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Zair Smedlyaev: The Crimean Tatars should have self-autonomy

Zair Smedlyaev, the head of the Secretariat of the Majlis of the Crimean Tatar People, answers the questions of "World and We" Internet portal.

- Is "Milli Firka" public organization a political force alternative to the Majlis? How is your relation to this organization?

“Milli Firka" and we have opposite points of view on many issues. In particular, during return to the Crimea, their representatives, some of which was still in the Crimean Tatars National Movement (CTNM), told that it was not necessary to go back, but it was necessary to wait for resettlement organized by the State. If we had listened to their arguments we would still be living in the places of deportation. We have diverse opinions on many other processes that occur in society. Now they are actively cooperating with the government and tell how much the government is doing for the Crimean Tatars. They actively cooperate with the Prime Minister as well, who justified the deportation of the Crimean Tatar People.

"Milli Firka" public organization uses the brand of the Nationalist Party, the majority of whose members are in the Stalin era was executed by shooting or served time in prisons and labor camps. Their loud declarations remain only declarations because they do not have the support of people. For example, last year on May 18 they held a so-called nationwide meeting of the Crimean Tatar people. There were 72 person police included in this meeting. That's how they represent the people. But the current government collaborates with them. Now elections of Kurultai delegates take place. You need to pass 4% barrier to be elected from party lists. But they do not participate because they do not even get that percentage of the people’s support.

- How are the relations of the Majlis with the Ukrainian parliament authorities, taken into account that the leader of the Majlis has been elected to the parliament from the opposition Party of Regions "Batkivshina” party?


Of course, this has some impact. But regardless of who is elected by what authority, our movement always adheres to democratic principles. Ukraine should be an independent and democratic state, should be a member of the EU, so as the principles of democracy, social and economic standards that exist in Europe will be valid in Ukraine as well. It’s indispensable to move to Europe; in that point our position is unchanged.

At different times, we were in different relations with the Ukrainian government. Under the President Kuchma we were also in opposition. But, nevertheless, he was a wise politician, who did not divide society. Perhaps, only he has reached the most harmonious relations in the country. I cannot say that everything was perfect, but this man could build a relationship with both the opposition and those who cooperate with the government. Under the President Yushchenko we were not in opposition, but the policy of the president and his administration was not wise enough, as a result the division of the society increased that continues till now.

The current government is spending huge budgets for the maintenance of the President Administration, his helicopter pads and other sorts of "convenience." The judicial authority frankly simulates proper activity. We see a lot of false litigations, but in fact it is political persecution. So, how can we cooperate with such government? How can we cooperate with the government that treat badly not only the Crimean Tatar people but also all the Ukrainian people? It does not divide people by nationality - it divides people into friends and foes. The level of one’s professional competence is determined by regional belonging. If you are from Donetsk so you are a "professional", and if, for example, you are the Crimean so you are a foe, "not professional." It does not matter what positions you held and how much experience you have. For the current government, there is only one indicator - loyalty to that government.

– Does your organization feel some pressure from the Party of Regions because of your position?


They say inside of this authority that it is necessary to punish 5-6 members of the Majlis in order to make it pliable. I'm one of those against whom criminal proceedings were instituted, and now I’m condemned. A "fair" trial has passed yet. And I’m not expecting that in Ukraine can be a fair trial in recent years.

That is why the members of the Majlis and those who work in the government and loyal to the Majlis or those who got official position at the instance of the Majlis, feel pressure. We always pay attention on the fact that the Crimean Tatars are not enough presented in the government. For some time they have been attracted to the government. But now there is a reverse process. From the beginning of Yanukovych presidency the Crimean Tatars representation in the government fell by about 3 times.

- What influence on the Crimean Tatars have some radical Islamic movements, in particular, the Wahhabis and "Hizb ut-Tahrir"? Whether they find support among the Crimean Tatars and how does the Majlis react to this influence?


Our position regarding sectarian groups and other similar trends in Islam has been repeatedly announced at the Qurltay and by the leaders of the Majlis. We were and we are supporters of traditional Islam. We do not support these new trends. Among the population, as elsewhere, there are supporters of different points of view. It’s difficult to estimate how active these organizations are because they operate secretly. Different people come at the few public events they hold, and they do not necessarily share their sectarian or party program. They can dispute tyranny, fratricidal wars in the territory of other Muslim countries. Therefore it is not certainly that such events are visiting only supporters of a particular religious group. Part of religious movements penetrates to the Crimea with active assistance of the government to split the unity of the Crimean Tatar people. For this purpose appropriate political organizations and various sects are established.

Much depends on the position of the government. When the government is open for negotiations and tries to solve problems, the people become more stable and moderate. But when the government is trying to rob the people by creation of new structures to raise taxes, when the people live poorly, of course, the radicalization increases not only on ethnic or religious grounds. Only a year ago far fewer people gathered at the squares. But now a lot of people who yesterday voted for that party are going dissatisfied. The people are tired of the endless stories about "pokraschennya" (development). When one suddenly becomes a billionaire and another loses all life savings.

- What is your organization's cooperation with the International Republican Institute (IRI), which is chaired by Senator John McCain? Is it true that the Majlis in his activity consistently supports pro-American position?

IRI has been working in Ukraine for a long time, and we have been collaborating for more than 10 years. Not only the Majlis but also the representatives of the Communist Party and the Party of Regions participate in IRI seminars on the preparation of the elections and how should behave candidate after his election as a deputy. The Majlis and the Party of Regions collaborate with IRI, and we are present at these seminars together. A few days ago we met with Michael Drakman, IRI representative and program director in Ukraine.

It is known that IRI monitors political situation and introduces the results of the monitoring to all participants of the focus groups. IRI is an observer of the elections to the Verkhovna Rada and local councils. Therefore, we have discussed the possibility of IRI observers’ participation in the elections of Kurultai delegates. As the chairman of the Central Election Commission, I am interested in fact that international observers would be present at the elections and monitor the process. We have received approval from the IRI on this issue.

The U.S. government is observing the situation in Ukraine, including relations between the authorities and the opposition as well as the problem of the Crimean Tatars. It should be noted that the U.S. has always supported our national liberation struggle.

- Do you agree that the Western states are guarantors of the Crimean Tatars rights?

Sure, they guarantee that we will not disappear as a nation. When someone tries to scare us with the U.S. and Germany, such "stories" are clear for us because there is always a need to scare someone with something. However, the Russian president visits the United States, Germany, France after his election. Those states do the same thing. It is impossible to live in society and be outside such society. Both Yanukovych and Yushchenko went to the United States. Similarly Yanukovych visits Moscow and meets with Mr. Putin. So I do not see any problems.

- Is it true that the official position of your organization is the confrontation with "Russian separatism" in the Crimea?

The current Crimean autonomy is established on a territorial basis. But it was a national autonomy in order to protect the Crimean Tatar people, their language, culture and traditions. And today to protect what ethnic group such autonomy is used?

Is it Russian? But this is absurd. They are the largest ethnic minority in the Crimea and Ukraine. Russian language and culture are not under threat. The most important thing is Russia as the parent nucleus. Is it Ukrainians? But what for it is necessary to create autonomy in Ukraine for the Ukrainians? However, there are not Crimean Tatar people outside Ukraine and other state formation. The Crimean Tatar people were formed as a nation here in the Crimea. Therefore, the existence of autonomy in the present form is simply absurd.

We come back to the Crimea not for a better life. We have been living more comfortably in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Russia. A lot of us held good positions. There were ministers from the Crimean Tatars in Uzbekistan. One of the regional committee secretaries was the Crimean Tatar. That is, the confidence was greater than it is now in the Crimea and in Ukraine. It is clear that we will continue to talk about our statehood in the form of autonomy. But a part of what state it should be? We have seen what happened and are happening now in Russia. Not long ago there was war in Chechnya and then in South Ossetia. There have never been such bloody confrontations in Ukraine. We can see the problem of national languages in Russia. Today there is no state Tatar language in Tatarstan. The subjects at school are not studying in this language. It has become one of the elements of syllabus, such as English. And so, seeing the processes that take place in Russia, the Crimean Tatars definitely do not want to be a part of such state.

- What is your opinion about the Russian influence on the situation in the Crimea?

Of course, there is such influence. And it is done not through those public "babblers" who mostly work off their money and become active mainly before the holiday season. A lot of serious capital is invested in the Crimea. But the interests in this case are different. One needs a conflict to buy real estate, and another needs silence to get dividends. And both businessmen can be from Russia. A significant part of real estate in the Crimea is in the hands of Russian business. There are straw men not famous and in a shadow but there are examples when Russian businessmen come, find such persons among the local population and formally establish business on their name.

Therefore, the main influence is on this level. If all problems were solved by these "babblers" the Crimea would be a trouble spot. At the same time the Majlis has always adheres to the principles of non-violence. When someone tries to provoke us to any kinds of conflicts, we do not yield and, therefore, we are a guarantee and a source of stability in the Crimea. If we had answered adequately on each provocation, it would have been much more difficult to rectify this situation.

It is easy to start a war. Sometimes it could do even an idiot. But how to reconcile those who suffered in this war then? Not material sacrifices but human ones. This is the pain that may abate, but then flare up again. Therefore, the Majlis as the main guarantee of stability in the Crimea follows the principles of non-violence, and has authority among our people.

– Do you think it is necessary to confront such Russian influence in the Crimea?


What confrontation might be there? If the representatives of authorities are involved in these processes and when today those institutions that bring income are going to be sold step by step. It’s useless to expect total stability before the end of property redistribution process. The only one way to development in the Crimea is a Peace. When there are no disasters, catastrophes, wars, when nature, sea and property are protected.

- The representatives of VO "Svoboda" are speaking sternly about the Crimean Tatars, denying them certain rights. What do you think about this political force?

There are certain provisions in their program, which can and should be discussed. But some provisions are categorically unacceptable to the opposition force. That is why "Svoboda" has to change their policy documents. The people expect radicalism but not relative to each other. Radicalism must be relative to the responsible for such situation that is the current government. When we will begin to understand that our neighbor is not responsible for our problems, the situation will be changed. However, may be he is partly responsible that he has believed and voted for the Party of Regions. Today there are many persons totally disappointed in their own choice. Fireworks were launched with happiness and hope of total changes when Yanukovych was elected.

Something similar happened when Yushchenko was elected. It became clear then that this power is far from the people. The dedicating of portfolio and business began after the elections. And we got what we got. The current government is doing almost the same, but there is much less those who makes split up and at the same time they take away everything. There are businessmen who invested in the Party of Regions, in Yanukovych, hoping to improve or maintain their activities. After that "Donetsk" command arrived to the Crimea and took away their business. When any pressure exceeds a certain limit the "spring" pops back, and the blow can be quite hard.

- The charges that the Majlis is an illegal body and is not registered in the legal field of Ukraine are announced. What do you think about such statements?

The current government for some reason refuses to recognize the Majlis in the form it had been previously recognized by Kuchma President. The Council of Representatives of the Crimean Tatar people under the President of Ukraine has been existing since 1999. The Majlis is a body elected by the Crimean Tatars, and it is authorized to represent the interests of the Crimean Tatar people. The current government tried to change the structure of the Council of Representatives, now the majority of which are not just loyal people but lying under the government. These are the people who once tried to build the autonomy for the Crimean Tatars in hungry steppes of Uzbekistan, as for example, the current, so-called, the chairman of the Board.

These are the people who in 2008 asked to bring here Russian tanks in Georgian scenario and turned to the Russian government to protect against lawlessness of Ukrainian authorities. These are the people who try to justify the deportation of the Crimean Tatar people and say that the people themselves are to blame. These people are closed to the President. For this reason, we do not care about what think or say a representative of the government that does not want to solve our problems.

In accordance with United Nations Declaration "On Indigenous Peoples", indigenous peoples have the right to existence of their traditional institutions. Kurultai and Majlis are traditional institutions of the Crimean Tatar people. And under this declaration they are elected in accordance with their own and not on government regulations.

This procedure occurs every 5 years. This year, there will be elections of Kurultai delegates on a completely new level - by direct and secret ballot. We used to have two-stage elections. At the first stage electors are chosen by direct open vote at the meetings, who then elect delegates of conferences by secret ballot. Now the voters, the Crimean Tatars, Ukrainian citizens, entitled to vote at least 18 years old, take part in the voting directly. There are no additional restrictions. We do not divide people into the category of mixed marriages. We are talking only the Crimean Tatars and their family member, no matter this is husband or wife.

These norms are fixed by international declaration. And if the state does not ratify the declaration, it does not mean that the document is not valid in the world. But it shows that the government does not want to contribute to the maintenance and development of the Crimean Tatar people. Such activity is required. For example, UNESCO has entered the Crimean Tatar language in the list of endangered ones. I do not put in the first place the problem of housing insecurity, although it is very topical. I do not put in the first place the problem of land allocation. If today someone illegally allocated land, tomorrow it will be possible to revise this issue and to ensure legitimacy. But if the language and its native speakers will disappear then it will be much harder to restore it than the material losses.

- How is the situation around the "self-acquisition" which is directly linked to the Majlis activity? What happens with these lands in the Crimea?


