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Russia Report: September 6, 2000

6 September 2000, Volume 2, Number 32
President Vladimir Putin on 1 September signed the decree forming the State Council of the Russian Federation, as the new body is to be called. According to that order, the council is to be "an executive body" that will convene once every three months. It will be composed of governors of the regions and heads of the republics that form the Russian Federation and will have a consultative role. The president will head the new body and deputy presidential administration head Aleksandr Abramov is to be its acting secretary. The body also has a presidium representing each of the seven federal districts and filled on a rotational basis semi-annually. On 2 September the Russian president issued another decree appointing the members of the presidium for the next six months. They are Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishaev, Tomsk Governor Viktor Kress, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Daghestan State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov, Tyumen Governor Leonid Roketskii, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev, and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev. JC

Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev expressed the opinion at a 4 September press conference that the State Council will evolve from a consultative body into an organ with greater powers of both a political and juridical nature, Interfax reported. For such an evolution to take place, he noted, the federal constitution must be amended. Tatarstan's President Shaimiev, speaking after President Putin had revealed the main points of his decree on the State Council at a 31 August meeting of the Volga District leaders, said that he supports the creation of the council but will push for amendments to the federal constitution to grant the new body "real powers," "The Moscow Times" reported on 1 September. Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Ivan Sklyarov likewise supported the idea of amending the constitution to ensure that the new body has more power, including taking declarations on states of war and peace, Interfax reported on 4 September. At the same time, he urged that council members be given the same immunity and salary that members of the Federation Council enjoy. JC

Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko argued that with the creation of the council, the existence of the Federation Council is no longer essential, according to Interfax on 4 September, citing Nazdratenko's press service. The governor argued that doing away with a bicameral parliament would mean considerable savings in budget funds. Meanwhile, Bashkortostan's President Murtaza Rakhimov, who was also present at the 31 August meeting of Volga District leaders, welcomed the decision not to include the leaders of political parties in the council--that option was still being mulled as recently as at the end of last month (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 August 2000). "Only the governors and republican presidents know the true state of affairs in the region," Interfax quoted him as saying on 1 September. JC

The federal Tax Ministry has issued a decree setting up interregional tax inspectorates in each of the seven federal districts, Prime-TASS reported on 30 August. One of main tasks of those officials will be to ensure that local tax agencies and tax payers comply with legislation on taxes and tax collection, according to the news agency. JC

Citing health reasons, Nikolai Kondratenko has announced he will not run for re-election in the 3 December gubernatorial ballot, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 September. "Nowadays one has to have a bull's health to carry this load," the 60-year-old governor was quoted as saying. JC

RFE/RL's "Korrespondentskii chas" reported on 26 August that teachers in some villages in the republic have recently received vodka in lieu of wages. This means of paying educators' salaries is linked to the non-fulfillment of economic targets set by village administrations: On the territory of each local community, a prescribed amount of vodka must be sold if teachers and other state-sector employees are to receive their wages. Since most rural residents prefer hooch, the economic targets are frequently not met, and some village administrations came up with the idea of paying teachers in the surplus vodka. But other than drinking their only source of income, the teachers are at a loss what to do with the liquor. Apart from the fact that potential buyers are few and far between, they are unwilling to compromise their professional authority in front of their pupils by trying to flog alcohol in public. JC

State Duma deputy (Communist) Vladimir Nikitin has appealed to the local Prosecutor-General's Office to pronounce Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov criminally responsible for the "intentional nonpayment of child benefits," even in cases where a court has ruled such payments must be paid, RFE/RL's "Korrespondentskii chas" reported on 26 August. Over the past few years, child benefit arrears have amassed in Pskov--to the extent that the oblast is among the 10 worst offending regions in the federation. Many parents have taken the administration to court over the arrears and have won their case, only to find that such money is still not forthcoming. "Korrespondentskii chas" cited one anonymous source in the administration as saying that there is a "secret agreement" between the local Prosecutor-General's Office and the oblast administration whereby the former is somewhat less than "overzealous" in following up complaints by short-changed parents. Moreover, many lawmakers reportedly believe that the authorities have used federal funds earmarked for child benefits in the oblast for other purposes, and officials at the Pskov oblast financial department are said to be awaiting a visit from federal Audit Chamber representatives. JC

At a recent congress of the local branch of the pro-Kremlin Unity party, Vladimir Kadannikov, former federal deputy prime minister and current chairman of the board of director of AvtoVAZ, was stripped of the Unity branch's leadership, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 1 September. Kadannikov, who as chairman of the local Unity's Political Council had led the branch since February 2000, had apparently distanced himself from the group in recent months and failed to turn up for the congress. In his absence, Yurii Sevostyanov, a former first secretary of the Samara City Committee of the CPSU, was unexpectedly voted in as leader of the branch, in what local observers described as a "velvet revolution." Members of the central Unity leadership who attended the conference saw this move as fallout from the gubernatorial election campaign earlier this year, when Kadannikov openly supported the winning candidate, Konstantin Titov, in defiance of the central party leadership's recommendation. JC

The federal Supreme Court has overruled a decision by the Samara regional court annulling the results of last December's election to the State Duma in the oblast's single-mandate district, the website reported on 29 August. Earlier this year, General Albert Makashov had appealed to the lower court to annul the ballot. His bid to be elected to the Duma from Samara failed because he had paid in cash for his campaign materials; under the law, however, he should have paid for those materials from a special bank account (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 12 July 2000). According to, the case will be returned to the Samara regional court for revision. JC

The number of oblast children attending first grade this year has more than halved compared with 1999, Interfax reported on 1 September, citing sources in the Tomsk Education Department. Some 8,500 first graders have been admitted this year, whereas the corresponding figure 12 months ago was 19,500. The report offered no explanation for the massive decrease. In neighboring Krasnoyarsk Krai, the number of first graders has declined by 25 percent over the past five years: whereas 48,100 children started school in 1996, this year only 36,000 began their studies. Educational specialists interviewed by Interfax on 1 September attributed the decrease in the krai as in keeping with the general population decline in Russia throughout the 1990s. JC

A survey conducted by the State Television and Radio Company (GTRK) found that nearly one-third of voters in Udmurtiya would be prepared to sell their vote in the upcoming presidential elections, the first-ever to be held in the republic, Interfax reported on 30 August. Eighteen percent said they would sell their vote for a bottle of vodka, while 12 percent were willing to give away their ballot for flour and sugar. Just over half--56 percent--confirmed they would not be tempted to make such a sale "under any circumstances whatsoever." The presidential ballot is slated to take place on 15 October. JC


By Paul Goble

Tatarstan's schools this fall have dropped Cyrillic in favor of the Latin alphabet for written work in the national language.

Not only does this shift reverse a Soviet-era effort to link the Tatars more closely to the Russian nation, but it also makes it easier for the Tatars to gain direct access to European culture.

Tatarstan's Education Ministry announced this step on 1 September at the start of the new academic year there, and its spokeswoman argued that the return to the Latin script both permits a better representation of the national language's sound patterns and will help Tatar students to learn English and other European languages.

But beyond these pedagogical considerations, this change of alphabets both reflects and promotes an even more fundamental shift in the social and political orientation of that Middle Volga nation. And these are the implications that have already sparked controversy between Moscow and Kazan.

Earlier this year, Tatarstan's parliament passed a law calling for the introduction of the Latin script over the next decade and setting up a special republic-level commission to oversee this process. In July, that body approved new transliteration and spelling rules and thus set the stage for the use of the new script in Tatar schools this month.

In taking these actions, Tatarstan is clearly seeking to undo an important element of more than 70 years of Soviet policies toward non-Russian peoples living within the Soviet Union in general and the Russian Federation in particular.

Prior to 1917, Tatars generally employed the Arabic script when they wrote their language. Seeking both to cut off Muslim and Turkic communities from their own pasts and the Arab world and also to speed up the process of eliminating widespread illiteracy among these peoples, the Soviet authorities in the 1920s introduced Latin-based scripts.

These Latin scripts were widely recognized as being the most adequate to expressing the sound values of these languages. Indeed, the Latin script developed by Soviet linguists in 1920 for Azerbaijan became the basis for Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's alphabet reform in his country in the mid-1920s.

But a decade later, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin scrapped the Latin scripts for these Soviet nationalities, replacing them with alphabets based on the Cyrillic system used by Russians. His purpose, explicitly stated and celebrated by Soviet ideologies, was to promote the "rapprochement" and ultimate "unification" of all Soviet nationalities into a Russian-defined "community of peoples."

Beyond any doubt, this Stalinist measure both effectively cut off many of these peoples from their pasts and made it easier for young people to learn Russian. But it also meant that alphabet reform became a key element in the programs of national movements of many groups at the end of the Soviet era and since that time. And a few of them, like Tatarstan, have taken steps to move away from the Cyrillic scripts.

But these nations have had a difficult time of it for three reasons: First, such an effort is incredibly expensive. It requires new signs, new textbooks and other publications, and new instruction for those who had learned the earlier alphabet. Such costs have proved to be a major brake on such shifts in Azerbaijan and Central Asia and may prove to be in Tatarstan as well.

Second, many brought up with the Cyrillic script will resist any change both out of inertia and because of concerns that such a new shift could separate them from their children, just as earlier alphabet reforms did with their parents and grandparents.

And third, many in Moscow view such efforts as inherently anti-Russian and anti-Moscow. Russian officials have already criticized Tatarstan's move as a threat to interethnic cooperation in that Middle Volga region and as a challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin's efforts to integrate Russia and create a common legal space across the entire Russian Federation.

Tatarstan thus will face many obstacles to achieving its goal of alphabet reform, but the announcement last week that it has begun suggests the Tatars have already changed their orientations enough that they may succeed in changing their alphabet as well.