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Munk Centre

Volodymyr Kulyk
(Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and Jacyk Visiting Professor of Ukrainian Studies, Columbia University)

"External Involvement in Ukrainian Ethnopolitical Conflicts: The Role of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities in the De-escalation of the Crimean Tatar Problem"

On November 1 as part of the Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine Seminar Series, Volodymyr Kulyk (Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine; Jacyk Visiting Professor of Ukrainian Studies, Columbia University) spoke on "External Involvement in Ukrainian Ethnopolitical Conflicts: The Role of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities in the De-escalation of the Crimean Tatar Problem." In today's world, the main sources of human loss are ethnic conflicts. Professor Kulyk started his discussion by highlighting the important role supra-state organizations and NGOs have undertaken in the 20th and 21st centuries to limit excessive state power, protect human rights, and facilitate economic cooperation.

Established in 1975, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has played a very important role in preventing conflicts between the East and West blocs, and protecting human rights. After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the organization turned its attention toward preventing intra-state conflicts and promoting democracy and human rights. The High Commissioner on National Minorities was given authority to open dialogue between belligerents. By 1992, the office of the High Commissioner was becoming an instrument of conflict prevention and de-escalation of conflict through a set of early warning/action prevention policies. The High Commissioner became a legitimate actor due to his confidentiality, impartiality, and independence from governments. Between 1993 and 2001, the High Commissioner dealt indepth with the situation of Tatars in the Crimean Peninsula and Ukraine.

Professor Kulyk gave a succinct yet complete presentation of the ethnic conflict engulfing Crimea, the Tatars, and the Ukrainians. The history goes back to 1921 when the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was formed within the RSFSR, with Crimean Tatars representing 1/4 of the total population of the ASSR. In 1944, Stalin persecuted and deported the Tatars on the basis of their collaboration with the Germans during WWII; the Crimean ASSR was abolished and in 1954 the area came under the control of the Ukraine. Starting in the 1960s but most prominently in 1989, the Crimean Tatars were allowed to come back to their homeland. They were not welcomed back by the predominant Russians and Ukrainians who had settled in after the deportations and were afraid of losing their houses and jobs if the Tatars were given back their properties. A systematic policy of discrimination against the Tatars was actively pursued, in which the Ukrainian leadership did not grant the Tatars rights equal to those of the Russians and Ukrainians; the Ukrainian authorities did nothing to prevent this discrimination for fear of angering the Russian majority.

After numerous clashes during 1992-1995, the OSCE organized a roundtable to publicize and increase Western and Ukrainian awareness of the situation of the Tatars returnees. The High Commissioner raised four political issues: a) recognition of the Tatar leadership (the Islamic Parliament Medjilis); b) recognition of the Tatar language; c) Ukrainian citizenship to be given to the Tatars; and d) representation of Tatars in the Ukrainian government. The High Commissioner saw the recognition of the Medjilis leadership as a symbolic de-escalation of the conflict, but the Medjilis wanted their parliament to be a legislative, not just a symbolic, body. In the 1995 Ukrainian constitution they achieved the status of "indigenous people," but their rights or who comprised an indigenous people were not specified. The Tatar language was recognized as equal to Ukrainian and Russian, but the only official language remained Russian; in the 1998 Ukrainian constitution, Tatar was given the status of a minority language. With regard to Ukrainian citizenship, the 1998 constitution stipulated that only people who were residing on Ukrainian territory in 1991 were to be given automatic citizenship; however, the majority of Tatars came after that year. As a result, 1/4 of Tatars were considered stateless and 3/4 aliens. Most aliens were considered either Uzbeks or Kazakhs, but in late 1997 the Ukrainian government concluded an agreement with both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to allow the Tatars to revoke their previous citizenship and obtain the Ukrainian one. Finally, representation in the Ukrainian government was illusory since language and citizenship issues were significant obstacles. In the 1994 election, a quota of 14 seats for the Tatars was imposed on the Ukrainian legislature. The quota wwas abolished in the next election and the Tatars have no representation at all in the Ukrainian Parliament. This could signal the integration and incorporation of Tatars into regional alliances.

Professor Kulyk ended his presentation by outlining the main results of the involvement of the High Commissioner in the Ukrainian-Tatar conflict: financial assistance for the Tatar returnees; an increased awareness among Ukrainians and the international community of the plight of the Tatars, thus putting pressure on the Ukrainian government and opening new channels of communication (such as the Council of Europe); and the prevention of a full-fledged civil war on the Crimean Peninsula. However, this peace came with a high price at the expense of the Tatars, who find themselves today caught up in a dilemma over national survival.

Alina Darie, CREES

Content: © 2002 Petro Jacyk • Design: © 2002 dragandesign.