Imagine Moscow, Red Square during the summer of 1987. It's like a picture from an old chocolate box. For younger readers – it was the era of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev, the Iron Curtain. That place, known for its May military parades, the very centre of the Imperium, in front of the Lenin mausoleum, was instead occupied by women and men who had been camping there for several weeks. Crimean Tatars have written themselves into modern history thanks to the most successful nonviolent resistance for the right to return to their homeland. They occupied the Red Square for weeks and neither the KGB nor the police force was able to make them leave. Imagine people born in exile in Uzbekistan who could have had decent lives staying there. Instead, in the 1990s they have returned “without permission” to Crimea. However, their houses were already occupied by strangers…
Attendees of the Value-Based Conflicts and Violence conference listened breathlessly to the story of a man who is the leader of this nonviolent resistance of a small Muslim nation. A man, today a Member of the Parliament, again exiled, this time to Ukraine. A man who, with his incredible charisma, was able to defeat radicals from all camps. A man who unites others, who still represents hope not only for Crimean Tatars but for all of those who want to see Ukraine as a part of democratic Europe. A man who embodies nonviolence and who did not betray his values, even after entering big politics.
Who are Crimean Tatars?
They are reckoned as the historic ethnic group of Crimea, they were formed into a political nation out of various Turkic tribes during the Medieval Period. Until the 19th century, they represented a majority of Crimean population, which, thanks to the targeted policy of Czarist Russia, was reduced to a minority. “It is discussed that we shouldn't be called Crimean Tatars but Crimeans, referring to our homeland. The same as you are Slovak of Slovakia or French from France, we are Crimeans from Crimea. But we have been known as Crimean Tatars for a long time now, so there is no meaning in changing it today,” said Mustafa Dzhemilev during his speech at the conference. Similar to many other non-Slavic nations, Crimean Tatars were victims of violent and brutal deportation during the World War II. Within one night in May 1944, the entire Crimean Tatar nation of 200 000 people, was deported to distant areas of Central Asia as a result of a collective accusation of the betrayal of the Soviet Union and collaboration with the Nazi regime. Deportations did not spare even the families of those who fought in the Soviet army, needless to say, most men were at the front (30,000 soldiers). Ruggedly it is portrayed in the movie Haytarma, which came out to cinemas in the spring of 2013 and today its screening is banned in the Russian Federation.
There are more than a thousand Crimean Tatar walk-ons acting in the film. The oldest of them survived these horrors on their own skin in their own lives when they were children. In the first year after the deportation, approximately half of the nation died of the consequences of difficult living conditions. In the coming years, they faced political repression, the prohibition of movement or study at universities. Nevertheless, a strong national resistance movement was formed in exile, which set the return of the Crimean nation to its homeland for its goal. Personalities such as Mustafa Dzhemilev, who were willing to sit in a Soviet prison and risk their lives, were crystallized. Their fight, however, had very clear rules.
Non-violence, legality, solidarity
Those were the main pillars of their fight for freedom and for the return to their homeland. According to Mustafa Dzhemilev, nonviolence can be perceived in two ways. Both as a philosophical principle, such as Gandhi satyagraha, but also as a political strategy. "We are descendants of the Golden Horde," Dzhemilev smiles, "it can not be said that we would have non-violence in the blood. We are a fighting nation but we see non-violence as a political strategy. No political goal is noble enough to be worth the bloodshed of innocent people. Even if you gain something using violence, it will never become permanent and the people will not be happy. We are Muslims and Quran forbids us to shed blood of innocent people.” By avoiding violence even in the most difficult circumstances, Crimean Tatars were easily gaining the whole world´s sympathy with their cause. “Look at the Chechens. I am sure that if they hadn't chosen a violent struggle, they would have been more successful. It would have been easier for them to maintain the support of the world's public and politicians. Fighting violence with violence makes no sense.” When Crimean Tatars gradually started returning home, the local government wasn't willing to provide them any land. On the land that had originally belonged to them, there were mainly Russian-speaking inhabitants who had been moved there as a part of a planned immigration process, so Crimean Tatars started to occupy and build on state or kolkhoz soil illegally. It did not appeal to local authorities, nor to residents who feared the Crimean Tatars would want revenge. So they demolished these unauthorized houses and edged Crimean Tatars out of their newly built settlements. There were enough powers provoking violence. Failed. Thanks to a smart political leadership, as well as the courage and unity of ordinary people they eventually managed to legalize their villages and build proper infrastructure. Crimean Tatars got their own political representatives not only in Crimea but also in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. “It was hard but we can be proud that there was no drop of blood spilled during our fight. Neither that of our enemies nor of innocent people. It wasn't their fault that they were moved into our homes,” said Mustafa during our interview even though we agreed (with compelling smile) that during those tense years there definitely were a couple of punches thrown.
