Crimean Tatar autonomy: Key risks and prospects

Author : Serhiy Stelmakh

Source : 112 Ukraine

Indigenous people of annexed Crimea is the golden share in the hands of Kyiv
19:55, 24 January 2017

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The question of creation of Crimean Tatar autonomy within Ukraine has been actively discussed in political and expert circles since the beginning of the annexation of the peninsula. Indigenous people is the golden share in the hands of Kyiv. Solving the "Crimean issue" at the international level is impossible without taking into account the views of the Crimean Tatars. On the other hand, admitting the peninsula national republic is a complex process that can take several years.

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This time the theme of the Crimean Tatar statehood actualized in connection with the Day of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, a Verkhovna Rada deputy Refat Chubarov, called on President Petro Poroshenko and the Ukrainian government to convene a constitutional commission to prepare amendments to the Basic Law concerning granting Crimea the status of Crimean Tatar Autonomous Republic.

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"I appeal to the Ukrainian President and the government to convene a constitutional commission to start work on the amendment of section 10 of the Constitution of Ukraine on "Autonomous Republic of Crimea" as soon as possible. We must turn the Autonomous Republic of Crimea into the Crimean Tatar Autonomous Republic as an integral part of Ukraine," Chubarov said at the Parliament meeting.

He recalled that 26 years ago the Crimean referendum on the restoration of the autonomy, liquidated in 1945 in connection with the deportation of the Crimean Tatar people, was held. Soviet Union was living out the last months, Crimean Tatars massively returned to the land of their ancestors. Crimean Regional Party Committee feared that the indigenous people will require the restoration of the national republic. The Communists played a proactive role, "recreating" the Crimean autonomy on a territorial basis.

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The question of the Crimean Tatar autonomy has being debated in the Ukrainian political and expert circles in the first months of annexation. In the spring of last year, Poroshenko promised to expedite the process of constitutional change, but real steps have not been made yet. Majority of the participants in the debate agree that only the Crimean Tatars, the Karaites, and Krymchaks have a genuine right to self-determination on the peninsula. The last two people, unfortunately, have a small number of representatives. In any case, the fundamental documents of the United Nations confer rights of indigenous peoples to determine their own destiny.

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The Russian authorities, justifying the "referendum" of 2014, insisting on the interest of a non-existent "Crimean people". At the time of the annexation the republic was mostly inhabited by the Ukrainians, Russians, and Crimean Tatars. The first two ethnic self-determined within the framework of Ukraine and Russia, respectively. If the Kremlin insists on the "Crimean people," by this logic, there can be "Rostov people" or "the people of Siberia," claiming forming their own state.

Moscow is trying to manipulate international norms, arguing that the principle of inviolability of borders is supposedly contrary to the right of peoples to self-determination. In fact, there is no contradiction. The principle of inviolability of borders means that the state cannot force the other to violate the border. In the spring and summer of 2014, Russian Federation committed an act of aggression against Ukraine, annexing Crimea and capturing certain areas of Donbas. At the same time, Russian diplomats referred to the alleged conflict of international law, according to which the right to self-determination is "guaranteed," and territorial integrity is "respected." In fact, the basic UN documents provide various forms of self-determination: the creation of the own state, demand autonomous status or refusal of having state in general.

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And now we come to the main point - what kind of mechanism could Crimean Tatars use for a complete self-determination. Given the historical, political and geographical factors, the indigenous people of the peninsula can claim to autonomy within the Ukrainian state. Refat Chubarov called to amend the Constitution of Ukraine, but it is the final part of the process. Initially, the Crimean Tatar Kurultai (authorized national congress) should make a decision on the consent of the Crimean Tatars live and develop as a part of independent Ukraine. The final declaration of the Congress should include all the necessary conditions.

Then the issue of creating the National Authority shall be submitted to a national referendum. According to the Constitution, Ukrainian people is the source of power in the country. The territory of Crimea belongs to every citizen of the country. No matter in what area he or she lives. We are not talking about the "federalization." Establishment of a national republic is possible without changing the unitary status of the country. Recall unitary states are of two types: simple and complex. The latter provides having some autonomous entities.

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Creation of the Crimean Tatar republic will mean a complete rebuild of the Ukrainian state and the recognition of the Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars constituent peoples. Only after a positive decision on the national referendum, Verkhovna Rada can begin changing the Constitution and the adoption of an appropriate legislative framework. We should not forget that there are numerous risks. First, the peninsula must come back to Ukraine. Then, a "rehabilitation" mode should be launched for several years. Even after the Kremlin power changes and the Russian troops leave the peninsula, thousands of persons (former Ukrainian military, security forces, civil servants and others) will remain in Crimea, and turning back to Ukraine will mean a complete collapse for these people. At least three years, the power in the liberated territory will belong to the military and civil administration. It means no local elections, freedom of assembly, political agitation.

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We should not forget that ethnic Russians are in the majority in Crimea. Long-term observations have shown that there are 30-35% real supporters of the "Russian world" in the country. Majority of them kept loyalty to Ukraine or were neutral. But their reaction on creating a Crimean Tatar republic is unknown. After all, before the Russian invasion, Crimea has been a de facto Russian autonomy. There was a shaky status quo between the Crimean Tatars and Russian, which was completely destroyed by the aggressive actions of Moscow.

Crimean Tatar republic is possible, if the rights of the Russian population, which implies the official status of the language and quota representation in the government, are respected. In this case, we get the "upside-down" Crimean Autonomy, in which the Crimean Tatars and Russian swap roles. But the main question arises: to what extent it corresponds to the strategic interests of the Ukrainian state?

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After the liberation of Crimean Peninsula, the process of political transformation in the national republics (in compliance with these stages) would take several years. Ukrainian authorities have to develop a system of interaction with Crimea, which would exclude separatism in the future. National autonomy is one of those mechanisms.

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