Thursday, 6 March 2014

Khrushchev's Crimea: Vlad Wants His Pressie Back...

Crimea has erupted across the global news headlines this past week.

When a crowd of people rioted on the streets of Kiev, perhaps uniquely demanding to be allowed to join the European Union, and overthrew the democratically elected President, the western media hailed this as a triumph for freedom and democracy.

A few days later, as the new Ukrainian regime adopted laws restricting the Russian language and culture of around 40% of the population, a crowd demonstrated in Crimea and 81 of the 83 elected members of the local parliament voted to hold a referendum on whether or not the Black Sea province should leave Ukraine and join Russia. Barack Obama declared any such referendum would, apparently, break international law - Scotland better watch out. The western media denounced it as a coup d'etat orchestrated by Russian President Putin and called for sanctions - some even suggesting some sort of vague military action  Half a league, half a league onwards!

But while the chauvinistic Putin,a supreme nationalist himself, is no benign player in events, as so often is the case, our political and media class operate in complete ignorance of what they are pontificating about. The narrative put out in the West on events completely misrepresents the reality not only of current happenings but of the past too.

Not only did previous Western military adventures in the peninsula not go so well, Crimea's population is heavily Russian (around 60%), with significant minorities of Ukrainians (25%) and Tatars (13%). It is not surprising that most of the people living there might be concerned about the seizure of power in Ukraine by a coalition containing nationalists and neofacists. The intervention of Russian troops, which has led to the deaths of precisely no one, in sharp contrast to the seizure of power in Kiev, is in this context seen as extremely welcome by local people, apprehensive of the train of events.

But all the more unsurprising is the fact that they might want to be part of Russia - because, historically, they were for over two centuries. Previously, the Crimean peninsula was a province of the Ottoman Empire, part of the Tatar Khanate, a colony of Genoa and an outpost of the Byzantine Empire in turn.

Crimea in history - from National Geographic HERE
It was never part of the Ukraine until 1954. In that year, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, on something of a high after Stalin's death and his own election as General Secretary of the Communist Party, gave Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as a wee gift. Some people got vodka, gulag prisoners got parole; Ukraine got Simferopol and, after independence at the collapse of the USSR in 1990, they kept it.

So now, facing a decidedly chauvinistic Ukrainian regime, the local parliament, which legally governs Crimea as an autonomous republic, is holding a referendum. As long as the vote is fairly held, how is there anything there that breaks international law? The parallel with, for example, the Scottish Government holding the independence referendum in September is strong and the ability of areas with a distinct identity and internal self-government to democratically secede is well-established around the world. Or is the West really so keen to defend Khrushchev's self-indulgent act from 60 years ago?

The outcome is  not a foregone conclusion though probably fairly certain - reunion with Russia - but if so, it will be because the Russian majority will likely want that. And why not? Faced with the hostility of the new nationalist government in Kiev, they probably just want to go home.

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