dekoder | Deciphering Russia
Centre for East European and International Studies
Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen
The Crimean Archipelago
A Multimedia Dossier

The Crimean Archipelago

Alison Borrowman

Crimea’s incorporation into Russia five years ago struck many at the time as a radical change. Commentators spoke of the beginning of a new era – for good or ill. Whilst official Russia rejoiced at what it saw as the reclaiming of its voice in the concert of (great-power) nations, the West, however, condemned Russia’s aggressive actions, as some observers warned of the risk of a new Cold War.

© Dmitriy Pyankov

The peninsula itself, though, with its multi-ethnic and multilingual population, its multi-layered history and culture, usually slips out of the spotlight in these debates.

Geographically a peninsula, in terms of discourse Crimea has broken up into innumerable larger and smaller islands which link up with one another only rarely: the Russian Crimea, the Ukrainian Crimea, the Tatar Crimea, but also many other smaller, usually personal Crimeas can all be found on the discursive map of the Crimean Archipelago.

The internationally known Fountain of Bakhchysarai at the eponymous Khan’s Palace is a monument to mid-18th century Crimean Tatar architecture. Thanks to Alexander Pushkin’s poem, it also became a Russian literary monument and later a magnet for numerous Soviet, Russian and Ukrainian tourists, who took their own memories of experiences in the Crimean paradise back with them to every corner of the former Soviet Union. Bakhchisaray Palace continued to stand during the Soviet period although the other signs of Crimean Tatar national/territorial claims to the peninsula were largely erased after their mass deportation in 1944. Today, even the memories tied to the fountain and an application for UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status have been insufficient to protect it from a historically insensitive renovation project.

Does any of this make the fountain “ours” or “yours”? With just this one example alone, a number of different national narratives can be told, each of which blocks out all the others. The peninsula changes with one’s perspective, making it nearly impossible to do justice to its cultural, political or legal complexity from any single viewpoint.

In cooperation with the Centre for East European and International Studies and the Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen, dekoder is exploring this complexity. In the multimedia dossier The Crimean Archipelago we map out the debates over the absorption of Crimea, discuss the contested issues relating to international law and analyse the popular Crimea narratives, all the while pointing up the aspects and frames that form the discourses on Crimea.

The dossier was jointly conceived and realised by a group of researchers, journalists and media developers and thus represents a point of intersection – we’ll call it an interface – between scholarship and journalism.
What should this interface look like? How do journalistic questions differ from research questions? What formats could we use? Is there some reason for using specific formats at all?
All of these questions were in our minds as we did the substantive portion of our work.

In the end, we developed several new formats for the dossier: something of a “Byzantine manuscript”, a debate panel, a photographic timeline and a hybrid consisting of infographics and reportage from Crimea.

We are certain that all the thought that went into creating the various formats and approaches was worth it. Because the Crimea discourse within the resulting dossier did not end up as one version of “the truth about the peninsula”, but one in which there are regular and scientifically verifiable exchanges among the individual discursive Crimean islands making up the Crimean Archipelago.

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Foto © Pjotr Kassin/Kommersant