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article imageOp-Ed: The No-Choice view of the Crimean Referendum

By Ken Hanly     Mar 15, 2014 in Politics
There are many versions of the narrative that has almost become an Internet meme among reports about the upcoming Crimean referendum. The stories claim that there is no real choice in the referendum, just two ways of leaving Ukraine and joining Russia.
There are no doubt dozens of versions of the argument but I will simply look at one written for Reuters. There are similar versions in the Canadian Globe and Mail and in the Huffington Post and the venerable New York TImes.
The Reuters article has the title "No room for 'Nyet' in Ukraine's Crimea vote to join Russia" and is written by Richard Balmforth.
Bamforth describes the nature of the ballot: According to a format of the ballot paper, published on the parliament's website, the first question will ask: "Are you in favor of the reunification of Crimea with Russia as a part of the Russian Federation?"
The second asks: "Are you in favor of restoring the 1992 Constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine?"
Bamforth then says:
At first glance, the second option seems to offer the prospects of the peninsula remaining within Ukraine.
To me it says explicitly that the Crimea would be part of the Ukraine. Why does not it not say this? Because Bamforth points out the 1992 constitution gave Crimea all the qualities of an independent entity within the Ukraine "but with the broad right to determine its own path and choose relations with whom it wants- including Russia."
I thought that Bamforth was explaining why it is only "at first glance" that Crimea would be part of the Ukraine. However even after the explanation it remains literally true that Crimea is part of the Ukraine. It is just that it is more independent than it is in the status quo or the Ukrainian version of reality. Bamforth argues that this choice offers only a slightly longer course to joining Russia. Why?
Contrary to Bamforth's headline, the voters had already voted no against becoming part of the Russian Federation by choosing the other alternative. The whole idea that you have to have a Yes No question to vote no against something is to mimic Bamforth ludicrous on the face of it.
Consider a survey of customers as to whether they wanted chicken or beef as a meat course for their dinner. Every customer votes for beef. Bamforth apparently would complain that there was no way they could say they did not want chicken, but by choosing beef they said No to chicken.
If the Crimeans choose the second option they are voting against reunification with Russia. They want to be an independent Crimea within Ukraine. Of course they might choose to become part of Russia, but after just choosing not to be that is unlikely for some time unless the Crimea parliament chooses to ignore the results of the referendum.
Bamforth is right that the status quo relationship with Ukraine is not on the ballot but that does not mean that there is not a genuine choice. Indeed the alternative is probably preferred to the status quo by many. There has often been a demand for more independence by the Crimea including a demand to return to the 1992 constitution.
Bamforth claims that any mark in one of the boxes is regarded as a "Da" (yes) vote. This surely is an excellent example of western-type propaganda. Bamforth has provided no evidence for this. It may not be on a par with Putin's claim there are no Russian soldiers in the Crimea, but it is quite unsubstantiated and unconvincing.
The New York Times article mimics Bamforth's untenable contention that to oppose something you need a yes or no question. The Times titles its article:"2 Choices in Crimea Referendum, but Neither Is ‘No’ " The article is by Noah Sneidermarch. The title is true but trivial since the Crimeans can still say no to annexation and joining Russia if they choose the other option.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about crimea referendum, choices in the Crimea referendum, Ukraine Crimea relations
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