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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Refat CHUBAROV: “It is a civilizational war”

The chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People on Putin’s “visit” to the occupied Crimea, sentiments on the peninsula, terrorism in the Donbas, elections, and optimism
18 August, 2014 - 18:40
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

The Russian leadership continues to pursue the policy of aggression against Ukraine – it is annexation, terrorism, and the so-called humanitarian aid (after the Kremlin itself unleashed a war in Ukraine). Now President Putin and his political retinue are “visiting” the occupied Ukrainian Crimea. And it does not matter to them that Ukrainians do not want all this. A “forced love” of sorts…

The Russian president’s website officially announced well in advance that Putin would pay a working visit to the so-called Crimean Federal District on August 13-14 to hold a briefing with Security Council members in Sevastopol on the 13th and with members of State Duma’s factions on the 14th. Among those who also came to the peninsula were Prime Minister Medvedev and State Duma Speaker Naryshkin.

“It is Putin’s second ‘visit’ since Crimea was occupied five months ago,” Refat Chubarov, chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, says to The Day. “As before, the main objective is to show the world that Russia is sure that ‘Crimea is ours.’ But, in reality, the frequent visits of Putin to Crimea are a sign of his turmoil and uncertainty about the consequences of what he has done. He seems to want to persuade himself that what he has already persuaded Russian society of is correct. But, by contrast with society, he is well aware of the consequences of an inevitable punishment. Clearly, he doesn’t want this and, hence, is trying to make all Russian politicians his sidekicks.”

Students of Den’s Summer School of Journalism recently had an opportunity to see and speak to Mr. Chubarov. “The Revolution of Dignity has brought forth a new – international – type of true Ukrainian patriots, for it is no mere chance that one  of the first who gave their lives for our country’s freedom was the Armenian Serhii Nigoyan. Another Ukrainian patriot of this kind is Refat Chubarov, leader of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People. Although his homeland is now under Russian occupation, he does not lose optimism and a desire to work,” Lviv National Ivan Franko University student Kostiantyn Yanchenko says, sharing his impressions of the meeting.

How is the mood of Crimeans changing? To what extent is Ukraine’s policy toward Crimea effective? What kind of future awaits Russia? Is the international community prepared to respond to Russian challenges? What will this country be facing if politicians fail to draw conclusions from the Euromaidan? Refat CHUBAROV answers these and other questions.


Hanna KALAUR, National University of Ostroh Academy: “It is obvious that when occupiers came to Crimea, the Russian authorities changed their attitude to the local population. What is the current situation in the peninsula?”

Refat CHUBAROV: “If you try to solve some problems connected with the Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar languages on the basis of a law the authorities have adopted, they will find dozens of pretexts not to obey this law. If you try to force the occupational authorities to obey their own laws by way of protests, they will do their best to punish you. Paradoxically, you have to coordinate the very possibility of obeying the authorities’ laws with… the authorities.

“If you begin singing praises of these ‘authorities’ in a loud voice, you will have a chance that they will leave you in peace. At the same time, you will have to trample on your dignity, honor, conscience, and on the interests of your friends. Therefore, it is very difficult for people in Crimea now. Many of them continue to behave, through inertia, as freely as they did under the Ukrainian authorities. The local authorities do not like this. As for Crimean Tatars, they do not want to behave the way the authorities want them to. Besides, they have to defend their rights all the time. Hence are the never-ending repressions against them.

“Fear is the instrument of the occupational authorities. They are doing their best to make people begin to be afraid. Let us recall the situation in a madrasah, an Islamic educational institution, in the village of Kolchugino, which the military in balaclavas broke into at 6 a.m. and began to search the place. Those monsters leveled their guns at and questioned the 10-to-14-year-old children, as if they were prisoners of war. This punitive action was taken because the madrasah was allegedly hiding weapons, but they failed to find any.

