Friday, March 21, 2014

Crimea Crisis

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia)It undoubtedly represents a watershed. It is not only a landmark but an earthquake.
            Maybe a moment of destiny. Predictable or not,it has still sent many people reeling back aghast, if not always euphoric.

            For Crimea has become part of Russia again. On the 16th of March a referendum voted to become part of the Russian federation. The Russian government reacted with no objections.

              When I asked Russians if they know when Crimea was last part of Russia, most of them don't know or can't recall. Some know that it was once annexed by Catherine the Great, but very few are aware that it was given as a gift to the Ukraine by Krushchev in 1954! It is an event which embarrasses Russians, just as much as the sale of Alaska! 

              No wonder they can't or don't want to remember it. The moral might be 'Beware of presidents bearing gifts' as     they can turn out to be a future stressful headache. The terrible hangover from this event is yet to come.

            Governments around the world quickly condemned the referendum as 'illegitimate ' and a sly enchroachment on the sovereignty of Ukraine. It has been perceived as tantamount to an invasion.

            They suspect that the Russian state organised this. Some Russian politicians hold up their hands helplessly and declare 'What could we do? It all happened

            Accidents do happen! 'Cynics shake their heads at this. Was the referendum fair? Did most people really vote to become part of Russia? While representatives of the Crimean government issued public statements saying people were welcome to observe the referendum, most observers were turned back at the border by guards. This raises the question of who is in charge in Crimea! 'You are welcome to come, but you are also not welcome to come' seems an ambiguous and confused attitude. In Moscow, I attained the same impression. Some politician wanted         international observers from Moscow to visit the Crimea. 

            Some were ready to go when at the last moment the politician abandoned the idea or sent a token delegation. According to hearsay, the only observer was a Greek communist! So the Crimean referendum was observed and deemed fair by a Greek! 

            Since there were originally Greek colonies in Crimea hundreds of years go this might seem quite just! At least       some of the Greeks might be happy with this! So why did the Russians see little point of international observers? 

           They possibly thought that they would not be make any difference to whether the referendum was recognized as legitimate. Why go to all the bother when the European Union is deaf!

            How fair is all this ? What percentage of Russians has Crimea actually got? When I asked some Russians, in Moscow they answered 'It must be 70 to 80%'. When I informed them that official statistics suggest 58.5%,while Ukrainians are 24.3% ,Crimean Tatars are 2.1%,Belorussians 1.4% ,Armenians 1.1% and others 2.6%, they are surprised. One middle-aged accountant stated 'But you have to remember a lot of those Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians are half Russian, as they have intermarried.'

            Point taken. What is certain is that we will never know how many people in Crimea don't agree with the results of the referendum and some Tatars stated they would not even vote!

            The opinion polls indicate that the past events have boosted Putin's popularity. It is comparable to the 'Falkland's
factor'. In the early 1980's, the prime-minister of Britain had become very unpopular. When she fought and defeated Argentinians who had invaded the Falkland's Islands, she won the next election. The British became 'jingoistic' about the war.' 

             The Crimean factor' may have restored Putin's falling popularity as well as distracting people from more important issues, such as widespread corruption, poverty, growing inequality and a growing authoritarian regime which is increasing suppressing all forms of dissidence. Just as Margaret Thatcher polarized Britain by calling her opponents 'The enemy within', so the government wants to label every dissident as a 'traitor' or 'enemy' serving foreign interests. Now if some of those people consider a charity group like the Salvation army as being comparable to a paramilitary group, such as the Irish Republican army, then you can imagine the problems reasonable intelligent people might run into.
            It is important to understand that not everyone in Moscow or Russia agrees with a war with Ukraine. On the contrary, many people I have spoken to are deeply troubled and saddened by events. One woman, (I will call Nadia), who is 39, and a teacher, attended a huge peace demonstration in Moscow last Sunday. She told me 'I'm a pacifist. I don't believe in war with our Slavonic brothers in the Ukraine. We have more in common. I have nothing against Ukrainians.'
            'I have a Ukrainian nanny who looks after our children and she has been reduced to tears. My local Orthodox church is praying for peace in the Ukraine and so are many other churches in Moscow!' I mentioned to her that the police had reported that only a few thousand had attended the peace demonstration! (3000 to 5000 were some of the estimates.)

             'That is untrue. You are joking! It was a gigantic demonstration. As many as 50,000 attended it. I found some of the slogans quite strange. One group of young people shouted, 'working class must organise itself and show its strength'.
            I don't think there is a working-class in Russia any more. Others chanted 'Hands off Ukraine' and 'Ukraine is not Alena.' (Putin's reputed girlfriend). The last was my favourite slogan!'

              (*Russians are also saying why are we getting involved in Ukraine, taking on Crimea, when food prices are going up, and the economy is not doing that well. How will the government pay for all this, my good Russian friend Lea told me via facebook.)

            So although the media may downplay the significance of the peace movement, it organised an impressive demonstration, if nothing else it shows that not all Russians unanimously endorse the Russian Government's foreign policy. It is doubtful whether the Russian government seriously wants a war. It would prefer to attain it objectives by other means. What can't be ruled out is that some extreme elements in Ukraine, whether Russian or Ukrainian, might just start fighting a war without any outside intervention! For a future war to erupt in Ukraine it does not require any invasion or intervention by NATO, America or Russia. If some local people believe that violence is a more effective way of empowering them, they will readily resort to this. Desperate and despondent people can act heedlessly.

*Jim Vail reported this


By Stephen Wilson

             Patriotism is often the last refuge of a scoundrel. For although the events in Ukraine have a complex cultural context which defies comprehension this axiom applies here. Behind many of the patriotic phrases, 'We will never abandon our brothers in Crimea ' or 'We are true defenders of the Russian language and culture', many nationalists, whether they are Russian, or Ukrainian, won't hesitate to send their children to be educated in British schools or buy real estate in Florida.

              What is more, many of those 'patriots abroad ' are not happy to see each other at holiday resorts. Whereas an Englishmen appears to be happy to see his compatriots, some Russians start cursing when they recognise another Russian at the resort. They shun each other! It is quite possible that a Russian nationalist might hate another Russian because he is not 'patriotic enough'. 

             Over the past few days many people in Moscow have been attempting to prove how patriotic they are by attending demonstrations of solidarity throughout cities in Russia for the Crimea. However, most Russians are apprehensive about any impending war and hope it can be quickly averted at the negotiating table.

             The true cost of all the street fighting has overwhelmed the Ukrainian medical services. Maria Koroleva, an academic who attended a conference in Kiev recently told me, 'My friend, who fainted in the street and is seriously ill, can't be treated in hospital because the hospital staff have been too busy dealing with the injured and wounded from constant battling in the streets. The results of all this are just terrible. All this fighting has meant many people who had nothing to do with all those demonstrations can't get proper treatment and the queues are long!'

             The events have been progessing rapidly and assumed horrific tones when snipers were ordered to almost casually and coolly pick off the demonstrators with shots. As many as 83 or more have died and that is not counting the injured. If the dim-witted Yanukvych believed that this brutal massacre would drive demonstrators from the square, he was mistaken. Instead, people who did not even support the Maiden, expressed horror and disgust and agreed to with draw their support for the Russian backed government. However, the new government or Rada, instead of offering a coherent vision or narrative which might unite a deeply divided country, failed to rise to the occasion. One of the first steps was to declare Russian an unofficial language again. This, along with a refusal to stop rioters taking down wartime monuments (220 monuments have been razed to the ground) seems an undisguised and blatant attempt to insult minorities. It fuels, rather than doses, the already paranoic mood of many suspicious Russians. So on the 23rd of February  20,000 people in Sebastopol rose up on to drive out the Ukrainian mayor and appoint a new Russian government. Following this uprising, soldiers quickly took over major bases, installations and border points to deter any Ukrainian soldiers from returning to restore order. A decision was then taken to hold a referendum on the 16th of March. Voters can decide to vote on two major questions;

             'Should Crimea become part  of the Russian Federation?' and 'Should it revive the Crimean Constitution of 1992?'

             The new mayor states that International observers are welcome but it appears that some of them are having difficulty entering border check points and have even been turned back. However, some Russians would welcome the presence of observers to monitor the referendum in order to provide it with some kind of legitimacy. Your correspondent was even asked if he would like to act as a monitor.

             The results seem to be an almost foregone conclusion; Crimea will vote to join the Russian Federation. This is because demographically, the Russian population consists of 58%, Ukrainians 24%, Crimean Tatars 12% and others comprise a multitude of nationalities. However, the outcome of the election could well be a close thing as most Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars are not happy about joining the Russian Federation. There are also some       Russians who think they might lose some existing rights they enjoy in Europe. One Russian woman from Crimea stated, 'We don't have much to lose by not being part of Europe. What jobs do they offer us in Europe? We just work as low-paid barmaids, dishwashers and cleaners in Europe.' 

             There is in deed a deskilling process where you are dismayed to find highly educated Russians working as waiters in cafes because the European union refuses to recognise their Russian degrees and diplomas. It is hardly inspiring to risk your life for the right to sweep the streets of Europe or become a dishwasher.

             But the Crimean Tatars have understandable reasons for not wanting to become part of the Russian Federation.

             They have long been persecuted by the Soviet Regime. During the second world war, Stalin deported all 200,000 of the Tatars on the largely false grounds that they were fascist collaborators. Many of those deported died of thirst, hunger and disease. It is true that 20,000 Tatars served with German Self-defence units, but more of them were serving in the Red Army. In fact, 9000 Tatars who had been serving in the army were deported. This happened just when they were badly required at the front.

             You might also  wonder 'Why do many Ukrainians express a strong antipathy to Russians?' Why can't they be friends?

             After all they shared a common language, culture and heritage that can be traced back to Kiev Rus. Kiev is seen as the birthplace of old Russia! From the 10th to the 13th century Kiev Rus represented one of the most advanced civilisations in Europe which was far ahead of Europe in terms of having paved roads, a sewage system, a bathing system and welfare state which catered for the poor. Its law was also very sophisticated and advanced and it was one of the first kingdoms to outlaw the death penalty.

             Ask any Ukrainian nationalist and he can offer you a litany of complaints. The Bolshevik government promised self-determination in 1918 and then renegaded on the agreement. Stalin carried out a calculated policy of genocide against the Ukrainians by intentionally withholding vital food supplies from Ukraine. This genocide is called 'the Holodomor' and as many as 2-4 million people died. It is not just that. Some Ukrainians resent Russian jokes of 'stupid Ukrainians' much as the Irish are the subject of 'stupid Irishmen jokes'. Then some Russians dub Ukrainian nationalists as fascists.

             They don't acknowledge that not all Ukrainian nationalists admire Stepan Bandera,( a Nazis collaborator who cruelly massacred Russians, Jews and Poles (he destroyed more than 150 villages and killed more than 35,000 Poles in 1943.).

             It is fair to say that in the heated climate of tension, fascism is being used as an indiscriminate form of abuse.

             When Russians accuse some opposition members of being fascists,the Ukrainians call the Russian Government 'fascist'. This term has been too loosely and in deed, reckless applied. Fascism is a system which aims at imposing a totalitarian regime which has almost total control over the state, the media and suppresses all dissent. Neither most of the new Rada or the Putin Government comes close to falling into this category.

             One of the best ways to prevent tensions worsening would be to use less abuse and emotional language which dehumanizes the other. It would be better if Tatars, Ukrainians and Russians attempted to find a common language where both agreed to build a more caring and improved society where everyone serves rather than uses each other as a crude means to make money. Every person is an icon to be admired and awed at rather than derided and abused. It seems likely that the Crimea will break away from Ukraine and Russia will feel obliged to support and defend her application. Talk of sanctions or NATO strikes won't deter her. If the Ukrainians attempt to military seize the Crimea, she is likely to be cruelly repulsed and driven back by the overwhelming numeral superiority and better equipment of the Russian armed forces. It is doubtful whether Putin would stand idly back and let the Ukrainians seize Crimea. If he did this, he would lose face. In fact,a picture of Nicholas the First, the Tsar who lucklessly and haplessly lost the Crimean war hangs in the presidental office. Putin has been restoring the badly tarnished reputation of the Tsar who was once 'unfairly' derided as a cruel dictator.

             Putin admires this tsar for standing up to the West. By all accounts, Nicholas the First was a very sincere and honest Tsar who firmly believed he was fighting for the Holy cause of an Orthodox Brotherhood. Queen Victoria thought Nicholas the first was just too honest for this world. The tsar is thought to have died from a broken heart brought on by the horrific losses of this war.(1854-56)
             Unlike Nicholas the first, Putin has no intention of losing another Crimean war. In fact, he may be set on winning a war which poor Nicholas the First lost! This time the Russians don't want to be humiliated by NATO, America or The European community.

No comments:

Post a Comment