As soon as you arrive on Crimea, you will notice the happy cheerful display of the Russian identity. Everywhere you go, everywhere you look. The Russian identity is proudly displayed in every thinkable way. Very popular are the shape of Crimea in the colors of the Russian Flag, of course the Russian Flag itself, the outline of Russia including the Crimean Peninsula and basically anything that carries the colors White, Blue and Red. The only thing that comes close to the popularity of the Russian colors and the Russian flag is the portrait of Mr. Putin. People wearing shirts and jackets with his image, books, magazines, paintings on the walls, Mr. Putin is everywhere. Where World War II made many Heroes of the Soviet Union defending and liberating Crimea, Mr. Putin has become the undisputed Hero of Crimea in modern times by making the reunification with Motherland Russia happen. The next popular image are the Polite People in any way, shape or form, which filled the streets of Crimea during the referendum which lead to the reunification with Russia. The reunification so many craved for, the reunification the Crimean Parliament worked for since 1991 but wasn’t heard by neither Kiev nor Moscow.
Not aware that any of my work on the Crimean Constitution and the right for self-determination would become reality in the near future, I participated in conferences on this topic in Yalta in 2010 and 2012. Where I now see proud display of the regained Russian Identity of Crimea, I didn’t see that level of display of Ukrainian Identity on Crimea back then. There was an Ukrainian flag every now and then, mainly on official buildings, schools and the entrances of hotels where many other colors were flying, including Russian flags. In 2012, just weeks before EURO2012 started, there were certainly more Ukrainian flags carried by football fans, just like there were Russian flags carried by other fans. But nothing of that compares to how Crimea is now expressing being part of Russia and being proud of that.
Even at my favorite cigar shop in Yalta where I always get some fine cigars when I visit, there are now miniature Russian Flags on the counter. The newspaper stand across the street with a large selection of international newspapers and magazines is waving Russian Flags at all 4 corners and they sell Russian Flags and posters of Crimea in the Russian Colors, complemented by memorials of Mr. Putin and the “polite people” which ensured safety during the referendum and transition. The fruit stand at the market where the parents of a friend sell their products has Russian Flags wherever they can place them. And of course fresh quality fruits! All local products from their own farm, products which literally are the fruits of their labor.
Contrary to what some badly informed Western journalists want us to believe, Crimea has plenty food. Markets and shops are full of local products and products from Motherland Russia. And that is actually rather logic when you would think about it for a second. Crimea has a mild climate and the warm springs and summers with enough rain in most years, bring harvests which most farmers in other regions will envy. The Black Sea and Azov Sea provide for fish in kinds I have never heard of before but I intend to try them all. And for the rest, always consider that Russia is larger than Pluto with an enormous agricultural sector. That Russia has no land connection to Crimea does complicate the logistics of supplies between Crimea and Russia, that much is true. But don’t forget the ferry connections which are now very busy and the significantly increased airfreight coming in and going out daily with up to 4 times the capacity compared to the connections with Ukraine in the past. And there is still traffic between Crimea and Ukraine.
One of the things I noticed is the large amount of cars with Ukrainian license plates and I was wondering if these are Ukrainians visiting Crimea or locals who haven’t applied for a Russian license yet. I started to believe the first when I also began to notice loaded trucks and tour-busses with Ukrainian plates. On our trip to the North of Crimea, my curiosity got the overhand so we visited the border between Crimea and Ukraine. Large queues in both directions, cars packed with people and luggage, tour-busses, loaded trucks, they majority of which carry Ukrainian license-plates but also several with Russian plates. I am told it takes several hours of waiting to cross the border because of the amount of crossing traffic. My exchange student joined us on this trip and seeing the Russian Flag at the Crimean side opposing the Ukrainian flag at the Ukrainian border post, he was silent for a while and then stated “nobody in the West will understand how long we waited for this!”.
I believe that the border between Russian Crimea and Ukraine will be the most beloved border of Russia for generations to come!
