No false notes

Martin Luther King wrote somewhere: “An eye for an eye and you become blind”.  In the information war, a lie for a lie is no less disastrous.  Listen to a group of people all singing out of tune and try to work out what the melody should be!

The following is not an attempt to determine who is least or most out of tune.  It is an attempt to discover how antagonism is being kindled, perhaps unknowingly, perhaps with full intent.

Of the numerous articles in one way or another addressing the subject of inter-ethnic relations on the peninsula, three demand particular attention. Two, by Natalya Astakhova, are entitled  “Brought by the wind” and [a literal translation] “He who sows a wind, reaps a storm  On 17 July, a new article by Natalya Kiselyova appeared, entitled “Don’t offer victim services, or the criminal policy of the Mejilis“.

The author of the last article gives a huge number of examples of “overt Russophobia”, allegedly published in what she calls the “ethnic press”.  A mere perusal of the original should convince any reader that such utterances do indeed, as she asserts, “make Russians into the enemy”. Any words which denigrate an ethnic group or nationality demand our unequivocal condemnation.  On this point one could totally agree with the author if not for two “buts”.

We add quotes to our texts to clearly indicate that the words are somebody else’s, not ours. Yet whose are they?  The author does not cite one name or source. Pure anonymity in quotation marks.

It proved quite easy, in fact, to find three of the quotes since this is not the first year that they were used. It would seem that the author has the same source for her information as the compiler of the press review here: .  From this one learns that the words about Russians’ alleged “debilizm” [suggesting mentally slow] and “cattle” originate from copies of “Voice of the Crimea” from 2001-2002.  There is one other source of the same vintage, written by a Tatar writer living permanently in Moscow    The age of all these demented outpourings in no way improves them, nor can there be any question of justification. On the other hand, age is surely of relevance when what is being discussed is the situation in the Crimea in 2008.

The question, of course, arises where the other anonymous quotations are from. The answer might possibly be found in the second article by Astakhova who gives extracts apparently from letters received from readers. At a human level we can all understand that she quotes only those agreeing with her. The effect, though, is entirely predictable with absolutely unknown people effectively “confirming” the author’s views. It is not impossible that some of the outrageously Russophobic quotes are from a similar source. No less to be regretted that there are people with such views, however the difference is significant. The author of a newspaper article and the editorial office are liable if they knowingly circulate misleading information or incite inter-ethnic enmity. This is not the case with Maria Petrivna with her letters of support, even if we succeed in finding the honourable lady in question.

However if the aim is to show how “we” are hard done by, and what heroes “we” are for tolerating it, then produce as many examples as you like. Who cares where they’re from and when they first encountered the printed page!

All three articles are pretty clear in attributing blame for the Crimea‘s ills. For Astakhova those responsible are the Crimean Tatars, while Kiselyova blames, and I quote, “the so-called mejilis of the Crimean Tatar people”. It should be noted that all texts abound with words in inverted commas placing not only the words themselves in question, but also the sincerity of their authors who claim commitment to tolerance and good relations between different ethnic groups. Their texts are also teeming with phrases in brackets. These have the advantage (for the author) of making ones meaning quite clear, while enabling them to deny such messages if need be. About the Mejilis, for example, the author claims that this body “in fact amasses for itself political (and not only political) capital”.

In her efforts to present her specific understanding of the relations between the Mejilis and the Crimean Tatars, Ms Kiselyova resorts to what cannot with the best will in the world be called “psychology” without inverted commas. One has the impression that she has prepared her theory which she now needs to coat in words.  The latter are neither too difficult nor too simplistic, they’re just wrong.  The Mejilis is supposedly “engaged in the victimization” of the Crimean Tatar people. In this rich concept she thrusts the fact that the “mejilis encourages the Crimean Tatars to think that they are the victims of a crime” (which, of course, they are, since how else would you describe Stalin’s Deportation?).  To this is added the assertion that the Mejilis cultivates “deviant behaviour”. All this gobbledygook, together with terms which can only elicit both aural and mental discomfort, would seem to be aimed at creating an image of spoiled and insatiable children, while “enriching” this with the associative force of a word more common among law enforcement officers.

Well, OK, the text may not exactly contribute to our knowledge of psychology, but maybe we can gain some other information from it? The article is certainly well-stocked with statistics. Admittedly, when you look closed, they elicit a large number of questions. The most incomprehensible are the assertions of the author regarding the land issue and her “evidence” to back these (the inverted commas are mine and used without any pretence to indicate total scepticism).

Ms Kiselyova claims that with regard to the land issue “in actual fact it is Crimeans of non-Tatar origin who are discriminated against.” She triumphantly presents what she terms statistics from the Republic Committee on Land Resources of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea. it is not clear where she found this “data” since it is not available on the Committee’s official site, and a representative of this esteemed body has not even heard of such figures. Statistics hypnotize people between then car lights rabbits, however one would like to know what, excuse me, is the source of this magical effect on us.

The question, after all, is extremely important since those of us who are less than au fait with the subject must be staggered by such figures. If “the degree of provision for Crimean families of plots of land allocated for building housing comes to 147.7%, while the analogous figure for families simply of Crimeans does not even reach fifty percent”, then what is the Crimean parliament doing? Why do people vote for deputies who think only of the needs of a mere 10% of the peninsula’s population?

However one can perhaps conclude that the authorities have come to and understood that they have, so to speak, lost count. The author explains that the Speaker of Parliament Anatoly Hryshchenko “considers that it is precisely the lack of a combined register of repatriants (i.e. those formerly deported) who have received or are applying for land and housing in the Crimea which set the scene for the bacchanalia seen at present in the peninsula’s land sphere and causes periodic protest actions.” Ms Kiselyova is outraged by the stand taken by the Mejilis against such a register. She writes a large number of enraged words accusing it of a lack of logic. I have to admit that where she finds this appalling failing in logical faculties is baffling to me. The Deputy Head of the Mejilis, Refat Chubarov explains that “a land cadastre for the Crimea is absolutely vital. If only to finally understand the scale of the “land lawlessness” on the peninsula which in turn will make it possible to see who are the real “squatters” of Crimean land”.

One has the impression that the author has got tired, or is countering on her readers’ mental exhaustion, and like an engine running on will simply continue repeating her line about supposed attempts by the Mejilis to cover up the real situation.

Yet going strictly by the text, what do we have? The Crimean Parliament, together with Ms Kiselyova, are speaking out in favour of a register which will record only the land situation among those repatriated. The Mejilis, however, whom the author sees as guilty of all deadly sins, is in support of a land cadastre which will present a full picture of land relations among inhabitants of the peninsula, including the Crimean Tatars. Ukraine, by the way, has long been criticized for not creating such a land cadastre. International structures stress the importance of such a cadastre in fighting corruption. And here it is the Mejilis, source of such outrage for the author, which supports this step.

It seems that even when the entire choir is out of tune, certain notes are still distinguished. Or, more accurately, they can be distinguished if you read carefully, it is by no means easy to unerringly detect who the victims of manipulation and machinations are, and who is treating us like idiots and has an interest in stirring up tension in the Crimea.  Not easy, but it is possible, and most importantly, absolutely imperative.  

Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

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