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Tatar-Bashkir Report: January 17, 2005

17 January 2005
Pensioners Protest In Chally, Kazan
Several hundred Chally pensioners on 15 January blocked traffic in downtown Chally for four hours to demand that in-kind social benefits abolished as of 1 January be restored and Russian Health Care and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov be dismissed, Tatarinform reported the same day. According to Regnum, citing the Tatar Public Center Chally branch, the number of protesters reached 1,500. Chally administration head Ildar Khalikov met with the protesters for an hour and a half and promised to study their requests.

Some 300 pensioners gathered in Kazan on 15 January in front of the Kamal Tatar Drama Theater to hold an unsanctioned demonstration and blocked a main thoroughfare for four hours, RIA-Novosti, Interfax, Regnum, and other news agencies reported the same day. Protesters demanded the annulment of the federal law monetizing in-kind social benefits and restoration of free public transport for pensioners. There were some conflicts between protesters and taxi drivers, but traffic police directed traffic to bypass the street.

Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhaqov told reporters after his four-hour negotiations with protesters that some 10 million rubles ($358,700) will be allocated from the city budget to pay for subsidies to needy residents in addition to 23 million rubles that have already been allocated. Iskhaqov added, however, that he cannot decide immediately on restoration of free public transport for pensioners until the issue is studied. He promised to inform Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev on the protesters' demands and said Shaimiev will pass them to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on 17 January. The protests were organized by the republic's Committee for Labor Supervision and the Party of Life, RIA-Novosti reported.

Shaimiev Concerned About Spread Of Chauvinism In Russia
In an interview published in the January issue of "Natsional," President Shaimiev expressed his "indignation" with statements by Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii and Motherland leader Dmitrii Rogozin, saying their "national-chauvinist statements are destroying Russia itself." He added that "parties making similar statements do not have and will not have supporters in multinational Tatarstan."

Shaimiev said the republic's leadership, for its part, is taking measures to prevent radical nationalism. "We do not justify Wahhabis, we fight against them," he said, warning that if such chauvinistic statements increase in Russia, they may radicalize national organizations in Tatarstan. Shaimiev also criticized the fact that the concept "nationality" was dropped from the title of the recently formed Regional Policy Ministry, "as if we are afraid to recognize we live in a multinational country...or pretended there are no nationality issues in Russia."

Commenting on the November ruling by the Russian Constitutional Court that prohibited republics from choosing their own scripts of their national languages and thus invalidated Tatarstan's decision to introduce the Latin Tatar alphabet, Shaimiev said it is political and "disputable." At the same time, Shaimiev expressed doubt that Tatarstan would immediately switch to Latin Tatar even if the court had ruled in its favor. He said that if the Tatar Latin alphabet is introduced in Tatarstan but nowhere else in Russia, this would keep away two-thirds of Russia's Tatars.

Support Program For Tatars Outside Tatarstan Developed
Over 70 Tatar language and literature teachers will be trained in Tatarstan for secondary, summer, and nursery schools in Russia outside Tatarstan, the CIS, the Baltic states, and other foreign countries, as part of a two-year program to support Tatars in Russia and abroad developed by Tatarstan's Education and Science Ministry, reported on 15 January. Over 350 Tatar secondary-school students from other regions will visit Tatarstan to attend classes in the republic, while 500 children will attend health-improvement camps in which they will also practice Tatar. In 2004, 44 Tatars from other regions were admitted to higher educational institutions and colleges in Tatarstan, while in 2005 there will be a quota of 100 places.

Finland's Tatar Diaspora Revives Tatar Newspaper
The newspaper of Finland's Tatars, "Mahalla habarlare" (News of the Muslim Community), has resumed publishing in Helsinki, Tatarinform reported on 14 January. Issued with the support of the Islamic Society of Finland and printed in the Latin Tatar script, the newspaper existed from 1949 to 1970 and published religious news, articles by religious leaders, as well as world news. The new issue reports about a visit of the Finnish president to the office of the Tatar Cultural Center in Helsinki and meetings of the local Tatar community with businessmen and officials from Bashkortostan. It also reports on the appointment of Moscow Islamic Institute graduate and Kolomna mosque imam Ramil Bilal as the new imam of the Finnish Tatar community.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Accusations Against Police Surface In Blagoveshchensk Case
A department head at Bashkortostan's prosecutor's office, Aleksei Kasyanov, told "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" on 15 January that two employees of the Blagoveshchensk Interior Board have been accused of misuse of power and forgery. The two refused to register numerous appeals from local hospitals who were beaten during a police raid in Blagoveshchensk on 10-14 December 2004 (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 and 30 December and 3, 6, 7, and 10-14 January 2005). The daily reported that the decision to conduct the raid was taken by Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev.

Human rights activists Lev Ponomarev and Lyudmila Alekseeva, who visited Bashkortostan on 13-14 January, resumed their investigation of the Blagoveshchensk raid saying some 150 local residents have asked them to report police violations. They said at least 1,000 residents were victims of police violations and 254 people went to local hospitals seeking help in December.

In a roundtable held by RFE/RL on the issue on 15 January, For Human Rights group leader Lev Ponomarev said the action was similar to those usually held in Chechnya, with the exception that nobody was killed or disappeared. "Novaya gazeta" reporter Marat Khairullin said he had evidence that police had carried out mass rapes during the raid. Bashkir Interior Ministry spokesperson Ruslan Sherefetdinov, who also took part in the roundtable, said that Khairullin's claims were "lies."

LDPR Draws New Members
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia's (LDPR) Bashkir branch coordinator Igor Naumov told Bashinform on 14 January that 90 new members have joined the party across the republic during the past week alone. The number of party organizations in the republic has grown over the past year from eight to 11 and there are now 900 members in the branch. Naumov said the party is boosting its activities on fighting drug addiction and corruption in an attempt to attract more members.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova