Saturday, September 30, 2017

Crimean Tatars Find Themselves Like the French under Nazi Occupation, Sinitsyn Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 30 – Because of their small numbers, the Crimean Tatars have had a dramatic history, one in which Russia has repeatedly tried either to destroy them physically or to suppress their independent identity as a people. But now they face a new situation, one of a people divided between those in emigration and those in the homeland.

            In many ways, Yan Sinitsyn, a Crimean journalist says, the Crimean Tatars find themselves in a position like the French during the Nazi occupation.  In the 1940s, there was “the government of de Gaulle in the emigration,” and there were collaborators, partisans and “’simple Frenchmen’” at home (

            The same can be said of the Crimean Tatars now, the journalist continues. The politically active ones have been forced to choose between fleeing the occupation and aligning with Dzhemilyev and Chubarov or remaining in Crimea and collaborating, opposing, or simply staying out of the way when possible.

            And there is another similarity between France during World War II and Crimea now: “like the Germans,” Sinitsyn says, “the Russians assert that they respect the culture of the conquered nation.”

                It would have been “stupid” for anyone to expect that “with the beginning of the Russian invasion, the Crimean Tatars as one would leave their positions in rural councils and ministries and categorically refuse from any participation in state administration,” he argues, especially given how they had behaved on their return of deportation.

                In the years since their return, Sinitsyn writes, “the Crimean Tatars consistently and in general successfully got involved with the power structures but avoided direct and demonstrative cooperation with the changing parties of power and especially with the communists or pro-Russian party efforts.”

            That of course worked for those in charge: they could always say that Crimean Tatar cooperation demonstrated that conditions were equal.  But at the same time, it gave the Crimean Tatars a chance to have a certain influence on the authorities or at least to be kept up to date on their plans.

            Not surprisingly, Sinitsyn says, “many think the same way now; and one must recognize that the Russians are effectively using this as true colonizers and sons and servants of the Empire.”

            Many Crimean Tatars who continue to work with the occupiers say that “’we are trying to do the best we can for our people in these difficult times,’” adding that “’to be sure, it is little but what could Dzhemilyev and Chubarov do besides fruitless declaraitons in the West and a doubtful coalition with Poroshenko?’”

            These Crimean Tatars are in a survivor mode and have been “already for a fourth year.”  Those who are collaborating are viewed by many as “morally doubtful,” but they are better than nothing, at least some Crimean Tatars think. And over time, it is likely that there will be formed “a ‘comprador’ Crimean Tatar elite.” 

            Many will denounce these people and with good reason, but at the same time, Sinitsyn says, their existence represents a kind of confirmation of “the vitality of this nation,” of a willingness to try to find ways to survive.  Both the emigres and those at home are engaged in “necessary and mutually reinforcing work,” he suggests.

            But there will be problems ahead when Dzhemilyev like de Gaulle returns to the liberated homeland and has to deal with the questions de Gaulle did “after the Liberation – what to do with the traitors if it was impossible to live without them.” 

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