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Making media waves in the Crimea

Halya Coynash

On Sunday, 28 September in the Crimea one fringe radical group was prevented from holding a meeting in the planned premises by a crowd of people, many belonging to no less radical fringe groups. Not exactly a stupendous (non-)event but the media coverage gives a new twist to the phrase about the news being made before our very eyes.  It should be stressed from the outset that there are no “heroes” in this tale, with the measure, and organization’s motives, as questionable as the counter-measures.

  The leader of the All-Ukrainian Organization “Svoboda”, known for radical ultra-right and nationalist views and pitiful showings at the elections, Oleh Tyahnibok had announced a few days earlier that his organization was initiating a petition to have the Crimea’s autonomous status and Sevastopol’s special status removed.  He claimed that the need for this had been demonstrated by Russia’s behaviour in Georgia and over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

  News about the confrontation on Sunday which could have been more direct but for heavy police presence can be found on many sites, but the following two provide interesting contrast: the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN  and the Russian – New Region  The differences are in much more than can be attributed to two related but distinct languages.  Nor should body language be neglected, as a glance at the photos on the two sites indicated will show.  After presenting “Svoboda’s” position, and mentioning a meeting held in Kyiv on Saturday, UNIAN explains that the meeting in Simferopol did not take place, or at least not where planned, as follows:

“On 28 September the organization “Svoboda” tried to hold a meeting in Simferopol, but its activists met with a “warm” reception – fists, obscene gestures and kefir [a kind of yoghurt drink] being hurled at them”.

  The Russian site’s article also mentions the aim of the meeting at the outset. 

“There were confrontations between Crimean residents and Ukrainian nationalists from the “Svoboda” party who were planning to hold a meeting to organize a referendum on abolishing the autonomous status of the peninsula.”

  The “Svoboda” supporters are throughout referred to as “nationalists”, “svidomi” (“conscious” said sneeringly in Ukrainian) or “banderovtsi” [supporters of the nationalist figure Stepan Bandera.”.  Of particular interest is the following:

“Besides two or three local social outcast nationalists – Savchenko, Ovcharuk, Simferopol people didn’t see even one familiar face among those chanting “Glory to Bandera!”

While their numbers are not large, there is a branch of “Svoboda” and it is unlikely that all came from other parts of Ukraine.  Perhaps the protesters did genuinely chant “Glory to Bandera” when called “Bandera-supporters” with obvious contempt, but it seems highly unlikely.

  Aside from mention of kefir supposedly thrown once only, the image created of the protest against the “Svoboda” members differs quite dramatically from that in UNIAN.  First described as “residents of the Crimea”, their pro-Russian leanings are mentioned, together with the Russian songs resounding from a campaigning van’s loudspeaker.  If you read carefully it is clear that on many occasions the police intervened to stop violence, and that the “Svoboda” supporters were finally kicked (literally) off the square.  Yet the overwhelming impression is of well-organized unity from the different “inhabitants of the Crimea” of different ages who joined arms to keep these “banderovtsi” out of the Crimea.  This is, in fact, the message provided by “human rights defender” Sviatoslav Komaniets, described also as a witness of the event.  He would seem to have been a bit more than a witness since his words provide a triumphant end to this piece of selective journalism

  “Russians have understood today that their strength is in unity”, Sviatoslav Komaniets concluded.

Certainly the article makes no mention, as does UNIAN’s of other opinions having been sought. 

Worth mentioning that not only does the President’s representative in the Crimea state categorically that Crimea’s autonomous status is enshrined in the Ukrainian Constitution and not up for grabs, but so too did Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Arseny Yatsenyuk on Tuesday

  Novy Region, usually so vigilant in following stories in Ukraine was obviously otherwise engaged and paid no attention to these clear statements.  Instead, on Tuesday *, a shocking headline was published:

  “Yushchenko as part of a “scenario through force” is preparing to deprive the Crimea of its autonomy”.

We are told that “the Crimean peninsula may soon officially lose its autonomous status when President Viktor Yushchenko activates the force scenario of seizing power. Crimeans can forget about their independence”.  It is only after this long and for the people of the Crimea portentous sentence that we discover that this is the opinion of a Russian political analyst and member of the State Duma Sergei Markov. “He says that Ukrainian nationalists are planning to raise the question of a referendum in the Crimea in order to abolish its autonomy so as to create “public support for a future military coup in Ukraine”.

Remember the message from Sunday’s noble demonstration of “Russians’ power being in unity?”  Never fear, the Russians will definitely react to a scenario by Ukrainians involving force.  They will turn to international structures (the ones that were powerless to persuade Russia to keep its own commitment and withdraw from another country’s sovereign territory) and insist that Ukraine be made to obey the law.  All of this discussion continues, with another “specialist”, also from Russia suggesting that autonomy will not be taken away legally (with justification).

Now there are different ways of responding to this: Novy Region and its most exclusive range of interviewees sees only one:  this is proof of Yushchenko’s plan to establish presidential power, and then remove the Crimea’s autonomy.

Breaking news indeed and of the most destructive kind.  That all is fiction blown up out of almost literally nothing is clearly of no concern – to them.

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