Friday, February 19, 2010

Stalin and Crimean Tatars

Stalin is to make a comeback on the streets of Moscow for the first time in decades in a celebration of the Soviet victory over Hitler in the Second World War.
Posters and information booths devoted to the Soviet dictator are to go up across the capital under a proposal by Moscow City Council to mark the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany on May 9. The decision outraged rights groups and opposition parties yesterday, who condemned it as another step towards rehabilitating a tyrant.
It also split the political establishment amid signs of Kremlin unease that Stalin’s legacy of repression could overshadow plans to honour veterans of what Russians call the Great Patriotic War. Millions of people perished in the Gulag slave labour camps during Stalin’s rule.
“We can say that it was not Stalin who won the war but the people,” said Boris Gryzlov, the leader in parliament of Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party. “The ambiguous role that Stalin played in the life of our country will not be corrected by posters.”
Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, told Interfax news agency: “We are going to protest against this. Those who want to put up portraits of Stalin in Moscow would like to see a return to the state terror of the Stalinist period.”
Sergei Mitrokhin, the leader of the opposition Yabloko party, said that the plan was “an insult to the memory of our fathers, grandfathers, and great- grandfathers, who won the war against fascism with their labour and blood”.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet President, also objected. He told the newspaper Izvestia: “You cannot remove Stalin from the history of the war. But it should be remembered that the country entered the war badly prepared with its own military commanders repressed.”
Gennadi Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader, said that recognition of Stalin as commander-in-chief of the Red Army was “not only indisputably correct but also courageous”. He said: “For the first time in 20 years we have ended the hypocrisy of the authorities forgetting under whose leadership the war was won.”
Vladimir Makarov, head of the city council’s advertising and information committee, said that the campaign was being undertaken after a request from veterans’ groups. He said: “For years we have had information stands about the war commanders. But the supreme commander was missing. We need to remember the man who led our country in the war.”
It will undoubtedly be welcomed by many veterans who continue to revere Stalin as a war leader. Nadezhda Popova, a wartime pilot decorated as a Hero of the Soviet Union, told The Times: “Of course there were repressions but we have the right to remember him because we fought under his leadership. We believed in him. He was like a god for us.”
Official endorsement of Stalin at a key moment of national celebration would be a dramatic development in the gradual restoration of Soviet-era symbols in Russia under Mr Putin. He brought back the Soviet national anthem in 2000 and revived military parades in Red Square in 2008.
Mr Putin also endorsed a textbook for teachers that described Stalin as an “efficient manager” rather than a mass murderer, and as someone who behaved rationally in making the Soviet Union into a superpower.
Rise and fall
• After Stalin died on March 5, 1953, his body was embalmed and placed in Red Square
• Three years later his successor Nikita Khrushchev condemned him for carrying out “mass repressions”
• In 1961 Stalin’s body was interred in the Kremlin
• On the 20th anniversary of VE Day in 1965 Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader, proclaimed Stalin a “war hero”
• During the glasnost era and after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Russian leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin condemned him as a dictator
Mourning Day
President Viktor Yushchenko has strongly condemned the 1944 deportation of Crimean Tatars on many occasions and ordered the Security Service (SBU) to open a special investigative unit examining crimes against humanity committed by the Soviet regime against them. Since the 1998 Ukrainian parliamentary elections, Rukh and President Yushchenko's Our Ukraine have included Tatar leaders within their party lists.
On the 65th anniversary of the deportation of Crimean Tatars, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko condemned it in no uncertain terms: "This terrible and severe page in our history we, as Ukrainians who ourselves went through the famine-genocide and repression, and for a long period of time defended their right to independence, feel the sufferings and consequences of each and every Crimean Tatar" ( May 18).
The anniversary coincided with the first World Congress of Crimean Tatars attended by 800 delegates from 11 countries. The congress, held in the famous Bakhchysaray palace, the former seat of the Tatar Khanate, was followed by a procession to the historical Zincirli Madrasah. The congress released the pent up frustrations felt by Crimean Tatars who are dissatisfied with the manner in which they have been treated by successive Ukrainian governments. Throughout much of May the Crimean Tatar protestors stood outside the cabinet of ministers' office in Kyiv demanding greater attention for their economic and social plight.
Our Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, a veteran Soviet dissident, complained that no legislation has ever been adopted in Ukraine to reinstate the social and legal rights of his people. The World Congress called upon the Ukrainian president and prime minister, "to take urgent steps to deliver on all the previously reached agreements, and your instructions and promises regarding the fair resolution of land disputes in Crimea and providing Crimean Tatars with land".
All of the infrastructure of the Crimean Tatars up to their 18 May 1944 massive deportation - theaters, schools, mosques, and other buildings - were expropriated by the Soviet regime and have not been returned. Crimean Tatar place names were subsequently Russified. Currently 15 out of 650 Crimean schools provide instruction in Crimean Tatar, but only 13 of these do so in the first three grades.
Land is the major source of dispute, as many Tatars live illegally as squatters, pushed into rural areas by developers taking prize urban real estate. High unemployment forces many Crimean Tatars to eke out a living within the shadow economy, as shuttle-traders where they regularly face violence from organized criminal gangs who control the street markets. The issue of the plight of the Crimean Tatars is seen in diametrically opposite ways by Ukrainians and Russians. Russian nationalist and communist parties and NGO's in the Crimea hold to the Russian world view of Tatars as rabidly anti-Russian and "Nazi collaborators." They, and the Russian authorities, see Tsarina Catherine as a great builder of the Russian empire.
Ukrainians and Tatars see her as a destroyer of their autonomy and independence in the last two decades of the eighteenth century. Following the Russian occupation of the Crimea, between the 1780's to 1914 hundreds of thousands of Tatars emigrated to Ottoman Turkey, where in modern Turkey they remain a vocal lobby.
The charge of "Nazi collaborators" was first raised in May 1944 when the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered the deportation of 423,100 Crimean Tatars to Uzbekistan. 195,471 of them died on the way. 46.2 percent (Crimean Tatar estimate) died in the first year in exile. Smaller numbers of Germans, Armenians and Bulgarians were also deported. The place of these four ethnic groups was largely filled by ethnic Russians. The autonomous status of the Crimea within the Russian SFSR was abolished in 1944 and only revived in 1991 in the Ukrainian SSR to which the Crimea was transferred in 1954.
In 1967 the Soviet government dropped all charges of "Nazi collaboration." But, Tatars only began to return to the Crimea in the late 1980's, where they now number 400,000 (16 percent of the population). The ethnic Russian majority is in decline from 65 (1989) to 58 (2001) percent. Approximately 100,000 Crimean Tatars continue to live in Uzbekistan.

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1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

It is horrible to think about this Stalin PR campaign. One doesn't even want to believe it could be true. But I have also met people - even young people - in Crimea who have this view of Stalin.

I just wanted to comment about the language schools in Crimea - I also think that the right to education in one's native language is important, and it is unfortunately a right that could be better respected in Ukraine.

There are 16 national schools in Crimea that focus on Crimean Tatar language education with intensive study, and a number of schools that offer the language as a subject. I in Crimea now to study these schools and I find their stories inspiring and amazing. As a friend I know said, they were scratched out of the ground by the nails of hardworking individuals.

But in schools where Crimean Tatar is only a subject, many students only study a few hours a week, and sometimes have to give up other subjects to do so.

I enjoy your reading your blog. Thanks for this sobering post.