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The revolutionary events of the fall of 2013 – winter of 2014 changed Ukraine or, more likely, revealed previously hidden features and characteristics of Ukrainians. Many of them themselves did not suspect the potential they activated in those months. The same can be said about the Crimeans who participated in the movement/initiative – the Crimean Euromaidan.
Unlike the Kyiv Maidan and the rest of the regional movements, the Crimean Euromaidan in the final phase of its activity had a unique function – a civil protest initiative in the conditions of fascist rebellion and foreign occupation. Another distinctive feature of the Crimean Euromaidan was cooperation with the national institutions of self-government of the Crimean Tatars.
If we understand the Crimean society of the first years of the second decade as a set of different ethnic, social and property identities, then the Crimean Euromaidan in the fall of 2013 – winter-spring of 2014 became an experience of the manifestation of these identities in extreme conditions. In addition, it was a time of maximum realization – for each of the participants in the process – of their own readiness to defend their values and resist the imposition of others. Identity is ultimately a set of existential values. During those months, Crimeans either fought for their values and identity, often at the risk of their lives, or watched this struggle from the sidelines.
An important condition for the activity of the Crimean Euromaidan was also the fact that, unlike many regional movements in support of the Kyiv Maidan, the Crimean activists acted in conditions of total organizational, financial and political superiority of Yanukovych’s supporters. The latter had, among other things, the entire state apparatus at their disposal. Activists of the Crimean Euromaidan were perceived by Crimean officials as dangerous and annoying elements from the very beginning. The information war on the peninsula in that period took place as a massive discrediting of both the Kyiv Maidan and the Crimean activists of the general anti-corruption movement. In addition to informational attacks, direct physical influence was also attempted.
The situation in Crimea on the eve of the Revolution of Dignity
General political situation. Starting from March 2010, namely after Yanukovych’s ally Vasyl Dzharty became the prime minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the state and municipal apparatus of Crimea was placed under the control of the Party of Regions, members of Yanukovych’s family structures, and often at the grassroots level – simply “from Donetsk region”. They seem to have been sent to Crimea. This process was accompanied by squeezing and even, according to persistent rumors, murders of representatives of the political elite of Crimean origin. By 2014, a certain conglomerate of managers and politicians had formed, where the dominant role was played by officials under the control of Yanukovych and Jarta, who “arrived”, and as a kind of help to them – “locals”, who came to terms with their secondary position.
The purpose of this expansion was to establish control over the remaining resources, primarily coastal land. Until 2014, Crimea was controlled by Yanukovych so tightly that it can only be compared with the Donetsk region.
The described process took place in a broader time context – the Crimean political history since 1991 was nothing more than the formation of a pro-Russian enclave. The simplified formula of Crimean politics in the all-Ukrainian context was approximately as follows: “We, Crimean politicians, rely on the Russian-cultured population, and only they trust us, and therefore we demand respect for us and for this culture.” In fact, they were assigned the role of brokers in the Crimean land market in conditions of constant and increasing demand for it. In such conditions, pro-Russian, anti-Ukrainian, anti-Crimean Tatar, and anti-European ideas and myths were preserved in Crimea.
The dominant position in the mass media, numerous party structures, the powerful Crimean diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, artificially created groups of “Cossacks” – and all this in the region with the oldest and most conservative population.
At the same time, the actual “Russian” or rather irredentist political forces in Crimea were marginal and few. The authorities were “Donetsk”, not pro-Russian, the latter were controlled competitors of the former.
In the winter of 2014, the Crimean pro-government mass media launched a hysterical information campaign against the Kyiv Maidan. In addition, in Crimea, participants of anti-Maidan rallies in Kyiv were recruited en masse. As an example of inciting hysteria, we can cite the headline of “Krymska Pravda” about the visit of the ambassadors of European countries to Kyiv: “Ukraine, aren’t you ashamed? Bad Masons decide your fate!”.
Consolidation of civil society. Simultaneously and in parallel with this, since the mid-2000s, a pro-European, pro-Ukrainian information environment has been developing in Crimea. A number of newspapers neutral in party sympathies, such as “1 Krymskaya”, “Sobytiya” have started their work; many Crimean correspondents worked for all-Ukrainian mass media: Radio Liberty, “Mirror of the Week”, “Den”, “Government Courier”, “Voice of Ukraine”. Crimean journalists also worked for the BBC, the “Obcom” website, etc. At the beginning of the 2010s, Crimean Tatar TV ATR was opened – the highest quality channel in the entire recent history of Crimea. Probably the only fully self-supporting (and therefore independent) Crimean newspaper – “Kafa” – worked in Feodosia. These mass media and journalists paid a lot of attention to corruption, human rights, ethnic discrimination, and adhered to the principles of objectivity and journalistic ethics – and were thus pro-European. And they were in no way dependent on the Crimean authorities, they were not servile like others – and therefore they were involuntarily oppositional.
An important process was the development of the Internet and the increasing use of these new communication channels by Crimeans. Traditional mass media began to give way to forums and websites in the role of the main and only source and interpreter of events. In Crimea, since 2005, the “Crimean” forums of the maidan.org resource, with several hundred active participants, began to play a prominent role. There were slightly more passive readers of this forum. Crimean forums and articles on Crimean topics worked as an effective mechanism of mutual communication – “pro-European Ukraine” and “pro-European Crimea”.
Pro-European sympathies, and more often rejection of the corrupt and lying Crimean policy, rapidly matured among journalists, university youth, NGO activists (of whom there were more and more), as well as among the increasingly numerous IT specialists. A separate group was made up of representatives of small and medium-sized businesses who either suffered losses from the actions of the authorities, or those who simply did not want to put up with an uncompetitive and corrupt business environment.
Naturally, the marked social groups became allies of both the Crimean Tatar movement and the Crimean Ukrainians. This is how the environment was formed, which would later become both the Crimean Euromaidan and resistance to the Russian occupation.
In general, experts estimate the actively pro-Russian part of the Crimean society for the winter-spring period of 2014 as one third. The second third were passive pro-European sympathizers, the rest took a wait-and-see attitude. However, all state structures, a large part of the mass media, the party systems of the Party of Regions and the Communist Party of Ukraine, the network of pro-Russian agents presented a single – unequivocally anti-Maidan – front. Activists of Euromaidan were civil society in its purest form – not connected to the state, but often clearly opposed to it.
Crimean Ukrainians, their situation and resources
The basis of the Crimean Euromaidan was the community of Crimean Ukrainians. In Crimea, ethnic Ukrainians made up more than a quarter of the total population, but according to many characteristics they acted as a national minority, and a minority whose rights were affected. Problems with the education of children in their native language, the underdevelopment of mass media, lack of budgetary funding of cultural programs, discrimination of political and public structures – these are the main areas of oppression of the Ukrainian community. Given the fact that Crimea was part of the Ukrainian state, such a situation was both absurd and extremely irritating for Crimean Ukrainians. Ukrainians on the mainland were sympathetic to the situation of Crimean Ukrainians, horizontal ties of Crimean activists of the national movement with Kyiv and regional groups of Ukrainian nationalists were being built. The actual status of a national minority created a common platform of attitude towards the Crimean political reality among Crimean Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, public, cultural and political structures of both communities.
Also, criticism from pro-Russian irredentist structures often listed both Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar organizations as if through a comma.
It should also be said, characterizing the Crimean Ukrainians, that ethnicity was not of decisive importance in the political sympathies of this group – many ardent opponents of both the Crimean and Kyiv Maidans were ethnic Ukrainians. The basis of the Ukrainian community, which felt discriminated against in Crimea, was made up of natives from the mainland regions who settled in Crimea already in adolescence and even adulthood, as well as descendants of repressed Ukrainian nationalists, members of the families of figures of Ukrainian culture. Often, groups of Crimean Ukrainians had features of compatriots – Rivne, Volyn, etc. In the winter of 2014, female students of the Faculty of Ukrainian Philology of the Tavri National University demonstrated an active role and the most emotional and sincere form of protest.
At the height of the struggle, in the winter of 2014, groups of ultra fans of the “Tavria” football club joined the actions of the Crimean Euromaidan. Often they, these young guys, took upon themselves all the anger of the participants of the counter rallies – activists of the Communist Party of Ukraine and the youth organization of the Party of Regions.
The structural basis of the Crimean Euromaidan was the public organization “Crimean Center for Business and Cultural Cooperation “Ukrainian House”” and its leader Andrii Shchekun. Since the mid-2000s, “Ukrainian House” has carried out informational and cultural activities to promote the rights and demands of Crimean Ukrainians, tried to unite disparate public, political and subregional groups of Crimean Ukrainians, and found potentially loyal officials in the state apparatus.
The Crimean Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate and Archbishop Klyment of Crimea and Simferopol also played a significant unifying mission among Crimean Ukrainians. During the events of the winter of 2014, he and his church acted as a powerful ally of Euromaidan, but being a religious structure, Archbishop Kliment refrained from direct political statements.
But in general, it must be stated that Kyiv, in the person of both state structures and party leadership, did not understand the role of the Ukrainian community in Crimea and objectively acted on its weakening and fragmentation, in particular, by dividing it into groups of supporters of one or another national-democratic strength The fragmentation of pro-Ukrainian political forces in Crimea was the cause of its political weakness.
The events in Kyiv in the fall of 2013 caused significant changes in mood in Crimea, especially among latent, inactive supporters of European integration. The direct, simple impression of the footage of the beating of Kyiv students by policemen was of great importance. It became clear that something similar – beatings and violent suppression – awaits all those who disagree with Yanukovych’s policies and practices. And this awareness gave rise to the opposite reaction – “we need to unite and act.”
An acquaintance of mine said these days: “A person who is constantly bullied has a choice – either to fear further, which is intolerable, or to actively resist.” The Crimean Euromaidan consisted of those who decided to actively resist.
Andriy Shchekun and his “Ukrainian House” was able to direct the activity of Crimean supporters of Kyiv protesters within certain limits, concentrated the minimal material base, encouraged scattered groups of pro-European oriented Crimeans. Until then, the Crimean community of Ukrainians, limited by ethnic markers, went beyond these limits and became a point of consolidation of significant, ethnically unrelated forces.
In December 2013, the Headquarters of National Resistance was established in Simferopol, the leaders of which were Andrii Shchekun and Serhii Kovalskyi. Practice has shown that this was actually the birth of a new Crimean political force – primarily because the Crimean organizations of pro-European parties effectively removed themselves from activity in support of the Kyiv Maidan.
An office with several employees was created (which later became the target of attacks), in which activities developed in several directions:
– organizing and holding rallies in Simferopol in support of the Kyiv Maidan. The most massive actions gathered more than 1,000 people, several dozen of them were held in the period from December 2013 to March 2014.
– the Crimean Euromaidan rallies and marches were held under the flags of Ukraine, the European Union and the flag of the Crimean Tatars.
– help to Crimeans who were going to go to Kyiv for the Maidan.
– the organization of the departure of Crimean groups to Kyiv, where they distributed newsletters about the Crimean Euromaidan, participated in various initiatives and actions of the Maidan.
In order to distribute responsibilities and, to a certain extent, to ensure the effectiveness of the movement in case of any development of events, Andrii Shchekun, Serhii Kovalskyi, Serhii Mokrenyuk and Ismail Ismailov divided the leadership functions among themselves.
The Crimean Euromaidan office in Simferopol became the place where Crimeans who wanted to go to Kyiv and take part in the events taking place there found the necessary information, consultation and material assistance.
On the other hand, this office accepted and consolidated the financial assistance of those Crimeans who were ready to donate to the needs of the Kyiv Maidan.
Almost from the very beginning of the activity of the Crimean Euromaidan, its actions became the object of attention of anti-Maidan forces. In particular, this was manifested in holding in the same place and at the same time rallies of the Communist Party of Ukraine, the youth organization of the Party of Regions, etc., often much more numerous than the actions of the Crimean Euromaidan. Unknown persons damaged the car of one of the leaders, and then tried to set fire to the office.
One more feature of the Crimean actions of the winter of 2014 should be noted – the parallel, but not solidarity, position of the leaders of the Crimean Euromaidan and Mejlis. The actions of the Crimean Euromaidan also took place in parallel with the Mejlis actions and in general the political activity of the Crimean Tatars in that period. There were no Crimean Tatar mass active events in the actions of the Crimean Euromaidan. Some representatives of the Mejlis joined the Euromaidan actions, Crimean Tatar activists individually. Subsequently, this became the subject of many observers’ questions, but it should be noted that there was still an exchange of information and numerous contacts between the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar communities, but no joint actions were announced.
At the final stage – after the victory of the Kyiv Maidan – by analogy with the people of Kyiv, who seized Yanukovych’s estate in Mezhyhirya, the Crimeans made an exit to Yanukovych’s coastal estate in Masandra. They, several dozen people, were allowed on its territory, the estate was inspected, and the guards were told that it was now “property of the people.”
Clash of identities
I propose the following formulation of the Crimean Euromaidan: the consolidation of diverse, multi-age and multi-ethnic individuals and groups around the ethnically marked Ukrainian community.
It is important to note that the Ukrainian community has unequivocally declared itself as a pro-European force in Crimea. It is also important that it had a small, but at least some structure and leaders, and therefore was able to become a certain point of concentration of the “Slavic” pro-European forces of Crimea.
The individuals and groups involved had different and often opposite cultural, political, property, and professional characteristics. However, it was the ethnically marked Ukrainian public structure that became the center of mobilization concentration of all those forces and people who realized the threats to themselves and to the country in the event that the Kyiv Maidan is suppressed and crushed.
In the course of the events that unfolded, it became clear that the ethnic identification of one or another participant in the events – the Crimean part of it – is of secondary or even fifth importance. Among the active participants in the suppression of the Crimean Euromaidan, the number of ethnic Ukrainians was very large. At the same time, there were also very, very many ethnic Russians and people of Russian culture among the Euromaidan activists.
We should not talk about ethnic divisions, but about cultural ones. I will offer one more, complementary wording: the Crimean Euromaidan was a moment of consolidation of the descendants of the victims of Russian and Soviet totalitarianism and, on the other hand, of its cultural followers, implementers of this totalitarianism.
What is important: in an extreme situation, both the first and the second political and life strategy moved from a potential phase to an active one. Simply put, everyone needs to reveal their face.
In general, during the events of the winter of 2014 in Crimea, different ethnic, cultural and social identities intertwined and clashed. I will repeat that for many activists, one of the powerful sources of personal support for the Kyiv Maidan (and the Crimean Euromaidan) was the rejection of the Soviet legacy and Yanukovych as its, albeit indirect, successor. At the same time, we can name a whole series of motivations that led this or that Crimean to actions in support of the people of Kyiv:
– protest against the violent suppression of civil demonstrations, solidarity at the Crimean level with Kyiv protesters;
– (in connection with the previous point) the expectation of the government’s reaction in the event of the defeat of the Maidan, the well-founded expectation of the establishment of a strict authoritarian regime, the suppression of all freedoms;
– rejection of the dominance of the Russian language and Russian culture to the detriment of Ukrainian, discrediting of the latter, strengthening of the merging of the political culture of Ukraine with Russian with the subsequent absorption of the former, “Putinization” of Ukraine;
– a sense of threats to property from the authorities and business structures connected to the Yanukovych family, while Crimean businessmen observed how easily their assets and property were taken away. A sense of the futility of further business development if the situation does not change.
It is also important that the Crimean Euromaidan consisted not only of participants of actions or visitors to the office, but also of many mostly anonymous sympathizers. Their activity consisted in providing moral support to “obvious” activists, but in addition, information support groups worked, establishing communications, exchanging information, and collecting aid.
In turn, for many “passive” Crimean “Maidanists”, the activity of Euromaidan activists demonstrated an example of civic courage, encouraged them, told them that they are not alone in the space of controlled hatred for the Kyiv Maidan. At the all-Ukrainian level, the Crimean Euromaidan demonstrated that not all Crimeans support Yanukovych, that they are capable of actively resisting, that Crimea is not only a pro-Russian enclave, but also that a significant part of its residents are their allies.
The same kind of signal was sent to supporters of the government, consumers of anti-Maidan propaganda, and, more importantly, Crimeans who were “undecided.” On the one hand, those who were “undecided” were ready to accept the arguments of state propaganda, but here it turned out that not all Crimeans accept these arguments, that there are Crimeans who go to the central squares in protest. This diluted, and often even nullified, the claim of the Crimean authorities that allegedly Crimea “does not accept the Kyiv rebels.”
Instead, the activity of the Crimean activists called into question another key thesis of the anti-Maidan propaganda: “This does not concern the Crimeans, it is a struggle of the legitimate authorities with aggressive Ukrainian nationalists.” It turned out that among the Crimeans there are many who cannot be called Ukrainian nationalists, but they support the Maidan in every possible way.
The role of threats
No less important – as a catalyst for the manifestation of pro-European identity – was the fact that from the beginning of their active activities, all its activists and leaders became the objects of aggressive attention of pro-Russian groups, which, in turn, enjoyed the support of the police and were organized by Russian special services. The last statement is difficult to prove with documents, but there is a significant amount of circumstantial evidence, assessments of experts and participants of events. The opinions of the activists of the Crimean Euromaidan who visited the Kyiv Maidan can be illustrative: “Yes, they kill there, there is direct danger, but here – in Crimea – it’s worse. There are friends there, but here there are none or almost none, or they are almost invisible.”
The role of the Crimean Euromaidan
The Crimean Euromaidan had one feature and one unique period for pro-European movements of that time – a month of active resistance to the Russian occupation after it took place.
Summing up, it should be stated that the Crimean Euromaidan became the basis – both organizationally and as an example of civil activity – of resistance to the Russian occupation, which unfolded in March 2014. The fight against Yanukovych’s regime naturally turned into a fight against annexation. It is important that in the first days after the invasion, the Russian soldiers were perceived as a certain misunderstanding, as a propaganda and informational factor, not a military factor. And it seemed that civil actions could influence the return of these soldiers to Russia. Like the Crimean Euromaidan, the protest against the occupation had the information front as its main and, perhaps, only front – to declare that not all Crimeans are happy with the establishment of Russian regimes in Crimea.
For many participants of the anti-occupation actions, it was a form of direct personal protest. In March 2014, activists fighting against Yanukovych became part of self-organized support groups of the Ukrainian military, “women’s” pickets, and anti-occupation rallies. The Crimean Euromaidan expanded, attracted more determined activists, and it was this movement that became the basis of civil resistance to the occupation.
Also on the topic: “Euromaidan-Crimea” movement: how it all began. (video)