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Crimean Tatars

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In the wake of blatantly political voting during Eurovision 2016, which Ukraine’s Crimean Tatar representative Jamala won despite losing both the popular and the jury vote, to Russia and Australia respectively, the debate has been dominated by the following two positions:

Russia supporters – It was a political song, and as such inadmissable under long-standing Eurovision rules. The voting hewed to geopolitical lines – there was a remarkable correlation between the jury votes for Russia, and the levels of antipathy towards Russia amongst their respective national elites. Indeed, prior to the event, a Eurovision source told a British paper that “the feeling is that the European Broadcasting Union know how unpopular a Russia win would be and will do everything possible to help the other favourites to victory.” As soon as the conspiracy theory proved itself true, the official NATO Twitter account sent its congratulations to Jamala just to let the point sink in. One need hardly ask what relation an organization that calls itself a defensive military alliance has to a singing contest in which the main players – Russia, Ukraine, Australia – aren’t even members in it.

West/Ukraine supporters – Haha, suck it Russia! Why don’t you give back Crimea to its rightful owners and then we’ll talk? Or according to Refat Chubarov, the head of the old Mejlis and self-appointed spokesman for all Crimean Tatars: “”Inshallah, one of the beautiful days we will gather together in a free from the Russian occupiers Crimea, in the ancient and glorious Bakhchisarai! Today another important step to this day has been taken!”

Personally, I am not interested in Eurovision, and never have been. Nor am I interested in banning songs about historical events, least of all songs that have zero relevance or bearing on modern day Russia. Moreover, Russia’s representative Sergey Lazarev had gone on record in 2014 saying that for him, Crimea remains Ukrainian, so even if there was a conspiracy to cheat Russia out of a Eurovision win, it rebounded on entirely the wrong (or right, depending on your viewpoint) person.

So normally I wouldn’t be wasting column space on this – if it hadn’t raised a much more important and serious misconception: Underlying the general Western line on Eurovision is a singular lack of concern not just for the opinions of Crimeans in general (which is already well established), but of the Crimean Tatars themselves.

The unedifying reality (for Ukrainian nationalists) is that not only did the Russo-Ukrainian majority in Crimea overwhelmingly support its return to Russia but it was not even opposed by the Crimean Tatars, a minority that has been lazily assumed by many Western commentators to be uniformly and irreconcilably opposed to Putin and Russia.

In a VCIOM opinion poll asked in February 2015, one year after the referendum in which Crimeans voted to rejoin Russia, around half of Crimean Tatars said they’d support the majority decision if the referendum was to be repeated. Only a quarter said they’d vote to remain in Ukraine. To be sure, this is significantly more than in the case of Crimean Russians and Ukrainians, amongst whom Ukraine patriots constitute a fraction close to the poll’s margin of error, but they are by no means a majority or even a plurality.


Now to be sure one might rejoinder that VCIOM is a state-owned polling firm and as such can’t be relied upon to present an objective picture of Crimean Tatar opinon. Let us then turn to that famous Kremlin mouthpiece, The Washington Post, and its political science bloggers Gerard Toal and John O’Loughlin writing in January 2015. On the basis of surveys they conducted in Crimea in December 2014, they found that a slightly more Crimean Tatars approved of Putin than disapproved of him; for comparison, less than 10% of them liked Obama, while almost 60% of them “disliked” or “strongly disliked” him.


Although this question was not strictly about the status of Crimea, it is unlikely, to say the least, that a people who viewed Russia’s actions as a brutal annexation would be willing to reward the man most responsible for it with a positive net approval rating.

EDIT 2016/05/18: As it turns out, in a Reddit discussion subsequent to the publication of this post, I was alerted to the fact that the authors had followed up their Washington Post article with a post at Open Democracy in March 2015, in which they presented the responses of the major Crimean ethnic groups – Russians, Ukrainians, and Crimean Tatars – to a question about whether the decision of the Crimean authorities to join Russia was correct or not. As you can see from the graph, slightly more than half of the Crimean Tatars replied that joining Russia was “generally” or “absolutely” the right decision, which matches the 49%-in-support results of the above VCIOM poll perfectly.


Incidentally, these figures are backed up by anecdotal evidence.

The Dutch Russia expert Nils van der Vegte was closely following the Crimea situation in early 2014 and around the time of the referendum informed his Twitter followers that “about 50% of the Tartars want to become part of Russia” and that they are split “20% pro-UKR, 20% pro-RU, and the rest are apolitical.” The exactitude with which subsequent polls would confirm Nils van der Vegte’s impressions is nothing short of remarkable.

But surely things could have changed in the past year to make the Crimean Tatars suddenly hate Russia. What about all the persecutions and the disbanding of the Mejlis, the main representative body of the Crimean Tatars?

Well, let’s talk about that. As part of Ukraine’s project to bind a restive Crimea to itself, the Mejlis was selectively filtered to be universally loyal to Ukraine to the point where its political inclinations came to fundamentally diverge from those of its supposed constituents. This was made most plainly evident in November 2015, when Mejlis-affiliated “activists” cut the light to 90% of the world’s Crimean Tatars for a PR stunt presented as an “energy blockade” of Crimea. This, unsurprisingly, was not all that popular amongst Crimean Tatars themselves, according to that other great Russophile propaganda organ The Kyiv Post:

Sure, one resident said, Putin may not be the best leader, but he at least kept his word – he had sent generators to the peninsula to save the day. The Ukrainian authorities, on the other hand, spent months railing against numerous human rights abuses on the peninsula … only to commit their own human rights violation in response.

It is in this context that Russia’s banning of the Mejlis has to be viewed – an organization that owes its loyalty to a foreign power and which despite having zero democratic legitimacy, and not only pretends to not only speak for every Crimean Tatar but engages in quasi-terrorist actions against Russia and ultimately its own people.

Set against that, the Crimean Tatar language has been made one of three official languages in the Republic of Crimea – a status that it never enjoyed in unitary Ukraine. This was part of a package of reforms that guaranteed and expanded their political and civil rights as an ethnic minority.

They have also been able to share in the steep improvement in living standards that all Crimeans have enjoyed since joining Russia. Western headlines such as “The Misery and Terror of Life Under Putin in Crimea” regardless, economic statistics indicate that wages have stayed well ahead of inflation; not only did Crimeans escape the vast contraction in living standards that occured in Poroshenko’s Ukraine, but the introduction of Russian-grade wages and pension payments even allowed them to bypass the (much more minor) recession taking place in Russia itself. Although this development has been very mystifying to some, such as the economist Dave Dalton and “Crimea expert” Ellie Knott both of whom have insisted that the economic statistics are falsified – as people who dislike dislike data that fails to reflect badly on Russia are wont to do – it is a reasonable and logical enough occurence for people familiar with the very considerable gap between Russia’s and Ukraine’s GDP per capita and the concept of “convergence” in economics.

All things considered, it is highly unlikely that Crimean Tatars have sharply turned against Russia in the past year, however much the neocons, the Poroshenko regime, and their pet Mejlis might wish it were otherwise.

In the spirit of tolerance and social justice that Eurovision represents, I would suggest they check their privilege and stop appropriating the voices of Crimean Tatars.

On a less hyperbolic note, I am certainly not trying to argue Crimean Tatars are very enthusiastic and happy about Crimea’s return to Russia (though that should be obvious enough from the data). But nor are they particularly aggrieved about it; that describes a very modest minority, while the majority are basically apathetic (and another small minority are volubly Russophilic). Any talk of using them as a fifth column, let alone a partisan underground, belongs to the realm of fantasy – which is irresponsible but understandable, since their emigre Mejlis politicians have nothing else to offer.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Crimean Tatars, Human Rights, Russia, Ukraine 
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According to a fable often told by Russians themselves, there once lived two peasants. One of them had one cow, the other had two cows. The poorer peasant found a lamp, rubbed it, and out popped a genie, who proceeded to ask him if he wanted 5 cows. He refused and instead wished for one of his neighbor’s cows to drop dead.

This story is what comes to mind on the news that various Crimean Tatar and far right batallion “activists” blew up the transmission towers carrying electricity to Crimea, plunging the peninsula into a blackout that looks set to last weeks.

In fact, it’s something of a metaphor for today’s Ukraine in general.

(1) “Activists” blockade Crimea, putting an embargo on food products. Belatedly realizing that the whole affair will lose whatever minimal sense it might have possessed in the first place when Russia bans all Ukrainian food imports on January 1, 2016, on Ukraine’s accession to the EU Free Trade Agreement, they decide to up their game, presumably on the belief that if their water blockade failed to win Crimean hearts and minds in favor of Ukraine last summer, then deprivation of electricity as winter approaches surely will. No matter that said electricity blockade will affect not just those evil moskali and Ukrainian zradniki (traitors) who overwhelmingly voted to leave Country 404, but also 90% of the world’s Crimean Tatars whom they are ostensibly fighting for.

heroic-poses(2) Fifty armed National Guardsmen are sent to restore order. The “activists” naturally start to fight them and the efforts of the totalitarian Poroshenko regime to take away their Constitutional rights to blow up infrastructure on Ukrainian soil. In the video above, one of the masked activists, clearly suffering from a terminal case of Maidanism, says the Guardsmen are akin to separatists. Two of the Guardsmen are seriously injured: One gets a brain concussion after getting hit by a stick, while another gets a knife in his stomach.

In any normal functional country, including in any European nation that the Maidanists vaunt so much, they would at this point be getting mowed down by special forces as the terrorists they are. However, in Ukraine, they are “civic activists,” so they are left unharmed to continue to strike heroic Diogenes-in-a-pylon poses. And after a crowd of sympathizing “activists” gathers at the Presidential palace, Poroshenko quickly flip flops and promises that there would be no more attempts to storm them in a hastily arranged meeting with the (self-proclaimed) “Mejlis” leaders of the Crimean Tatars.

You must construct additional pylons!? Not so fast…

(3) Ilya Kiva, the commander of those National Guards supposedly tasked with restoring order so that repairs could be done, immediately afterwards posted the following message on Facebook (the favored communications medium of Maidanist politicians): “The troops are now at their place of permanent dislocation, and the blockade continues! No electricity to Crimea! Slava Ukraine! And now I go to bed…”

slava-ukraine-no-electricity-to-crimea(4) In the meantime, while svidomy Ukrainians digest their great peremoga (victory), the sabotage has forced two nuclear power plants in neighboring Kherson oblast to effect a dangerous emergency shutdown. There is a chance that the blackouts could spread to the neighboring Ukrainian oblasts of Kherson and Nikolaev according to the head of the Ukraine’s energy company Yury Katich.

Russia has ceased supplying coal to Ukraine in retaliation. Considering that Ukraine’s electricity network runs in significant part thanks to Russian and LDNR coal, this is not an unreasonable retaliation for the blockade of Crimea.

At this point, there can only be two explanations for this turn of events, on which in turn will depend any further developments.

a) The first variant is that Ukraine is a Country 404, a failed state powerless to prevent its “activists” from sauntering about and blowing up infrastructure at will in the hope that it kills more Russian cows even if some Ukrainian cows also get caught in the backblast.

b) The more cynical and darker possibility is that this was all planned. As Egor Kholmogorov points out in an article for Izvestia, now is a perfect window for this kind of sabotage, because the center and east of the territories controlled by Kiev have recently been connected to new power lines from the Rivne Nuclear Power Plant to the west, allowing it to minimize any fallout on Ukraine itself, while Russia is less than two months away from launching its energy bridge to Crimea. This implies that the timing of this operation was chosen by people a “great deal more informed than those of the Right Sector and the supporters of the Mejlis.”

If the latter explanation is in fact the correct one – and considering the possible casualties stemming from a sudden and prolonged loss of power, especially now that winter is coming – then this would make this sabotage something more than a tragicomic skit. As Kholmogorov argued, it would make it an an outright act of state terrorism – and if Russia has any sense of honor and consistency left, it would reply with the usual punishment meted out to sponsors of terror, including wide-ranging economic sanctions at the very least.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Crimea, Crimean Tatars, Svidomy, Terrorism, Ukraine 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.