“Strong Sea – Resistance on the Krym “, 20 April 2024, Berlin

Event organised by the Central Eastern and South Eastern Europe Project Group of the German Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung)

By Martin Lochthofen

Little is known in Germany about the Krym and the decade-long resistance of the local population against Russian and Soviet rule, including the resistance of indigenous peoples such as the Krym Tartars. After a brief period in the international spotlight following the Russian invasion – and subsequent annexation – of the Krym in 2014, the peninsula and its inhabitants once again seem condemned to a shadowy existence in the wider context of Russia’s war of aggression against its Ukrainian neighbours.

For this reason, the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (BpB) hosted a multimedia event entitled “Strong Sea – Resistance on the Krym” at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. The title of the event was appropriately borrowed from a poem by the Ukrainian writer Lesja Ukrajinka (1871 – 1913), who campaigned for a free and independent Ukraine throughout her life. The event thus saw itself as being located at “the interface between the political and the poetic”[1] and provided a stage for speakers from a wide range of disciplines to enter into dialogue with one another.

The welcoming address was given by Matthias Kaun, Head of the East Asia Department of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, who emphasised the close links between the Staatsbibliothek and Ukraine and also directly set the tone for the event: displacement, diversity and cohesion.

The Prelude

The main part of the event began with an opening speech by 2018/19 Prisma Ukraïna and current VUIAS Fellow Kateryna Mishchenko. Using a quote from a local journalist, she gave a vivid and accessible description of the current situation on the Krym, which is marked by fear, displacement and state despotism. This reality contrasts sharply with the Russian narrative of the peninsula as an idyll that has always belonged to Russia, which unfortunately occupies a prominent place in the world. She therefore also saw the purpose of the event as an attempt to counter this Russian narrative and to paint a more nuanced picture of the Krym and its inhabitants. Not least in order to counter the attempt at the imperial levelling of differences and the associated suppression of the various political, historical and cultural identities specific to the Krym.

Flyer to the event “Strong Sea – Resistance on the Krym”, organised by the Central Eastern and South Eastern Europe Project Group of the German Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung).

The event was repeatedly enlivened by musical interventions by the artist Emil Asadov. The composer and media artist, who comes from Odesa but lives in Kyiv, was unfortunately unable to attend but sent a greeting via video message. His sometimes sombre, sometimes almost ethereal compositions relaxed the evening immensely and provided a pleasant interlude between the individual discussion rounds.

Rory Finnin, Professor of Ukrainian Studies at Cambridge University, then gave an introduction to the history of the foreign government of the Krym and the struggle of the local population for their own identity(ies). Beginning with the annexation of the Krym Khanate under Catherine the Great, through the attempts at Russification in the Tsarist Empire, the (murderous) expulsion and eventual return in the Soviet Union, to the current situation under Russian occupation, he sketched with great expertise the history of the Krym Tatars as a story of conquest, occupation, expulsion and struggle for the recognition of rights and for the preservation of their own identity. The only unfortunate thing was the inadequate translation equipment provided, which is why some of the participants may not have understood the historical categorisation or the text of the musical introduction, or only inadequately.[2]

Conversation with Mustafa Dzhemilov

The main event of the programme was probably the interview with Mustafa Dzhemilov. Dzhemilov is considered one of the Soviet Union’s most famous dissidents and has been fighting for the rights of the Krym Tartars for decades. Today he is a member of the Ukrainian parliament. He was interviewed and introduced by Rory Finnin. He gave interesting and personal insights into his life. He talked about his experiences of expulsion, the repression by the Soviet authorities against his own ethnic group, the ban on higher education, imprisonment and labour camps and the peaceful resistance movement. He always emphasised the resistance of the Krym Tartars to Soviet propaganda. Despite it being banned by the authorities, they always spoke their own language at home. One story about Stalin’s death was particularly striking: while all the other pupils were crying at school, the children of the Krym Tartars, although they too were encouraged to mourn, were in no way saddened and even (secretly) made jokes.

Dzhemilov, who has personally lobbied President Putin on behalf of the Krym Tartars, drew a grim balance, comparing the current actions of the occupying power to the ethnic cleansing of the Stalin era. Not only is there no rule of law, and prosecutors play at best a superficial role in the criminal justice system, but the FSB’s aim is simply to terrorise and expel the indigenous population, or to assimilate them culturally and politically. Russian repression is therefore not only systemic, but also aimed at destroying the identities of the local peoples. Despite the resilience he emphasises, he believes that the Krym Tatars in particular are at risk of extinction. Unlike in Soviet times, they would not emigrate as a closed diaspora, but as fragmented and small groups, or would be prevented from practising their traditions and speaking their language in their ancestral homeland. With this in mind, he ended the interview by formulating the war aim of liberating all the territories occupied by Russia and calling for decisive action by Western states, including further deliveries of weapons, which was met with applause from the audience.

Rory Finnin in conversation with Mustafa Dzhemilov. Photo by Martin Lochthofen.

