After becoming part of the Russian Empire in 1783, the 19th century was a period of relatively calm for Crimea. Driven by a truce between the Russian Empire and its opponents the Ottoman Empire and British Empire, the Black Sea was neutralized and Crimea was no longer the prime target to weaken the Russian Empire and the strong Black Sea Fleet stationed in and around Sevastopol.
Aside from recent developments on the peninsula Crimea, the 20th century shaped the political environment of Crimea with more dynamics than most European countries endured over multiple centuries.
The Russian Revolutions which started in 1905, partially raging in parallel to World War I, and their aftermath leading to forming the Soviet Union in 1922, also had their impact on the political environment of Crimea. Ahead of many other later Soviet States, Crimea declared itself Crimean People’s Republic in 1917 and installed its first formal Constitution as independent Crimean People’s Republic in early 1918 which was ratified by the Authoritative Parliament of the Republic. (Thanks to my friend and mentor throughout all phases of my professional life, I am the proud owner of a rare copy of this Constitution and a certified translation). Challenged by all influences and fractions playing their part , the Crimean Republic continued to expand its political and legal foundation as a republic and its alliance with the socialists movement which eventually founds it destiny in the Soviet Union.
A key milestone in the history of Crimea and its case for the right on self-determination is the formation of the Crimean Socialist Soviet Republic in 1919, declared by the Crimean People’s Republic and the Authoritative Parliament. This puts current Crimea and its political predecessors at the same political and legal status as other former Socialist Soviet Republics like Ukraine, Moldavia, Belarus, etc. Republics and Nations which were offered a choice when the Soviet Union defaulted: self-determination for independence or joining the Russian Federations as prime successor of the Soviet Union. In 1921, Crimea was declared the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic under the Administration of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic, commonly seen as the key power factor in the Soviet Union. This declaration gives two very strong historical messages which also contributes to Crimean choice and its right to self-determination:
- By adopting Crimea to the Russian Republic as soon as the revolutions ended and already at the formation phase of the Soviet Union, there is no doubt of the Russian roots and origin of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
- By declaring Crimea to be an autonomous republic within the Russian Federal Republic, the Russia clearly recognizes and confirms the Crimean historical right for local governing bodies and a high level of Independence within the Soviet system.
The Autonomous Republic Crimea continued to play its strategic role within Russia and the Soviet Union as home base of the strong and feared Black Sea Fleet which was extended by the Soviet Union in the years prior to World War II. Its strength and strategic value led to the decision by Nazi Germany and its Axis Allies Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Italia to attack and occupy Crimea and conquer its strategic harbor and bases of Sevastopol. A deep dark black page in the history of Crimea is the occupation by Nazi Germany from 1942 until 1944 because of its devastating destruction caused by the long siege and bombings and the regime of terror by Nazi forces during the occupation. During this occupation, the Republic of Crimea was declared a part of the “Reichskommisariat Ukraine” (RKU) and administered from the Nazi high-ground Rivne. RKU, formed by Nazi Germany in 1941 was under the terror regime of “Reichskommissar” Erich Koch and included Belarus, Poland as it was defined before World War II, the occupied territories of Ukraine, and the occupied Republic Crimea. On personal orders of Hitler, Koch and its RKU started what was called the “Purification of Gotenland”, as this region should be called in the future. This “purification” included deportation and mass murdering of unwanted nationalities and races. Russians, Romas, Jews were the first victims of the Nazi terror regime as it was conducted throughout occupied Europe and the occupied Russian territory. The obsession of Hitler with “derussifying” Crimea is best seen in his plans to rename the Russian strongholds on Crimea with ideological Nazi German names. Sevastopol, the strong base of the Black Sea Fleet and longest resisting city against the German occupation, was planned to be renamed to “Theodorichshafen”. Simferopol, home to the Crimean Government and know for its strong base of Soviet supporting intellectuals and artists, would be forced to carry the name of “Gotenburg”, and all members of its population which were seen by the Nazis as a threat put on the priority list for deportation and “Endlösung”. Similar to the response of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic to the occupation of its territory by Nazi Germany, Russia downgraded the status of the Crimean Republic to oblast, a political and legal status which is comparable to the status of a Provence in other States without direct representation in the ruling federal bodies..After 1945, Crimea remained the Crimea Oblast but regained its representation in the Federal Governing Parliament of the Russian Soviet Republic. As an Oblast, it continued to be under the Administrative Authority of the Russian Soviet Republic. The Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union approved a decree in 1954, in which the administrative authority over the Crimea Oblast with the exception of Sevastopol, was transferred from the Russian Soviet Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Marking the historical 300th anniversary of annexation of Ukraine into the Russian Empire, this is seen as a symbolic gesture towards Ukraine but also as a way of tying Ukraine to Russia in the Soviet Union by means of the so called “joined projects”, like the extension of the Black Sea Fleet, the hydro-electric dam at the Dnieper River and the joined weapons industry in both republics which was to be extended on Crimea. United forever was the motto and historians see in this a further step in strengthening the eternal bound between Russia and Ukraine. The decree itself is disputed for not fulfilling the requirements of the Constitutions of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Republics of Russia and Ukraine, but after approval by the Supreme Soviet it was executed in full. With the deportation of the majority of Tatar Population of Crimea, ethnic Russians now formed the absolute majority on Crimea and the “new owner” Ukraine faced the challenge of repopulating Crimea for 3 important reasons:
- The mild climate of Crimea gave it natural agricultural advantages but with the Tatar population deported under Stalin rule, the required workforce was not available on the peninsula itself.
- The ethnic Russian majority formed a power balance issue with their resistance of the transfer and strong ties with Mother Russia and the Black Sea Fleet.
- Sevastopol, excluded from the transfer but with representation and influence in the oblast formed a strong power base with unconditional loyalty to Russia.
Ukraine countered this challenge by a large and fast re-population program with Ukrainians from the territories which were considered Ukrainian before World War II, to avoid that the western regions of Ukraine with its strong collaboration with Nazi Germany would populate the newly gained peninsula. In the early 60’s, after seeing that the re-population program was not progressing as planned and the output of Crimean agriculture remained behind plan, as most of the other oblasts, the Ukrainian Soviet made the controversial decision to start deporting released Nazi collaborators to the peninsula in an attempt to speed up its re-population program. The disputes about Crimea between Ukraine and Russia continued from the controversial decree in 1954 until default of the Soviet Union. In platforms comparable to Conferences in Yalta and Potsdam after World War II, further decisions were made about Crimea and treaties were signed. All have one thing in common: nobody bothered to ask the Crimeans and Crimea was nothing but bargaining money for the power struggle between the former Soviet states and the western block represented by the USA and UK. This phase of Crimea’s history between the default of the Soviet Union and its reunification with the Russia Federation will be the topic of the following and last part of this prelude to pleading the case for Crimea, for its historical and legal rights on self determination.
Dedicated to all those who wish Crimea a prosper and happy future, a future determined by its people. Inspired by Vera Graziadei, talented actress and writer, respected for giving people a voice without political agenda, and most of all a great person. Kind regards, Pavel