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Russian Actor In Trouble Over Crimean Tatar Remarks

Russian actor Aleksei Panin is in hot water in Ukraine.
Russian actor Aleksei Panin is in hot water in Ukraine.
An angry rant against Crimean Tatars has landed Russian actor Aleksei Panin in hot water.

Panin made the remarks after being involved in a minor road accident with an ethnic Crimean Tatar on August 20 during a theater tour in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Witnesses say Panin, 35, struck the driver during an altercation after the famous actor rammed his own car into the other vehicle. In a subsequent media interview, Panin condescendingly called the driver a "Tatar boy" and said he had "slapped him in the face a little."

He also expressed regret that there were still some Crimean Tatars "whom Stalin had not finished off in 1944," referring to the World War II deportation of Crimean Tatars during which thousands of them perished.

The comments have riled Crimean Tatars, who view the deportation as genocide and have demanded an apology.

Panin eventually bowed to the request on August 22 and met with representatives of the Crimean Tatar community. "I came here specially to apologize. It's just that the person who was in this situation is a Tatar and he behaved very inappropriately. I told him this, about his being Tatar, in an emotional state," he said.

"But this does not apply to Tatars. It applies to boorish behavior. I came here to apologize to you about this."

Too Little, Too Late

But the apology has failed to placate Tatars, who are demanding Panin's arrest and deportation from Ukraine.

Refat Chubarov, the deputy head of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar assembly, says the government's failure to address the legacy of Stalinism is also to blame for remarks such as Panin's.

"If de-Stalinization efforts had taken place in Ukraine during the country's 22 years of independence, if the rights of politically repressed members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army had been restored, if the rights of the Crimean Tatar people, who are returning to their land after half a century of exile, had been restored, such incidents would not be taking place in Crimea, including Panin's fascist statement," Chubarov said.

The Crimean Tatars have not forgotten their wartime deportation.
The Crimean Tatars have not forgotten their wartime deportation.

Crimean Tatars, who are indigenous to the peninsula, are one of the many ethnic minorities deported by Soviet leader Josef Stalin due to their alleged collaboration with Nazi Germany.

More than 180,000 of them were rounded up, loaded on cattle trains, and sent to Central Asia and Siberia. An estimated 40 percent died during the journey or in the first year of exile.

The Crimean Tatars were rehabilitated by the Kremlin in 1957.

Ukrainian authorities are not amused, either, by Panin's behavior. They have opened a criminal case against the actor on charges of inflicting bodily harm.

The Foreign Ministry has also called on law-enforcement agencies to look into his statement that Crimea, which is home to a strong pro-Russian separatist movement, is "not in Ukraine."

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report

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