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Tatar-Bashkir Report: April 15, 2004

15 April 2004
State Council Member Says National Republics Are Target Of Mergers
The chairman of the Economy, Investments, and Entrepreneurship Committee in the State Council, Marat Galiev, said in an interview with "Izvestia Tatarstana" on 14 April that if the Russian Federation is truly federative, it is irrelevant how many entities exist within it. If a unified state is created in which the majority of powers belong to the central authority, fewer entities will make it simpler to govern, Galiev added. But he said the latter scenario contradicts the Russian Constitution and the Russian public's choice in December 1993, part of which entailed the major compromise that Russia would become a truly federative state.

Galiev said that since 2000, clear steps on de-federalization and the establishment of a unified state have been taken, including the establishment of federal districts that in fact do not comply with the constitution. A referendum on the merging of entities is in fact an agreement of elites, either voluntary or forcible, and a model that is being created in this process could erode national republics in the future, he added. Galiev rejected the argument that a merging of regions is aimed at reducing the number of entities receiving subsidies from Moscow, saying central authorities already have broad powers in that regard.

Government Concerned By Gray Labor Market
Tatarstan's Labor and Employment Minister Boris Zakharov presented a program to combat the gray labor market on 14 April, "Kommersant" reported the next day. The program is aimed at exposing companies and businessmen who hide the true wage figures of their employees or fail to register employment. Officials believe the republic lost an estimated 5 billion rubles ($175 million) in budget revenues in 2003 because of the gray labor market. According to government experts, 300,000 residents worked in Tatarstan in 2003 without registering with employers, and 500,000 people received their wages in cash and illegally avoid paying taxes and social insurance. The ministry also reported 54 Tatar-based companies pay wages below the official minimum wage of 600 rubles ($21) and another 1,475 firms pay wages below the subsistence wage of 2,000 rubles.

Days Of Tatar Education Begins In Kirov Oblast
"The Days of Tatar Education" began in Kirov Oblast on 14 April, and RosBalt reported. An official delegation -- including Tatar Education Minister Faris Kharisov and the deputy chairman of the State Council Committee on Science, Education, Culture, and Social Issues, Tufan Minnullin -- is scheduled to visit educational institutions at which Tatar is studied and pass out Tatar textbooks and dictionaries. Kirov Oblast education officials and the Tatar Education Ministry are also expected to sign a cooperation agreement.

Tatar Company Opens Branch In Libya
Tatneftegeofizika has become the first Russian company to open offices in Libya, reported on 14 April. The decision came in the wake of UN sanctions against that country. Tatneftegeofizika is involved in seismoprospecting, among other things.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Moscow Rejects Language-Status Proposal
The Russian government has rejected a proposal by Bashkortostan's State Assembly that regional leaders and candidates for leadership positions be required to speak the official languages of the territories they govern, RosBalt reported on 14 April, citing the government's Information Department. Bashkir legislators referred in their request to the federal law on state service, which stipulates that state officials must speak the state language. However, the Russian government said the suggestion was unconstitutional and would violate federal laws. According to the law on election rights, Russia's citizens have a right to elect and be elected regardless of their sex, race, nationality, language, origin, welfare, official status, faith, beliefs, or membership in public organizations.

The initiative was proposed on last July by a Bashkir State Assembly member Nadejda Krylova (Unified Russia). Russian and Bashkir languages both have official status in Bashkortostan.

Bashkir Airlines Labor Dispute Still Unresolved
The union representing employees of Bashkir Airlines (BAL) warned on 14 April that they will go on strike and take legal action unless their contract proposal is considered by the company's management by 15 April, RosBalt reported. The draft contract reportedly adheres to the recent changes to the Russian Labor Code (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Daily Report," 13 April 2004).

The union reportedly suggested in a statement that the company's management "learn how to use the democratic European style of relations" in resolving such issues.

BAL General Director Viner Shakirov told RosBalt the same day that the labor contract proposed by the union would require BAL's management to obtain permission from the trade union before initiating any layoffs, report its business activities to the union, and raise employees' wages by 30 percent, demands he described as populist and "irrational." He said only the company's owner has the right to control its business activities and denied reports that 50 percent staff cuts and 25 percent salary cuts are pending. Shakirov suggested that the union extend the existing labor contract.

Foreign Ministry Concerned Over Delay Of Investigation Into Midair Crash
Russia's Foreign Ministry expressed its concern over Germany's delay in releasing a report on the causes of the 1 July 2002 midair collision of a Bashkir Airlines passenger jet and a DHL cargo plane over Germany, Bashinform reported on 15 April (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 July 2002).

The ministry in a statement expressed its hope that the recent appointment of new leadership at the German agency overseeing the investigation will "exclude any further delays in work on the report."

Back Wages Up More Than 12 Percent
Wages arrears owed to workers in Bashkortostan have risen by 12.2 percent so far this year and currently stand at 383.58 million rubles ($13.4 million), Bashkortostan's Trade Unions Federation announced on 14 April. Industrial enterprises, construction companies, and agricultural entities are responsible for most of the dues, according to the report. In 2003, Bashkortostan managed to cut to $11 million the amount of back wages owed.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi