Crimea is ours

krim-tillhor-ossThe annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014 shook the world. The Crimean crisis remains a ticking time-bomb whose ultimate consequences are still impossible to predict. And it is a question that divides the local inhabitants.

Anna in Sevastopol doubled her state salary. She could buy the tall, white kitchen cabinets she’d always dreamed of — but otherwise her life is mostly unchanged. The area in which she lives has largely welcomed the actions of President Putin.

For Eskender, things are different. He encountered the new regime when heavily-armed police knocked in his door in the early morning hours and up-ended everything in his apartment. Eskender is a Crimean Tatar. For him, Russia is the successor to the old Soviet Union, which once exiled his entire people.

For his new book, Krim tillhör oss (”Crimea is Ours”, 2015), Kalle Kniivilä travelled around Crimea to interview both supporters and opponents of annexation. Everyone he spoke with wanted order and a functional society — rather than chaos and corruption. But they favored different solutions.

Those who wanted Crimea to remain a part of the Ukraine, frequently made reference to democracy and human rights. For them, a functional state in the Western model with closer ties to Europe represented a path forward. But many voices were already going silent. Others departed the occupied peninsula and travelled to Kiev to be able to speak freely and advance their agenda. For them, the Russian occupation of Crimea was a continuation of Soviet oppression, a disagreeable echo from the past.

Those who wished to belong to Russia frequently brought up the Russian language which, according to them, was being suppressed in the Ukraine. Most of them also hoped that the Russian annexation would lead to higher salaries and better living conditions. But almost as many, also spoke glowingly about the good old days. Often supporters of annexation would mention Stalin as a great leader. But Stalin, of course, was not as perfect as Putin, according to one.

Kalle Kniivilä is author of two highly praised books on the former Soviet Union: Putins folk (”Putin’s people”, 2014, best non-fiction book in Finland 2014) and Krim tillhör oss (”Crimea is ours”, 2015). Forthcoming: Sovjets barnbarn, (Children of the Empire, 2016).