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06.02.2009 | Halya Coynash

Crimean Voices of Hatred

   

I was always taken with the ancient Indian cyclical view of history. Purely in its abstract form, it has to be said, and if this is the real thing I’m by no means so certain. Like on a carousel we spin around, animatedly discussing who won the latest information war. The tune ends, we climb down, but then there’s another and another. 

No idea who won the gas information war. I know who lied better, but I rather doubt that for freezing Europe that was of major significance. Europeans wanted gas according to a clear commitment and they wanted stability.

Ukraine stands to lose one huge amount from lack of stability, and I’m not talking about glossy presentation of information. In August and September we heard almost the same discussions regarding the Russian-Georgian conflict. Everyone got scared, after all the analogy with the Crimea fairly hit you in the eye. And not just in Ukraine. For several weeks the world media was full of discussion about the purported “next hotspot” - until they switched to the next – economic – crisis.

However, I’m staying with the subject of xenophobia and stability in the Crimea. No apologies – I’m not wild about it myself, but see no choice.

The new article from Natalya Kiselyova “Voice of the Crimea” – the voice of the people? Why Ukraine finances the circulation of xenophobia, racism and Nazism” is in many ways staggering, only not in its depth of thought.  Truly amazing how a person who says she was a child in the mid 1970s can use Soviet techniques so very professionally. Just as the Soviet Union always trumpeted the cause of peace and defended the violated rights of people in the corrupt West, so now Ms Kiselyova vehemently rages against those who she claims are spreading hatred and intolerance. Her persistence is noteworthy since she’s been attacking “Voice of the Crimea”, which is a largely Crimean Tatar and State-funded newspaper for a long time and clearly has no intention of letting go.  Hard, admittedly, to avoid the comparison with a record stuck in a groove, since the same extracts are dredged up year in, year out. It is undoubtedly important to carry out monitoring of all negative phenomena, yet it’s difficult to understand what conclusions we are expected to draw when the period of time is, to put it mildly, extended. The vast majority of her quotes are from 2000 and 2001, there are some from 2005, one from 2006 and two, broken up into several, from 2008.  It would be well to recall the shameful record of anti-Semitic filth produced by MAUP (the International Academy of Management and Personal). In 2000 nobody had even heard of an institute propagandizing anti-Semitism. 2005 and 2006 saw the peak of MAUP’s virulent activity, and by 2008 it had virtually fallen silent. Yet here we are presented with all these “quotes” purportedly appearing during that same period which are supposed to prove something.

 Some of the “quotes” do indeed create an unpleasant impression. It is however difficult to add my voice in protest since a Google search on the whole sends one to Kiselyova, or, on one occasion, to the Russian website Regnum.ru which the author presumably took as her source. Plus, of course, her old favourites which are one hundred percent diseased, only they come from a work published in Moscow 8 years ago. The conclusion seems called for that if all these elusive quotations are genuine, then they are taken from a forum or from letters to the editor.

The question of material on forums has been debated for some time now, since many sites do not require any form of registration, or provide a special forum where comments are not passed by a moderator. It’s absolutely clear, of course, why they don’t want to place restrictions on visitors to their sites. I would just mention two points that may perhaps be worth thinking about. These are firstly the appearance over recent times on many forums of new and highly active forum participants whose motives at very least raise warranted doubts. Secondly, it is by no means so relevant on the Internet where a specific text has come from, and it is quite often difficult to locate the original source. I could provide an example of absolutely unfounded allegations of anti-Semitism against one website specifically for utterances made on a forum with no moderator. I would suggest that the reader types in Google a couple of typical labels often foisted on Ukrainians. At least in Russian it is common to find the same quite lengthy entries, filled with unsubstantiated accusations roaming from site to site. I would simply quote, and not from a forum, Winnie the Pooh: “Something fishy here!”

One article from 2008 I not only found, but read very carefully. I can’t say that I share the author – Timur Dagdzhee’s – views however his article is essentially a cry from the soul, an expression of his opposition to assimilation. He doesn’t call for any methods of coercion and says nothing against non-Tatars. He simply feels very strongly that his people must not lose their identity. The pain he expresses can be felt in the utterances of very many representatives of minorities, including Ukrainians from the Diaspora.

People do of course perceive texts very differently. For example, I find it extremely hard to rid myself of the feeling that this new article by Natalya Kiselyova, like her previous ones for that matter not only fails to preach tolerance, but directly fuels hatred and mistrust of one specific ethnic group in Ukraine.

It stretches credulity to think that she could seriously see the study she cites using the Bohardus Scale of Social Distance as demonstrating animosity on the part of Crimean Tatar children to Russian and Ukrainian kids. Even from her muddled account it is entirely clear that the higher level of antagonism recorded was directed at the Crimean Tatars.

No idea whether the author believes what she is writing. Weakness of arguments and “proof” is to some extent determined by our initial position, and her chances of convincing me are as close to nil as mine of changing her views.

On the other hand I stop even trying to put myself in her place when she uses children for her propaganda purposes. Over the last 18 years we’ve become less accustomed to oozing passages about idyllic Soviet life, but I won’t argue, I never saw her school. For purely historical reasons it’s difficult to imagine that in the 1970s Crimean Tatar children could have appeared at the school at all, and exceedingly difficult to believe that no one would have paid any attention.  However, even if we assume that the author hasn’t invented a thing, even if that not overly bright lad who in adult life “has become “an activist of one of the regional Mejilis”, really did pull out a knife (from where?!) and begin shouting “We’ll carve you all up. First the Russians, then the rest …”, why is the author telling us this?  So that all parents and teachers who hear something similar from a child who’s been punished hurtle off to report him to the police, to ask that they put him on their records? (Or are they supposed to lock him up?)  It’s worth remembering that there has not been one “massacre” in all those years. Is she so intent on making sure that one happens or what?

And now for what is also not a recently written example of a text aimed, in my opinion, at heightening tension between different ethnic groups on the peninsula. I believe I must recall a text which first appeared in April 2008 since it is still on the front page of the website of “Krymskaya Pravda”, although another article postdating it has disappeared from the list of most-read texts. The article that disappeared was the one in which the journalist Natalya Astakhova, together with the Editor, effectively made excuses for her article “Brought by the wind”. It is quite clear, of course, that they made excuses and assurances of noble intentions, tolerance and love for all humanity because they felt they had to. The article in question had been submitted, backed by a police expert assessment, to the prosecutor’s office. There was certainly enough to complain about in the article.

Only many months have passed and silence – not deathly, but vapid and passive. And this silence is continuing despite the conflict over South Ossetia, despite the endless discussion about security and stability in the Crimea and about whether Ukraine’s territorial integrity could also be in jeopardy. In fact with regard to the dangers, there was really no argument, nor will there be, judging by such inertness.

Most disturbing is the fact that Astakhova herself talks of a premonition of war. In her version of reality this is even logical since she paints a picture of tolerant people who are suffering from an invasion. It should be borne in mind that she does not set out to convince the reader. That’s not effective since the same reader could then go off and hear out the other side. If they can be persuaded to think one way, they can be equally persuaded to change their mind. No, if you want people to have a negative attitude to specific people then avoid any words that might remind your reader that they too are human. Use as many derogatory words as you can. And remember that the more words eliciting physical disgust, the better. That’s precisely what she does.

There are masses of statements which are easy to refute: about the role of the Crimean Tatars during the Second World War, about the distribution of land, the Soborna [Assembly] Mosque and a lot more. However the text does not confine itself to these issues and its danger is specifically in the labels and descriptions which the reader takes in at an emotional, not rational level. Yet why at the end of the day seek other words to describe this? The text is entirely adequately described in Article 161 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code:

.”deliberate acts aimed at inciting ethnic, racial or religious enmity and hatred, at denigrating national honour and dignity or offending the feelings of citizens on the basis of their religious convictions.”

Only the Prosecutor remains silent.

I am not suggesting that this is all a question of hate speech. That would be as unwarranted and dangerous as to assume that if Ukraine had possessed a propaganda machine like that of the Kremlin – Gasprom model, that it would have “won” the gas war. The problem lies precisely in the fact that mere high-sounding words are insufficient regardless of their packaging.  Unlike Kiselyova and her ilk, I rather suspect that Astakhova may genuinely believe the grotesque version of reality that she presents. All groups in the Crimea have their grievances and there is no justification whatsoever for understating the problems. The authorities are demonstrating incredible lack of foresight and responsibility not only in their inaction over land issues, but in ill-conceived policy on language which may seriously infringe the rights of the considerable Russian-speaking part of the Crimean people.

Nonetheless when highly-placed politicians of a neighbouring country in no way conceal their position regarding Ukraine’s sovereign rights, and not only did not hide, but openly demonstrated their attitude to the territorial integrity of another neighbour just a few months ago, then surely it is not unreasonable to expect some flickering instinct for self-preservation?

You wonder whether this is not some kind of recurring nightmare where the authorities are incapable of grasping the obvious fact that we all need to be protected from any attempts to use hatred, lies and primitive labels to destabilize the country.

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