The amount of Ukrainian cars with families we noticed at the border seem to indicate that many Ukrainians still visit Crimea. Maybe for vacations, maybe to visit families and maybe both. And that brings me to a topic where reality is contradicting what Ukrainian officials and the Western press are telling us almost every day. Tourism on Crimea is booming! Reality is as follows:
- Low and mid-budget tickets to Crimea from various cities in Russia are all sold out all the way up to September and even getting those tickets for October has already become a challenge. In case you still look for an affordable ticket for the New Year’s period, you better hurry and make your reservations before those are gone too!
- Flights to and from Crimea have tripled the level of before the reunification, something you will notice the moment you arrive at the airport.
- Low and mid-budget Hotels, Pensions and Inns on Crimea are booked full which is a clear indicator for tourism because the “happy few rich” and demanding businessmen visiting Crimea, according to same reporters the only ones who can afford to visit Crimea, are taking the upper-class accommodations.
- Beaches, resorts, bars, restaurants are full according to Crimean standards which you shouldn’t compare to the “fish canned in oil” kind of full you will see when going to Spain and that is exactly the charm of vacationing on Crimea!
My girlfriend, a native speaker, can roughly determine where a person comes from when she hears them speak Russian. Her favorite game during breakfast in the hotel was to guess where people came from and then friendly ask if she was right. Not only was she always right but her trials also showed that Russian families from all over Russia have spent their vacation on Crimea this summer. Staying in the same hotel in Yalta as in 2010 and 2012 during our week in what I believe is the most beautiful place on earth, I noticed a very interesting difference this summer when comparing it to my stays here in the past. There is simply much more families with children now where in the past there were much more rude men showing off their “success”, accompanied by puffed up young ladies. Back then, my colleague and I started to jokingly call the breakfast room Silicon Valley… There were this summer still the odd exceptions but the majority in the hotel were families with kids and I think that is a good thing!
In all proud display of the re-found Russian identity, I have not found any display of Crimean’s turning against Ukraine or the population of Ukraine. What I did notice is a strong display of affection to common Ukrainian people, especially the ethnical Russian population of Ukraine. And given the large amount of Ukrainian tourists on Crimea, Ukrainians seem to feel perfectly safe on Russian Crimea and in Crimean Russia. What is however very present in all conversation I had with locals is a very strong emotional rejection of the ruling establishment in Kiev and the anti-Russian sentiments by a growing segment of the population, especially the hated and until the reunification feared Right Sector and their battalions fighting the population of Donbass and suppressing and even terrorizing other parts of Ukraine. My exchange student made it very clear with the following question:
How would you feel when Slovaks would have attacked and killed Czechs in Slovakia and encourage hatred towards your family after the segregation? A process the hardliners in Czechoslovakia didn’t agree with but it happened anyway by democratic processes just like ours. Would you ignore the violence against the brothers and sisters of your father?
No, I wouldn’t. Just like I don’t accept this violence against the brothers and sisters of my mother!
During our stay on Crimea, we visited many places. We went to the school were my girlfriend wend to when her father was stationed on Crimea. We went to the place where my parents met. We visited musea, parks, expositions. No matter where we went, we were always greeted with a cheerful happy “Welcome to Russia” and we felt very welcome in Russia. No matter if it is Russian Crimea, or Crimean Russia, Crimea is Russia and Russia is Crimea. My exchange student (now formally my former exchange student because he has concluded his studies abroad) came to The Netherlands 2 years ago and when he showed his Ukrainian passport in the past, he humbly added “I am Russian from Ukraine”. My work about the Crimean Constitution were the reason why he applied for the exchange program and I am still very proud of that. Now, 2 years later and after the reunification of Crimea, he is the proud holder of his Russian passport which he showed me several times as if I wouldn’t have seen it already before. But nothing beats his way of greeting us every time we met this summer:
Welcome to liberated Crimea, welcome to Russia!.
Celebrate your Russian identity with pride and joy like only you can, beautiful Crimea! You were attacked and occupied by the enemies of Russia since you are part of Russia, you were given away to a country you never belonged to, your desire to join Russia again was ignored since then. Now you are back where you belong and Russia will defend you like it always did. Welcome home Crimea!