A case of history repeating

CONFLICT / After Crimea was annexed into the Russian Federation, a genocide began against the peninsula’s indigenous people - the Crimean Tatars.

Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, a tragedy has unfolded amongst the Crimean tartars – a small Turkic Muslim ethnic group and nation indigenous to Crimea. Soon after the annexation, the Russian authorities started raids on this community under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Many of the men were arrested for invented reasons and either kept behind bars or sentenced after closed trials, Bolshevik style. Some others disappeared, later to be found dead, or their location remained unknown to the present date.

Kirsten Gainet’s film Tomorrow Comes Yesterday documents this repression. It investigates how the past is never truly the past when it comes to living at the hands of the Russian government. With a sense of gentleness, the film tells of a tragedy that never made the international headlines, following the families left behind through their daily lives, fighting for their release while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy even though, in fact, time stopped when these sons, brothers and husbands of the community were taken away.

Tomorrow Comes Yesterday, a film by Kirsten Gainet
Tomorrow Comes Yesterday, a film by Kirsten Gainet

Defined by struggle

Looking back at the history of the Crimean Tatars, their story is defined by the struggle marked by the Soviet regime. The famine of 1921, the collectivization between 1928 and 1929, and the subsequent resulting famine; the period between 1917 and 1933 when about 50% of the population at the time was killed or forced out of Crimea and peaking in May 1944 when the entire Crimean Tatar population was exiled to central Asia at Stalin’s order – these events created transgenerational trauma. Beyond that, the sum of them echoes the shared painful history of the region.

With the currently unfolding war in Ukraine, Gainet’s film is a powerful story and a timely reminder of a pattern that is known and recognized throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Now, under the Russian regime and facing these traumatic abuses, the elderly people remember what could seem to many a distant past and recognize a return of the Soviet times in this current abuse. But also, those that don’t remember first-hand – remember the stories of the past they grew up with. And the children now, born either before the annexation or after, witness first-hand this abuse. Collectively, their stories and feelings make for a definitory element of their identity – what it’s like to live under the Russian boot.

It investigates how the past is never truly the past when it comes to living at the hands of the Russian government.

Resilience and unity

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Beyond this, the film captures the resilience and the unity of this community, which is perhaps also something inherited from one generation to another. Tightly knit, fond of their religion and traditions, these people know who they are, their strength coming from keeping close and not forgetting. The elderly women support the young wives. The wives start a project for the children of the arrested fathers. The entire community gathers resources to send packages to those in jail and to come together.

In front of the camera, the wives left behind and the elderly talk openly about what is happening, what they remember, their history, and what they know to be true. Their traditional lives in the rural landscapes of Crimea have beauty, simplicity, and a certain sense of poetry. Devoted Muslims, religion is a tender element that ties the nods of time, that keeps them together and gives them hope.

Remarkable is the sense of dignity they all seem to preserve, of keeping up with their values and the belief that goodness and fairness are values that need to be kept despite the struggles. Their children have a certain pain mixed with serenity and beauty. The women have a certain distinction and elegance.

Time moves at the pace of seasons, with winter coming and the first snow. Yet nothing changes, the waiting is a game of endurance, and not much seems to give them hope. There is no logic when reality and truth are altered to serve the interests of an abusive government. So, there is not much to anchor hope in other than the children and the love.

Tomorrow Comes Yesterday, a film by Kirsten Gainet
Tomorrow Comes Yesterday, a film by Kirsten Gainet

Shared humanity

It is this love that remains with the viewer after the film ends. It’s a love that transpires through suffering, words, and struggle. The love for the missing fathers, writing letters; the love for the children, traumatized by what they have seen, missing their dads; the love of a husband sending poems and flowers made of bread to his wife and letters to the children.

Beyond the injustice, this love and the tender feeling of bearing witness to what feels like almost an ideal community – something lost in many parts of the world – going through a difficult time that might expand indeterminately, remaining largely invisible to the world. But perhaps now less invisible, with each viewer following their story mirroring a shared sense of humanity through Gainet’s lens.

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Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca is a freelance journalist and documentary critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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