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The Crimea Referendum is a matter of moral legitimacy

By Gregor Bauer,

Do the citizens of Crimea not have the right to join the Russian Federation? Yes, of course they do.

The Referendum showed a vast majority in favour of joining Russia. More than half of the Crimea’s citizens are ethnically Russian. And why should Kiev care? The productivity of the Crimea lies far beneath the Ukrainian average. Crimea costs money. So is everything as bad as it seems?

Of course, morally there is nothing wrong with a voluntary integration in a democratic process but this was far from democratic.

The recently so vastly cited Law of Nations has been stretched and overstretched by western policies – let us not forget the invasion of Iraq. Last Sunday’s referendum in Crimea proved beyond an issue for the Law of Nations but rather an issue of moral legitimacy.

The Reasoning

Historical Majority of Russians in Crimea

From a historical perspective Putin’s majority-argument is cynical. Today’s Russian majority was established by Russian crimes against humanity. Just after the political incorporation of Crimea to Russia in 1783, which was enforced only by military force, Russians settled down in Crimea – following the Tsar’s order to do so. Because of the following Russian terror the then majority in Crimea fled in two waves during the 1790s and the 1850s – Russians became the new majority. This sort of ‘politics’ continued during the 20th century when Stalin collectively deported the Crimean Tatars blaming them of having cooperated with the Germans which was only true for some. Between May 18-20, 1944, 190,000 Tatars were deported in livestock wagons. At least a quarter of them died during the transport. As late as 1988 they were allowed to come back. No surprise that this people collectively decided to boycott the referendum.

The Crimea used to belong to Russia

So what!? India used to be part of the British Empire, Northern Italy used to belong to the Holy Sea and not to forget: Moscow used to be under French governance. Do we really want to revoke this?

Russians in Crimea must be protected against the Ukrainian Fascists

As someone who spent five days in Maidan until the day of escalation I strongly have to disagree. I neither have seen a fascist attack nor did I hear fascist remarks. A strong part of the protest was Russian speaking. Vitali Klitschko, head of the UDAR party (one of the three parties co-organising the protests) is Russian-speaking.

The argument of fighting fascism was used by Russia when its tanks brutally overran the protests against the GDR in eastern Berlin on 17 June 1953. Also when the Hungarian freedom movement in 1965 was shot down first by the Soviet government and then by the Russian army. The same argument came during the Prague spring in 1967.

Josef Ziffels is head of the Association of Jewish Organisations in Ukraine and Vice President of the Jewish World Congress. During a public statement in Berlin even he defends the Swoboda which – in Russian media – is said to be the driving fascist party in the Maidan movement. It used to be anti-Semitic, he states, but it had changed during recent years.

The attacks against Jews in Ukraine was no more than 13; attacks in Russia and Germany are in the hundreds, Ziffels states: “We can deal with the anti-Semites in Ukraine by ourselves.“

It should not be forgotten that Russian embassies and the new Crimean leaders seemed to have particular interest in inviting racist and other far rights of European countries while not asking others as election observers. The most popular among those: The French Front Nationale, the right wing of the Austrian FPÖ, the Belgian Vlaams Belang and the right wing nationalists from the Italian Lega Nord.

And, did anyone recognise that the Maidan-movement is called EUROmaidan? Which fascists and ultra-nationalists would support the integration into a pluralistic European political and moral system?

Minorities have the right to decide where they want to belong to 

Deal. So let’s do the same in Chechnya.

The procedure

There is no doubt that a vast number of those who went voting on Sunday supported joining the Russian Federation. But there are crucial dissonances:

  • A Kremlin-independent Russian (!) journalist entered a polling station as a test and asked if she could vote. They answered yes and her name was written in a list on which five other names already have been written in. A Russian passport was enough to decide over Crimea’s fate.
  • In May 2013 the International Republican Institute interviewed Crimeans for a survey: 53% voted for staying in Ukraine, only 23% wanted to join Russia.
  • The department for Ukrainian Studies at Cambridge University worked on surveys in Crimea during the last couple of years. They even reached a majority of at least 70% voting for remaining a Ukrainian territory. Only during Russia‘s war against Georgia, when Russian press also influenced people as much as during this ongoing conflict, this number dropped down to 50%. Though even compared to this more than 45% of the voters magically must have changed their minds.
  • In Sevastopol 123% of the citizens have voted according to official numbers of the Crimean ‘government’. Right, 123%. The electoral authority gave a number of voters that is 23% above the registered citizens – including minors.

The referendum, even if one ignores the presence of Russian soldiers and tanks, the massive physical violence against anti Russians and the closure of all pro Ukrainian TV transmitters, is far away from having been a democratic process, is far away from being morally acceptable as open and fair.

And not to be forgotten: The man who now ‘protects’ a minority in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, said in Septembre 2013:

“Any minority, from anywhere, if it wants to live in Russia, to work and eat in Russia, should speak Russian, and should respect the Russian laws. If they prefer the Sharia Law, then we advise them to go to those places where that’s the state law. Russia does not need minorities. Minorities need Russia, and we will not grant them special privileges, or try to change our laws to fit their desires, no matter how loud they yell ‘discrimination’.”

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