Staunton, March 18 – Polls purporting to show that a majority of Crimean Tatars now support the Russian occupation of their homeland must be treated with skepticism rather than invoked to justify what was and remains a naked act of Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine and the Crimean Tatars.
Unfortunately, in a world where mirror-imaging is the norm, many are inclined to treat polls taken among those who live under increasingly authoritarian regimes as having the same meaning that they do among those who live in freedom. The latest example of this is an article in the Washington Post today (washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/03/18/six-years-20-billion-russian-investment-later-crimeans-are-happy-with-russian-annexation/).
It may be that some Crimean Tatars have changed their minds, primarily because they may have concluded that there is little chance that the current situation of occupation is going to end. But the real reason is the nature of the increasingly repressive regime they live under and the dangers that criticizing it entail.
That reality is highlighted in a Facebook post by Mariia Shynkarenko, a PhD candidate at the The New School for Social Research in New York who has done extensive research in Crimea and who has experienced at firsthand the fears the occupiers have instilled in the Crimean Tatars (facebook.com/masha.shynkarenko/posts/10213957051394100).
The article’s ”statement that 39% of Crimean Tatars supported the Russian annexation in 2014 and [that] 58% do in 2019 is utterly untrue,” she writes. “It is no secret that there can be no objective sociological survey or polling in Crimea or any other region that is occupied by the foreign power. Ukrainian scholars know that all too well and do not even try any undertakings in this direction.
“Not only are the procedures required by methodology is impossible to meet (such as physical protection of respondents from government retaliation) but the results are very unreliable and compromising.
“In the states where freedom of speech and demonstration is curtailed and punished by law, the likelihood that someone will give a truthful response is minimal. In order to learn what people truly think under the authoritarian rule, it requires many months of hard work of building personal relationships and trust between the researcher and the informant.
“The fact that most of my respondents in Crimea preferred to speak to me in private (their apartments) rather than public setting (café, restaurants) is already telling of the overwhelming fear that guides their daily lives. Given the above explanation, any sociological survey is inevitably biased, especially the one conducted by the Russian polling organization.
“Moreover, one does not need to be a sociologist to see the overwhelming biases in the mentioned research. General knowledge of a broader historical and socio-political context of Crimea is sufficing to understand that the Crimean Tatars have traditionally been a major pro-Ukrainian force in the peninsula since Ukrainian independence in 1991 and there is an abundant amount of evidence demonstrating the Crimean Tatar unanimous resistance to Russian tanks and military in 2014.
“It is not difficult to understand their motives if one knows the history of Russian colonialism and imperialism in Crimea. Therefore, the number 39% is convincing only to those who know nothing about the region and its people. The thesis that 58% of Crimean Tatars are happier now is even more hypocritical as Crimean Tatars are the one category of the Crimean population who have suffered the most since the occupation.
“According to the human rights organization, Crimean Tatar Resource Center, in 2019 [alone], there were 86 raids of the Crimean Tatar households, 157 detentions, 194 interrogations, 335 arrests, and 578 violations of the right to due process. (ctrcenter.org/en/analytics/179-analysis-of-violations-of-human-rights-in-the-occupied-crimea-in-2019),” not to speak of “the overall state of fear and terror regular Crimean Tatars experience in their workplace and daily life. Spending three weeks in Crimea in January 2020, I witnessed this first hand.
“It is not difficult, therefore, to conclude that since the methodology is compromised and some of the presented inferences are plainly wrong, the entire article is untrustworthy. Even worse, failing to convey the true spirit of people, the so-called researchers have taken away and distorted hundreds of thousands of voices, who under the occupation have no chance to speak for themselves.
“Social responsibility that should guide every social scientist is precisely about guaranteeing that though we cannot immediately change the predicament of our subjects, the least we can do is to make sure their true voices are heard.
“[And] lastly, the article based on the so-called ‘research’ may have formidable consequences in terms of international politics and actions of particular states who, relying on this optimistic account, might reverse their sanctions or ease their pressure on Russia to comply with the international law.”
In reading Shynkarenko’s words, one is reminded of the sad fact that dictators always have overwhelming support until they are overthrown when it turns out they have none, something protesters in Russia this past weekend reminded Putin of by pointing to the case of Ceaucescu (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/03/dictators-end-badly-ryazan-protesters.html).
And second, one is also compelled to recall the old Soviet anecdote about the conversation between an American and a Soviet citizen in front of Lenin’s mausoleum in Red Square. The American says that in his country, he can stand on the steps of the US Capitol and shout that the president of the US is a fool.
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