Media coverage of Crimea’s “conscious uncoupling” from Ukraine has missed out one quirky anathema that was already doing its own thing: the self-declared Autonomous Republic of Kazantip. Sometimes jokey, sometimes serious, this enclave near the western tip of Crimea’s diamond has been run like an independent nation since 2001. Kazantip has its own flag and national museum detailing its history. It boasts its own Putin-style strongman – “President” Nikita Marshunok, who styles himself as Nikita I. Kazantip also has its own laws – when I was there to write about it in 2012 a fellow French hack was “deported” for the infraction of urinating off a walkway.
An annual summer music festival happens at Kazantip, then it lies in stasis. In truth, the festival is the raison d’être for the “republic”. In the 1990s, this bash took place near Cape Kazantyp (hence the name) at the abandoned Shcholkine nuclear power station – construction on which was halted following the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. Some people call Kazantip “Burning Man on the Black Sea”, in reference to the annual “anything goes” event in Nevada’s desert.
Will Crimea’s new masters in Moscow tolerate Kazantip’s eccentric ethos? “I’d say they would,” mulls Will Lynch, Kazantip festival veteran and associate editor of electronic music website Residentadvisor.net. “Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian oligarch and 2012 presidential candidate, owns one of the stages.
The Russian elite don’t have to hide their love of Kazantip.” Lynch jokes: “It’s hard to imagine, say, Mitt Romney professing his love of Burning Man and bankrolling one of its sound systems.”
For more than a decade, Kazantip has sat on the shoreline next to the village of Popovka, whose name sounds like it was dreamt up by the writers of a Carry On film – Carry On Up The Crimea perhaps? The sprawling, sandy site looks exactly like the set of The Crystal Maze. Except, rather than winning a crystal, the goal for many of Kazantip’s temporary male “citizens” is to win the affections of one of the thousands of perfect, alabaster-skinned maidens who are wont to wander around in next to nothing.
Mafiosi comb the republic for molls, and happy couples who’ve just met can “marry” in mass, cult-like ceremonies. Nikita I, whose day job is promoting music, selflessly announced he will grant free access to all Ukrainian and Crimean women this summer. The “space station” section of the republic, laced with high walkways and pavilions in which DJs such as Skrillex play, is impressively weird; its gargantuan architecture is a dead ringer for Archigram’s 1960s theoretical Walking City.
The wackiness of Kazantip’s annual blowout – motto “Summer Without Pants” – is legendary. It used to be even more debauched, as Vice detailed in an X-rated 2009 video dispatch. Kazantip has since shed its sex tourism image. Interestingly, it seems oddly drug-free too, but vodka and fags are consumed in prodigious quantities (the republic has no prohibitions against smoking or boozing) and the hedonistic August closing parties evoke the Satan’s Ball that Mikhail Bulgakov depicted in his sublime satire The Master and Margarita. Bulgakov was born in Kiev, then lived in Moscow – indeed Kazantip attracts both Ukrainians and Russians. Can that continue?
Kazantip’s festival is slated to go ahead this summer – but the Foreign Office advises against all travel to Crimea, plus British citizens now need a Russian visa. I ask fellow writer Andre Mcleod – who joined me there in 2012 – whether he’d go back to Kazantip. “I would – if they could guarantee Vladimir Putin would be topless and riding a majestic bear along the beach, waving a rainbow flag in the air.”