No two onions are alike, but, let’s face it, we all know an onion when we see one. When the West and the Ukrainian government in Kiev refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the Crimean referendum, it’s a bit like saying an onion is not an onion unless it’s labelled as such.
When the polls closed yesterday, jubilant crowds chanted and waved Russian flags as fireworks exploded above them. Vast swathes of the population were clearly overjoyed at the prospect of going back to their roots (Crimea had been part of Russia until 1954 when Nikita Khrushchev signed it over to Ukraine). Although a few voters loyal to Kiev boycotted the contentious referendum, about 95 per cent of the Crimean electorate unambiguously declared their wish to leave Ukraine and become part of the Russian Federation once again. Many of them said they had been influenced by the attempt by Ukraine’s new government to downgrade the status of the Russian language, a move which was blocked by Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting president. Whatever influenced them, the people of Crimea delivered a statement of the blindingly obvious – they see themselves as intrinsically Russian.
Crucially, the turnout for the referendum broke all previous records for the region. It is believed that more than 80 per cent of the 1.5 million eligible voters cast their ballots. “Voter activity is higher than in any previous elections in Crimea’s post-Soviet history,” said Mikhail Malyshev, head of the region’s election committee. It was actually higher than every US presidential election since 1900.
Furthermore, international observers from 23 countries confirmed they saw no violations during voting. No incidents were reported.
Nevertheless, Ukraine’s new government described the referendum as a “circus” directed at gunpoint by Moscow, and the West will doubtless respond by swiftly imposing sanctions on Russia. You wonder how they would have reacted if the plebiscite had gone the other way.
Amongst other things, Crimea is famous for its red onions. So, of course, Crimeans know all about them. They know how the roots reach out in search of water and nutrients. Their behaviour during this crisis suggests they also know clearly and unequivocally where their own roots lie. The West will just have to stop crying over it.