Prague Telegraph Issues Confusing Messages on Legitimacy of Crimean Vote

Kyiv, March 21, 2014. Despite the official denunciation by the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Crimean referendum, which was deemed illegitimate by the UN Security Council, the EU and the U.S., two Czech citizens who claim to have been observers during the vote stated that its outcome objectively reflected the public opinion of Crimea’s citizens. Their statement was published by the Prague Telegraph – the largest Russian-language publication in the Czech Republic. The OSCE/ODIHR did not send an election observation mission to monitor the plebiscite in Crimea.

The Czech newspaper featured two contradictory articles on the topic of Crimean referendum.  As a result, the Czech public may be confused about what really happened during the vote which led to the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea by the Russian Federation.

The first article reflects the opinion of two Czech observers – Stanislav Berkovec, deputy of the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens liberal party and Milan Sarapatka of the right-wing Dawn of Direct Democracy party. “The outcomes of the referendum, in my opinion, completely justify the viewpoints of Crimean citizens. Voting at the referendum was under strict control; precinct representatives checked all the personal elector’s data and matched it with the official electorate list,” reported one of the observers Stanislav Berkovec.

The allegedly flawless election procedure was of great surprise to Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice as well as to those media representatives who had been able to sneak into the Crimean peninsula before March 16. As is widely known, representatives of the media were barred from observing the vote, journalists’ equipment had been confiscated and journalists had been attacked in the days leading up to the vote.  In a recent press briefing, Ukraine’s Minister of Justice Pavlo Petrenko included among the numerous violations and irregularities that occurred “a  process by which electoral lists were ‘adjusted’ and new voters added to lists on the spot.”

Milan Sarapatka, in contrast, was astonished by the overwhelming presence of Crimean Tatars who according to him came to voice their opinions at the referendum. “I was shocked by the number of Crimean Tatars present at the referendum. Previously, Tatar leaders had announced that the referendum will be boycotted, but nearly 40% of all Tatars showed up,” stated Milan Sarapatka.

At his press briefing with UNN at 20:50 on March 16, 2014, former head of Mejilis of Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Cemilev announced that 99 percent of Crimean Tatars did boycott the illegitimate referendum. “I assume that some Tatars did vote, but those were single instances and exceptions,” said Cemilev.

The so-called observers made a strong attempt of convincing Czech readers of the legitimacy and transparency of the vote in Crimea. Unfortunately for them, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic did not share the ‘positive’ impressions of its observers, stating that: “We consider recognition of Crimea’s independence of March 17 and the decision on accession of Crimean peninsula into the Russian Federation dated March 18 as totally unacceptable.”

Unlike the Czech Republic and the European Union in general, the Russian Federation accepted the “referendum”, saying that it had been an “objective reflection of public opinion,” as voiced by Czech observers.

Interestingly, the roots of the Prague Telegraph date back to 2002, when it was launched by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation. According to research conducted by The New York Times, the Prague Telegraph is the biggest Russian-speaking newspaper in the Czech Republic.