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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Rights of Crimean Tatars
Conference on the Rights of Crimean Tatars, Crimea
19 September 2013
Chairman of the council of ministers, Foreign Minister, Minister of Culture, Representatives of the Mezhlis of Crimean Tatar and other groups of the Crimean Tatar Community,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
During my tenure as European Union Commissioner, I have paid special attention to the economic and political situation in Crimea. During my yearly visits to Crimea I have used every occasion to meet with representatives of the Crimean Tatars. I have also worked to build constructive partnerships with all stakeholders, including the Ukrainian authorities, Civil society and international partners such as the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities, the Council of Europe and the UN family organisations such as UNDP and UNCHR.
Crimea is a region of pivotal importance for the European Union's engagement in its Eastern Neighbourhood. This is due, among other reasons, to
• its strategic geographic location;
• its economic potential;
• its role in preserving the environmental stability of the black sea ;and
• its relevance for matters affecting European security.
At the same time, we see that Crimea's great economic potential is still largely unrealized. New opportunities could be created through an increase of foreign direct investment in sectors such as tourism, trade, or infrastructure. Above all we need to invest in the human capital: education, the fight against poverty, prevention of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and TB, and the fight against marginalization and crime.
Through the Joint Cooperation Initiative in Crimea, and also through the activities of UNDP, the European Union and its member states seek to contribute to making Crimea an economic success story and address the potential roots of conflict, including confrontation derived from ethnic strife.
Today to we are discussing the consequences of a painful chapter in the history of Europe and Crimea – that of the Deportation by the Stalin regime of the Crimean Tatar population, along with other ethnic groups such as the Armenians, Bulgarians, Germans and Greeks. Since the nineteen eighties, 266,000 Crimean Tatars and thousands of other Formerly Deported Peoples have returned to their historic homeland, reaffirming their will to reverse an historical injustice that we all condemn in the most unequivocal terms.
During the past twenty years, the Ukrainian Authorities, including the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, have shown political willingness to address and solve the legal and economic challenges that derive from this process. I want to explicitly commend this commitment by Ukraine, and encourage further steps to address remaining issues.
While we cannot change our past, we can work together to avoid that it creates new and artificial division lines for our common future.
The European Union was born from the willingness to overcome the grievances of the past and can actively contribute to finding ways to address such matters as the consequences of mass deportation. Indeed many ethnic groups in Europe suffered mass deportation and genocide during or in the aftermath of Second World War. Ensuring that such events never happen again is one of the visions that lead to the establishment of the European Union.
But to overcome this difficult past, dialogue between all stakeholders and interested parties is crucial. This is why I proposed that we meet today to have a frank and open discussion, to set aside possible differences and to find ways to produce solutions that are in the advantages of all sides.
Ladies and gentleman,
Finding a common language requires reaching a common understanding of the situation we need to address. The European Union has regular contacts with the Ukrainian authorities and with representatives of the Crimean Tatar Community on the issues that affect Crimean Tatars. However, we find that there is a substantially diverging assessment of the situation on the ground concerning the obstacles in our way and the steps that need to be taken. Without a discussion based on facts, and clarity about facts and figures, we cannot expect any tangible outcome.
Let me mention some of the key issues that need reflection:
• the legal aspects of return;
• the issue of land, housing and property;
• political participation;
• the socio-economic aspects of return and integration;
• the issue of language, culture and religion; and
• the issue of education.
I am sure that on all those issues there is scope for dialogue and finding a common understanding. Having had very good cooperation with the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities, and bearing in mind its universally recognised authority and prestige in matters of conflict prevention, I would advise that its involvement and recommendations are looked into very carefully. Needless to say those findings that we share steer clear from any suggestions that may be seen as interfering in Ukraine´s sovereignty.
In a similar vein, the proposal made by the Mejlis of Crimean Tatar to hold an international forum in 2014 under the aegis of the OSCE High Commissioner, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the deportation is an option that can and should be discussed and I also hope agreed. There may be differences on the objectives and the modalities of the event, but I believe that through dialogue it is possible to find a common ground.
To conclude, I hope that this meeting will help establish a constructive dialogue based on a common understanding of the realities on the ground, and that it contributes to the definition of the main elements of a roadmap to address outstanding issues.
Thank you for your attention.
I would like to make some remarks in order to wrap-up our discussion and make some suggestions on the follow-up of today's exercise.
1. When Minister of Foreign Affairs Kozhara and me approached the preparations for today's exchange in the context of my visit to Crimea, my intention was first and foremost to take stock and trigger a real dialogue on the existing challenges and the way ahead. I am satisfied to note that today this dialogue has taken place. It is important that we acknowledge the efforts and the results of Ukraine during the last twenty years to accommodate the many waves of returnees, including by assisting in the construction of houses, granting land plots, building infrastructure and taking measures to improve the participation of FDPs (Formerly Deported People) in public life.
2. As an observer of this process, my impression is that work remains to be done for the parties and stakeholders to reach concrete agreements and make compromise in order to create a genuine framework of an European type diversity in Crimea. I would therefore encourage all participants, both authorities and representatives of the Crimean Tatar people, to make efforts to ensure that an open and inclusive political process is in place. This means acknowledging both the importance of pluralism in the Crimean Tatar people, and the legitimacy and key role of such organisations as the Mezhlis of Crimean Tatars.
3. The initiative to hold an international forum, which has been presented today by Mr Dzhemilev deserves to be discussed and hopefully also agreed. The EU, the OSCE - based on the work already done - and other international bodies, as well as partner countries, may help Ukraine to address this challenge that Ukraine inherited from the USSR.
4. Let me outline three deliverables that should be up in our agenda: the establishment of a legal framework for Formerly Deported Persons, possibly through the adoption of the Law on the Restoration of Rights voted in first reading in June 2012; the extension of the Bishkek Agreement to facilitate the process of return and the easing of migration rules of formerly deported persons; and the re-establishment of a dedicated government agency with the competencies and know-how which is now scattered in several departments within the administration. Taking these actions on the macro-level could provide us the tools to deal with day to day problems in a more effective way. It will create a platform for an even more intensive support to these processes.
5. The Commemoration of 70 years of deportation in 2014 will be an opportunity not only to look back, but also to look forward and take steps for the integration of the Crimean Tatar people in a stronger independent Ukraine. I will therefore continue to encourage my Ukrainian counterparts to use this occasion not only to commemorate, but also to show leadership to address difficult issues.
Thank you for your engagement.