Ukraine must develop its own myth about Crimea to defeat Russia’s

Dancing in Crimean Tatar Khanate by Carlo Bossoli, 1843

Dancing in Crimean Tatar Khanate by Carlo Bossoli, 1843 

2015/04/26 • Analysis & Opinion, Crimea

The current war in Ukraine is “a battle between the Russian myth about Ukraine and the Ukrainian myth about itself,” a reflection of the fact that the contemporary world is among other things “a symbolic space” and that “one myth can be defeated only with the help of another myth,” according to Pavel Kazarin.

Pavel Kazarin

Pavel Kazarin

A myth, he points out in “Ukrainskaya Pravda,” “is not a synonym for the word ‘invention.’” In classical Greece, it referred to the concept of how an individual viewed the world and his place in it. A myth is an idea “about the universe’s architecture, about past and future, about values and taboos.”

Nowhere is this problem more critical than in the case of Crimea where there is a well-articulated “Russian myth” but no Ukrainian one has appeared “up to now,” Kazarin says. And as a result, “Ukraine uses the Crimean Tatar one.”

“The Russian concept of Crimea” includes such things as the defense of Sevastopol, the “Crimean Riviera,” Pushkin, Admiral Wrangel, the withdrawal of the White Army to Bizerte in Tunisia, and the second defense of Sevastopol – all things which serve to justify a Russian status for the Ukrainian peninsula.

Some say that “the Russian Crimea myth is in fact ‘a Soviet myth’ both in terms of the time of its creation and its realization,” Kazarin says. “Yes, that is possible,” he says, but one thing is undeniable: “it exists,” and it serves Moscow’s purposes. There is no alternative Ukrainian myth; there is only the Crimean Tatar one, which Ukrainians use.

The Crimean Tatar myth about Crimea is well-developed: it involves the story of a motherland taken from its people, the mass deportation, and the destruction of its language and culture by Russian occupiers.

“The weak point of the Crimean Tatar myth is that it is not inclusive but exclusive,” Kazarin says. “It is defensive and directed at the preservation of the borders of a group and not on their broadening,” a pattern that reflects the experience of the Crimean Tatars after the return for deportation as a minority in their own land.

But that gives rise to a problem with this myth: “It is difficult to be part of it if you are not a Crimean Tatar, because this myth looks toward the establishment of a national-territorial autonomy, quotas in the offices of governance, and a system of preferences.” And because of that, “it helps mobilize not only its supporters but also its opponents.”

“Today,” Kazarin continues, “Ukraine ever more frequently uses precisely the Crimean Tatar myth,” largely because “over the last 20 years, a uniquely Ukrainian concept about the peninsula has not appeared.” Kyiv’s authority there is “legal from the point of view of law but it hasn’t been legitimized by mythology.”

Ukraine has “all the preconditions” necessary for the elaboration of its own myth about Crimea. It is simply the case, Kazarin says, that this myth won’t be about military conquest or about historical or religious issues but rather about economics, about Crimea as an economic hub for the Black Sea region, as Ukrainian economist Andrey Klimenko has suggested.

A Ukrainian myth so constructed, the Kyiv commentator says, would be inclusive and appropriate for all regardless of ethnicity. But so far, because “inertia has turned out to be strong,” Ukrainians have not advanced it. Many think they don’t have to because the Crimean Tatar myth justifies Kyiv’s position.

But Kyiv’s failure to advance its own myth, Kazarin suggests, opens the way for Moscow to push its own. And it is “characteristic” of the Ukrainian approach that “the law on the restoration of the rights of those deported on the basis of ethnicity” was adopted by the Verkhovna Rada only a month after the Russian Anschluss.

Russia briefly tried to “privatize the Crimean Tatar” mythology by giving their language official status, but that effort collapsed with Moscow’s moves against the ATR television channel and its attacks on activists.

“Someone may say that all this is secondary, that economics and the military define politics,” Kazarin says, but anyone who does is “wrong.” That is because the contemporary world is a symbolic space, and those who control the symbols often control the politics more than those with the arms or the money.

Ukrainians should reflect on this, Kazarin says, as well as on the fact that Moscow has defined Crimea as “’a Russian Jerusalem,’” something it has never said about the Donbas. And if they do, he suggests, they will want to articulate their own Crimea myth in order to do battle with and defeat Russia’s version.

  • Dancing in Crimean Tatar Khanate by Carlo Bossoli, 1843
    Dancing in Crimean Tatar Khanate by Carlo Bossoli, 1843
  • Deportation of Crimean Tartars, May 1944 (Image: cidct.org.ua)
    Deportation of Crimean Tartars, May 1944 (Image: cidct.org.ua)
  • Deportation of Crimean Tartars, May 1944 (Image: cidct.org.ua)
    Deportation of Crimean Tartars, May 1944 (Image: cidct.org.ua)
  • Deportation of Crimean Tartars (Image: cidct.org.ua)
    Deportation of Crimean Tartars (Image: cidct.org.ua)
  • Deportation of Crimean Tartars, May 1944 (Image: cidct.org.ua)
    Deportation of Crimean Tartars, May 1944 (Image: cidct.org.ua)
  • Deportation of Crimean Tartars, May 1944 (Image: cidct.org.ua)
    Deportation of Crimean Tartars, May 1944 (Image: cidct.org.ua)
  • A soldier of the Russian occupation force atop an IFV in Crimea. (Image: epa.eu)
    A soldier of the Russian occupation force atop an IFV in Crimea. (Image: epa.eu)
  • Armed guards block the entrance to a naval border guard base in Sevastopol, in the Crimea region of Ukraine March 2014. New York Times
    Armed guards block the entranc
  • A Ukrainian man stands in protest in front of unmarked Russian soldiers in the Crimea
    Russian "little green men"
  • A Crimean Tatar woman holds a sign "Crimea Is Ukraine" in protest to the "referendum" imposed by force by Moscow in March 2014.
    "Crimea Is Ukraine"
  • "Crimean Tatars want peace" - Crimeans protest against Russian occupation, March 2014
    "Crimean Tatars want peace" Crimeans protest against Russian occupation, March 2014
  • A girl in a national Crimean Tatar dress holds a placard during a protest against the presence of Russian troops in Crimea, Bakhchysaray, Crimea, March 5, 2014 (Image: mfa.gov.ua)
    Crimean Tartar girl, March 2014
  • "No to war! Crimea is Ukraine!"
    "No to war! Crimea is Ukraine!" Crimeans protest against Russian occupation, March 2014
  • "Crimea is Ukraine" - Crimeans protest against Russian occupation, March 2014
    "Crimea is Ukraine" - Crimeans protest against Russian occupation, March 2014
  • Crimean Tatar protest. The sign in Russian reads: "We are on our own land!"
    Crimean Tatar protest
  • Crimean Tartar protest against the Russian occupation.
    Crimean Tatars
  • Protest against the shutdown of ATR Crimean Tartar TV channel in Crimea by the Russian occupation authorities (Image: krymr.org)
    Protest against the shutdown of ATR Crimean Tartar TV channel in Crimea by the Russian occupation authorities (Image: krymr.org)
  • Crimean Tartars (photo: oleg-leusenko.livejournal.com)
    Crimean Tartars (photo: oleg-leusenko.livejournal.com)
  • Crimean Tatar Mejlis raided and searched by Russian police in balaclavas
    Crimean Tatar Mejlis raided and searched by Russian police in balaclavas
  • 17 minutes before the channel shutdown, an online poll shows 99.2% of respondents said "Yes" to a question "Do you need ATR TV channel?" (Image: @CrimeaUA1 on Twitter.com)
    17 minutes before the channel shutdown, an online poll shows 99.2% of respondents said "Yes" to a question "Do you need ATR TV channel?" (Image: @CrimeaUA1 on Twitter.com)
  • The pin on the chest of the protester says: "Don't Kill ATR!" at the protest against the shuttering of Crimean media outlets by the Kremlin, March 2015
    The pin on the chest of the protester says: "Don't Kill ATR!" at the protest against the shuttering of Crimean media outlets by the Kremlin, March 2015
  • ATR poll in the bottom of the screen shows 82% of ATR viewers against the Crimea Anschluss by Russia in March 2014
    ATR poll in the bottom of the screen shows 82% of ATR viewers against the Crimea Anschluss by Russia in March 2014
  • A protester in Europe wearing a Crimean Tatar flag with a sign protesting the shuttering of Crimean Tatar media outlets by Russian occupiers in April 2015 (Photo: Olexei Ivanov, day.kiev.ua)
    A protester in Europe wearing a Crimean Tatar flag with a sign protesting the shuttering of Crimean Tatar media outlets by Russian occupiers in April 2015 (Photo: Olexei Ivanov, day.kiev.ua)
  • Crimea: Please don't forget about me
    Crimea: Please don't forget about me

 

 

Edited by: A. N.

Tags: ,

  • Brent

    Start by pointing out how Russia’s invasion has destroyed the economy. Tourist season is coming soon and last year’s drop was around 50%. The can’t get water to irrigate the fields, and Aksyonov and his hired thus are ‘nationalizing’ whatever businesses they want for themselves….but I guess that’s truth and not really a myth!!!

  • puttypants

    Problem is Brent…people want a romantic myth not the truth. Ukrainians are too often too truthful when it comes to politics and forget how poetic they really are. All of history is mostly about myth. The author is so very right. Ukrainians where is your romance, your love of crimea, your stories of crimea….use that to sell Ukraine and Crimea belong together. Crimea must have writers that can write the love story of Ukraine and Crimea…starting from the Ukrainian Cossacks?