Russia resurrects Soviet ways in treatment of the Crimean Tatars
In yet another ominous echo from Russia’s Soviet past, Refat Chubarov, Head of the Crimean Tatar representative body, the Mejlis, has been prevented from returning to his native Crimea. In Soviet times dissident and champion of Crimean Tatar rights Petro Grigorenko, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and many others were stripped of their citizenship while abroad, thus dooming them to exile. In the Crimea under Russian occupation, the circumstances are different, however the mentality remains depressingly familiar.
Chubarov and others had left the Crimea on July 4 to attend a meeting of the Mejlis in Henychesk, Kherson oblast. The meeting was held outside the Crimea for the first time since Ukraine’s independence to enable veteran Crimean Tatar leader and former head of the Mejlis, Mustafa Dzhemiliev to attend. The latter was prohibited from entering the Crimea in late April and despite pretence from the Russian authorities that no ban had been imposed, has been physically stopped at the border.
Returning on Saturday, Chubarov was met by the self-proclaimed ‘prosecutor’, Natalya Poklonskaya, as well as large numbers of Russian OMON riot police and military. Poklonskaya read out a document informing him of a five-year-ban, without providing any explanation. She also ignored Chubarov’s demand, in full compliance even with the new ‘constitution’ of the Crimea, that he be informed in the Crimean Tatar language.
The Crimean Human Rights Centre ‘Action’ has condemned the ban on a representative of the indigenous people of the Crimea as unacceptable. It calls on those presently in power in the Crimea to lift the ban on Chubarov and Dzhemiliev and to “not stir up inter-ethnic enmity and not exacerbate the already difficult situation in the Crimea”.
The Centre believes that the occupation regime is deliberately violating the rights of Crimean Tatars, forcing them to leave the Crimea to which they returned after Ukraine’s independence. There have been numerous violations of Crimean Tatars’ rights over the months since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. As well as the torture and murder of Reshat Ametov, these have included searches and even an official warning issued to the chief editor of the Mejlis newspaper for supposed ‘extremism’; the ban on traditional mass gatherings to remember the victims of the Deportation in May and to mark Crimean Tatar Flag Day. After the latter ban, Chubarov warned that the regime was trying to segregate the Crimean Tatars. It has now delivered a profound insult to Chubarov himself, and in view of his position, to the entire Crimean Tatar people.
The ban comes just 2 days after Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke of the need to ‘consolidate civic solidarity and inter-ethnic harmony”. During the same address to the Council of Inter-ethnic Relations, Putin countered the situation in the Russian Federation to that of other countries where, he claims, “neo-Nazi organizations are reviving and gaining political weight, and ethnic and religious intolerance, calls to violence are becoming a slogan for forces seeking power.”
Such claims with respect to Ukraine from the Russian leader, as well as those of his adviser, Sergey Glazyev, have long bemused observers. They seem particularly grotesque when it is under Russian occupation that the Crimean Tatars have found their rights so gravely infringed. Instead of proving that distrust of Russian rule was unfounded, the new regime is effectively treating all those with dissenting views as the enemy and applying repressive measures against them.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has issued a statement condemning the move.
“The Kremlin’s absurd decision is the result of hatred and the chauvinistic policy which the Russian Federation, following Stalin’s tradition, has been carrying out with respect to the Crimean Tatar people since the beginning of the armed occupation and annexation of the Crimea.”
It asserts that the Crimea remains Ukrainian territory and any documents passed by bodies and individuals have no force. Moreover those who infringed Ukrainian legislation by banning Ukrainian national Refat Chubarov entry to the Crimea will be held answerable in law.
The statement calls on the international community and all world human rights organizations to condemn the actions of the Russian Federation and to show full solidarity in this case.
Enforced exile is always a personal tragedy. In this case, however, a ban has been imposed on the head of the Crimean Tatars’ representative body and this is an affront to all Crimean Tatars. It is also a test and challenge to western countries who proclaim commitment to rule of law and human rights. Judging by the statement from France’s ambassador to Russia, Jean-Maurice Ripert that top-level dialogue between Russia and the EU may resume in the near future, it is a test which Europe is in danger of failing, with disastrous consequences for us all.