“But what causes the greatest fear is disappearance of people. You can try to scare society with words, but this is not so effective. But when a person you know disappears completely, you, like any other individual, begin to worry about yourself, your relatives, and friends. Three young people – Leonid Korzh, Timur Shaimardanov, and Seiran Zinedinov – disappeared in May. They were members of the NGO ‘Ukrainian House.’ I wouldn’t like to think about a terrible outcome, but experts say that if an individual was kidnapped and has not been heard of for a month, he or she is most likely dead.

“One can talk very much about the human rights situation in Crimea, but a simplified conclusion is as follows. If you are fully on the government’s side and show this every day, trying each time to find some new forms of obedience, your rights will, by all accounts, not be breached. But if you take a different stand or approach, even in something little, you can be sure that the authorities are looking for ways to break you down.

“I can see on the example of the Crimean situation that a large number of people, who were integrated into the authorities for many years, have suddenly reversed their attitude – they have brutally rejected the state they seemed to have been serving and, at the same time, taking advantage of. Now they have sworn allegiance to another country, which is nothing but mass-scale collaborationism. It is difficult for me to see this because the people who have betrayed their country and sworn to another were always trying – when we lived together in Crimea – to paint Tatars as would-be traitors. But when the situation became favorable for them, they defected to the other side and now continue to hold sway over the ones they used as a factor of the manipulation of and control over Crimean society.

“It is important now to bring up a stratum of administrators who will tackle Crimean problems in the future, proceeding from the role and place of a Crimean autonomy in Ukraine rather than from the considerations of expediency. Whenever an eastern Ukrainian city is liberated today, the first thing done is replacement of the police force because the local law-enforcement bodies did nothing to resist terrorism. Policemen from other regions are being used to maintain law and order on the freed territories. Should Crimea be regained in the near future, one of the most difficult problems will be search for honest and worthy administrators devoted to the Ukrainian state. This problem can be solved by setting age limits and recruiting the young people who have grown up in independent Ukraine.”


Kateryna HLUSHCHENKO, Donetsk National University: “What is your opinion of what the Ukrainian authorities are doing to protect our citizens in Crimea? Do you think these problems can be solved by establishing a special ministry in charge of the peninsula’s problems?”

R.Ch.: “An estimated 7 to 12 thousand people have left Crimea. Most of them moved from the peninsula in the first month of the occupation. They all have various problems and need more help from the state, which is insufficient now. And those who have stayed behind in Crimea know that Ukraine only cares for them as far as it can.

“Practically every resident of the peninsula and a large number of those who used to wave tricolors and cry out ‘Russia,’ are facing major or minor problems now. At the same time, I would not say that those who supported Russia have seriously sobered up. Propaganda works very effectively, especially on Russian TV channels. Besides, the local authorities are taking advantage – in a filigree way – of what is going on in the Donbas. They claim that if they had not been working in their own way, we would have a similar war. But it is not so easy to deceive people – more and more people are becoming aware that the territory was brazenly occupied by the military and annexed.

“I think the Cabinet should have a ministry in charge of Crimea. This body ought to deal with both practical and political matters and always focus on urgent problems so that the ‘Crimean question’ does not recede into the background, for life will not essentially improve in the near future. It should be a full-fledged ministry, and this must not scare people. This will mean that we care about those who have left Crimea as well as those who have stayed behind in the peninsula.”

Ivan KAPSAMUN: “Why do you think no conclusions were drawn from the first attempted Russian aggression in the early 1990s, which was thwarted thanks to the SBU chief’s professional actions? Why has Crimea not been dealt with in the years of independence?”

R.Ch.: “As far as I remember, since the 1990s, every political party, no matter whether it was in the opposition or in the government, has always viewed Ukraine’s territories as an electoral resource. Political figures have been doing their best to win more votes by taking advantage of regional particularities. As    ethnic Russians account for about 60 percent of Crimea’s population, you must speak about Russia and Russian interests (no matter what you really think) if you want them to like you. Instead of addressing the ‘Crimean,’ including the ‘Crimean Tatar,’ ‘question,’ the politicians in power only exploited the region’s particularities as much as they could. This process disrupted the unity of public opinion and divided the residents of Crimea.

“The second factor is failure to settle the ‘Crimean Tatar question.’ This in fact resulted in Ukraine’s weak influence in Crimea.

“The third factor is connected with relations between Ukraine and Russia. The never-ending flirtation with Russia, such as, for example, permission for the Black Sea Fleet to be stationed there, resulted in the events that occurred in Crimea. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet became a ‘Trojan horse’ of sorts in Crimea, which could have been given a command at any moment and all reflections on ancient history and cultural unity would not have mattered at all.

“The most serious problem was that we, as a state, always opted for the easiest way, while politicians always sought the most profitable solution. No country can absolutize affection for or mistrust towards a people. A country should only speak about the priority of its interests. Like all the other regions, Crimea seemed to look forward to investments. The advent of the latter could have opened the door to any official. But there was a special situation in Crimea. Where will the investments come from? If they come from Turkey, the US, Rumania, or any other European country, it is one attitude, and if from Russia, it is an altogether different attitude.

“Our chief problem is that we misjudged Russia. We should not have devised ephemeral schemes about fraternity and friendship and consider them as a panacea. Meanwhile, the Russian leadership was thinking about entirely different things. For some reason, Kyiv bureaucrats have always considered Crimean Tatars the main factor of separatism in Crimea in the 23 years of independence. But when it came to defending Ukraine in Crimea during the Russian aggression, it turned out that there was nobody to do this but the Crimean Tatars.”


Mykhailo DRAPAK, Donetsk National University: “Given that a Kurultai session announced earlier this year the formation of a National Autonomy of the Crimean Tatar People, what do you think about the future of your people as part of an integrated Ukraine?”

R.Ch.: “The Ukrainian government changed its attitude to Crimean Tatars after the occupation of Crimea. So, when the Kurultai was in session, the Verkhovna Rada had the right idea of the ‘Crimean Tatar factor.’ Parliament adopted a declaration and discussed a bill on rehabilitation of deportees on the basis of ethnicity. We adopted a declaration that announced the beginning of actions to let the Crimean Tatar people exercise its right to self-determination. Some were asking why we had not indicated what state we were part of. It was important for me to declare our rights and allow other players to continue this debate. Now that we are in such a plight, let them say what their vision of our rights is.

“The Crimean Tatars have been always speaking about their natural right to self-determination, which every people has irrespective of its size. And I see no risks or challenges here to the political or territorial sovereignty of Ukraine. Unfortunately, Kyiv has in fact been evading this dialog for 23 years. Now this dialog is unavoidable, for I believe that Crimea will be part of Ukraine again. It is very important now to speak frankly about what self-determination of the Crimean Tatar people means. Ukrainian realities do not have any phenomena which the world has not experienced. Many countries have found the formulas of resolving the problem of indigenous peoples’ rights that ensure their territorial integrity, interethnic harmony, and absence of any risks in this matter.”

Volodymyr NYZHNIAK, Ivan Franko Lviv National University: “Now Crimea  remains occupied by Russia. What scenarios do you think can be applied to the Crimeans, including the Crimean Tatar population? What dangers are they facing?”

R.Ch.: “Crimean society is today in a very specific situation, when Russian TV channels brainwash from dawn to dusk and the puppet government spreads fear and forces people to behave under double or even triple moral standards. If this situation continues, it will be leading many people to despair, which can force them to leave the native land. The Russian authorities are even interested in this to some extent. This applies, above all, to Crimean Tatars. It is important for the Kremlin to oust the indigenous population. Another goal is to eliminate the Ukrainian spirit by banning the Ukrainian language and instilling aggression to all    things Ukrainian in society – Crimean society is supposed to view Ukrainianness as something hostile and unacceptable.

“I have no doubts that tragic events in the Donbas will finally lead to peace talks. There is no other way out. As a historian, I can assure you that there have been no situations when the conflicting sides did not sit down at a negotiating table. To tell the truth, this may sometimes last very long – it may take people even 50 years to enter into negotiations. But now, in the 21st century, things develop very fast. When the main players begin to negotiate conditions for stopping the conflict and guarantees for the future, Crimea will be one of the central issues because it was at the outset of the whole problem.

“The international community should resolve the most important dilemma: ‘Are we forgiving Russia for Crimea or not? If we forgive the annexation of Crimea, where are the guarantees that new agreements will not be violated in the future?’ There should be only one answer: ‘If the world really wants peace in the future, Russia cannot be forgiven for Crimea.’ Crimean Tatars believe the international community will not betray the principles of justice and the norms of international law.”


Yulia BALKA, Donetsk National University: “You have addressed the US president and Turkish leaders, met European Parliament members… Does the support of international organizations really play a serious role? What is the result of Crimean Tatars’ diplomatic efforts?”

R.Ch.: “We are doing all we can in this situation. Immediately after Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, we advanced the idea of holding an international forum on restoring the rights of the Crimean Tatar people and giving them a guarantee for development in Ukraine. At the time, some of us regarded a ‘Georgian scenario’ inconceivable in Crimea, but others thought that Russia was totally unpredictable. Since then we have done colossal work for the world to support this initiative. And we succeeded – PACE and OSCE accepted our proposal. But the then government of Ukraine opposed it. [Foreign Minister] Kozhara said the Crimean Tatars were striving to be self-sufficient players on the foreign political arena, which posed a threat to Ukraine. Now, fortunately, we are finding mutual understanding with the foreign ministry, the newly-elected president, and other politicians in Kyiv.”

Vlada SOLOVIOVA, Kyiv Polytechnic Institute: “To what extent are Crimean Tatars involved now in the Donbas  hostilities? Are they participating in anti-terrorism operations as part of the National Guard and the Armed Forces of Ukraine? What is you vision of this conflict’s resolution, for Ukrainian cities are being gradually liberated? What should we expect Russia to do?”

R.Ch.: “It is unlikely that somebody will dare give a convincing answer if asked what Russia may really do further on. My experience of contacts with many diplomats shows that Putin’s unpredictable and even irrational actions are the main challenge to joint decisions of the international community.

“In my view, we have reached the peak of confrontation. It is now the most difficult stage of the ATO – dozens of towns have been liberated and need to be held back and mopped up. Aided by Russia, terrorists are deliberately ruining towns and the infrastructure to shift all the blame to the Ukrainian army.

“I can see that everybody is fed up with the word ‘sanctions,’ for it is losing sense. I also belong to those who try, whenever they meet diplomats, to express incomprehension of this feet-dragging. Yet I must admit that, in spite of some delays, the world is gradually restricting Russia’s ability to step up its aggression. I was convinced at first that the strictest limitations should have been imposed on Putin so that he changed his mind and stopped. But it turned out that one must show more foresight when taking any actions.

“As for the participation of Crimean Tatars in the ATO… As far as I can understand, there are Ukrainian citizens of various ethnicities among those who are defending this country.”


Viktoria TKACHENKO, Oles Honchar Dnipropetrovsk National University: “The war against Ukraine may have very bad consequences for Russia. Mustafa Dzhemilev said in an interview that the Russian Federation would disintegrate from inside. Will you comment on this?”

R.Ch.: “Today’s Russia resembles the Soviet Union which disintegrated due to unsolved and hushed-up domestic problems. The Russian leadership positions their country as a united state in which everything is done ‘on a single impulse,’ as they put it. But, in reality, they have a lot of problems. I will not speak about any concrete factors or dates of Russia’s collapse. Moreover, I am not prepared now to say that there are forces that could ease authoritarian pressure in Russia. Many processes can be unnoticeable from outside. However, it is enough sometimes that one link falls out and the whole chain breaks.

“I know that Moscow is concerned about certain risks of the Crimean Tatar people’s ‘integration’ into modern Russian society – the claim is that their experience in the Soviet era and in the period of independent Ukraine may step up the resistance of Russia’s Muslim and Turkic peoples. The fact that Russia is pondering on this means that Crimean Tatars represent a potential danger, as do North Caucasus, the unrecognized republics, and the problems connected with the authority of federation subjects.

“I am inclined to think today that the very presence of Putin, who has colossal financial support and relies on the FSB strength, prevents a dialog about all these matters. Once this structure cracks, the dialog will start. Various nations have a lot of questions to Russia. In global terms, I am inclined to believe that all the aggressive actions of Russia against its neighbors are undermining its own future. I agree with Mustafa Dzhemilev in this.”

I.K.: “The war in Donbas is not only a Russian-Ukrainian conflict – everything is much deeper and all-embracing. The destiny of not only Ukraine, but also the entire Europe is being decided there.”

R.Ch.: “I don’t think that whenever representatives of international organizations, including the EU, discuss the situation in Ukraine, they are not aware that, even in spite of not so effective (for obvious reasons) counteractions, we are restraining Russia from further expansion to other territories. If they are aware of this, they must take all the necessary measures as soon as possible to help Ukraine stop the aggressor. The main foreign-policy goal of today is to force – by way of public opinion – European politicians not to care about the specific interests of their states but to take into account the attitudes of all the communities and people that form the EU. If we achieve this, European politicians will be no longer able to evade taking all the necessary measures to stop the Russian aggression. Russia is making it clear daily to the West that it is now the question of not only defending Ukraine, but also of defending the world setup as a whole. It is a civilizational war.”


I.K.: “The mechanism of early parliamentary elections in Ukraine has been brought into play. There are different opinions about this. What do you think of the Verkhovna Rada election race?”

R.Ch.: “This is a situation when it is very difficult to find the most effective solution. The current parliament has done its job and is now slowing down the development of Ukraine. But I think it would be better to put parliamentary elections on hold for some time. A war is going on. Yes, a new parliament is needed, but, to begin with, it is necessary to draw up a concrete plan of actions, which will result in the cessation of hostilities or at least in the closure of borders and clearing the territory from bandits. Russia is continuing an almost direct aggression and still occupies Crimea – is it the right time for elections?”

Kostiantyn TSENTSURA, Zaporizhia National University: “Nevertheless, the elections seem to be coming up. Do you think we will be able to renew the political elite? How can the Crimean politicians, who wish to be in the Ukrainian parliament, exercise their rights?”

R.Ch.: “Everything will depend on the election system. An open-list proportional representation system would be the best option. But if the first-past-the-post or mixed system is introduced, it will be very problematic to organize election in first-past-the-post constituencies in Crimea and the Donbas.”

I.K.: “This country has seen two Maidans and the annexation of Crimea, a war is raging in the Donbas – the Ukrainians are fighting for a normal state and resisting the Russian aggression. Will our society manage to break down the System? Will we become a country, where politicians are not afraid to heed society?”

R.Ch.: “We failed to change the country at first attempt, after the 2004 Orange Revolution, although the situation was far more favorable than now. Now, after the Euromaidan, we have another chance for catharsis. Will we manage not to make the same mistakes? I only want to emphasize that if politicians do not draw conclusions again and this triggers another Maidan, the country may just not endure this.

“We have reached a stage today, when a catharsis may occur even without Maidans. Politicians must know this, for it is time to stop trying the people’s patience. If the government fails to take active actions in the near future – first of all, about restoring Ukrainian power in the east, regaining Crimea, stabilizing the economic situation, and forming an effective international lobby against Russia’s encroachments on Ukraine, the idea of a Maidan will be more and more often coming into the minds of the people now fighting in the east with weapons in hand. I would not like this to happen, for it may cause the ruin of Ukraine.

“Our interest today is to live in a united country – it is a question of territorial integrity. We must always try to find the forms that can unite people.”

By Volodymyr NYZHNIAK, Dmytro PALCHYKOV, Den’s Summer School of Journalism