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Vyacheslav Svetlichny "The referendum in the Crimea - a lesson in patriotism!”

22-03-2014, 10:29

Vyacheslav Svetlichny in the workplace during the referendum in the Crimea.
Photo by the author.

The light was burning day and night in the office of the Consul General of the Russian Federation in Crimea, Vyacheslav Svetlichny, in the days leading up to the referendum, and it seemed like it was never switched off. "Yes, it’s true; there was little time for sleeping. Sometimes I would sleep a little right here, on the couch in the office," he confirmed.
Here is a very revealing detail: Mr. Svetlichny gives me two of his business cards and smiling, says: "Find the difference." I look closely and you can see that on one business card it says: Consul General in Simferopol and the address is registered as, "Ukraine, Simferopol, 95001, Odesskaya Street 3-A." But on a brand new business card, the address is not the same. It says: "The Republic of Crimea, Simferopol, 95001, Odesskaya Street 3-A." Yes, and today it is already out of date: it is time to write "Russian Federation" ...
That’s how rapidly events are unfolding here!
“Mr. Svetlichny, a referendum has just been held in Crimea. You saw how everything happened. Tell us about your experiences.”
“Of course, we knew in advance what the result would be; no one had any doubt about that. But what actually happened is that almost 97% voted in favor. For me personally, even although I believe that I am well versed in Crimean affairs and understand the situation inside out, so to speak: the leadership, all the political structures and systems, and the mood of the people, but, nevertheless, I tell you that I find these results simply stunning!”
“Do you mean the voter turnout or what they voted "in favor of"?”
“I mean, of course, "in favor of Russia." The turnout was in fact 83.1%. If 80 % had voted in favor of Russia it would been the result expected, a convincing victory, and a strong position, which no one could deny. But 97% is not just a victory, it's a stunning victory! What do these figures say? They say, first of all, that not only the Russian population voted “for”, but also the Ukrainian population and at least half of the Crimean Tatars voted "yes". The real situation in Crimea is as follows: 58% of the population here are Russian, 24% Ukrainians and 12% Crimean Tatars.”
“And those numbers, 97 %, tell us that the Crimean Tatars went to vote, despite the position of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, despite the fact that they were opposed to the whole idea of a referendum and didn’t support the intention of the Crimean Tatars to participate in the referendum. They also stated that they would not recognize the results of the referendum. We have always understood that the Mejlis take too much upon themselves in claiming the right to speak on behalf of all the Crimean Tatars. But here is the result: the common Tartar people thought with their own heads. That is one of the results from the referendum, and it also says something. We knew very well and understood that among the Crimean Tatars there were many normal, intelligent people. So, this confirms our estimations.”
“What are your memories about voting day, March 16th, 2014?”
“I have a lot of memories. Together with the representatives from Russia, there was a very large team from the State Duma, some from the Federation Council, and some from Russian NGOs. We visited many towns together, and dozens of election commissions.”
“Those things made a very strong impression on me. In Simferopol Road College I saw elderly voters kissing their ballet papers before putting them into the ballot box. Some old people even blessed their ballot papers! I saw young people who came with unprecedented enthusiasm. Young parents came with their children. One young woman wearing a skirt in the colors of the Russian flag, said: "It took me all night to sew this. I put the children to bed and started sewing so that I could come to vote dressed like this. I even made tricolor armbands for my husband and kids." You must understand, they were young people. It brought a lump to my throat when I saw it all.”
“Also, the remarks made by people also left a strong impression on me. When people learned that we were representatives from Russia, they began talking to us excitedly, interrupting each other, and asked us to convey their gratitude to Putin. We all know that his approval rating has risen sharply in recent times, but if someone had counted Putin's approval rating in the Crimea or Sevastopol, it would have been 100%, that's for sure. There has been no greater gift for the people in the Crimea and Sevastopol than our President.”
“In your opinion, what do you think are the roots of this attitude to Russia of the people of Sevastopol, in particular, and the people of Crimea in general?”
“Of course, we all know how important Sevastopol is to Russia. Even recently, a month ago, we were well aware that there were borders between us... But we always saw, knew, and spoke openly about the fact that Crimea and Sevastopol are part of the Russian World, a part of Russian space that exists independently of borders, regardless of the political map.”
“That's what we saw today: support from throughout the Russian Federation, in all the cities and towns, from as far away as Yakutia and the Far East, from my home in the Urals, and in the center of the country – mass activities are taking place everywhere. People have come out and demonstrated their support for the Crimea. This impulse, this patriotic impulse that occurred in Russia in connection with the events in Crimea, tells me of course, that the Crimea and Sevastopol are lucky to have Russia, but also that Russia is very lucky that she has Sevastopol and the Crimea.”
“This charge, this patriotic impulse, this patriotic potential that exists in the Crimea and Sevastopol, can have the most positive impact on the whole of Russia, where you don’t come across similar feelings and emotions too often, I am sorry to say. I get the impression from visiting Sevastopol, that Sevastopol is the most Russian of cities! There is no such manifestation of this Spirit in Russia, as there is here. We have all heard and praised repeatedly words like: "patriotism ", " Russian language", " Pushkin ", " Russian culture" , "history", and so on. These are familiar phrases, and when we use them, we often do not reflect on them. In Sevastopol it is different. Here the concept of "Russian language", and "education in Russian" are values that need to be protected, to be fought for.”
“Also Russian history.”
“Yes, also Russian history. These values are worth fighting for.”
“Here there is, I would say, an everyday attitude to such important things and these are not something to be forgotten, or left somewhere covered with dust, but they are realities that are present in each person’s daily life, and which need to be defended. That it is very important.”
“I want to thank the Crimea and Sevastopol for reminding Russia of such a high concept as patriotism. It adds to Russia more Russianness to our spirit, which, unfortunately, has become weathered with time. So because of what has happened, we will still try to comprehend, we will live through it, we will analyze it , and we will think about it, and I want to say that this is just the beginning of the process.”
“How do you see it continuing?”
“The situation in the Crimea has dramatically changed the political situation in the former Soviet space. It shows that the era of centrifugal tendencies ends here and now, and it is time for centripetal forces. Now the people have had enough of this useless "independence", and are beginning to realize that in a very complex and contradictory world the only way to survive and live with dignity is to stay together.
When you look at what is happening in the eastern regions of Ukraine, the thought comes to mind that this is only the beginning. I think that when Ukraine starts bearing the "fruits" of the mess that the nationalists have made there, when they realize that the economy is a very serious thing and it can’t be approached in such an amateurish fashion, when all these people feel the effects of all these negative changes, that's when the processes in the eastern regions of Ukraine will be strong and irreversible.”
“There is, incidentally, another point that we should think about. We are threatened with sanctions, and some sort of "trouble ", threatening us that we will supposedly have to "pay a high price" for the Crimea. They do not understand that we are prepared to pay any "price". There is no such price that the Russian people will not pay for the Crimea and Sevastopol, who have been waiting 23years for this historic hour.”
“And the stronger the pressure on Russia, the more united our people will become, and the more it will reinvigorate the qualities that have characterized the Russian people from the very beginning.”
“When I first came here, I didn’t receive a very positive impression from the large number of Russian-speaking organizations or the large number of pro-Russian organizations, which were arguing with each other, falling out with each other, and fighting amongst themselves. What were the reasons? They argued about the way to get closer to Russia, close to the Consulate General, and to being called Russian in the truest sense  ...”
“So, when all these processes began in the Crimea, all these feuds between them were forgotten! People became cemented together with the same idea. The true Russian character was manifested in this: in the face of pressure, in the face of danger, which we felt from the Western world and Western diplomacy. People forgot their points of contention and united.”
“So I can say, if this does not sound paradoxical, we should be "grateful" to the Maidan protests, which taught us a lot. We should also be "grateful" to the United States who have invested many billions in this Maidan protest and so, in fact , paid for the return home of the Crimea to Russia.”
“I have always believed in the reunification of the Crimea with Russia. I knew that it must happen one day. I would say more: it was part of my instincts, but I thought that it would take years. As it was a part of Ukraine, meaning another state, then the way home seemed like a long, long process in time. It turned out that nobody can crush the mood of the people. If they really want to go home, if they want to be part of Russia, then nobody can stop them or forbid them.”
“When everybody here saw a Bandera style wave of violence had already been whipped up from Kiev to the east and south-east of Ukraine, when the wave of violence reached the Crimea, the people seized the initiative. We had already been told that we must "do everything as fast as possible" before it is too late. Otherwise the "Right Wing elements" of Dmitry Yarosh will reach Crimea. He will start to take control of the military arsenals, and intends to seize power here and run everything.”
“Here we heard threats that so-called "friendship trains" would be sent to Crimea. We heard that buses would be sent here from Eastern Galicia from the western regions, to "teach Crimea how to behave", so to speak. As they like to say: "Bandera will come, and he will restore order". From that moment events began to develop rapidly. It was necessary to keep up with these processes, because they proceeded so fast that they were soon out of date.”
“Still, I see here the excellent organization showed locally – they accomplished the maximum amount of work in the minimum amount of time.”
“Yes, that's correct, you are right to have noticed. First, there was an organization of vigilante groups that took place in a moment. The roads that lead from mainland Ukraine near the Turkish Shaft and Chongar were blocked. The main administrative building was taken under protection. That also, incidentally, was learned from the "Maidan School". So when it came to learning, the Crimean people proved to be very receptive. Now let the Maidan protestors blame themselves. If they had not staged an ultranationalist Sabbath in Kiev, then events in the Crimea would not have occurred so rapidly.”
“How have the events reflected in the work of the Consulate General?”
“As for the Consulate General and our work, it has changed. Firstly, the Russian leadership decided for give Russian citizenship to the fighters, officers of the “Berkut” Special Forces. It was on the evening of February 28th. The next day, Saturday March 1st, we had already given passports to the first group of members of the "Berkut" detachment here.”
“Did you conduct an analysis to find out if they are residents of the Crimea or from other regions of Ukraine?’