The second pillar of this national movement was a respect towards laws and rights. From the beginning, Crimean Tatars have been referring to international human-rights documents and treaties from which they derived their rights. In addition, they often quoted the Soviet Constitution and referred to the rights enshrined therein, which, of course, highlighted the illegality and formal nature of these rights, while at the same time cultivating respect for law and legal acts. One of the funny paradoxes they've used to mock the soviet regime was referring to the decree of V. I. Lenin who had granted them autonomy back in 1921 within the Soviet Union. Even the famous Moscow demonstration was successful mainly because the demonstrators and their political leaders strictly followed the Soviet laws and wanted to negotiate with the political leadership of the USSR. Another great advantage was that the cameras and microphones of reporters from all over the Western world were directed at the Red Square, which at the time of glasnost protected protesters from the arbitrariness of power.
Third, and for us Slovaks, an extremely interesting element of the national movement was and is the solidarity. Not only solidarity within the community in the form of support for the families of prisoners and detainees, but above all solidarity with other nations and their fight for their rights. “We cannot speak about our rights if we stay quiet when the rights of others are oppressed.” And so Mustafa Dzhemilev and other leading figures of the Crimean Tatar nation protested against the invasion of the army of the Warsaw Pact into Czechoslovakia in 1968, against the invasion of Soviet troops to Afghanistan in 1979, or against the misuse of Soviet psychiatry for political purposes. The small, subjugated, exiled nation was interested in events around the world and actively stood up in the defense of others, although its own leaders were sitting in jails and labor camps. The President of the Slovak Republic, Andrej Kiska, thanked Dzhemilev for their gesture at their joint meeting.
Leader of a small nation
Many, not only those present at our conference, were wondering how so much strength and charisma could be present in the subtle body of a man who dedicated his whole life to the struggle for human dignity and freedom. Mustafa Dzhemilev was only a couple of months old when he survived a Stalinist deportation. He grew up in Uzbekistan, where he could perform craftsmanship only because of a ban on studying. From an early age he was arrested, put on trials and imprisoned for anti-Soviet activities – spreading leaflets, organizing youth movements or spreading historical information. He has spent most of his life in prisons, labor camps and exile. He holds the record in political hunger strike (303 days thanks to forced nutrition) which he ended only at the request of a Soviet academician and dissident Andrey Sacharov. When he was exiled in Yakutsk he got to know his future wife Safinar through letters. She followed him and decided to share his punishment with him. Their story would be worthy of a romantic series, but very "out of fashion" - of loyalty, devotion and respect.
In 2014, after the Russian annexation of Crimea, Dzhemilev was prohibited from entering Crimea, formally a Russian territory. For his open criticism of Russian policy towards Ukraine he is on the list of wanted persons in Russia. Similar to many other Crimean Tatar political or public figures, he lives in exile in Ukraine even though a part of his family and relatives have stayed in Crimea. The holder of many awards, several times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, today continues his struggle to liberate the Crimea. Young journalists have just published a collection of his current interviews on what the situation is in the Crimea and how its future looks.
In Slovakia and for Slovakia
Few of us know the story of the Crimean Tatars. The story of the Crimea is reproduced by many in its "modified form". Unlike the Poles who, in the 1990s, politically and socially strongly supported the non-violent movement of the Crimean Nation, we were struggling with our own problems in Slovakia. Collective egocentrism, as well as the prejudices that time and today, have prevented us from seeing the inspiration that the Crimean Tatars show to the Slovaks in the field of conducting dialogue (even with heavy opponents), in the field of non-violence, as well as in their ability to read clearly good and evil in the past and in present. Sajeda Shawa, a respected UN humanitarian practitioner from Jordan, bowed to Mr Jemilev before giving her speech on the consequences of violence in Syria and said, "You are a great example not only for Central Europe but also for my generation in the Middle East." His wife, Safinar, wrote the words about him in the above-mentioned book, to which we join in the PDCS: "To get home, Omsk, Magadan, jail, exile passed, and he was able to return to the Crimea not only himself but also to return there and all the Crimean Tatars. And now he is back in the saddle again, galloping back home, day and night galloping - calling on states, governments, civic organizations and international institutions, knocking on every door - however difficult it is now for him. Give him Allah the power to do it. And to see the birth house again ... "
Written by: Zuzana Fialová, translated and corrected by: Tomáš Hallon / Irene Zorad