Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Here's my (rather sleepy - sorry...) translation of parts of a very interesting and very important interview with Mustafa Jemilev, a former Soviet dissident and head of the Majlis of the Crimean Tatar people. The interview, conducted by Marina Tkachuk, first appeared in the Ukraina Moloda newspaper on Feb. 14, and is reprinted at the Majlis' site (in Ukrainian).

[...] You're aware that the overwhelming majority of the Crimean population voted for Yanukovych. Absolutely all state structures and mass media worked for him. During this election campaign, very mean strategies were used. For example, leaflets were being distributed on behalf of Yushchenko, pronouncing that if he won, Crimea would be given to the Tatars and the Russian-speaking population would be deported. And now these people fear responsibility for what they've done. But at the same time, they hope that since there are many of them, and there's a possibility of sabotage, and the population is pro-Russian, they'll go unpunished.

In this situation, we, the Crimean Tatars, are surprised about the following: the election is over, and government appointments are being made now, but for some reason no one is consulting with us. Even though almost two thirds of all those 15.4 percent of the votes that Yushchenko received in Crimea came from Crimean Tatars. To support Yushchenko was our joint decision, adopted at a national congress. And this is why the fact that the Crimean Tatars' opinion is being ignored as the government positions are being distributed causes a wave of indignation: it turns out that we've been pushed aside.

When we were making a decision to support Victor Yushchenko we didn't really hope he'd win. This is our tradition to always support the democratic forces. In 1991, for example, we were sure that Vyacheslav Chornovil wouldn't win, but we decided to support him during that election. Or, during the 1999 presidential election, we understood that [member of the People's Movement Party] Udovenko didn't have any chances, we still decided to vote for him.


We've sent a letter to President Yushchenko, in which we mentioned those areas where most Crimean Tatars live - it's necessary to appoint heads of the state administrations there taking into account our propositions. It doesn't have to be a Crimean Tatar person; the main thing is to discuss the candidate. We'd like to obtain positions in the government bodies because we do have enough professionals. And by the way, we would have demanded this of Yanukovych, too, had he won.


One of our political demands is to introduce changes into the consitution of Autonomous Republic [of Crimea] and to allow the Crimean Tatar language to become one of the functioning languages of the peninsula - equal to the Russian and Ukrainian languages; the way it had been prior to the deportations [of 1944]. We insist on the adequate, proportional representation on all government structures. (Right now, there're only 7 deputies representing the Crimean Tatars in the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, even though our people constitute 13 percent of the Crimean population. And in the executive branch, there would have been four times as many of our representatives as there are now, had the proportional system been maintained.)

The land issue is a very important one. When the Land Code of Ukraine was adopted, the peculiarities of the Crimean peninsula were not taken into account. There's an article in it, according to which the land is given into private ownership to those who worked on it, i.e. to the former members of collective farms. But if the Crimean Tatars did work at collective farms, it was in the land of exile. When they returned to the Motherland, moving into predominantly agricultural areas (over 70 percent of the Crimean Tatars live in villages), they ended up getting twice as little land as the Russian-speaking population, if at all. This increases both the ethnic and social tensions. Another detail: in 1988, Crimea's Council of Ministers issued a decree according to which it was banned to register Crimean Tatars in certain areas of the peninsula - those that had access to the sea. It turned out that they had no chance to settle at Crimea's Southern Coast, whose population used to 70 percent Crimean Tatar, and all the land there is now taken. People have no means to existence.


I understand the attempts to less the Crimean Tatars' role during the election. We are already hearing things like this now: "How can we separate ourselves from the Crimean Tatars, without offending them?" Elbows are coming into play now. But this has nothing to do with Victor Yushchenko personally...


The atmosphere imposed by whole generations since as far as 1944 is producing the results. The government that deported Crimean Tatars was looking for moral justification and was thus promoting the propagandistic view that the deportations were legal because the Crimean Tatars were a less worthy people, the traitors. Russians were resettled to the emptied lands, they were given everything [that used to belong to Crimean Tatars] - the cattle, even the children's toys. Now the re-settlers are experiencing a syndrome of those who are using the stolen property. And they really hate to see the owners of that property. And that's why all kinds of propaganda are perceived very well.

Here's an example. On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Crimean Tatar deportations, the Krymskaya Pravda newspaper did a survey among the students on their attitudes toward the deportations of 1944. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed thought that the deportations had been just, and a significant share of the respondents thought that the Tatars should be deported once again. Such an obviously unhealthy, fascist worldview.

There're quite a few chauvinist - yet popular - newspapers in Crimea. And they are not held responsible for igniting interethnic conflicts. We tried to sue the newspapers publishing shameful lies. In 1999, when someone threw explosives at the Majlis building, one Crimean paper wrote that we ourselves staged the attack. We went to court at once, and two years later an unexpected judgment was passed: it's impossible to hold the newspaper responsible because the Majlis isn't an organization registered legally in Ukraine. This is like letting a murdered go free because the victim didn't have a registration stamp in his passport. We hope that things like this will be cleared up.


There are politicians who keep afloat only thanks to such propaganda. Especially during the election, there emerge many defenders of the Russian-speaking population from the Crimean Tatars. Also, there are grounds to believe that Russia wouldn't mind [Ukraine] having "its own Chechnya."


We are indeed somewhat concerned about the influences of the emissaries from the Arab countries, who are propagating non-traditional forms of Islam, distributing literature of the kind that says that when a Muslim lives in country ruled by a non-Muslim, he is free from observing the laws of this country. This is a pure provocation, which contradicts the norms of Islam. But the young boys are sometimes pushed towards extremism because of the lawlessness and violations of the Crimean Tatars' rights. The first time we paid attention to such organizations was at the time when the resolution on the Iraq war was being adopted - a leaflet appeared then, threatening execution to the Muslim leaders who either supported or kept silent about the war. We invited representatives of these organizations for a discussion, and the threats didn't materialize.

Supporters of Hizb-ut-Tahrir al-Islami party have indeed appeared in Crimea. The party was created in 1953 in Palestine and was declared a terrorist organization. But such organizations have few members. They are created artificially in Crimea. And what's alarming is that certain government officials encourage the development of such trends. It is important for them to weaken and split the Crimean Tatars' national movement. But I'll say this, and it won't be an overstatement: the Majlis' influence on the Crimean Tatars is strong enough. We keep the situation under control.

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