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Crimea’s Democracy Theater

The options are union with Russia or independence, but not the status quo.

by Halya Coynash 14 March 2014

Nobody expected a proper “referendum” from the puppet government in Crimea, but it would be difficult to imagine anything more farcical than the ballot paper posted on the Crimean parliament’s website


The document, in three languages – Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tatar – contains the following:


Ballot Paper for the all-Crimean referendum of 16 March 2014


Mark with any symbol in the box beside the variant of the answer you are voting for. 


1.  Are you for Crimea reuniting with Russia, as a subject of the Russian Federation?    


2.  Are you for the reinstatement of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of the Crimea and for the status of Crimea as part of Ukraine?


A ballot paper left unmarked, or where both variants are marked shall be invalid.


There are multiple problems with this document.


Firstly, there is no possibility of voting for the status quo.  Those who choose to take part in this event can place their doodles, signature, or tick for one of two very different options: becoming a part of the Russian Federation or reinstating a constitution in force for around 13 days back in 1992 that declared Crimean independence. 


It is just conceivable that some voters will know that on 5 May 1992 the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea adopted a “Declaration of State Independence of the Republic of the Crimea,” and that a constitution under these conditions was adopted the next day.  It was suspended on 19 May, with considerable amendments made on 25 September that year.


It is more likely that squiggles will be given to the first option, which is at least comprehensible.


Secondly, it is also quite unclear how the result of this vote is to be determined, with no indication as to the minimum turnout.  


A monumental change to the peninsula would not only be guaranteed by the lack of an option for staying put, but some pitifully small number of people could decide whether Crimea becomes a part of Russia or goes it alone altogether.  


Referendums in general need to have clearly articulated questions to which people answer yes or no. They should also not take place under the watch of armed soldiers without insignia speaking Russian without an accent. 


The decision to bring this “referendum” forward to 16 March was passed behind closed doors a mere 10 days earlier, on 6 March.  Parliament “decided” to join Russia and to have this “confirmed” by referendum.  


The explanatory note asserts that “nationalist forces, having seized power through an unconstitutional coup, are flagrantly violating Ukraine’s laws, inalienable rights, and freedoms, including the right to life, freedom of thought, and speech; and the right to speak one’s native language. Extremist gangs have made a number of attempts to get into Crimea in order to exacerbate the situation, cause an escalation in tension, and unlawfully seize power.”


It was never possible that this so-called referendum could have much credibility since Ukraine’s constitution clearly stipulates that any change in Ukraine’s territory must be put to a nationwide referendum. That the puppet government in Crimea and the Kremlin should have resorted to such an inept and thuggish parody was harder to anticipate.  


Even a legitimate referendum could not be organized in 10 days. Ukraine’s new leaders have stated clearly the vote will not be recognized and the Central Election Commission has suspended access to the voter register in Crimea and Sevastopol (which has separate status according to Ukraine’s constitution).


Attempts to present this as an infringement of the rights of people in Crimea will also not wash. The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars has called on all residents of the Crimea to boycott the event. The lack of support of Crimea’s indigenous people, up to 15 percent of the population, strips it of any legitimacy.


Western countries, as well as the UN Security Council, have made it quite clear that the result will not be recognized. That should have made Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksenov and his Kremlin patrons back down. Instead they appear to have opted for grotesque farce.
Halya Coynash is a journalist and member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on whose website a version of this commentary originally appeared.
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