THE CRIMEAN TARTARS AND ELECTIONS-2002 IN UKRAINE

Natalia BELITSER


Natalia Belitser, Research associate, Pilip Orlik Institute of Democracy (Kiev, Ukraine)


Mass repatriation of Crimean Tartars created a problem of their representation in the executive and legislative structures of the Crimean Autonomous Republic (CAR). Upon return they had to face numerous daily problems and overcome hostility of local authorities.

Wide-scale clashes with those who had been living in the Crimea were avoided mostly because the political and spiritual leaders of the Crimean Tartars demonstrated their allegiance to the traditions of non-violence, tolerance and peaceful methods of struggle. For several years the situation remained tense while the repatriates had no say in political decision-making on issues of vital importance for the entire people. Being aware of their impotence and being unable to talk to the local authorities the Crimean Tartars elected their own bodies of self-administration. In June 1991 they elected the Kurultai (National Congress) that, in its turn, elected the Mejlis (the supreme body of self-administration between the Kurultai sessions). This grass-root initiative brought the people together and mobilized them politically, yet these bodies could not substitute for a legal administrative body recognized by the state and authorized to take an active part in the peninsulas social, political and economic life and in division of power. One should say that as distinct from the other ethnic minorities that had been also deported from the Crimean Peninsula the Crimean Tartars were an autochthonous population and it was on its territory that they could hope to preserve their tongue, traditions, and culture.

It was for this reason that the Tartars insisted on a special status of the title ethnic group with special rights including the right to be represented in the elected and executive structures. They needed a say in political decision-making on which depended their future as a nation that had returned to their historical homeland, and their integration into the Crimean and Ukrainian society.

It is not an aim of this paper to dwell in detail on their struggle to restore their rights. I shall limit myself to a concise description of those events that throw many features of the 2002 election campaign into bolder relief so that the reader would better grasp the specifics of the election struggle and the elections to the bodies of power of all levels that took place on 31 March, 2002.

The most important of such events was a compromise decision the Supreme Soviet of the peninsula passed on 13 October, 1993 (115 out of 143 votes) on additions to the Law on Elections to the Supreme Soviet of the Crimea under which the Crimean Tartars got 14 seats in the parliament for the period between 1994 and 1998. The decision rested not on recognition that the Crimean Tartars were an autochthonous people of the Crimea or Ukraine but on their status as a deported nation that found it hard to integrate and therefore needed support. Together with the Crimean Tartars other earlier deported ethnic groups (Armenians, Bulgarians, Greeks, and Germans) also got seats in the parliament (one each). It was made clear from the very beginning that it was a temporary measure valid for one parliamentary term only. An absolute majority of the Crimean Tartars voted for the list suggested by the Kurultai. The elected deputies formed a 14-member faction called Kurultai. None of the 35 candidates of the Crimean Tartars who ran individually succeeded.

The very fact that the faction is functioning in the parliament allowed the oppositional elements to form a constructive opposition with a majority there, which made it possible to adopt laws that all the repatriates badly needed. For example, the opposition passed a decision on three official languages in the Crimea: Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tartar. Parliamentary representation allowed the Crimean Tartars to move away from the politics of rallies to public politics that called for compromises and an account of the interests of other population groups. This marked a new stage of integration processes on the peninsula.

In March 1995, after numerous failed attempts to extinguish pro-Russian separatism in the Crimea the Supreme Rada of Ukraine annulled all laws and acts of the Crimean autonomy that did not fit the legal field of Ukraine. The Crimean Tartars fell victim to this otherwise formally positive step that deprived separatism in the mutinous autonomy of its legal pillars. The Tartars were deprived of their guaranteed parliamentary seats ensured by the Supreme Rada of the Crimea but not confirmed by Ukrainian laws. Numerous OSCE recommendations to ensure representation of the Crimean Tartars by preserving the quota or introducing proportionate representation were ignored. Candidates of Crimean Tartars stood little chance to be elected on an individual basis first, because the Communists, pro-Soviet and pro-Russian elements were traditionally strong on the peninsula; second, because the repatriates were dispersed across the Crimea and did not form a majority in any of the constituencies1; third, as distinct from the 1994 elections those of the Crimean Tartars who had not managed to obtain Ukrainian citizenship were deprived of the right to vote and to be elected (by the election day there were about 90 thousands of them).

As a result, no representatives of the Crimean Tartars were elected to the CAR parliament under the majority system. The only elected Tartar communist and internationalist Lentun Bezaziev ran with the support of the republican branch of the Communist Party of Ukraine.

This created a paradox: the Crimean Tartars were completely alienated from political decision-making in their own homeland. The situation became even tenser when what looked like a compromise about the distribution of power in the Crimea had been reached. After prolonged and complicated negotiations leader of the communists Leonid Grach was elected the speaker. His intransigent position in relation to the Mejlis and its leaders was widely known. Sergei Kunitsyn, a skillful pragmatic administrator known for his ability to settle all kinds of conflicts, including ethnic ones through mutually acceptable decisions and concessions, became head of the government. This tandem that looked forced but fairly balanced was soon destroyed by the speaker and his comrades. They opened an active campaign against Kunitsyn and his people in the cabinet.

Since the Crimean Tartars supported the premier and went against Grach and his claims to monopoly power in the Crimea their protest actions added fire to the acute confrontation between the communist and pro-Russian centers of influence among the Crimean leaders, on the one hand, and the political elite of the Crimean Tartars, on the other.

The ethnopolitical situation was further aggravated by an absence of Tartars from the elected structures. No wonder, therefore, that in the process of drafting a new Ukrainian election law Crimean Tartars, democratic parties and organizations of Ukraine and some of the international organizations concentrated on legal principles and mechanisms that would ensure representation of the Tartars in the Crimean parliament. According to the resolution the parliament of Ukraine passed in May 2001 several laws on the elections to the Supreme Rada of the autonomous republic were drafted that ensured seats for the Crimean Tartars. The deputies, however, failed to pass them because of an inflexible position of the communist deputies who flatly refused to agree to any legal measures designed to let the Crimean Tartars take part in the elections for ethnic reasons.

Finally, on 17 January, 2002 the Supreme Rada of Ukraine adopted a law on the elections to the Supreme Rada of the Crimean republic that introduced superficial changes related to organizational details such as duration of the election campaign, the principles of forming election committees, organization of polling stations, etc. The amendments said nothing about the key problem: legally guaranteed representation of the autochthonous people in the parliament. In addition, the Central Election Committee of the Crimea mainly composed of Leonid Grachs supporters rejected the last possibility of remedying the legal gap by forming constituencies according to the Crimean Tartars settlement pattern.

Rolf Ekeus, the recently elected OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, clearly described his stand yet failed to change the situation. In full conformity with the position of Max Van Der Stuhl, his predecessor, he expressed his conviction to the foreign minister of Ukraine that guaranteed representation of the Crimean Tartars was an important element of political stability on the peninsula. He offered his help in drawing amendments to the election laws so that to reach the best legal solution to the problem. He said that he was prepared to come to Ukraine on an official visit to discuss this and other problems. Unfortunately, his visit was postponed and took place on 4 February, 2002, which deprived the Ukrainian law-makers of his invaluable assistance in making the necessary amendments to the Crimean election laws.

In this way the Crimean Tartars and their allies were defeated after a long and very painful battle at the parliament to provide the Tartars with certain political role in the autonomy. The experience of the recent past suggested that mass protest actions, boycott of elections and other events threatening to destabilize the shaky ethnic and political situation would follow. This time, however, the Mejlis took certain actions to prevent further destabilization and to stem mounting tension. It called on the voters to take part in the elections, put aside their bitter disappointment with an obvious injustice and forget their failed hopes. This call was supported partly because of the previous massive campaign in the course of which Crimean Tartars adopted Ukrainian citizenship, and thanks to an agreement about help and partnership with the bloc Nasha Ukraina (Our Ukraine) of Viktor Iushchenko. (This bloc included the Narodniy Rukh Ukrainy, the traditional partner of the Mejlis, and some other parties.) The blocs election lists contained the names of Mustafa Jemilev, Mejlis chairman who was entered under No. 20, and his first deputy Refat Chubarov (No. 61) at that time deputies of the Ukrainian parliament. (As was expected on 31 March, 2002 they were elected members of the Ukrainian parliament.)

A serious opposition of the centrist forces that took shape on the eve of the election campaign could have contributed to the Tartars rejection of the traditional forms of struggle against the Grach regime. These forces had good reasons to put an end to the situation when power was concentrated in the speakers hands, which inevitably caused squabbles with the government and other structures. For example, on the eve of the last plenary meeting of the Crimean parliament in 2001 a new group appeared. It was called Za ediniy Krym (For the United Crimea), a sort of a branch of the pro-governmental bloc Za edinuiu Ukrainu (For United Ukraine). It brought together members of Trudovaia Ukraina, Peoples Democratic Party, Agrarian Party, the Party of the Regions, and others. It is interesting to note that because of contradictions with the speaker over the principles according to which the Crimean Central Election Committee was to be formed the members of the new group refused to take part in the December session. On 19 December 44 deputies out of 100 attended the sitting (obviously not enough for political decision-making), but the session was considered to have taken place. Contrary to the law and to the rules of the parliament it approved the list of members of the Central Election Committee made up mainly of Leonid Grachs supporters.

Early in January 2002 (before the new law on elections in the Crimea was endorsed) the speaker set up a Bloc of Leonid Grach with an obvious aim of strengthening his positions. It was made up of members of still the largest and most popular communist party and also of those who worked in the All-Ukrainian Spravedlivost (Justice) Party, the Peasant Party and 28 independent members. Significantly, the bloc nominated its parliamentary deputies in all but two constituencies where it supported the nominees of the United Social-Democratic Party of Ukraine. Soon after it became known that political and financial circles of Russia had extended powerful support to the blocinformation was indirectly confirmed by Russian political technologists who arrived in the peninsula. The support was far from disinterested: the official program envisaged, among other things, mainly Russian investments on the peninsula and a favorable regime for them. The bloc did not limit itself to an intention to increase Russias influence in the Crimeait announced that it intended to promote a union treaty between Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, to abolish all customs and other barriers between the states, and to make the Russian language the second state tongue.

This caused a veritable storm among nearly all political forces from the Mejlis to the Crimean premier and the representative of the Ukrainian president in the CAR. In particular, Andrei Senchenko, leader of a public committee Prozrachnaia vlast (Transparent Power) accused the speaker of an intention to pay for the Russian pre-election services with the peninsulas land reserves. Premier Valeri Gorbatov actually confirmed this by disclosing information of his meetings in Moscow with very important people who funded Grachs election campaign and of the speakers promise to give them the entire Crimean coast and entire coastal infrastructure.2

A month later the Crimea got an opposition coalition shaped by ex-premier Sergei Kunitsyn that he called Komanda Kunitsyna (Kunitsyns Team). It was based on the National-Democratic Party of Ukraine of which Kunitsyn was member. He described the members of his team as pragmatically minded high professionals who represented, in particular, executive structures. Together with them Kunitsyn during two and a half years of his premiership had achieved stable economic growth, reduced wage arrears and improved the economic situation of the resorts. At the very first press conference the Komanda announced that a wide range of political forces was prepared to act together and enter into political consultations with potential partners, the Mejlis and the Prozrachnaia vlast committee being named among others. The Komanda nominated 60 parliamentary candidates and announced its support for 24 more who were not its members. It also planned to discuss acceptable possibilities for other constituencies.3

This was the first attempt to set up a wide anticommunist coalition on the peninsula where until recently communists and their leader Grach had dominated the local structures of power and where mainly the Crimean Tartars and their few allies, the so-called Ukrainian national-democrats, had been opposing them. The new coalition announced that its plans went further than a victory on 31 March. It wanted to acquire a possibility to conduct reforms in a balanced way (instead of looking solely at Russia as the communist party and its allies were doing). Ideology in its pure form was by far the decisive factor of the election struggle in 2002, yet the interests of the business and financial communities of the Crimea and Ukraine coincided with the approaches of the staunchest supporters of democratic and pro-Western option for the country.

