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Tatar-Bashkir Report: December 2, 2003

2 December 2003
Shaimiev Admits Violations During 2002 National Census...
At a meeting dedicated to the work of the World Tatar Congress (BKT) in 2003, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said "in the last several years the Tatar nation has grown even though in some of the territories there were attempts at misreporting the real size of the Tatar population," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 2 December. According to an unnamed official within the BKT interviewed by RFE/RL, this statement referred to the reported violations in neighboring Bashkortostan during the October 2002 national census, during which local authorities allegedly beefed up the numbers of the ethnic Bashkir population. According to the results of the census published by "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 29 October, since 1989 the number of Tatars grew by 14,700 to 5.6 million people. Previous reports speculated that the Tatar population had grown by 150,000-160,000. The only region where the number of Tatars was reported to fall was Bashkortostan. According to the census data, the overall number of Bashkirs in the Russian Federation increased by 330,000 to 1.678 million people.

...And Says Unified Russia Made Right Decision In Not Joining TV Debates
President Shaimiev, who is also the co-chairman of Unified Russia's Supreme Council, told Interfax that Unified Russia made the right choice by abstaining from taking part in pre-election TV debates. He said that he came to this conclusion after witnessing a fistfight between the leader of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party Of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovskii and his political opponents. Shaimiev emphasized that the current electoral campaign is little different from the 1999 campaign, "characterized by deliberately false promises" of politicians to the electorate. He also said that even though Unified Russia claims the position of the "party of power," it represents a new political force and therefore cannot "assume the entire responsibility for the country's current economic and political situation."

Tatar Central Election Commission Busy Processing Candidates' Complaints
Tatarstan's Central Election Commission (USK) has so far registered 150 complaints surrounding the 7 December elections for the Russian State Duma, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. Most of the complaints from the prospective candidates refer to alleged campaign violation by their rivals. The violations include indecent content or improper placement of electoral leaflets, insufficient airtime granted to candidates by the local TV and radio stations. All of the complaints have reportedly been investigated by the USK. Tatarstan's courts have already rejected the candidacies of six potential candidates, whose applications have been rejected by the USK's branches across Tatarstan.

Opinions Of Tatar Leaders A Factor In Bashkir Presidential Vote
The view of the Tatar government regarding the coming presidential elections in neighboring Bashkortostan is a key factor in the vote's outcome, since the local Tatar community, representing up to 30 percent of the electorate, traditionally pays attention to their native republic's policies, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 2 December. Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev has not mentioned so far whether he favors any of the Bashkir presidential candidates, nor has Tatar State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin, who was visiting Ufa on 26 November.

Speaking at the World Tatar Congress, President Shaimiev said, "We do not intend to intervene in the affairs of our neighboring brotherly republic. Respecting the choice of Bashkortostan's people, we will cooperate with the elected president. But we cannot neglect the interests of a million of Tatars residing in that republic and the status of the Tatar language there. This is the major problem.... Any politician claiming the post of Bashkir president must not leave this question [of the Tatar language] unanswered. Will the Tatar language obtain an official status or any special status? We are not talking about 10,000 or 15,000 [people], but about more than a million Tatars in Bashkortostan, and they have the right to raise this issue at the federal level."

Even if the Tatar government opposed incumbent President Murtaza Rakhimov, it would probably still avoid a direct confrontation, since the Bashkir president, like his Tatar counterpart, is a co-chairman of Unified Russia's Supreme Council.

It is also unclear who among Rakhimov's rivals would win Kazan's sympathy. Many political analysts expect that Tatarstan's elite would back Relif Safin, an ethnic Tatar, former vice president of LUKoil, and a Russian Federation Council senator representing Altay Republic. In addition, Safin's daughter, pop star Alsu, is one of the most popular performers in Tatarstan.

However, recent developments have shown a shift in Tatars' attitude toward Safin, in Bashkortostan and Tatarstan. Safin's electoral campaign lacked dynamism and a concrete political program, especially regarding ethnic policies in Bashkortostan. Safin noted that the "Tatar issue" was exaggerated and over-politicized in Bashkortostan (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 December 2003).

