Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Polish Attention to Plight of Crimean Tatars Recalls Inter-War Poland’s Prometheanism

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 15 – Polish expressions of support for the Crimean Tatars in their struggle against pro-Russian groups have attracted a great deal of interest among Russian news outlets, almost certainly the result of a tendency in Moscow to see any such Polish actions as an indication that some in Warsaw want to revive the Promethean ideas of inter-war Poland.

                In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Tatyana Ivzhenko recounts the current case, but she emphasizes a variety of other reasons why Polish human rights activists would speak out on behalf of the Crimean Tatars rather than talking about Russian fears of Prometheanism which may lie behind them (www.ng.ru/cis/2013-01-15/6_crym.html).

            At the end of last week, Piotr Chlebowicz and Jadwiga Chmielewska, two prominent Polish human rights activists, recently expressed their concerns about what they described as “the increasing number of incidents between the Crimean Tatars and activists of pro-Russian organizations.”

            The current situation emerged about six weeks ago. On December 1, Ivzhenko reports, members of the Russian Unity Party and the pro-Russian Unity Cossack Brotherhood in the Crimea “destroyed a hundred Crimean” buildings, and they may have been involved in an attack on a mosque construction site in Simferopol.

            Crimean Mufti Emirali Ablayev told “Nezavisimaya” that these crimes were “a provocation of definite forces who do not want stability and peaceful co-existence on the territory of the peninsula” and are instended to “provoke tensions and conflict situations in the Crimea.”

            But according to Russian Unity leader Sergey Aksenov, who  is also a deputy in the Supreme Council of Crimea, his men were only “fulfilling court decisions.”  Courts have ordered the Crimean Tatars to dismantle their buildings, and the Russians were doing nothing more than ensuring that the judges were obeyed.

            Crimean Prime Minister Anatoly Mogilev, for his part, “condemned both sides of the conflict,” Ivzhenko reports. But that didn’t end things: at the end of December, the Crimean Tatars responded by closing down an exhibit the Russians had organized in honor of Joseph Stalin’s 133rd birthday.

            This sequence of events, Ivzhenko says, prompted the two Polish human rights activists and former members of Militant Solidarity to speak out. The two noted that “Russian provocations in the Crimea are taking place almost every day, and the pro-Russian authorities of the Crimean Autonomy are conducting themselves as if Criiea were an inalienable part of the Russian Federation.”

            “All this is taking place at a time,” the two continued, “when Ukraine has assumed the presidency of the OSCE, an organization which has defined its purpose as the combatting of xenophobia, ethnic hatred and religious tolerance.” Chlebowicz and Chmielewska called on the Verkhovna Rada to ban “Russian militarized formations and extremist organizations” in Crimea.

             They plan to announce further steps in the coming days, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist reports.

            So far, the authorities in Kyiv and Simferopol have maintained official silence, but the leaders of the Russian Unity group say that what the Poles have suggested is the purest “fantasy” as there are no “Russian militarized formations and extremist organizations” in the peninsula. But another Crimean leader had a somewhat different explanation.

            Leonid Pilunsky, a member of the Crimean parliament, said that the Poles were talking about the Cossacks who are in fact armed, and he suggested that “the Polish human rights activist have come to the defense of the Crimean Tatars because in Poland there is a large Crimean Tatar diaspora.”

Sergey Kulik, head of the Nomos Analytic Center in Sevastopol, said that the conflict between the Crimean Tatars and the Russians living there had a long history but its cause was “not to be found in politics but in disputes about land.”  The Crimean Tatars do not want clashes, but, of course, others may try to exploit their situation.

Any time Poles talk about ethnic minorities in the former Soviet space, many Russians assume that they are displaying the same kind of interest in breaking up either Russia or one of the other states in the region in much the same way that Jozef Pilsudski tried to do with the Promethean League in the 1920s and 1930s.

Russian authors have often cited the Polish leader’s ideas as expressed in 1904 to the Japanese that Poland has “the political goal of breaking up the Russian state into its main constituents and emancipating the countries that have been forcibly incorporated into that empire,” a project that guarantee Poland’s independence because “a Russia divested of her conquests will be sufficiently weakened that she will cease to be a formidable and dangerous neighbor" (Edmund Charaszkiewivz, Zbiór dokumentów, Kraków, 2000, p. 56).

Poland certainly remains interested in the non-Russians in the regions to its east and sometimes has acted incautiously in that regard – in 2007, Polish President Lech Kaczynski joined his Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili to dedicate a statue to Prometheus in Tbilisi – but there is no evidence at all that Warsaw has any interest in a revival of Prometheanism.

Nonetheless, the statements by the Polish activists are likely to be enough to spark commentaries on just that possibility given the anti-Polish nature of so many Russian nationalist writings over the last several years. And they certainly will be upset that the Crimean Tatars have gained, as “Nezavisimaya” put it “a protector from abroad.”

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