraine’s dealing with the Crimean Tatars.