Meanwhile, a 27 November resolution of the Congress of Tatar Public Organizations in Bashkortostan named former Mezhprombank head Sergei Veremeenko as its candidate (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 27 November 2003). Prior to that decision, Veremeenko met with Tatar leaders and pledged to give the Tatar language official status in the republic if he is elected. During the annual meeting of the Executive Committee of the World Tatar Congress (BTK) in Kazan on 1 December, Tufan Minnulin, a Tatar playwright and member of the Tatar parliament, raised the issue of Tatar rights in Bashkortostan and the presidential elections.

Irek Sharipov, a member of the BTK Executive Committee, proposed adopting an appeal to Tatar movements in Bashkortostan, urging them to support the candidate "who will ensure the equality of all peoples and the official status of the Tatar language in their republic." The appeal, which is yet to be widely publicized in Bashkortostan, was endorsed by representatives from Tatar communities in 51 regions of the Russian Federation.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Bashkortostan's Tatar Congress Refuses To Back Rakhimov
The board of Bashkortostan's Tatar Congress (BTK) voted at its 29 November meeting not to support any candidates in the 7 December presidential elections, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 1 December. The board of the Tatar organization, which has been supported by republican authorities and was considered loyal to them, gathered to express its disagreement with BTK Chairman Eduard Khemitov, who last week published statements in several official republican newspapers saying the BTK endorses Murtaza Rakhimov's re-election as Bashkortostan's president. At the meeting, six of the 19 board members voted for Khemitov's proposal to support Rakhimov, while the other 13 backed the proposal not to support anyone and to recommend that the republic's Tatars make their own choice.

Opposition Candidate Complains Of Electoral Violations
Bashkir presidential candidate Relif Safin, the Federation Council representative from Altai Republic and former LUKoil vice president, told a press conference in Ufa on 29 November that opposition candidates will cooperate in monitoring voting and vote counting in the Bashkir presidential elections and will send observers to all 3,500 of the republic's electoral districts. Safin said he has information that ballots are being kept not in special depositories but by local administrations, where they are being completed in favor of certain candidates. He also cited reports that doctors, teachers, and students are being forced off registration lists and voting at their workplaces under supervision of their bosses.

He added that 7 December, election day, was declared a working day at the Bashkir petrochemical companies and Bashkirenergo headed by President Murtaza Rakhimov's son, Ural. Safin also said that State Television and Radio Company Bashkortostan (GTRK Bashkortostan) refused to broadcast his speech on the radio, despite it being required to do so free of charge by law. GTRK Bashkortostan also refused to provide Safin with paid airtime on TV. He said he has informed the Bashkir and Russian prosecutor's offices and the Russian Central Election Commission about those violations. Safin also said if Murtaza Rakhimov is re-elected on 7 December, he will run in the next presidential elections.

Russian Court Confirms Rakhimov's Registration As Presidential Candidate
The Russian Supreme Court rejected on 29 November a lawsuit by three Bashkir presidential candidates -- Safin, Andrei Pykhachev, and Khesen Idietullin -- demanding that Murtaza Rakhimov's registration as a presidential candidate be annulled, RosBalt reported on 1 December. The suit claimed that Rakhimov violated election law by using administrative levers of power, illegally financing his election campaign, bribing voters, and improperly completing documents presented in registering as a candidate. They appealed the earlier verdict by the Bashkir Supreme Court that also left Rakhimov's registration in force (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 19 November 2003).

Russian Parliamentary Officials Critical Of Election Situation In Bashkortostan
Federation Council Social Policy Committee Chairwoman Valentina Petrenko complained of violations of election law in the presidential campaign in Bashkortostan, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 1 December. Petrenko, who visited the republic the week before, said she was outraged by the "election campaigning" of heads of administrations, policemen, and other municipal employees persuading people not to vote. She said schoolteachers ask their students to tell their parents that they shouldn't go to vote, since there could be bombings. Petrenko suggested that Sergei Veremeenko's increasing popularity and the falling support for Murtaza Rakhimov in the republic are behind such an activity by local authorities. The daily also cited First Deputy State Duma Chairwoman Lyubov Sliska as saying the Bashkir presidential campaign is complicated by violations of the rights of most of the candidates.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova