Moscow endorses offensive against Crimean Tatar Mejlis
With western leaders suggesting they will lift sanctions if Russia complies with the Minsk agreement which says nothing about Crimea, Moscow obviously feels it can behave with impunity on the Ukrainian territory it annexed. An official statement this week, as well as ongoing treatment of the Crimean Tatars, makes it clear that impunity breeds downright repression.
On Sept 24 the Russian Foreign Ministry’s department of information and print gave its version of the attack on the Mejlis, or representative-executive body of the Crimean Tatar people. The statement, in slightly defensive mode, was perhaps prompted by the UN Conference on Indigenous Peoples which Russia tried, but failed to prevent representatives of the Mejlis from addressing.
It informs that on Sept 16, ‘the Crimean law enforcement bodies’, on the basis of a court order, carried out a search of the building in Simferopol which then housed the Mejlis and the charitable Crimea Fund. It does not mention that the editorial offices of the Mejlis newspaper ‘Avdet’ were also searched. The FSB allegedly removed “several hard disks, extremist literature, documents and firearms”.
The grounds: “a range of infringements of Russian legislation by the said organizations”.
Two such ‘infringements’ are mentioned. The first makes it quite clear why Moscow tried very hard to prevent Mustafa Dzhemiliev, the renowned Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian MP from addressing the UN conference.
According to the Crimea Fund’s official papers, “its only founder is a Ukrainian national (M.A. Dzhemiliev).” The foreign ministry explains that in Russian law the founder of an NGO cannot be “a foreign national or stateless person whose presence (residence) in the Russian Federation has been decided, in accordance with Russian legislation, to be undesirable”.
The fact that Russia, under former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, should be following Soviet tradition in finding Dzhemiliev’s courage and unwavering commitment to Crimean Tatar rights, democracy and freedom, unpalatable is no surprise. Moscow is, however, also calling a Ukrainian who was living until Russian invasion in his native Crimea, a foreign national who can be banned from his homeland. It has already done the same with the current head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, and the leaders installed by armed Russian soldiers in February have indicated that they will swiftly deport others. With this, supposedly, “in accordance with Russian legislation”.
The other ‘infringement’ mentioned is a quibble about formal and actual address of the Crimea Fund.
While affirming its ‘unfailing respect and support for the activities of ethnic organizations”, the foreign ministry declares that these must strictly comply with the law which, it bleats, is the same for all.
This is pitifully weak, especially since the court order evicting the Mejlis and Crimea Fund and forcing them to leave within 24 hours gave another reason altogether.
A different pretext has been found also for the eviction of the Mejlis in Bakhchysarai. There the mayor’s office has claimed that a suit has been lodged by a municipal housing enterprise against the Council of Teachers which leases out the building in question. It asserts that the court fully allowed the demands made by the claimant, and warns that after the court order comes into force, the Mejlis will be forcibly evicted. Neither the Bakhchysarai Regional Mejlis nor the Council of Teachers knew anything about this supposed ‘suit’, and had no idea that a court hearing was taking place.
Moscow’s foreign ministry is proving just as cynically willing as the puppet authorities installed in the Crimea to throw in any pretext, however implausible, .
‘Extremism’, however, remains the clear favourite. This is also entirely predictable. The legislation involved is notoriously loose in its definition and the criteria for placing material on the list of prohibited books an entire mystery. The Crimean authorities are quite brazen in treating any opposition as evidence of either ‘extremism’ or ‘incitement to inter-ethnic enmity’. The latest target is the only Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR. The claim this time is that ATR ‘is persistently fostering the idea of possible repression on ethnic or religious grounds, is encouraging the formation of anti-Russian public opinion and is deliberately stirring up distrust of the authorities and their actions among Crimean Tatars, with this indirectly creating the threat of extremist activities.”
In short, say that the Crimea was annexed by Russia, that the rights of Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians and others are being infringed, and you risk being labelled an ‘extremist’, prosecuted for ‘inciting inter-ethnic enmity’ or deported as ‘undesirable’. And most terrifyingly, you risk being ignored by western leaders who really don’t want to know.