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Tatar-Bashkir Report: February 7, 2002

7 February 2002
Putin Calls Kazan Millennium A Nation-Wide Event
Russian President Vladimir Putin on 6 February told a joint meeting of the state commissions in charge of celebration of the Kazan millennium and 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg that both cities should become "true regional capitals," and trade and tourist centers, RIA-Novosti reported. "We should remember the historical and international importance" of the jubilees, which are "events of a nation-wide scale," he said. Putin approved an agreement between the commissions on holding joint jubilee events. He added that housing construction and the development of transport infrastructure in the two cities are to become priorities in the preparations for the events.

Presidential Adviser Meets Swedish, Afghan Representatives
Prospects for bilateral cooperation between Tatarstan and both Sweden and Afghanistan were on the agendas of meetings in Moscow by presidential adviser Timur Akulov with Swedish Ambassador to Russia Henrik Sven Hirdman and with Afghanistan's attorney to Russia, Gulam Sakhi Khairat, Tatar-inform reported on 6 February. The sides negotiated programs for visits by Tatarstan delegations to Sweden and Afghanistan.

Specifically, Akulov said, Tatarstan is ready to cooperate with Afghanistan in gas- and oil-prospecting and construction of filling stations in Kabul. Khairat said the Afghan transport minister has approved a program on the revival of KamAZ service centers in Kabul and Herat, among other places. Khairat added that his country will need some 10,000 KamAZ trucks. Akulov invited Khairat to visit Tatarstan's capital, Kazan.

Duma Deputy Unhappy With Spreading Authoritarianism, Undue Power Distribution Between Moscow And Entities
Duma Deputy and Russian Regions caucus leader Oleg Morozov told "Wek" on 1 February that he opposes term restrictions for governors. He said such limits should be applied only to Russian presidents, since that post offers such wide powers and greater influence on events in the country. Morozov identified a trend toward the centralization of power and resources in Russia, rather than movement toward a unitary state. He asserted that the distribution of powers between Moscow and regions is currently insufficient and skewed in Moscow's favor. That situation is as undesirable as the opposite one that existed during Boris Yeltsin's presidency.

Morozov said the institution of presidential envoys has no legal foundation and it is unclear what they will do on the completion of legal harmonization. He said a corresponding law should be adopted to regulate their activities. Morozov noted that he "very much" fears that authoritarianism will spread in the country and "very much hope[s] that presidents realize the danger of the transition to the completely managed democracy and uncontrollable power."

Tatarstan Pilgrims Face Visa Obstacle
The departure of 35 hajj pilgrims from Kazan to Saudi Arabia was postponed because of visa problems, reported on 5 February. Members of the group, including both priests and laymen, were going to have a bus trip to Mecca. Another group of 77 Muslims is to leave Kazan for Saudi Arabia by plane on 14 February. The agency noted that the number of pilgrims has doubled this year compared to two previous years but totaled half the number in the 1990s, when "trips of Volga Muslims to the holy stone of Qaa'ba were generously sponsored by Saudi Arabia's state treasury." The agency cited "well-informed sources" as saying "sponsors lost their faith in possible influence over the attitude of Tatar Muslims being in the mood for peaceful disposition and tolerance."

Moscow Promotes Papal Visit
"Argumenty i fakty" on 6 February cited a representative of the pope as saying John Paul II, if he visits Russia, is going to pass the Kazan Divine Mother icon to Patriarch Aleksii II rather than to the president of Tatarstan. The quoted official said a protocol on differences between the two churches could be also signed during that pope's possible visit. The weekly commented that such a document -- outlining differences -- is something the Russian Orthodox Church seeks to register and suggested that the Roman Catholic pontiff visit Russia not later than in July. The paper speculated that earlier this year, tension arose between Russian President Putin and Patriarch Aleksii II ,as the Orthodox Church categorically opposed a possible papal visit while the Kremlin was disappointed by its postponement.

Will Crimean Khan's Descendant Return To Kazan?
RFE/RL's Kazan bureau on 6 February cited history professor Damir Iskhakov as saying a fourth-generation descendant of the Crimean khan lives now in London, and Tatars could appeal to him if necessary for the restoration of their statehood. Although the Crimean Khanate and Kazan Khanate were different states, there were close ties between them, Iskhakov said.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Bashkirs Hear Grim News From Russian Regions
Deputy Prime Minister and Culture and Ethnic Policies Minister Khalyaf Ishmuratov told an extended organizational meeting for June's second World Bashkir Congress that -- while all ethnic communities living in Bashkortostan are given every opportunity to learn their native languages -- Bashkir communities outside Bashkortostan are refused such constitutional rights, even in schools where Bashkir children represent over 60 percent of pupils. Referring to the Belebey, Beloretsk, and Ufa regions of Bashkortostan, Ishmuratov outlined a threatening trend toward a reduction of Bashkir lessons in schools. Other speakers at the meeting said Bashkirs in many regions of Russia face "'Tatarization,' forgetting their native tongue and traditions."

Bashkortostan's TPC Prepares For National Census
Airat Giniatullin, leader of Tatar Public Center branch in Bashkortostan, told RFE/RL on 6 February that the main goal of Bashkortostan's government is to present the outcome of the upcoming national census such that Bashkirs appear to be the second-largest ethnic group in the republic, after Russians. Current statistics show that Tatars represent a larger community than Bashkirs, who are officially declared "title people" in the republic. Tatars are refused official status for their language and culture. Giniatullin added, "If the census is held in a democratic way, the number of Tatars residing in Bashkortostan will undoubtedly increase" compared with the results of the 1989 census.

Independent Paper Says Bashkortostan Guilty Of Ethnic Discrimination
RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent quoted the 2 February issue of the "Otechestvo" independent monthly sharply criticizing the ethnic policies of Bashkortostan's government for "neglecting the rights of Tatar people representing 28 percent of the republic' population, according to the 1989 census, while Bashkirs made up only 21 percent of the population." The paper slammed republican authorities for being "an ethnic-authoritarian regime powered by beefed-up figures of the Bashkir population." It also claimed that "ethnic Bashkirs dominate the legislative assembly, city, and regional administrations," adding, "Higher figures of Bashkir population will help the regime to legitimize itself and justify its policies."

Federal Land Registry Official Visits Ufa, Neighboring Regions
The head of the federal Land Registry Service, Victor Kislov, arrived in Ufa on 6 February to take part in a meeting of Bashkortostan's State Land Committee, RFE/RL reported. Meeting with Bashkir officials, Kislov said the republic was an exemplary region that has managed to introduce an effective system of land management. He also visited the Ufa and Chishme regions for brief meetings with local administrations and to check the current progress in land re-registration.

Failure To Organize WBC Funding Blamed For Khantimerov Shuffle
Unofficial sources quoted by RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent on 6 February said the recent appointment of Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Foat Khantimerov to the post of Pension Fund chief can be explained by his failure to arrange the funding of the second World Bashkir Congress, to be held in Ufa in June. The task was imposed on Khantimerov by decree from President Murtaza Rakhimov in January.

Court Hearings Aplenty For Tatar Groups In Bashkortostan
Tatar-oriented ethnic and political organizations in Bashkortostan are to defend their right to state registration in eight court sessions to be held in different regions throughout the republic in February, RFE/RL reported on 5 February.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi