“The Silence is the Sound of Fear” by Moritz Küstner // #crimearaw
A Hannover based photographer Moritz Küstner has been tempted by the Eastern Europe for a long time. He is curious about the influences of the Soviet Union’s collapse on a life of different generations. He started learning Russian already at school following his fascination with the region. Initially he was interested in the annexation of Crimea as so but later focused on the destiny of a minority group leaving on the peninsula – Crimean Tatars.
OSTLOOK: Can you please tell us more about your work „The silence is the sound of fear”- what was your ideas and inspirations?
Moritz Küstner: The Crimean Tatars define themselves as the original inhabitants of Crimea, although this is not officially recognized. Crimea was occupied by the Germans until 1944. The Crimean Tatars were accused then in a collaboration with Germans and exiled to Central Asia, mainly to Uzbekistan on orders of Stalin. Almost the entire population-300 000 people either were killed or forced out of the peninsula.
Unlike other deported people the Crimean Tatars were not allowed to return back till the ’89 when the Soviet Union had already started collapsing. By return people faced the fact that their houses or houses of their relatives had been occupied over the years. Although the Crimean Tatars were allowed to come back they still considered to be a marginal group by the majority of Crimean population. Despite of this that tight-knit community fights hard for their political interests and builds a strong regional power. The Crimean Tatars were the one who called for a boycott of the Russian referendum during the annexation. Ever since they were set under a strong pressure by the Russian government. The human rights organization “Human right watch” reported during this time of the disappearance and the suppression of several Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists.
I arrived to Crimea 1,5 years after the annexation when the media hype slowed down. “The silence is the sound of fear” is a quote from a man I’ve encountered during my stay. Some inhabitants left the peninsula, others try to keep silent as they don’t believe that they could do anything against the annexation. The majority is feared to protest in the fears of being arrested or even worst to be exiled again. The Crimean Tatars established their own government “Miesclies” which, of course, was not recognized. From now many of the members emigrated and live in Kiev in order to fight for Crimea from there.
OSTLOOK: How did you meet people you were photographing?
Moritz Küstner: I’ve made a lot of contacts via Couchsurfing and “The Human Watch” upon my arrival and contacted
other journalists who were already there. Fortunately, I got to know some Crimean Tatars through Couchsurfing and crashed their couch during my trip. Living with them gave allowed me to access their community and to have more intimate view as other journalists.
OSTLOOK: Which languages did you speak with people? Russian, English Crimean Tatar?
Moritz Küstner: My Russian is sufficient to get to know people, but for longer conversations I have talked in English or used the help of locals who spoke English for translation.
OSTLOOK: How long were you in Crimea? How many times?
Moritz Küstner: I stayed there for a month in the mid May 2015 and returned for a week in the end of the year for a magazine’s assignment.
OSTLOOK: How did you feel when you heard stories about the hard fate of people?
Moritz Küstner: Many stories were so moving. For example, some of the Crimean Tatars try to proove that there were no connections with the Germans during the WWII. There is a museum which tells about the fighters of the Red Army who fought for the Soviet Union. By chance I met one of those soldiers, a Crimean Tatar. His chest was full of orders and had a huge closet full of it at home. Although he was deported within a week after he returned from battle, he remained convinced of the Stalinist system and has no criticism of it. Despite so many of his people had to die.
Very touching was the visit to the widow of the first Crimean Tatars to be killed during annexation. He was abducted during a demo even before the annexation. This was recorded by a video team. He was a part of so called neighbor guard which appeared during the demos. Three weeks later he was found dead with signs of torture. His wife now lives alone with the children and has trouble getting to her normal life back.
OSTLOOK: How in your opinion was the mood of the Crimean Tatars after the annexation by Russia?
Moritz Küstner: The Crimean Tatars have a fear to be constantly monitored and intercepted. A permanent presence of police makes people unsecure. I never understood why Russia has a seemingly huge fear of the Crimean Tatars. I think that without this pressure they exert on the Crimean Tatars they should have been less afraid of them. No one wants to live with such a pressure. Many of the Crimean Tatars have decided to migrant and went to Kiev. Some of them hope that the peninsula would belong Ukraine one day again or even that the Crimean Tatars would receive an autonomy. Other have given up and do not see any perspectives.
OSTLOOK: In a portrait you describe the man’s fear of his family if they find out about his relationship with not a Crimean Tatar girl. Is it normal to have those fears? Do people are hostile to other ethnical groups?
Moritz Küstner: I didn’t experience anyone being very hostile. Nevertheless, they are anxious to preserve their ethnic group and a close community. Long time relationship with non-Crimean Tatars doesn’t occur so often.
The older generation has quite often nothing more as their origin. It was not possible for them to practice the profession they’ve learned before. That’s why they need to sale vegetables or something like that to pay their living. For many years it was not possible for them to speak their language. So they are trying to bring the Crimean Tatar language back to schools. The young generation who was studying in Crimea, has no good chances to find a good job elsewhere.
OSTLOOK: You said that you were in Crimea again for a short time. Were you able to meet the same people you met during the first trip? How did the opinion of the majority of the population has changed?
Moritz Küstner: Yes, I have seen some people again. However, the most people of my age are gone. Elsewhere, the chances are better. You cannot simply withdraw money there, you cannot work for the western companies people used to work before.
I have a feeling that people became more resigned. The Russian government doesn’t really accept anyone.
The common mood just shifts further down, life has become more difficult, which I noticed during my last stay. Nowadays there is electricity shortage because they still use the electricity of Ukraine.
Relatively high Russian pensions were introduced after the annexation, which was only a good sign. Then came the embargo and the tourists left and food prices rose and the ruble continued to fall.
OSTLOOK: Thank you, Moritz, for a great Skype talk! We are excited to see your new work from Israel.
Moritz Küstner was born in 1989 in Erfurt, Germany. He studied Photojournalism at the University of Applied Sciences in Hannover and at the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 2015. Since 2014 Moritz works as a freelance photographer, among others he was one of the nominees for the N-Ost Reportage price.
Moritz’ Website: www.moritz-kuestner.de