Talk with Wilfried Jilge and Tamila Tasheva

The penultimate part of the evening was entitled “Geysers of Light”. Anna Andrievska, a Ukrainian freelance journalist, hosted a discussion with Wilfried Jilge, an Eastern European researcher specialising in the culture of remembrance and geopolitics and security policy, and Tamila Tasheva, the Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Krym and a human rights activist. Both guests complemented each other well: while Tasheva reported on concrete political practice, Jilge supplemented the discussion with successful security and geopolitical assessments. Both clearly rejected the current notion of a possible freeze in the conflict. In this context, Tasheva stressed the consequences of the Russian occupation for the civilian population, pointing to arbitrary arrests and abductions of minors, assassinations of public figures, excessive punitive measures and the general climate of fear. Jilge rightly added that a freeze would have to be accompanied by long-term and steadily increasing military aid from Western allies.

With regard to Russian narratives and stories, Tasheva highlighted in particular the story of the Krym given away by Khrushchev. This narrative has also been unchallenged in the Western media for over thirty years, although the handover to Ukraine was primarily based on economic motives and economic prosperity could only be achieved once the indigenous population groups had returned. Jilge takes the same line and emphasises the securitisation of social issues in the occupied territories, known in Russian parlance as “borderlands”, which led to exclusive residence permits for Russian citizens and thus to expulsion and ethnic discrimination. Ultimately, it was the unchallenged acceptance of the Russian narrative and the inaction of the Western world that made Russia’s “genocidal war” (Jilge) possible.

Both speakers were optimistic about the future prospects for a liberated Krym. Jilge expressed the hope that the populations of the Krym and mainland Ukraine would be able to build on the process of growing together that began before 2014, not least because a more cosmopolitan Krym would have better economic conditions. Asked how this coalescence could be implemented in practice, Tasheva was specific: first, the state authorities and structures would have to be restored; then the Russian population that moved in after 2014 would have to be expelled, thus allowing the return of those driven out by Russia; and finally, a long-term “cognitive demining” would have to take place, which would mean introducing Ukrainian as the primary official language, actively combating Russian narratives and, finally, creating a new, shared culture of remembrance. According to her, the legal basis for this has already been drawn up.

In general, the entire event was characterised by an astonishing harmony between all the speakers. Interesting but potentially difficult topics were avoided. For example, neither possible conflicting elements of Krym Tartar and Ukrainian identity nor the announcement of the expulsion of the newly arrived Russian population were questioned or categorised. Even if both are understandable (and such lines of conflict and considerations fade against the backdrop of the current Russian terror on the peninsula), this has deprived us of exciting discussions and a reflection on our own narratives and stories (and their potential consequences).

There Is a Land Beyond Perekop

The event concluded with a discussion with Ukrainian writer Anastasia Levkova, whose new book “There Is a Land Beyond Perekop” explores with the recent history of the Krym, including the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Orange Revolution, Maidan protests and annexation, from the perspective of a first-person narrator and her multi-ethnic circle of friends.[3]

The title is a revealing twist on an old saying of the inhabitants of the Krym, “There is no land beyond Perekop”. Actually an expression of the alienation between the inhabitants of the peninsula and the central government in Kyiv, it thus becomes an expression of a new togetherness and mutual relevance.

A Successful Evening

All in all it was a successful event whose overarching theme of resistance on the Krym was presented in an appropriate and diverse manner. The fact that the focus was exclusively on the Krym Tartars as an example of the ethnic groups living on the Krym was bearable and understandable in view of the high-calibre speakers and guests of the evening.

In addition to the points of criticism already mentioned, a little more time for questions would certainly have been appropriate and would have opened up the possibility of more open and less one-sided talks. Nonetheless, all those who attended will have fond memories of the event and will have taken away one or two educational and interesting things.


[1] See BpB, „Starkes Meer – Widerstand auf der Krym“, 2024, https://www.bpb.de/veranstaltungen/veranstaltungskalender/546592/starkes-meer-widerstand-auf-der-krym/ [accessed 23.04.2024].

[2] Including the author. For a brief introduction by Rory Finnin on the history of the Krym and the Krymtartars, see: Rory Finnin, „Die Krim und die Krimtartaren. Eine historische Perspektive“, bpb, 2024, https://www.bpb.de/shop/zeitschriften/apuz/krim-2024/545059/die-krim-und-die-krimtataren/ [accessed 24.04.2024].

[3] For all those interested, there will be a virtual book presentation with author reading on 22 May 2024. Link to the event: https://www.facebook.com/SUSNinfo/posts/pfbid0Z1hhX1YJ8EztPNwNmYuxvmfaCQWUsyVyQh7AmYokYgsQ37G9LzBtqrRRGAk9QnFrl.

Martin Lochthofen is a Student Assistant at the Prisma Ukraïna Program at the Forum for Transregional Studies in Berlin.

Citation: Martin Lochthofen, “Strong Sea – Resistance on the Krym “, 20 April 2024, Berlin, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 02.05.2024, https://doi.org/10.58079/10snf

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Forum Transregionale Studien (2024, 2. Mai). “Strong Sea – Resistance on the Krym “, 20 April 2024, Berlin. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 23. Mai 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/10snf

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