This situation seemed to provide a chance to smoothly transfer power without scandals and much noise to pragmatic and less confrontational politicians than Grach and his cronies.

Yet on 25 February the election campaign became suddenly aggravated. This happened not through the efforts of the Mejlis or the Komandathe most prominent opposition forces on the peninsula. It was on an initiative of the Prozrachnaia vlast committee: the representative of Tatiana Krasikova, whom the committee supported (director of the Black Sea TV company, who ran against Grach in the same constituency), complained to the court of the Central District of Simferopol about the violations that Grach had performed when registering as a candidate. Having scrutinized the complaint and the related documents the court annulled the decision of the Constituency Election Committee that had registered Grach a parliamentary candidate. The judgment was final and without appeal. The decision was based on four points: Grach had not personally presented the documents for registration; he had not applied to discontinue his powers as the chairman of the Supreme CAR Rada for the period of the election campaign; he had failed to enter into his financial declaration 160,000 hryvnas (about $30 thousand) he got for his flat in Simferopol the fourth part of which was his personal property; and he had stated in the registration documents that he owned a house of 446.6 sq m (in actual fact it was 676.6 sq m with over 90 sq m of other structures).4

Despite an obvious fact of violations of the Crimean election laws the communists responded with statements about the political reasons behind the court decision and the political reprisals instigated by the nationalist forces that try to prevent any further development of relations between Russia and Ukraine, and the Crimea as part of the latter. Grach announced his determination to defend his rights up to applying to the European Human Rights Court and his right to apply to the patriotically minded public of the Crimea, Ukraine, and Russia for support.5

At the same time the majority of experts agreed that the court decision was competent and legally correct. Refat Chubarov, member of the Ukrainian parliament and first deputy chairman of the Mejlis, in his interview with the BBC Ukrainian Service denounced statements of Grachs lawyers who insisted that the court decision was a political one. He emphasized that the court had proceeded from concrete violations of the election laws and called on Leonid Grach to follow his own mottostick to the law.6

Mass rallies in support of Leonid Grach followed: noisy yet not numerous communist crowds gathered on the central square of Simferopol, there were pickets and tents. At the rallies Grach described himself as the only guarantor of peace and stability in the Crimea and predicted that a civil war would follow if he were removed from the election race. In the heat of struggle he announced that he intended to initiate a referendum on joining the Crimea to Russia.7 It should be added that he promptly repudiated this statement by saying that numerous media had misunderstood him.8 Finally, in a bout of grudge against the main guarantor of the Constitution who either had been unable or unwilling to support the victim of court arbitrariness Grach announced, and repeated many times, that in 2004 he would run for the president. He hinted that Russian political and financial circles were prepared to support him. This ambitious statement invited a rebuff from the Communist Party of Ukraine: one of its leaders Adam Martyniuk declared that the party had never discussed this variant, that his party had a recognized leader in the person of Petr Simonenko who would run for the president from the Communist Party. He also added: We are not interested whether the Russian Federation is going to support Grach or not, Russia is no authority for the Communist Party of Ukraine. None of the RF decisions can affect our position.9

The struggle over the court decision proceeded as an unprecedented fight of courts of all levels with the Central and Constituency election committees. The General Prosecutors Office to which the sides regularly appealed had quietly removed itself from the battlefield.

On 30 March Grach sent a cassation appeal to the Supreme Court of Ukraine in which he asked to abrogate the decisions of the Simferopol court and the court of appeal of the Crimea. The Supreme Court took over the case but could not make a decision because the Court of Appeal had failed to transfer the file. On 31 March, the election day, nine polling stations of constituency No. 25 got ballot papers with the name of Grach in them. According to Ivan Poliakov, Chairman of the Central Election Committee of the CAR, if the decision of the local court that removed Grach from registration remained in force the election results in constituency No. 25 would be considered invalid. He also said that Grachs election posters were displayed in all polling stations of the constituency as if Grach had stayed in the race.10 The results were in Grachs favor: he collected 3,790 votes as against 947 votes cast for Tatiana Krasikova who came second. The constituency showed the lowest turnout in the Crimea: 38 against average 57 percent.11

On 19 April the Court for Civil Affairs of the Supreme Court of Ukraine allowed Grachs appeal and abrogated the decisions of the local court and the Court of Appeal of the Crimea. On the same day the Central Election Committee of the peninsula whose members had ignored its meetings for two months recognized Leonid Grach as deputy.

