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Tatar-Bashkir Report: March 5, 2003

5 March 2003
Headscarf Affair Reaches Russian Supreme Court
The Russian Supreme Court on 5 March began hearing an appeal by 10 Muslim women from Tuben Kama regarding their desire to wear headscarves in their passport photographs (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 4 and 11 October and 22 November 2002), RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. The women's previous suit against the Tatar branch of the Russian Interior Ministry's passport-and-visa service was rejected by the Vakhitov Raion Court and the Tatar Supreme Court. Before leaving Kazan on 4 March, Ramil Yunus of the Tatar Muslim Religious Board told an RFE/RL Kazan correspondent that the Supreme Court's ruling "would finally indicate whether the words about freedom of religion in the Russian Constitution are more than just words. For a Muslim woman, it is impossible to live in accordance with the rules of Islam without wearing a headscarf in public."

KamAZ Responds To Reports About Dispute With Tax Ministry
The KamAZ automotive concern's press service released a statement on 4 March denying media reports that the Tatar branch of the Russian Tax Ministry had seized property from the company valued at 2.2 billion rubles ($69.5 million) as a penalty for failing to pay the unified social tax for several years (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 4 March 2003). The statement said that at the beginning of 2003, KamAZ filed a suit with the Arbitrage Court of Tatarstan, claiming that demands by the Tax Ministry for immediate payment of 3.5 billion rubles in unpaid taxes and fines were unfounded. The court issued three rulings on 14, 21, and 31 January stating that the company did not have to make such payments. KamAZ insists that it has already paid all required taxes and claims that the Tax Ministry has been seeking payment for the same taxes a second time, which is in violation of the Russian Tax Code.

According to "Vechernyaya Kazan" daily on 5 March, KamAZ General Director Sergei Kogogin said at a press conference in Chally yesterday that the controversy regarding the statement made by Rinat Khairov, head of the Tatar branch of the Tax Ministry, about the seizure of KamAZ property, "most likely came about because journalists didn't understand Rinat Khairov correctly."

Tatar, Mordovian Presidents Meet
President Mintimer Shaimiev was in Saransk on 4 March for the inauguration of President Nikolai Merkushkin, who was re-elected as head of Mordovia on 16 February, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 4 March. Shaimiev met the same day with representatives of the 16,000-strong Tatar community in Mordovia to discuss the possibility of building a Tatar school and a mosque in Saransk. In an attempt to convince Merkushkin to agree to this proposal, Shaimiev invited the Mordovian president and Mordovian parliamentary speaker Valerii Kechkin to visit Tatarstan to see for themselves how the Mordovian language is taught in the republic. After arriving in Saransk, Shaimiev joked that he "would not leave [Mordovia] until I make Merkushkin a Tatar," RIA-Novosti reported the same day.

Minister Says Tatars Have Second-Largest Number Of Cultural Autonomies
The Russian minister without portfolio in charge of nationalities policy, Vladimir Zorin, told Interfax on 4 March some 60 ethnic groups have established 300 national-cultural autonomies in Russia. Of these, German groups have created the largest number of autonomies with 68, while Tatars are second with 63, Zorin said.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Bashkir Communist Leader Says Conditions In Region Bearable
Bashkir Communist Party leader Valentin Nikitin said on 3 March that the status for Communists in Bashkortostan is not comfortable, but "bearable," RosBalt reported the same day. Nikitin said local Communist Party members face some problems in the republic, including refusal of local state media to publish his articles, difficulties in obtaining permission to hold meetings in Ufa, and pressure from city and raion administrations on members to leave the party under threat of dismissal. Nikitin said this forces the party to side with the opposition in the republic, despite the fact that the party agrees with the Bashkir leadership on issues such as maintaining state control over property, securing social guarantees for the republic's population, and dividing tax revenues between the federal and republican budgets. He added that the Communists usually receive about 30 percent of the vote in State Duma elections in Bashkortostan, and that his party only hopes the upcoming State Assembly elections are fair.

Election Commission Head Says Influence Of Administrative 'Levers' In Elections Unavoidable
In an interview published in "Trud" on 4 March, Bashkir Central Election Commission Chairman Baryi Kinjegulov said the central authorities are traditionally strong in the republic, and it is impossible to keep its influence out of elections. However, the new Bashkir Election Code significantly reduces the possibilities of using of so-called administrative levers. State officials running in elections must take leave during the campaign and not use their offices, telephones, and cars, while their colleagues should not publicly campaign for them, Kinjegulov said, adding that even articles about companies headed by candidates are considered part of the election campaign. Kinjegulov said 13 candidates who were denied registration have appealed to the courts, and one of them has subsequently been registered. He also said it would be impossible to falsify the election results, arguing that the counting procedure can be easily supervised. He said representatives of Unity, the Communists, Fatherland-All Russia, and Yabloko have members in all local election commissions.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova