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Crimea: 'Step-by-step escalating repression'

Nikita Jolkver
April 29, 2016

In an interview with DW, Mejlis Chairman Refat Chubarov explained what the recent ban of his organization means for the governing body of Crimean Tatars. He also criticized Russian authorities.

The Mejlis, the Tatar's representative assembly
Image: picture-alliance/RIA Novosti/M. Mokrushin

DW: Authorities have banned the Mejlis of Crimean Tatars. Does that mean that you are now an exiled head of government of the Crimean Tatars?

Chubarov: The Russian occupation authorities are step-by-step escalating repressions against Crimea's indigenous community, and they don't see any reason to change this attitude towards Crimean Tatars. Russia doesn't respond to claims and appeals by the international community. The Russian authorities have made it absolutely clear that they want to force all Crimean Tatars out of their territory. I don't feel exiled; although we are outside of Crimea, we are in Ukraine. We are even more determined now to come back to our territory as soon as possible.

The Mejlis is now working in an emergency mode. What does that mean aside from the fact that its office has been moved to Kyiv?

Eight of the 33 Mejlis members, including myself, are now outside of Crimea. None of us can enter its territory. But most Mejlis members are still in Crimea, where occupation authorities are active and are able to bring their unlawful and criminal decisions to life. We can't put our comrades at risk if the Russian authorities start repressions.

Since we could foresee the ban of the Mejlis, we made a decision on February 19 to declare the emergency mode in the event of possible invincible obstacles for our work in Crimea. Based on that decision, I issued an ordinance describing how this emergency mode will function. We created a special council that will coordinate the work of the Mejlis. Its decisions will be obligatory for all the local government bodies of Crimean Tatars.

Does that mean that the Mejlis members who stayed in Crimea are operating illegally?

Based on our enormous political experience, which dates back to the Soviet times, we will be able to bring many of our plans to life without risking our people, and at the same time preserve our fortitude and ensure the unity of the folk.

How broad is the solidarity among Crimean Tatars? Why do five Crimean Tatar organizations not involved in your activities support the ban of the Mejlis?

All these organizations were created after the seizure of Crimea. Every community always has a certain group of people which is being moved by different interests like fear or craving for power or gain. They can even confront their own folk, and the Crimean Tatars are no exception. But the proportion is such that, on the one hand, there are the consolidated Crimean Tatar folk pulled together even more by their tragedy and, on the other hand, there is a maximum of 150 to 200 people of different collaboration extent. This is a very acceptable figure in the situation when we are facing the pressure from Russia, which is one of the world's most powerful military forces.

Die aktuelle Situation der Menschenrechte auf der Krim
Chubarov says the Mejlis will work to ensure Tatar unityImage: DW/N. Jolkver

Approximately 15,000 Tatars left Crimea immediately after the annexation. Is it an ongoing trend? How many people are leaving now? And where are they going to?

The exodus is now more systematic and more reasoned. It is no longer the fear that forces people out like it used to be the first year, when young people would go missing - just to be found dead. Back then part of the people were trying to escape that danger. Now we are talking about young people who are trying to avoid mobilization to the Russian occupation army.

Crimean Tatars were not very loyal to Ukraine's authorities. They faced problems with housing and property registration, for examples. But, since then, Crimean Tatars have turned into devoted patriots of Ukraine. Can you explain that?

I would like to make our position clear. We have always been fighting for our rights. One of the effective mechanisms that could make the Ukrainian society pay attention to and accept our essential rights, including those for territorial autonomy in Crimea, was bringing European human rights standards to Ukraine. That is why we have always been actively pushing Ukraine towards NATO and the European Union. It was our conscious choice.

At the same time, it was very hard for us to find common ground with Ukraine's presidents and governments. In some cases it even came to a very tough confrontation. But we have always been part of the national democratic movement in Ukraine.

The European Union and United States have reacted to the banning of the Mejlis. But the reactions of both the EU and US seem to be rather modest. Are you disappointed?

If this position were being expressed only in relation to Crimean Tatars and the ban of the Mejlis, I could say that I was disappointed. But unfortunately we can't but see that the leaders of some countries are trying to avoid taking direct responsibility for brutally destroying the whole system of international relations that took so long to be built after World War II. I believe that European countries and their leaders should realize their particular responsibility for the future of Europe. The destiny of Crimean Tatars and the whole Ukraine depends on that.

Refat Chubarov is chairman of the Mejlis of Crimean Tatars, which was banned by the authorities of Crimea two years after Russia's annexation of the peninsula. The interview was conducted by Nikita Jolkver.