Crimea’s Russians Want Soviet Past Not Russian Present, ‘Novaya Gazeta’ Commentator Says

September 2, 2014
Yalta in the 1950s when Crimea had rapidly developed into one of the few places where Soviet citizens could enjoy a seaside holiday. Photo:

Staunton, September 1 – “Crimea never was pro-Russian – it did not know and could not know post-Soviet Russia,” Pavel Kazarin says. “Instead, over the course of the last quarter of a century,” the Ukrainian peninsula was “pro-Soviet,” something that is going to create problems for Moscow there in the near term.

That confusion is mirrored, the Novaya Gazeta commentator says, by one in Moscow. “For Russia,” he continues, “Crimea is not valuable in and of itself but rather because of the sense it gives Russians” that they are still an empire. Indeed, it is the only marker most of them now see for that status.

The Russians of Crimea were never entirely happy to be part of “the Ukrainian periphery,” and the support some but far from all of them have offered for Putin’s Anschluss of the region is an effort to reverse 1991 and to allow “the current generations to live under developed socialism.”

But that isn’t necessarily what Moscow wants from Crimea, Kazarin says. For it, Crimea is “the unique indicator of the imperial status of Russia.” But “for the peninsula to become in reality what it sees itself as being, one small thing is needed – the Soviet Union. And it doesn’t exist.”

For Crimea’s Russians, “Soviet reality is 350 enterprises, tens of thousands of sailors of the Black Sea Fleet, a resort behind an iron curtain which is filled to capacity … and along with all of those factors,” the Novaya Gazeta writer continues, “it is social justice,” as defined at the end of Soviet times.

In point of fact, he continues, “the only [currently existing] country in which Crimea would feel itself at home is Belarus … the last preserve of the USSR” that has been maintained by Moscow’s money but that is fundamentally different from the Russia that has emerged since 1991.

“What will Moscow offer Crimea tomorrow? What reality will be built in a region which dreams about a new wave of industrialization? What long-term strategy will Moscow choose if even today it cannot force its own major banks and net operators to go to work on the peninsula?” These are all questions without answers.

To a large extent, Kazarin writes, “Crimea is like the ring in Tolkien.” If it is not put on the right finger, “it will destroy” the one who attempts to wear it. Moscow today may see the USSR in the Crimean “mirror” into which it is looking, he says, “but to imagine oneself as the Soviet Union and to be it are two totally different things.”

“Crimean awaits from Moscow not so much money as a sense of subjectness. It wants everything which it reads about in the early novels of Strugatsky where progress, new horizons, and where money begins on Saturday,” he writes. “What will happen when [Crimea] understands that it has turned out to have been included in ‘The City of the Condemned’?”

Crimeans will resist drawing that conclusion. But however much they try to ignore reality, they won’t be able to “repeal” it. Its Russian residents are dreaming of going back to 1961 with the flight of Gagarin and Komsomol construction projects. But they may discover that they in fact have returned to 1988 and are along with Russia, “at the brink of a new collapse.”

Meanwhile, in an action that combines “The Commissar Vanishes” and Costa-Gavras’ 1969 film “Z,” the Russian occupation authorities have begun confiscating books about Mustafa Cemilev, the Crimean Tatar leader earlier banned from returning to his homeland for five years.

In reporting this latest horror, Refat Chubarov, head of the Mejlis who has also been banned from the Ukrainian peninsula, said that “in Crimea they are not yet publicly burning books. But judging from the last reports out of Crimea, they are preparing to do just that.” This parallels what the Nazis did in Germany.

As Chubarov recalls, the infamous burning of books on May 10, 1933, was preceded by efforts to confiscate books whose authors and content the Nazis did not approve of.