“Self-acquisition” term is unacceptable for me. I’d say self-restitution or initiative land development. In 1944 we were robbed of everything: our state in the form of autonomy, houses, land, cars. Currently we have not returned practically anything. There is a state program which is allegedly funded with millions of grivna. But let's look at the destiny of this money from the beginning to the end. More than one-third of allocated funds return to the state in the form of taxes. The remaining part of money was used, for example, for the construction of power line, gas main, water pipeline. Who own this property? Is it the Crimean Tatars? No. It is various corporations. Those millions allocated for the construction of power lines, became the property of Rinat Akhmetov, and the millions allocated for the construction of gas pipelines became the property of Dmitry Firtash.

What do I gain from it like the Crimean Tatar? I buy the gas at the same price as the citizens of other nationalities. That is, I gain absolutely nothing. It seems the funds have been allocated for the resettlement. What have the Crimean Tatars received exactly? There were 3-4 thousand families for which housing had been bought. This is targeted assistance that has been received. And there were a small compensation for travel and baggage. That’s all. The funds are over. A small part goes to the printing of textbooks and books in the native language and the culture maintenance. But it's crumbs. There are not enough textbooks in schools. The culture is funded as the whole culture in the state.

For instance, I’m building a house on the land by myself. But my grandparents have left a great inheritance that I did not use. We do not evict and turn out anyone. We do not ask to leave that belongs to us by right. No one sign take-over of his property and land. We have them taken away illegally. In 1989 the Soviet Union recognized as criminal and illegal all acts of repressions against the Crimean Tatars, Germans and other nationalities. Then, it should be returned to rightful owners if it has been taken away illegally. But that did not happen either at the time of the Soviet Union, nor so far. Instead of those houses that still exist today and other people live there we just say “give us a small piece of land where we will build a house”. And we are refused. Over the years, for more than 10 years, some for 15 years, the people have been asking a small piece of land to build a house and do not conflict with those who live in the homes of their forefathers. But the state does not allocate this land because some people who reach the power begin to see it as a source of profit. Moreover, not only the Crimean land has such problem of redistribution of property but also Kiev and the Lviv region. The land has always been a source of wealth and source of conflict. Currently someone by selling, squandering hundreds of hectares, tries to throw together people who are “jostling in line" for some 6-7 Ares. Today, on the "lands of protest" there are representatives of other nationalities with the Crimean Tatars. There are also so-called Slavic acquisitions. The unresolved problems encourage the people to use drastic action.

Today, on the "lands of protest" there are about 15 thousand people. To solve the problems we need only about 1.5 million hectares. It is the area of all self-acquisitions. Last year the Verkhovna Rada voted for giving about 9 hectares of protected, the southern coast land between Sudak and Yalta to "Cedar" company registered at the home address of Viktor Yanukovych. The problem of the “lands of protest” could be solved 6 times.

These events are predictable. In Russia, everything is put in its place. Everyone knows who is the owner and what is his property, everything is divided. Any redistribution is suppressed rather tough. But here the government has not submitted all yet. Two processes take place: on the one hand, the process of submission of discontented people and on the other hand, the process of direct restitution. If the restitution was in Soviet times, when there was not a redistribution of property, there would not be such intensiveness.

- How do you see the future of the Crimea, in what form should exist an autonomous republic, and what prospects in this regard has your organization?

I hope that common sense will prevail over different ambitions and interests, when we will have one interest to keep the Crimea. If this one interest will prevail and everyone here will be able to find a place under the Sun, the Crimea will be prosperous region. It has so much potential. Still and all I see here the Crimean Tatar autonomy, which was till 1944 and then there were no ethnic-confessional conflicts. Autonomy in the Crimea for one nation is not some kind of super privileges and in no case the possibility of dominance and oppression of other nations. It is to be understood. If the initial meetings with the local people were followed by fear and distrust, then later such relations were fully improved. Probably the same will be in politics too.

Now, unfortunately, much of the Slavs do not vote for the Crimean Tatars. There is such tendentious approach.

But the time will come when they say that really important thing is not the nationality but professional qualities. If the Crimean Tatar is able to solve the serious management problems, why he could not be in the government? And there are results in this direction. Currently, 22 heads of the village council and the head of Belogorsk are the Crimean Tatars.

Viewed : 5634   Commented: 0

Author: Mikhail Mikhaylov

Publication date : 10 July 2013 00:00

Source: The world and we

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