[Marxism] Ukrainian language suppressed in Crimea

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 28 09:34:07 MST 2014

Washington Post, Nov. 28 2014
In Crimea, old ways fade as Russia takes hold
by Michael Birnbaum

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea - Eight months into the Russian annexation of the 
Black Sea resort region of Crimea, traces of Ukraine's 60-year rule here 
are rapidly being wiped away. Now Ukrainians themselves worry that they 
are next.

The Ukrainian language has vanished from school curriculums, Russia's 
two-headed eagle has been bolted onto government buildings, and Russian 
laws are slowly taking hold. And as the peninsula Russifies, Ukrainians 
and other minority groups are finding that an area once renowned for its 
easygoing cosmopolitanism is now stifling. Some are fleeing their native 

Many complain that they have been written off both by the world and by 
Ukraine itself, which is focused on the bloody conflict in its 
southeast. The turmoil is a harsh consequence of the first major land 
grab in Europe since World War II - and it comes despite Kremlin 
assurances that life would be better in Crimea for Russians and 
Ukrainians alike.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has quickly become a haven for Ukrainian 
speakers in Crimea, who can gather on Sunday mornings to gossip and to 
send up prayers in sanctuaries whose authorities sit in Kiev, not 
Moscow. But Archbishop Kliment, the leader of the church here, fears for 
his future.

"I get up worried, and I go to bed worried," he said, speaking in the 
converted school building in Simferopol that houses the church 
headquarters on this peninsula of 2.4 million. "They are closing down 
Ukrainian schools, Ukrainian newspapers. It's all closed, and the 
Ukrainian church is the only thing left." One poll taken when Crimea was 
still part of Ukraine found that about 12 percent of Crimean residents, 
or 280,000 people, identified as Ukrainian Orthodox.

Since the Russian takeover, the church leader says, pressure has forced 
him to close almost a third of his congregations. Several of his priests 
have fled.

Archbishop Kliment finds himself a world away from the heady days he 
spent in Kiev in February, when he announced onstage to a crowd of 
battle-scarred protesters that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which 
broke away from Russian Orthodoxy after the fall of the Soviet Union, 
had withdrawn its support for then-President Viktor Yanukovych. That 
provoked cheers from the crowd. Within days, Yanukovych was toppled - 
and Russia was moving in on Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was acting to defend the rights 
of ethnic Russians, although the risks they purportedly faced appeared 
to be almost exclusively voiced within broadcasts by state-run Russian 
media. President Obama called the Russian annexation "illegitimate."

Many ethnic Russians were excited to join a richer nation that promised 
them a higher standard of living. In a March referendum, 97.6 percent 
were said to have voted to join Russia. Critics questioned the validity 
of the results, and opponents largely boycotted the voting. Now they say 
that an entire constellation of life is swiftly fading away.

Some say they have no future in Crimea. Darya Karpenko emptied her 
Simferopol apartment and sold her Nissan this month, setting out last 
week with her 2-year-old daughter to join her husband in the Polish city 
of Krakow. Even though she is ethnically Russian, she said there is no 
future for her family in the city where she was born.

"I feel almost like I'm jumping on the last train car that's leaving," 
Karpenko said, shortly before she left for Poland. "We never planned our 
lives to leave. We bought a very nice apartment. We renovated it. We 
filled it with expensive furniture. We lost everything here. My husband 
works in IT. There were 50 small companies in the city, and they're all 
closed now."

Before the Russian annexation, Karpenko ran a popular blog and was a 
business consultant in Ukraine. Since the takeover, she said, she posts 
cautiously on her Facebook page, worrying constantly about Russian 
security services.

"I'm expecting security services to come for me any time there is a 
spirited conversation" in the comments section of her Facebook profile, 
she said. "Because security services do visit people. It's not an old 
wives' tale." Some of her friends were questioned when they criticized 
the annexation, she said.

At least 25 of her friends and acquaintances have left, Karpenko said, 
leaving no one to talk to who sympathizes with her position in her final 
days in Crimea.

"People are leaving every day," she said. "These are very intelligent 
people, the middle class, very well educated."

Many Crimean residents, even those supportive of the Russian takeover, 
have found themselves stuck in a strange hinterland between nations.

Ukrainian cellphone networks have pulled out, and suddenly friends and 
family in Ukraine are an expensive international phone call away. 
Businesses must follow new laws. Crimea's new Moscow-backed authorities 
shut down the branches of several Ukrainian banks, and the others 
departed, leaving many people's life savings in limbo.

Ukrainian authorities have been reluctant to unlock money for new 
Russian banks that they say are part of an illegal occupation. Tourism, 
once a mainstay of the economy, has lagged as international tourists 
kept away this year. And agriculture suffered when Ukraine cut back the 
amount of water it sends to Crimea via a canal.

Life could become even more complicated in the coming months. Russia 
will require that residents have Russian passports to qualify for health 
care, which will force some of the last holdouts either to give up their 
Ukrainian passports or to leave the peninsula. Ukraine, meanwhile, is 
imposing restrictions on the amount of cash that Crimean residents can 
carry across the border.

But many Crimeans are happy to be part of Russia, even if the initial 
euphoria has dissipated. Some welcome once again being part of a Russian 
nation to which they always felt connected. Others hold out hope for new 
economic opportunities. Many say that if it weren't for Russia's 
intervention, they would have had the same bloody experience as eastern 
Ukraine - although that conflict was sparked by pro-Russian separatists 
seizing local government buildings, not by the central government in Kiev.

"We felt we had been in internal immigration. I am a Russian person," 
said Alexander Burtsev, the director of a children's art school in 
Sevastopol, the port city that is home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "Our 
lives have become better," he said. "Financially better and morally 
better. Especially morally."

Local authorities have promised him a new building for his art school, 
whose students learn painting and sculpture on rickety Soviet-era wooden 

Those who complain about the transition period, Burtsev said, are simply 
being impatient. "Times aren't easy, because we're switching from 
Ukraine to Russian legislation," he said. "But it's a temporary problem."

Authorities say they will smooth out the bumps that have accompanied the 
peninsula's switch to Russian rule. They say that there is room for 
minorities to live in Crimea so long as they live within Russian laws.

"Ukraine has been an angry stepmother for Crimea," Crimean Prime 
Minister Sergei Aksyonov, the top Russian official in Crimea, said in 
written replies to questions. "To make Crimea self-sufficient is our 
strategic aim. We plan to reach this goal in five years," and Moscow has 
pledged $15.5 billion to that end, he said.

As for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, he said that no other churches 
recognize it. Its future appears to rest on whether it is allowed to 
register in Russia, an unclear prospect.

Archbishop Kliment says he will fight as long as he can. "Until the last 
Ukrainian leaves Crimea," he said, "we need to be here with them."

michael.birnbaum at washpost.com

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