Just days before the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s decision to exile Crimea’s Tatars, Russian authorities on the recently annexed peninsula are threatening to once more crack down on the ethnic minority. In a videotaped screaming match posted to YouTube, Crimea’s chief prosecutor accused a local Tatar leader of extremist activity and threatened to disband the Tatar Mejli, or self-governing council.
The flare-up came after days of tensions between the Tatars and Crimea’s new Russian rulers. On Saturday, Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev was denied entry at the Crimean border, where a phalanx of Russian riot police prevented him from crossing into the territory from which he was exiled by Stalin as a child. The following day, Natalya Poklonskaya, the Crimean prosecutor general, met with Refat Chubarov, the chairman of the Mejli, to present him with an ultimatum: Halt "extremist" activities or the Mejli will be "liquidated."
The confrontation between Poklonskaya and Chubarov is a sad affair. She speeds through the allegations against Crimea’s Tatars while Chubarov pleads with her to speak with him in a language he can understand. "Please continue in my native language, Crimean Tatar," he tells her. "According to the constitution of the Republic of Crimea, it is one of the state languages.
But Poklonskaya pays him no heed. "I notify you that if you fail to comply with the aforementioned warning against violations of federal legislation, then … the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people will be liquidated."
Here’s the full video, which includes a translation courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The shouting match comes right before a grim anniversary. On May 18, Crimean Tatars will mark the 70 years that have passed since Stalin exiled them to Siberia, killing half the population en route. And while Russian President Vladimir Putin has attempted to make nice with the embattled ethnic group — by, for example, signing a decree "rehabilitating" the Tatar people — they remain deeply suspicious of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a move they broadly opposed amid fears of another round of repression at the hands of Moscow.
Putin’s decree, signed April 21, promised to "restore historical justice and remove the consequences of the illegal deportation" and "foster the creation and development of national-cultural autonomies," but Crimean Tatars remain unconvinced. According to the Wall Street Journal, Putin tried to personally secure Dzhemilev’s support and convince him to endorse the annexation. Dzhemilev (the haggard-looking man at the top of this post) rejected those entreaties and went on to criticize Putin’s seizure of Crimea, a move that appears to have landed him and his people in Moscow’s crosshairs.
As Poklonskaya made clear, Moscow has a simple message for those who refuse to bow to Putin’s directives: fall in line, or else.