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Tatar-Bashkir Report: January 10, 2002

10 January 2002
Hermitage To Open Permanent Center In Kazan
Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovsky on 9 January called the opening of the "Islamic Culture" exhibition, the museum's third such exhibition ever held in Kazan, "an event of nationwide importance," reported. President Mintimer Shaimiev was in attendance for the ceremony. Commenting on several Muslim exhibitions arranged by the Hermitage, Piotrovsky said, "We do not popularize Islam but rather enlighten." Piotrovsky said he considers relations between Christianity and Islam an age-old issue, adding that the Hermitage's aim is to enable representatives of different cultures to familiarize themselves with each other. Piotrovsky said conditions provided in Kazan for receiving, transporting, and keeping Hermitage exhibits are similar to those in the museums of London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Piotrovsky said the establishment of the Hermitage's permanent exhibition center in Kazan, like others his museum has opened in London and Las-Vegas, is one of the main areas of cooperation between the Hermitage and Tatarstan.

During his meeting with Piotrovsky the same day, President Shaimiev backed the idea of creating a council of trustees uniting Russian regional leaders to promote activities of museums.

Novgorod Governor Says Tatarstan Could Not Be 'Merged'
Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak told "Novgorodskie vedomosti" that "not more than 60 regions may be formed in Russia," Rosbalt reported on 9 January. Prusak commented on the proposal by the presidential envoy to the Northwestern District, Viktor Cherkesov, to merge the Pskov and Novgorod oblasts. "It is necessary to merge regions, but not at the moment and not all of them," Prusak said, adding, "Tatarstan could not be merged with any entity. The same applies to Komi, Yakutia, Bashkortostan, and other national entities." Only mergers of regions with similar historical roots, culture, and ways of life can be discussed, Prusak said. He noted that Karelia Republic could be merged with Finland more easily than with Novgorod Oblast. As for the merger of Pskov and Novgorod, he called that idea "logical and possible," as well as that of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast.

Patriarch Calls For Tolerance Between Christians, Muslims
Patriarch Aleksii II told "Argumenty i fakty" on 9 January that he considers comments on an unavoidable global clash between Muslims and Christians "very dangerous." Aleksii said both Christians and Muslims should follow their own traditions and should not try to change the other. He said small groups of radicals, rather than millions of ordinary Christians and Muslims, are seeking conflict between the two faiths. He criticized the unequal distribution of power and wealth between the West and East, the North and South, adding that each people should be given a real access to decision-making on a global level.

Aleksii said cooperation between Orthodox believers and Muslims existed in Russia for ages, and noted that it was not interrupted even in the Soviet period. Lately, common troubles -- including interethnic conflicts, threats of terrorism, attempts to pit Muslims and Orthodox believers against each other -- have "turned us closer to each other," he said.

Aleksii said Russia is "an Orthodox country" with a universal mission that began with the baptism of Russia. At the same time, he stressed that the millions-strong Islamic community of Russia also has its own mission which should be respected, along with Muslims' right to preserve and revive their faith and culture. Aleksii said he hopes "the role of Islam believers in Russia's life will always be high and will be estimated at its true worth."

New Body To Promote State Orders For Small Businesses
President Mintimer Shaimiev by decree created the Agency on Development of Small Businesses, republican media reported. The new body will promote state orders for small companies. Meanwhile, the Kazan administration several days before raised rent eightfold for premises hired by companies, "Vremya i dengi" reported on 9 January.

Tatarstan Has Lowest Mortality Rate In Volga District
Tatarstan had the lowest mortality rate in the Volga district at 13.2 per 1,000 in the first 11 months of 2001, reported on 9 January. The highest rate of 18.4 per 1,000 inhabitants was in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. Bashkortostan leads districts with a birthrate with 10.5 per 1,000 inhabitants. The lowest rate in the district, 7.4 per 1,000, was in Penza Oblast, while Tatarstan had 9.5 per 1,000.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Bashkir President, Religious Leader On Freedom Of Religion In Russia
In a recent interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov said he was bewildered that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksii II, was the only religious leader to deliver blessings during official ceremonies, RFE/RL reported from Ufa on 8 January. Rakhimov said the supreme mufti of Russia and the European countries of the CIS, Talgat Tadjuddin, should also take part in such events to maintain the "confessional equilibrium."

A representative from Bashkortostan's Muslim Religious Board, Mahmud Haji Khazrat, told RFE/RL the same day that, despite the federal law on freedom of conscience, Orthodox Christianity is being forcibly spread in Russia. He illustrated this statement by pointing out that, while the majority of recruits from Bashkortostan joining the Russian Army are Muslims, they are given a blessing ritual by an Orthodox priest before combat operations. Mahmud Haji added that, in his opinion, Muslim priests are to allowed to perform such rituals because "we would [say] just the opposite things to what Orthodox priests usually say blessing the soldiers to kill the enemy."

Bashkortostan Representatives In Federation Council Are Relative Unknowns
Ildar Gabdrafikov, an expert from the Ufa branch of the Ural Peoples Ethnology Center under the Russian Academy of Sciences, told RFE/RL on 9 January that Aleksandr Yakupov and Igor Izmestyev, both recently appointed to represent Bashkortostan in the Federation Council, were young businessmen inexperienced in politics and unknown to republican residents because they lived and worked outside Bashkortostan.

Tatars Urged To Join Bashkir Nationality In Baltach
Meskhut Salikhov, leader of the Tatar Public Center branch in the Baltach region of Bashkortostan, told RFE/RL on 7 January that the regional administration recently conducted a conference devoted to Tiptyar and Misher Tatars representing the majority of its population. In Slikhov's words, high-ranking regional officials unanimously came out for considering Tiptyers and Mishers part of the Bashkir ethnic group and urged them to abandon their Tatar identity.

A newly published book by Bashkir journalist Zeytune Halova called "My Country" also calls on those ethnic subgroups to join the Bashkir nation, arguing that there is not a single Tatar village in the Baltach region. She explains the Tatar self-identity of Mishers and Tiptyers by saying that they were taught using Tatar language in schools.

According to 1989 census figures, 60 percent of Baltach residents are Tatars and 22 percent are Tatar-speaking Bashkirs, while the remaining 18 percent are Maris, Udmurts, and Russians.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi