No one doubts that Crimea is getting back to Soviet times after annexation by Russia. Another proof was May 18, marking the 70th anniversary of the local Tatars’ deportation. The difference between what the Kremlin said and did was hair-raising. Two months ago Russia promised the process of “rehabilitation” of the Crimean Tatars would be completed, that they would receive powers they’d never dreamed of. Now the Russian occupation authority forbade the Crimean Tatars even to pay tribute to their ancestors. The ethnic settlements were surrounded by OMON [post-Soviet version of SWAT/riot police] forces. The settlements were cordoned off by men in full riot gear, avtozak prisoner transport vehicles, and armored personnel carriers, with military helicopters roaring in the sky, drowning out the voices of those who addressed the rallies.
Conversely, empathy with Crimean grievances, previously concentrated on the peninsula, has now reached beyond the Perekop Isthmus connecting Crimea to the Ukrainian mainland, spreading across Ukrainian cities and villages, marked by mass rallies of heartfelt support. Such rallies took part in Kyiv, Melitopol, Kherson, Kirovohrad, Lviv, also in the United States, Turkey, and Poland. The UN and OSCE sent encouraging messages and a number of capital cities across the world had their flags at half-mast on that day. Other international organizations, democratic governments, the international democratic community at large, joined that support-and-encouragement effort. Russia was the only one to respond to the 70th anniversary of Crimean Tatar deportation by deploying riot police and combat armored vehicles, just as the Supreme Council of Crimea did not order the Russian and Crimean flags in front of the building at half-mast. Such cabinet members remain dry-eyed even when attending such ceremonies, simply because they know not what public sorrow is all about.
Moscow-based journalist Aider Mudzhabayev wrote: “Several dozen men, mostly of old age, made their prayers and laid flowers at the foot of the Solovtsi Rock, being surrounded by eight rows of OMON riot policemen. That was how the memory of [fallen] Crimean Tatars was honored in Moscow on that date.”
Yelena Margiyeva: “On that day in Moscow, children were also ceremoniously made Young Pioneers [the good old Soviet propaganda version of Boy Scouts, with the key motto replaced by ‘Always Ready to Serve the Cause of the Communist Party!’] and flowers were laid at the foot of Stalin’s grave.”
Russian blogger Mikhail Karasyov: “Russia is sending a clear message that it doesn’t want to be [part of] Europe; that it doesn’t want modernization; our elites are openly getting back to obsolete standards, just as Soviet journalists, known as Kremlin-hired mouthpieces, are often quoted… A considerable part of [Russian] society is happy to pick up these slogans. There are people who make it clear that they will put up with an even lower living standard, that they will make further sacrifices for the illusory goal of ‘greatness’ and ‘geopolitics.’ One ought to feel sorry about such individuals because theirs is a typical Soviet kolkhoz rank-and-file member’s mentality dating back to the 1950s-1960s, people who had to live in their poverty-stricken villages without having a regular Soviet passport…”
St. Petersburg authorities banned rallies in support of Crimean Tatars on either of sites proposed by the organizers, so that some 15 Solidarnost activists had to make do with several solitary pickets on Nevsky Ave. under the key motto: “We Demand Recognition of Stalin’s Deportation of Peoples as Crime, And Their Organizers and Perpetrators as Military Criminals!”
UKRAINE ASSURED CRIMEAN TATARS THERE WOULD BE NO DEPORTATION. IT IS THERE AGAIN UNDER RUSSIA’S RULE
Crimean Tatars believe they can be proud of themselves after what happened on May 18, when over 60,000 joined rallies despite the occupation authority’s ban and deployment of riot police. Such “illegal” rallies took place in all towns and raion centers. More than 10,000 people attended the all-Crimean-prayer rally, which took place in the village of Ak-Mechet this year, rather than city center that was surrounded by police. The rally adopted a resolution to the effect that the Crimean Tatar people, in conditions of Russian occupation, demands that its right to self-determination be recognized, and that, as priority measures, historical toponymy be restored, effective self-government in their native Crimea be secured, the Kurultai and Mejlis be recognized as representative bodies of authority of the indigenous people of Crimea, and that the discrimination against, and oppression of, the Crimean Tatars on political, national and/or religious grounds be stopped forthwith.
This time, the way it happened under the Soviets, the Crimean Tatars’ demands fell on deaf Russian imperial ears. Putin-appointed Serhii Aksionov, acting head of the “Republic of Crimea,” declared that the current administration would simply ignore the Crimean Tatars’ demands laid down in that resolution: “Why demand recognition of the Kurultai or Mejlis as representative authorities, considering that they are recognized as such in strict accordance with current legislation? We could meet them [i.e., Crimean Tatars’ demands] only after registering them officially, with representatives of the Crimean Tatars demonstrating their sincere desire to meet us halfway; only then the authorities would have grounds for collaborating with organizations that would by then be legitimate.” He added that the existing authorities would have no Crimean Tatar representation quotas, that only those who met set professional standards would be admitted. Another good old Soviet excuse for preventing ethnic minorities from placing foot on another rung up the hierarchy ladder, considering that any country with such quotas can always find an expert in the field it needs from among such minorities. There are people skilled in practically any scholarly or applied field among the Crimean Tatars. Many of them are way above and ahead of Aksionov, graduate of a “military-political construction college” who knows little about economics and state administration.
Over several years [before Russia’s aggression] Crimean Tatars seemed to have learned to live without politics in Ukraine, preferring to tend their small orchards and vineyards, run their small businesses and sing their songs. In today’s Russia-annexed Crimea, politics appear to have re-entered each Tatar home. One can visit a website to read an exchange between an OMON man and a Crimean Tatar on Lubyanka Square in Moscow (May 18):
OMON: “Who are you? Why are you gathered here?”
Crimean Tatar: “We’re Crimean Tatars, gathered here to pay tribute to the deportation victims.”
OMON: “What do you need all those flags for? Do you visit your cemetery carrying flags?”
Crimean Tatar: “We sleep with our flags…”
Russia’s occupation of Crimea has caused a new wave of Crimean Tatar immigration, with more than 7,000 moving to the Ukrainian mainland over the past several months. These people refused to put up with the annexation. During the mourning rallies in Kyiv, the Crimean popular leader, Ukrainian MP, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Mustafa Dzhemilev (barred access to his family by the Russian occupation authority), declared that the Crimean Tatars refuse to recognize the new occupation of the peninsula: “There is another red-letter day awaiting the Crimean Tatars. There will be Crimea Liberation Day!”
“We will never accept the idea of Crimea not being part of Ukraine,” said Akhtem Seitablayev, director of the film Haytarma that worldwide recognition, received the Russian prize Nika, was recognized as the best production of CIS and Baltic countries, and as the “Best Feature Film of 2013” in Ukraine…
Last Sunday, marked by mourning rallies, demonstrated Russia and Ukraine’s polarized attitudes to the Crimean Tatar issue: Russia’s empty promises of “complete rehabilitation” and actual political, cultural, and economic discrimination exacerbated by heavy fines and floor-to-roof searches of homes, allegedly on suspicions of extremism, climaxing in forbidding the mourners to cry in public; Ukraine’s actual aid, support, and empathy. A Crimean Tatar woman said: “He who says that Ukraine has done nothing for Crimea in the past 23 three years is lying. Ukraine has given the Crimean Tatar people the main thing, a guarantee that there will be no deportation, ever. Now we’re facing it under Russia’s rule.” She explained that some of her [Russian] neighbors, even colleagues were already eyeing Crimean Tatar real estate as their own, after the Crimean Tatars are deported again…