On 25 April the court of the Central District of Simferopol partially allowed Tatiana Krasikovas appeal and ruled that the decisions of the election committee of constituency No. 25 and the Central Election Committee of the Crimea to recognize Grach the winner of the elections and to issue him the relevant document were illegal. The Election Committee of the Crimea refused to abide by this decision.

On 29 April the newly elected parliament met for the first time. Leonid Grach attended the session and was nominated for the speaker.

One should say that the fact that the election did take place was an outstanding achievement. Election campaign was going on amid an unprecedented storm of passions, a fierce battle between two administrative resourcesthat of the local pro-communist and of the pro-governmental Center-oriented forces, and there was a very real threat that the elections would be sabotaged. Ninety-five deputies confirmed their powers while 5 mandates were contested in courts. There are seven Crimean Tartars in the new parliament, six of them supported by the Mejlis and one (Bezaziev) by the Communist Party. There are 44 Russians, 35 Ukrainians, 4 Jews, 2 Gagauzes, 1 Czech, 1 Greek, 1 Armenian, and 1 Abkhazian among the deputies. The newly elected parliament has a wider ethnic and party presentation than the previous one.

On 29 April the session elected the speaker and the prime minister. Leonid Grach ran for the speaker against Boris Deutsch, 63-year-old economist who had served vice-chairman in the previous parliament. Everybody agreed that he was a politically neutral figure able to reach compromises and agreements with rivaling groups. He was nominated by the parliamentary majority, yet the results still caused a shock among Grachs supporters: 52 votes for Deutsch as against 22 for Grach (fewer votes than the number of deputies his bloc supported during elections). Contrary to the communists expectations the rather shaky coalition made of the patchy parliamentary majority won. After this crushing defeat of the Crimean leader and boss the results of voting for the premier came as no surprise: 62 votes (an absolute majority) were cast for Kunitsyn, generally recognized as the best prime minister (he filled the post from 1998 to June 2001) the peninsular ever had had. It turned out that Leonid Grach had expected something of this sort: on the eve of the session he applied for a registration as a deputy of the Supreme Rada of Ukraine (where he was elected on the Communist Partys list). He moved to Kiev thus ending the era of Grach in the Crimea.

The situation noticeably improved when a new political elite took the helm in the parliament: as distinct from the Ukrainian deputies steeped in faction squabbles when electing the leaders of the Supreme Rada, on 15 April the second session of the Crimean parliament elected, without much noise, the leaders of the Crimean Rada and the government. It is interesting to note that Ilmi Umerov, deputy chairman of the Mejlis branded by the communists as a radical nationalist was elected one of two vice-speakers contrary to the communist party vows never to allow this. Edip Gafarov who used to head the Republican Committee for Nationalities and Deported Citizens was appointed vice-premier. Two more Crimean Tartars got posts in the government: Aziz Abdullaev was appointed Minister of Industry, Transport and Communications, and Server Saliev became chairman of the Republican Committee for Nationalities. On the same day the Rada approved the republican budget for 2002 that Kunitsyn promptly completed.12

The results of the latest elections to the local bodies of self-administration of all levels are very indicative in relation to representation of the Crimean Tartars. According to preliminary information 957 Crimean Tartars were elected to local Soviets (14 percent of the total number of deputies, while the share of the Tartars in the total Crimean population is about 13 percent). One should point out that the share drops as the level of the self-administration climbs higher. There are the following figures13: 696 Crimean Tartars were elected to village Soviets (16.4 percent); 23, to City Soviets of towns under district jurisdiction (15.6 percent); 105 to district Soviets (13.8 percent); 71 to Soviets of settlements (7.8 percent); 22 to City Soviets of cities under republican jurisdiction (5 percent); 5 to district Soviets in Simferopol (three districts) (4 percent).

