Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crimea's Autumn Farce

It used to be that the early fall, known as the "velvet season," was marked in Crimea by all kinds of theater festivals. The most popular shows of the season were shown to respectable people from all over the Soviet Union.


It looks like the sunny peninsula is trying to keep up its traditions. A sensational -- both figuratively and literally -- play called "The Battle of Parliament and the President" is being played out on Crimea's political stage. But the directors didn't get it quite right, and the recent drama has all the makings of a farce.


In reality, the confrontation between President Yury Meshkov and the parliament looks as if someone had tried to parody last October's tragic events in Moscow. The actors are determinedly playing out a war of presidential decrees and legislative directives, the whole "zero option" business, which each side in the conflict interprets for its own ends and, finally, the seizing of the television center and the closing of the parliament building.


But no one, excluding the immediate participants, takes the whole thing very seriously. What does the "seizing" of the television center really mean? It was carried out by a few of the president's guards, and it was reversed by a phone call from the police.


But the reasons for the conflict between the executive and legislative branches, which up until recently were allies, are quite serious. In other places this conflict was accompanied by bloodshed, as in Moscow, or at least political demonstrations and strikes, as in Minsk.


On one hand, conflicts like this arise because, in the struggle for independence and sovereignty, no one pays much attention to the legislative basis for the future state. The main thing is to declare a republic as soon as possible. Later it turns out that, in their hurry, the leaders have built such contradictions into the laws that, at the first sign of conflict, the state is in danger of collapse.


So in Crimea they rushed to write a constitution to aid them in their struggle with Kiev, only to find out later that, in addition to a Supreme Soviet, the republic needed a president. But there was no clear definition of what the president's powers were to be.


The main reason for such conflicts is the mentality of post-Soviet politicians. The truth is, they receive power from the electorate, with only a vague idea of what to do to keep their campaign promises.


They are firmly convinced of one thing: Politics means struggle. It's great if one can find an opponent outside the republic, but what happens if one cannot? Crimea's politicians unexpectedly found themselves off their normal field of battle immediately after the elections. Now, with a new president, Kiev's attitude toward Simferopol has begun to change radically. And Russian-Ukrainian relations are on a new level now, with a promise to liquidate this area of confrontation.


Although the bloc that brought both the president and the majority of the legislators to power is called "Russia," it has become clear that Moscow has no intention of taking an active role in solving the peninsula's problems. The politicians have been left on their own with their problems. And, since neither the president's team nor the legislators have been inclined to listen to boring talk from Moscow economists on radical reform (this was evident from Yevgeny Saburov's resignation announcement) they have begun to look for enemies. And they have found them in each other.


The scenario is painfully familiar. And it all could have ended in serious conflict, instead of the government's resignation. But in Crimea, for the first time in the CIS, this play flopped. The furious appeal of the leaders fell on deaf ears -- the residents of Crimea are almost completely indifferent to the political drama being staged. They preferred to spend the warm days in pursuits other than defending the president or storming the television center. The battle did not take place because all of the potential participants were at the beach.


While the Crimean leaders were trying to absorb all the details of strategy and tactics in Moscow's October conflict, Crimea's residents had learned another, more important lesson.They knew to stay as far away as possible from battles within the government.


Even if they lose, the organizers of the slaughter eventually return, amnestied or acquitted. But the lives lost cannot be reclaimed.


All that was needed for a full-scale conflict was a minor detail -- people who were willing to risk their lives for it.


People are beginning to realize that in government crises the intellectual impotence of those they have elected becomes apparent. They understand something else as well: The statesmen are no better anywhere else -- not in Russia, not in Ukraine, not in Crimea. There is a general lack of competence, a surfeit of ambition and greed. Others will have to be educated to the role. And not in these general battles, but in a period of relative stability, when simple, day-to-day problems can be solved.


Today our politicians must, at all costs, be forced to compromise with each other. At least they should refrain from open conflict. Many understand this. And not only in Crimea.


Those who are predicting a "hot autumn" in Russia should pay special attention to the farce in Simferopol. There are just as many people in Russia who have learned the lessons of government conflicts as in Crimea. And life in Russia, with all its difficulties, is much easier than in Ukraine. I think that if anyone calls for barricades to be erected in Moscow, he will have to dig up the stones for them himself. Given the well-known attitude of our politicians toward hard physical labor, I think we are guaranteed a peaceful fall.





Alexander Golz is a political observer for Krasnaya Zvezda. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.