“The vast majority of the "Berkut" are Crimeans. The requests of the citizens that come to us have changed markedly. We are continuously receiving citizens, and providing consular functions for them. Prior to the referendum, we were approached with requests for political asylum, with requests for forced migrant status, and so on. This was because many threats were being recorded, not only to the members of the "Berkut” or law enforcement agencies, but also against those reaching out to Russia.”
“Just today I had a conversation with a young woman. She said: "Today, of course, everything has gone quiet. But before that I was told that as I had a Russian diploma there was no place for me here, and "Go back to your Russia. Suitcase, Station, Russia." There are people here who were behaving in this way in the authorities: the tax people, the police, and the Ukrainian Security Services. None of them were local, not from the Crimea, but from Kiev, and they tried to pursue its policy here ...”
“What will happen to them now?”
“All of their leadership has been completely replaced. All of those who have taken the oath of allegiance to the people of Crimea have stayed. Those who would not are already gone.”
“Have they really already left the area?”
“Yes, they have already left the territory; they are no longer in service. I don’t know, maybe some remain, but in any case, they are no longer in service.”
“In the days of the referendum in the Crimea a system of absolute security was put together. Yes it is true, that there were some very disturbing rumors that nationalists wanted to disrupt the vote, and would arrange provocations on March 15th, or even the day of the referendum on the 16th. Do you have a few words to say on this subject?”
“Yes, certainly, we had heard about the possible threat. We had received information about possible provocative acts, both in terms of the structures that were organizing the referendum, against the polling stations, as well as against the Consulate General of the Russian Federation itself. Of course, we are in close contact with the leadership of the country, and with law enforcement agencies, and these things were taken into account and adequate appropriate measures were taken.”
“I received questions from journalists on the phone on March 16th on this topic: how to ensure the safety of the Consulate General, and asked if there had been any acts of provocation against the Consulate General? These questions worried me slightly, because we had worked on our security system in advance, and here we have internal and external security, and in this regard all the necessary measures were taken. However, these numerous questions on the same topic certainly alarmed me. So, on the day of the referendum we took extra precautions.”
“We obviously did not want the celebrations that took place, all this enthusiasm, this attitude of the people, to be ruined. However, I can definitely say that there was no evidence of a single case of any attempt to disrupt the vote. Absolutely nothing on any voting site! I would like to look in the eyes of anybody who would try to arrange such an outrage.”
“How is the situation in Crimea’s northern border? Has it now calmed down, or does confrontation continue?”
“ Due to a great amount of effort, everything is calm. Firstly, all the self-defense forces and security forces are in a state of combat readiness. Literally every car and every person who crosses the border of the Republic of Crimea is searched, so you can’t just pass across. As you have probably have seen for yourself, what the crossing looks like on the road from Simferopol to Sevastopol.”
“Yes, I passed through it myself. On the eve of voting there were many people carrying weapons, including the police. But today, after the referendum, the security has been removed.”
“This was an internal checkpoint for the self-defense forces. But the external border, the Turkish Shaft and Chongar, will become an official state border of the Russian Federation after the signing of the Agreement with Russia, and will, of course, be fully manned. The measures taken there continue to be taken very seriously. Because we constantly hear Yatsenyuk, for example, saying that "the earth will burn under the feet of the invaders." Turchinov has come out even worse – he has signed a decree on partial mobilization. Or Yarosh’s statement that he intends to blow up the pipeline through which Russian gas flows to Europe.”
“Provocations are possible, but we calculate these threats, and take all necessary measures. We have a very close working relationship with the leadership of the Republic of Crimea, and the Sevastopol authorities, including with law enforcement agencies. We constantly keep these relations, and we obtain all the necessary information from them. And I can responsibly declare that all necessary measures are being taken here, and that those who take them have all the facilities, all the means that they need. The people who are engaged in this business are very serious, responsible people, who of course, will not allow anything that could violate stability and peace in the Crimea.”
“Generally, if you look at the Ukraine as a whole, the Crimea was the most stable and the most peaceful area on the whole territory of Ukraine. Some say that the "referendum was held at gunpoint”. What nonsense! You saw everything here for yourself.”
“It was a celebration.”
“Exactly that, it was a huge public celebration altogether.”
“People cried and hugged each other. I was told that people in Sevastopol were saying, "Not even Victory Day was so touching for us."
“Yes, I've heard such statements myself, and people have been saying that not since 1945 have they seen such a celebration, such enthusiasm, such patriotism! Believe me I had a lump in my throat when I saw both young and old come to the celebrations. It was a very soulful, special feeling, which is of course very important for Russia. It gives us a lesson in patriotism.”
“What the referendum in the Crimea has shown is that Russia is a great country, where a great nation lives, who never forgets, sees all, understands, and stands by its own people.”

“As the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck used to say, Russians always come back for what belongs to them. The significant thing today is that Sevastopol and Crimea have returned to Russia, and it only became possible because Russia is strong and has a strong President.”

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