These figures testify that in large cities people were still more negative about Crimean Tartars than in small towns, settlements and villages and/or that local mejlises worked better and managed to demonstrate that the Crimean Tartars as deputies would protect the interests of all people, Tartars and non-Tartars alike.

A preliminary analysis of the latest elections in the Crimea suggests the following.

First, tension on the peninsular did not increase contrary to the fears of politicians and analysts that a lower rating of the Crimean branch of the Communist Party of Ukraine and its diminished influence as well as diminished authority of the pro-Russian radically minded group and removal from the political arena of the leader and boss Leonid Grach would aggravate the situation. In fact, political and ethnic confrontation on the peninsula abated.

Second, a wide coalition of the centrist and right centrist forces of the Crimea and a wide-scale campaign of granting Ukrainian citizenship to the Crimean Tartars made it possible to increase their representations in the elected bodies of local administration.

Third, the problem of representation of the Crimean Tartars in the Supreme Rada of the Crimea is still unresolved. This is testified not only by the number of the elected deputies that does not correspond to the share of Tartars in the Crimean population but also by the fact that their success depended on subjective factors. The heat of the struggle for power, property and economic influence on the peninsula put all ethnic contradictions and anti-Islamic sentiments on the back burner (for the time being?). They may resurface in future to negatively affect the election chances of the Crimean Tartars.

Fourth, the election law of the CAR still needs changes: it should guarantee an adequate representation of the Crimean Tartars.14 A law on the status of the Crimean Tartars in Ukraine is still on the agenda: a draft has been prepared yet it never reached the parliament. On 19 May a rally in Simferopol gathered to commemorate the 58th anniversary of deportation of the Crimean Tartars demanded that the law be passed. It was for the first time that a similar rally was attended by leaders of the government and the parliament and by Vice-Premier Vladimir Seminozhenko. He announced that the Edinaia Ukraina Party (the largest pro-governmental faction in the newly elected Ukrainian parliament) would undoubtedly support the draft. This breeds cautious hopes that the political and legal problems of the Crimean Tartars will be resolved.


1 In September 1990 the Crimean Regional Soviet of Peoples Deputies of the Ukrainian S.S.R. passed a special decision under which the Crimean Tartars were settled in such a way that they could not form a majority in any of the administrative-territorial units and that their share did not exceed 25 percent.
2 Fedor Serafimovich, Blok protiv komandy, in: [http://www.Uatoday.net], 13 February, 2002.
3 See: Aleksandr Gherasimov, V Krymu namereny pokonchit s tenevoi politikoi, in: [http://Part.org.us.], 13 February, 2002.
4 See: Lilia Budzhurova, Est takaia geopolitikakvartirniy vopros Gracha (in Ukrainian), in: [http:pravda.com,ua], 4 March, 2002.
5 Viktoria Sergeeva, Bezgrachevshchina, in: [http.//www.Uatoday.net], 26 February, 2002.
6 Ibidem.
7 See: Lilia Budzhurova, op. cit; Leonid Grach. Teatr odnogo aktera; Konflikt v Krymu razygran rossiiskimi politicheskimi tekhnologami? in: [http.://www. kry,2002.com], 7 March, 2002.
8 An interview with the Segodnia newspaper, 1 March, 2002.
9 [http://www.kry,2002.com], 8 May, 2002.
10 See: [http://www.for-ua.com/news], 31 March, 2002.
11 See: [http://www.pravda.com.ua], 31 March, 2002.
12 See: [http://www.for-ua.com], 15 May, 2002.
13 Refat Chubarov, deputy of the Ukrainian parliament, courteously supplied the figures on 4 May, 2002.
14 When the election results became known the Crimean press wrote that the quotas or national constituencies were no longer needed since the Crimean Tartars had become sufficiently integrated and can elect their candidates under the normal majority system (see, for example: Argumentov v polzu vvedenia spetsialnykh kvot dlia etnicheskikh menshinstv stalo menshe, in: [http://www.Krym2002.com], 30 April, 2002.

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