Sunday

22nd Oct 2017

Opinion

Ukraine's Crimean Tatars need EU attention

Mention Ukraine at the moment, and most thoughts will turn to November’s Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius and the prospects for unfreezing the EU association agreement.

But Ukraine is also the current chair of the OSCE, the Vienna-based human rights and democracy watchdog.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Crimea: The Tatars were exiled by Stalin in the 1940s (Photo: Evgeni Zotov)

Minority rights are a key part of its remit, and the OSCE's high commissioner for national minorities (HCNM) has just published a "Needs Assessment" for the Crimean Tatars and other Formerly Deported Peoples (FDPs) of Crimea, Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula.

I was the "academic co-ordinator" for the study and interested readers can see the full text here.

The paper sets out detailed policy recommendations for the national Ukrainian and local Crimean authorities, as well as for other former Soviet states (particularly the Central Asian countries, which still host at least 50,000 Crimean Tatars) and for the FDPs themselves.

But frankly, the Ukrainian and Crimean authorities have been dragging their feet or even displaying outright hostility to the mainstream Crimean Tatar organisation, the quasi-parliamentary Qurultay council, and its smaller plenipotentiary, the Mejlis.

There is much that the international community, especially the EU and its member countries, can do to push Ukraine to live up to OSCE principles.

When its OSCE mandate runs out at the end of this year, 2014 will mark the 70th anniversary of the forcible mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars by Stalin in 1944 (they have been allowed to come back only since the 1980s).

The OSCE report identifies many important legal lacunae, where the relevant authorities should be pressed to make good.

The basic legal status of FDPs, their rights and duties, are not properly defined.

The Crimean Tatars’ proposal for a law on their indigenous status has always been controversial, while another law, on the "restoration of the rights of deported people on ethnic grounds" has been stalled in the Ukrainian parliament since it was passed at first reading in June 2012.

Elsewhere, the light bureaucracy for remaining FDPs to return from Central Asia, which was introduced under former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, has been replaced by red tape and high costs, especially in Uzbekistan.

The 1993 Bishkek Agreement, which regulates conditions for the return of FDPs ran out in May 2013 and Ukraine has not yet undertaken any efforts to renew it, despite calls by the Mejlis and the Ukrainian parliament's human rights committee.

Given the prevalence of "irregular constructions" (often shanty towns) for Crimean Tatar returnees, land ownership needs to be legally defined, and an ownership registry needs to be drawn up.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s 2012 law on languages - which legalises the use of minority languages in institutions in areas with 10 percent or more minority population, and which was designed to legalise the use of Russian - has had a strange effect in Crimea.

Kiev is talking of raising the threshold to 30 percent, which would exclude the Crimean Tatars, who make up around 13 percent of the Crimean population (some 250,000 people out of a total of 2 million).

There are also areas where money can make a big difference.

Three-quarters of Crimean Tatars live in rural areas. Their "irregular constructions" lack many basic amenities, such as gas, water and sewage. They often live too far from public services in urban areas.

There are only 15 Crimean Tatar schools out of 576 in the region. Only 3 percent of children are taught in Crimean Tatar, and, usually, just for the first four years.

Funds are badly needed for new schools, for the uncompleted Crimean Tatar University and for basic teaching materials.

The Tatars are predominantly Muslim. But there are only 180 mosques in Crimea, compared to 3,000 before 1917.

The West needs to tread carefully in areas of religion and politics.

Most Crimean Tatars belong to the Sunni Islam institution, the "Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea (DUMK)," which is close to the Mejlis and to the Diyanet in Turkey (Turkey's "Presidency of Religious Affairs").

Only 10 percent, or so, of registered Islamic organisations are outside the DUMK, including various strains of radicalism. Mejlis leaders have warned that the erosion of the Tatar peoples' old religion and culture in the long years of exile is making young people more prone to extremist views.

Mainstream Islam needs support.

But the Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church, which dominates religious life in Crimea, is often openly hostile to it.

At the same time, evidence indicates that the Ukrainian authorities are artificially feeding more radical Tatar political organisations, such as the Milli Firka ("National Party").

The motive is to deligitimise the Qurultay council, to paint Tatar people as being divided and to depict the Qurultay as just one voice among many.

In fact, there is little sign of declining support for either the Qurultay or the Mejlis, which recently held vibrant elections.

The Mejlis has called for an international forum to discuss the situation of Crimean Tatars and other FDPs in Crimea (Armenians, Bulgarians, Germans and Greeks) and EU countries should help them to make it happen.

Meanwhile, it is not just the Tatars who are short of clean water in Crimea.

The UN and the EU, via its help for the "Regional Development Agency" give some support already. But the region needs more attention if its economy - which is lopsidedly short-stay, low-spend, beach-based tourism - is ever to bloom.

Crimea seems to have fallen off the map.

After the Georgia-Russia war in 2008, there was a flurry of concern that it might be next in line for some form of military confrontation.

People thought the problem was solved when Ukraine's new leader, Viktor Yanukovych, agreed with Russia to let its navy stay there until 2042.

But the problem is still here.

Russia continues to use its military presence in Crimea to exert political pressure on Kiev, while tensions between Crimean Tatars and the majority population risk getting worse and risk being exploited by the Kremlin.

In the past, the Qurultay and the Mejlis have contributed to moderation and stability. The EU and other world powers should help them keep it so.

Andrew Wilson is a senior policy fellow at The European Council on Foreign Relations, a London-based think tank

Ukraine: the book scandal that never was

Ukraine's President is getting millions of euros for books he never wrote. But Ukrainians have stopped believing that any kind of scandal will bring change.

Moment of truth for EU-Ukraine treaty

The lawyer of Ukraine's jailed former PM has said nothing stands in the way of a historic EU treaty except the President's say-so.

Why does Putin want Crimea anyway?

Why is a world leader prepared to risk opprobrium and, possibly, crippling economic sanctions for an obscure piece of land?

Ukraine language law does not harm minorities

Some European politicians keep spreading fictitious arguments on Ukraine's language law as being an impediment to minority rights, Ukraine's education minister says.

News in Brief

  1. Rajoy to trigger Article 155 on Saturday in Catalan crisis
  2. EU conducts unannounced inspection of German car firm
  3. Lithuania calls for new EU energy laws
  4. EU leaders aim for December for defence cooperation
  5. Juncker says hands tied on Russia pipeline
  6. Czechs set to elect billionaire Andrej Babis
  7. Italian regions hold referendums on more autonomy
  8. EU leaders refuse to mediate Catalonia conflict

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Jinping Proposes Stronger Global Security Governance at Interpol Assembly
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  3. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  4. European Jewish CongressBulgaria Applauded for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  6. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  10. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  11. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  12. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!

Latest News

  1. The mysterious German behind Orban's Russian deals
  2. Mogherini urged to do more on Russian propaganda
  3. Turkey funding cuts signal EU mood shift
  4. Posted workers top EU agenda This Week
  5. Leaders lobby to host EU agencies at summit's margins
  6. Legal tweak could extend EU control on Russia pipeline
  7. Ukraine language law does not harm minorities
  8. EU begins preparations for Brexit trade talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  2. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  4. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  5. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  6. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  7. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  8. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  12. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement