Staunton, June 12 – Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 has not yet been integrated into the political memory of Ukrainians, a shortcoming that means many in that country do not view it as the crime that it was and thus continue to manifest xenophobic attitudes against that much-victimized group, according to a Ukrainian historian.
In an article in the current issue of “Medina al-Islam,” Mikhail Yakubovich, who writes frequently on ethnic and religious issues in Ukraine, says that is a serious problem because it blocks the integration of the Crimean Tatars into Ukrainian national narratives and thus leaves their problems without clear solutions (idmedina.ru/medina/?5428
Some Ukrainian researchers, he says, are beginning to take up this issue as they wrestle with the more general problems of “the politics of memory.” This term is relatively new, having emerged in Germany at the end of the 1980s, and refers to the development and promotion, usually by the government, of views about the past events that continue to echo in the present.
Under President Viktor Yushchenko, Yakubovich notes, a great deal of progress was made in this regard, especially with the establishment of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory in 2006. Originally attached to the presidency, this institution has now been downgraded to one attached to the council of ministers.
That institute and the scholars and officials who worked with it did a great deal to promote attention to the terror famine of 1932-1933, but they did much less to develop an understanding of Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars and its continuing consequences for Ukraine.
That means that the Crimean Tatars themselves have had to work on their own, especially under the current Ukrainian leadership which seems far less interested in them than Yushchenko was, Yakubovich says. And with regard to the issue of Kyiv’s attitude toward the deportation, that community is somewhat divided.
The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars “is inclined to view the actions of today’s Ukrainian authorities and especially the ruling party as a manifestation of a ‘Soviet’ relationship to the Crimean Tatars and an attempt by means of all forces to limit the activity of Crimean Tatar organizations.”
The Crimean Tatar popular front and Milli Firka, “which now have practically undivided power in the Council of the Representatives of the Crimean Tatar People attached to the office of the Ukrainian president “today takes a somewhat different position.” In its view, Ukrainian attitudes about 1944 must not prevent cooperation with Ukrainians on current issues of concern.
That division and the inclusion of the Crimean Tatar deportation as part of Ukrainian historical memory won’t change, Yakubovich says, until the deportation is included into Ukrainian school texts and in popular novels and films about the past. To date, that has not happened despite the efforts of the Crimean Tatars.
But there is a more immediate task, the historian writes. “One of the tragic consequences of the deportation as the attempt by the Soviet authorities to completely cleanse Crimea from any memory of its indigenous residents by renaming practically all the population points” on the peninsula.
In no other region of the USSR was such a process carried out so thoroughly. As a result, Crimea today is “a unique ‘preserve’ of faceless Soviet toponymy,” a situation which has consequences not just for the Crimean Tatars but for Ukrainians and others because this arrangement institutionalizes the consequences of the deportation.
Much remains to be done, Yakubovich says, especially if one compares what Ukraine has not done with what neighboring “mono-ethnic and mono-religious Poland” has. There, he says, “the culture of Tatar minority, which numbers only a few tens of thousands of people long ago became a constituent part of the national revival.”
One potentially positive step in that direction occurred this past week, albeit only a small and partial one. Lily Hyde’s 2008 English-language novel “Dreamland” about the Crimean Tatar deportation was published in Crimean Tatar. Unfortunately, it has not yet appeared in Ukrainian (15minut.org/article/britanskaja-kniga-o-vozvraschenii-krymskih-tatar-vyshla-v; see windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2009/01/window-on-eurasia-crimean-tatars.html).